A Conversation With Clorox’s GM Jackson Jeyanayagam From CMO To GM + What It All Means

Forbes 2 days ago

We are in a period of significant disruption that is rapidly reimagining what it is to be both a marketer and a leader. As a result of the rampant pace of technological advancement and what is being called the fourth industrial revolution, the face of consumerism has been dramatically altered. The customer is squarely in the driver’s seat. This is occurring less because of the voice they have on social media and more because of the choices they have to opt in or out of brand experiences.

Jackson Jeyanayagam From CMO To GM + What It All Means
A Conversation With Clorox’s GM Jackson Jeyanayagam From CMO To GM + What It All Means

On a parallel track, the direct to consumer (D-T-C) landscape has been heating up, with players entering the category in every space ranging from financial services to CPG. As these new business models take shape, and the construct of the customer journey continues to morph, new and different skills are now required to both lead and succeed in our new environment.  As such, I thought it would be great to do my second encore piece with Jackson Jeyanayagam, currently GM of the Nutranext D-T-C business at Clorox. Jackson is a marketing veteran, who was the CMO of Boxed, when I first interviewed him in 2017 and prior to that, former head of digital at Chipotle. We discussed his thoughts on the changing face of marketing and leadership trends, the future of the D-T-C market and the often overlooked Gen X. Following is a recap of our conversation:

Billee Howard: Jackson! Welcome back, so great to hear your voice. Why don’t we just jump in and get started with your new role and what you’re most excited about?

Jackson Jeyanayagm:  Great to be back Billee, thanks for having me. I think the biggest thing I am excited about is coming in to Clorox as the GM for DTC. There's so much I can learn in this new role. I think I can expand my skills and experience as a marketer and really understand what it's like to run a P+L at scale, from the best in the world. For me, that's been the biggest benefit, at a high level, to really understand the P+L broadly. Understanding all the inputs and outputs that go beyond marketing, from product innovation to technology to data and how they all work together. I'm very excited about that and I am looking forward to what lies ahead. 

Howard: I think that your new role also is a harbinger of a lot of change that seems to be coming related to leadership. Do you have any thoughts on all of the leadership shifts we are seeing that seem to be precipitated by both the new environment and the skills that are now required to lead? 

Jeyanayagm: Yes, for sure. I know you and I have talked about this in the past and I feel strongly even more so now.  Before I got to Boxed, I started to dive into more of the performance marketing and the data and analytics. But, even that was really tied mostly to online, not to omni channel really. I think things in the future will really be all about performance, and the skills required to achieve it. Every dollar spent should yield some kind of return, hopefully two to three times, and that should all be measurable. I think that marketers have to really focus on the quant side.  It is no longer just the creative. Nor should it be. 

That said, those qualitative insights and focus groups are still important but really fine tuning the performance side and understanding how your dollars are spent and what results they yield, is going to be the most important metric for success. It's no longer acceptable to the larger companies for a CMO to spend without any clear sense of what the return was. It's obviously easier to do that with e-commerce, I get that, but, there's a lot of technology in place that should allow even the “offline” organizations, who don't necessarily have all of the first party data, to also get there. 

I think the bigger trend is that more and more marketers are understanding the financials of the entire business and all of the real costs. Understanding the entire P+L and operating within that versus just being off to the side and saying “I'm going to spend X millions of dollars on whatever campaigns. I'm not going to worry so much about supply chain or customer experience, or CRM.” That approach no longer works and is a big shift. I believe performance marketing is already  precipitating this type of shift. 

Howard: So, you’ve completed your first hundred days. How have you approached them and how are they shaping your vision for how you’re going to take things forward at Nutranext?

Jeyanayagm:  I have spent my initial days learning and working with my boss, Michael Costello, who is on the executive committee of Clorox. He was very open and honest from the beginning, and that has helped me to quickly understand that it’s ok that there is a lot of learning for me to do. So, for me, a lot of it has been focused on digging into the business, especially the areas outside of marketing. So yes, of course I’ve been looking at the obvious things such as acquisition, retention and the entire marketing funnel; but I’m also while also digging into the tech stack; R&D; supply chain; pricing strategy; product experience (and funnel), and then identifying the opportunities to improve the P&L performance to drive profitable growth and subsequently [quickly] defining the kind of talent we need to address those opportunities. 

