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Rebranding a Century-old Business with Kevin Warren of UPS

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In a company that has been working and succeeding for more than a century, change doesn’t always seem necessary. And even for newer brands, when you find a winning formula, when you have revenue coming in, and when consumers have grown to trust you, why even bother to do anything differently? 

This was the predicament facing UPS recently. UPS had done an amazing job for 100 years building the company into a wild success. The problem was that if something didn’t change, the next 100 years were very much in jeopardy. Customer expectations were changing, the younger generation was moving on, and if UPS was going to deliver for the future, it was going to need to embrace a new outlook, some new strategies, and it was going to need some … swagger. 

Kevin Warren, CMO of UPS, was brought into the company to help deliver that future. Hear how he did it on this episode of Business X factors.

Main Takeaways:

  • Always On Your Toes: Companies that have a winning formula may think they can rest easy and that it is not necessary to change. But consumer expectations are changing, and how they engage with businesses is increasingly moving online, and even that shifts constantly. It is important that companies remain commercially innovative, entrepreneurial, and agile to be able to adapt to changes in shopping habits and technology. Those that don’t innovate quick enough will be replaced.
  • Cool Story, Bro: The younger generation is much harder to impress with the strategies of old. Legacy brands need to work to stay relevant among the next generation of consumers. That means changing brand messaging, operating in new channels, and even modifying internal culture to stay with the times.
  • Mine the  Data: Many companies sit on a mountain of data, but few of them use that data to its fullest potential. Invest in your data and analytics team in order to draw as much information as you can from the data you collect and that the insights you find are available throughout the organization and don’t sit in silos.

 

Key Quotes:

“The company has a fantastic brand and it was a matter of fact when I came on board in 2018, we were ranked number 27 as far as global brands and the world. And so, I started from an area of strength. And what people loved about UPS and still do, was, ‘Man, we can trust you. You guys are reliable, you have integrity.’.. Those brand attributes, they are not easy to get.  There are a lot of high flying technology companies that would die to have that level of trust and integrity brand attributes.”

“We did all these interviews with these SMB customers and they told us, you guys are quiet. We see you as kind of old and stodgy. We haven’t heard from you. You’re not as relevant to us.  We kind of went through this exercise of, ‘Picture us and several of our other competitors at a bar.’ What would they be wearing? What would they be drinking? And we didn’t like that answer. You know, standing at the bar, drinking a scotch with a comb-over, which is literally the feedback we got. And we said, ‘Okay, we have some work to do.’”

“Marketing wasn’t really viewed as a destination point inside of UPS. It was an additional cost or it’s just pricing. And if there was a tough quarter, that’d be the first place to go to cut. And it wasn’t attracting our best people. People weren’t knocking down the door saying they want to come work at UPS marketing. So breathing life and some swagger into marketing, I saw was a major challenge where we were going to transform it from being something that was an overhead to a value driver for the company .”

“When I first got here, one of the things that I noticed was an engineering culture, and UPS was swimming in data. There were more reports with the smallest little fonts I could barely read. However, we weren’t quite as tuned in being able to distill the data, and make this march from data to information, information to knowledge, knowledge to insights, and then insights that they kind of give you a predictive element. Then you can make better decisions. We were stuck just at the data and then also everybody was looking at data just in their own silos.”  

I think every executive should be looking at this issue with what I’ll call bifocal lenses. You clearly have to be able to see the short-term because we are a public company. So we’ve got to deliver the quarter…However, if I just focus on the second quarter, then I won’t make the sort of investments to position us for the long term. So it really is a balance. You have a plan, but you also have to be agile because you won’t get it right. If it’s too dynamic, you’ve got different competitors…consumer behavior that will change, technology will change. So you’ll do some planning, but you also have to be nimble enough to be able to pivot on a dime when things go at an accelerated rate or you end up getting a curveball.”

“UPS traditionally, like a lot of companies, was a direct salesforce focusing mainly on large customers and did a terrific job…But we realized that SMBs were where we were losing share and it’s the most profitable segment in the market by multiple.  They bought differently and they were buying more and more on platforms and marketplaces and digitally. So we had to build up a capability to meet those customers where they are, how they wanted to buy. We call it a digital access program and it’s been one of our most successful enterprises that we’ve launched and is growing like crazy.”

“Environmentally, culturally we’ve relaxed some of the rigid rules that we’ve had before. So for instance, I’m looking at you, you’re looking at me. We both have beards, up until December, you couldn’t, that was against UPS policy. Or natural hair for African-Americans. We’ve relaxed some of the tattoo policies there as well. So bringing your whole self to work from an employee standpoint, folks are engaged as well.”

Bio:

Kevin Warren has been the Chief Marketing Officer of UPS for the past three years, where he is responsible for all the US and international marketing including the company’s product development, pricing, customer loyalty, industry segments, customer communications and public relations. Before joining UPS, he was the President of the Commercial Business Group at Xerox Services for 36 years. Warren is a keen supporter of diversity and inclusion for people of color, especially in the top ranks of corporate management.

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Episode 8