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Innovation & Leadership

Inspirational Thinking

Right on Target: Jeff Jones' Keys to Brand Building

They share stories over YouTube, post videos on Instagram, and pictures on Pinterest. They're self-proclaimed evangelists who've made Target one of the most loved brands in America.

But don't call them customers.

As Chief Marketing Officer Jeff Jones explained to over 100 marketing professionals at JPMorgan Chase's Masters Series in New York, "They are guests. They are our starting point, our center of everything." This concept is upheld by Target's Guest Center of Excellence. Much like a giant sieve, it's a team that funnels data into one central location and turns it into actionable analysis and insights for the rest of the organization.

As a self-described "behavioral economics and neuroscience junkie," Jones also has a softer side.

He speaks almost reverently about the importance of "having empathy for the people you're serving." To better understand the softer side of Target shoppers, Target teams embark on "guest immersion trips," spending time with families at home, getting immersed in people's daily lives. They spend hours together to see how guests live and hear the stories they choose to tell.

That information, which Jones describes as a soft data "overlay," helps Target honestly evaluate current offerings as well as future plans.

One theme that's been clear is the importance of mobile in the Target shopping experience. "The mobile phone is the most powerful shopping device ever created," Jones said. Many guests start their shopping journey on mobile by researching and building lists. Some purchase via mobile and others use mobile while in the store to make their stop easier and more convenient. They might map the most efficient store route or look up alternate product colors and styles. Out of stock? Not when the app sources items from another store and ships them for home delivery.

Jones also said the fastest-growing portion of Target's ad spend is in digital, including social media platforms. "The dream is people would come to," says Jones, who previously served as chief marketing officer at The Gap, "but that's not where it happens. Social platforms like Facebook are so pervasive. ... people go to Pinterest to figure out how they want their home to look, then they come to Target. It's why we're putting Buy buttons in posts."

Knowing the Customer

Jones admits not everyone agrees 100 percent of the time, so he has developed a way of dealing with naysayers. He says, "When you feel resistance, teach." In other words, take time to listen, empathize, and educate. It's a 360-degree philosophy that applies to co-workers and guests alike. "Successful marketers connect guest satisfaction and company vision," he says.

The ability to "communicate well and lead change" is Jones's single most important factor in determining whether to hire someone. When the now-blockbuster Cartwheel coupon app first launched on desktops, it flopped. Jones wanted to scrap it, but members of his team showed evidence of traction on mobile. Target pivoted and relaunched. Cartwheel now numbers 25 million users and drives significant incremental traffic to the stores.

"We have to do what's working as long as it works, and think about what we need to do next. If we wait, it's too late."

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