I’ve also been looking closely at the data and technology teams and how they work together and then again figuring out what we need to improve. Finally, there is also the R+D and innovation piece. This area has been the steepest learning curve for me because, obviously, that's where I had the biggest gap. But Clorox is as good as anyone when it comes to R+D, so I’m learning a ton by asking a lot of questions and challenging myself.  I'm really trying to push myself to think a little bit differently, but also challenge the team to get out of their own way at times (always easier said than done, which I know first-hand); sometimes when you focus on something for so long you can kind of lose sight of bigger opportunities that might be around, even though they might not be as obvious. 

So with all of that being said, for me, one of the biggest priorities was to remove the barriers for the teams. Not knowing as much about the category actually gave me license to ask a lot of dumb questions and help the team try to create new and unique things and not get caught up on the “well, we can't do this for this reason,” or “this will never work because of this reason”. I came in as a novice and created a blank slate for us to imagine what’s possible and how we can obviously continue to drive repeat behavior and loyalty…and of course, I’m sure many of my ideas will fail miserably but that’s kind of part of the deal, you know? Just have to learn from it, optimize/adapt and not repeat it.

Howard: So, just a few things to get started huh? (laughs). I've been talking to a lot of people like you that I've known for a while that are getting into leadership positions at D-T-C brands and I don't think that's going to change anytime soon. The common thread seems to be a lot of excitement, but also the need for a lot of education of the consumer they're trying to reach and a really unique approach to building an experience that’s really additive to pushing people down the funnel. What are your thoughts on tackling similar challenges and opportunities?

Jeyanayagm: Yeah, for sure.  I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the D-T-C challenges and opportunities. I would say in general, and specific to health & wellness supplements, you have everything from well-established pharmaceutical companies and mainstream CPG companies to snake oil salespeople promising the consumer the world and selling you crap that completely under delivers…or even harms! 

We are in the dietary supplement category, which is the idea that if you take certain things, you’ll hopefully live a longer and more prosperous life. However, you're not taking us to solve a major issue overnight, or within an hour. It’s important to make that distinction and get the tone right when building the brand. Education around those type of products, in addition to explaining the active ingredients our products might have, like turmeric or curcumin, is critical. We’ve got to do this to build trust because when you buy something at Whole Foods there's an inherent trust that the consumer can understand and we have to live up to that standard.  So, to your point, education is critical. Endorsement from the right people and not just paid influencers is also essential. We need to focus on actual endorsements from credible media, credible doctors, credible pharmacies, credible “health” experts…and perhaps most importantly – happy customers…first and foremost.

For us, it’s about maximizing credibility and building trust.  I think the name Clorox helps, but Clorox is also known for household products. We need to find the balance here. Yes, it’s a great brand with a great history, but it's also, traditionally, been in a different category.  Right now, it’s all about how do we make that pivot and still leverage Clorox’s brand equity most effectively. I think the nice thing about our category is that health and wellness has been considered on the fringe for so long, and now it’s coming into the mainstream. I believe we have a real opportunity to capitalize on that momentum. Additionally, many players have paved the way for us in the both the wellness space and the D-T-C category by delivering great quality products and experiences.

Howard: That's so true. With the neuromarketing project and book that I've been working on, it is actually the same. When I heard you say snake oil it reminded me of what I've been dealing with. You’ve got to undo the mistakes of the past by joining with the ones who are doing it right today to help imagine what’s possible in the future.

Jeyanayagm: Right. You deal with it perhaps much more than we do. It’s great when you reach that tipping point and start to build credibility and trust.

Howard: Is there a specific target for Nutranext? What I've seen with other D-T-C brands, or clients that we're working for, is almost like the same customer segment that spans multiple generations. What are your thoughts?

