CMOs Who Challenged The Leaders


John Ellett, Contributor

February 28, 2014

Brands that are challengers in their industries can’t expect to grow by playing by the established rules. They must be category disrupters that are willing to be bold, innovative and provocative. These three CMOs have been leaders of brands willing to do those things. Whether it was Chobani pioneering the Greek yogurt category, JetBlue redefining the air travel experience for the masses or Capital One breaking out of the sea of sameness in the credit card business, these companies and their leaders have been remarkable examples of courage.

Peter McGuinness, Chief Brand and Marketing Officer, Chobani

The Greek yogurt brand went from zero to $1 billion dollars in five years with product innovation and socially driven marketing. The company’s provocative tweet during the Olympics created massive media coverage. “I think that ‘Naturally Powering Everyone’ was subtle, but it was risky and it was controversial.”

To McGuinness, courage means just doing what you think is right. “It’s following your gut, it’s following your instincts, it’s having conviction for what you believe in, what you think is right, despite what others might say or despite what a piece of research might indicate.”

His advice to on how to be a successful challenger brand:

  1. Push yourself beyond the limits and be confident enough to dare.
  2. Have an obsessive-compulsive focus on creativity in all forms and manifestations because it will drive sales. Creativity’s at the core of everything we do.
  3. Be generous to the people that work with you, be generous to your customers and be generous to your consumers. Be generous with your time, be generous with your knowledge and be generous with your money.

Marty St. George, SVP Marketing and Commercial Strategy, JetBlue

Building a successful airline is not easy. But with a unique brand and a commitment to delivering a great experience to all customers, JetBlue has indeed challenged the established carriers. “Look at the product on the legacy airlines. In general they create their ‘even more’ products by taking something away from other customers. They squeeze the back of the airplane to get more room in the front of the airplane. We want to make it really clear we didn’t do that. So even if you just bought the regular $99 dollar ticket to Florida you’re going to get the best coach seat of any airline.”

To St. George, courage means be willing to take risks. “Be willing to do something that you think has more than a zero chance of failing.”

His advice for engaging digital customers as a challenger brand:

  1. You really need to have the same brand personality in every channel that you’re interacting in; you need to be consistent across all channels.
  2. In the social world, and in the digital world, there’s no place to hide. You can describe things any way you want, including what you think you stand for, but the customer actually decides what you really stand for and whether you’ve got credibility with how you’re representing yourself.

Bill McDonald, Former CMO, Capital One

Fifteen years ago, Capital One was a distant challenger in the credit card business. But with innovative offerings and a bold commitment to launching the “What’s in Your Wallet” campaign, the company has become a leader in the field. “The biggest move we made was to go from small test market spending into the $100 million dollar league in one fell swoop. And when you’re in 13th place and you’ve got to leap into the top-three consideration set, you’ve got to get out of the sea of sameness.”

To McDonald, courage means doing the rights things versus doing things right. “Companies get comfortable. Courage is helping lift the company up and get it out of its comfort zone and into fresh new territory, finding a fresh new energy and new ways of doing things.”

His advice for marketers trying to challenge the status quo:

  1. Be a content-driven CMO: Be content driven, idea driven, creativity driven.
  2. Okay is not good enough. Establish an unbelievably high level of excellence and then defend it.
  3. Great CMOs are great simplifiers. Focus on the critical activities in order to excel.

To vote for your favorite challenger CMO, visit

Great ! Thanks for your subscription !

You will soon receive the first Content Loop Newsletter