Jeyanayagm: It depends on the brand, but yes, that does happen as people are drawn to a category by a passion or need, not their age necessarily, unless of course the category is age specific. Let me share a couple of examples.  One is related to a brand I am working on in our portfolio right now, Stop Aging Now (www.stopagingnow.com). I didn't have a lot of experience marketing to Baby Boomers, and I’ve quickly discovered that there's so much miseducation and misinformation when it comes to seniors and Boomers health. I believe there's a big opportunity there for us to help people in a very authentic way. I'm excited about that. 

We also believe that we have a huge opportunity to target pet owners. We have a brand called Charlie's Choice, which makes a product that helps joints and bone pain - among many things – for pets, so it's great for hip dysplasia in aging pets, which is a no brainer for anyone who has a dog, for instance. We also have a calming product which helps dogs stay calm during loud bursts of thunderstorms or the recent July 4th fireworks. If you have seen a pet deal with that, you know how painful it is to watch and must be for the dog. Thinking more and more about the Gen X audience and this category, I think they are a huge potential for us. So. How do we speak to them? Well, first off, we all know that the popular market is going to focus on the Millennial and Gen Z. Which is ironic because Gen X is the parent  to the Gen Z’ers, providing them their allowance to be in a position to buy those products. They're the ones with the predominant earnings in the household, but yet they're completely under-marketed to…and what’

S even better, they're the ones who grew up on e-commerce; they’ve literally watched Amazon go from a bookstore to the everything store it is today. So, for me that reflects a tremendous opportunity for us to expand to while also continuing to double down on what we've done well with Stop Aging Now.

Howard: Do you want to talk about anything that you think is important from your past that you'll be using to drive your future?

Jeyanayagm: I'm excited for this next chapter. I think there's a great opportunity, as I mentioned, for me to learn from all these great leaders at Clorox and truly learn about the rapidly growing wellness industry. It’s funny — I never thought I'd be working in this industry. I never looked at supplements as such a growth category…but it clearly is and I'm just really excited to learn what it's like to be kind of a mini CEO. I’m running this small team of 70 people or so, spread across a few cities.  It's an amazing opportunity to work with some smart people who are do amazing work and truly care about the impact they are making on people’s lives – making lives healthier. 

When the move was announced, a lot of acquaintances and even friends were asking “why would you leave Boxed as CMO to take this role??” So when someone asks me that, I always respond with something that I believe Richard Branson said well – “you should never take any job where you already know how to do more than 70% of it.” I feel like that was repeating over and over again in my head and what drew me to this role and I'm excited for the path it will provide. 

Howard:  You know I don't have to say this, but I will tell you that anyone who was questioning why you made the move obviously doesn't really know much about what's driving the future of leadership in the space, because what you did, from my POV, is visionary and where the future is going. So, if somebody doesn't understand that, perhaps they should be more worried about what they're doing!

Jeyanayagm: (Laughs)  I appreciate that. Thank you. I know you spend a lot of time thinking about this space and I love the sociological and psychological tack you take in terms of how people think about their own careers, broader organizational shifts and leadership, in general. I am obsessed with that stuff. I wish I could do it full-time and I think you offer a really unique perspective, so coming from you that that means a lot. 

Howard: Thank you, I appreciate that.  I know we had discussed addressing some other questions  about technology and emotional intelligence. Is there anything in particular you want to share as a final thought?

Jeyanayagm: As I talk about the financial piece related to a marketer's leadership, you assume that quantity is most important, but I would argue it's equally important not to forget EQ (emotional intelligence). I think it’s becoming more and more important. Today it's not the strongest or the smartest that will survive, it’s the most adaptable. To be that way you have to have a high EQ. I like to think that I live to serve other people, not vice versa. The Servant Leadership model, that's all built on EQ. Knowing and reading people and understanding what drives them and what motivates them is vital to successfully marketing to anyone today. It's so different from person to person, that if you can demonstrate a high EQ, it takes personalization to a whole other level. With a high EQ you’re on the right path and headed toward what matters. It’s why I always look for the same three qualities when I hire people: empathy; versatility; and curiosity. 


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