Cynthia Neiman- A Seasoned Marketing Executive Who Markets to Millenials

04 Feb 2015, Posted by Sarina Simon in Advice for Aspiring Producers, Expert Interviews, Marketing, social media, women in technology
Cynthia Neiman

Cynthia Neiman

Cynthia Neiman has spent most of her 30-year career in marketing, driving growth for Fortune 500 companies as well as internet start-ups. The majority of her career has been focused on consumer products & services that target families and kids.  And she has been very involved in technology including educational & video game marketing, web/e-commerce site development, and digital marketing. I believe that CEOs in many industries will tell you that one of the hardest hires to find is a great marketer.  Mattel, Ikea, Ergobaby and more have been several of the lucky companies to have found just that in Cynthia

  • 1. After business school, you started your marketing career in the consumer products area. From there, you moved into the software industry.  How did that transition come about?  Was it by choice or somewhat accidental?

When I graduated business school at Vanderbilt, I spent a few years as a marketing manager for Johnston & Murphy shoes, but my heart wasn’t in it.  I wanted to come back to California and after several interviews, I had two job offers.  The first was as a marketing manager for Neutrogena.  The second was as a marketing manager for an educational software company called Davidson & Associates. The choice was really tough.  As a marketer, I wanted the “blue chip” consumer products company experience on my resume.  But on the other hand, the educational software category was just emerging and the opportunity to have a major impact in a new category at a small company was really appealing.  Also, my mom had been a teacher and I was naturally attracted to the emotional connection of using the computer to help kids learn. My friends thought I was nuts for choosing the educational software company, but I never regretted the decision and many of my later roles were in the technology arena.  

  • 2. Since the Davidson days, you have worked in a variety of companies, some of which sell physical products and some of which sell digital products.  Is there a common theme that ties them together?

I have been fortunate to work for a number of companies in the family and kid space.  I feel a real connection to these companies because I love the target market and products.  I don’t think I would have been nearly as passionate in my career if I had worked in marketing for a financial services or health care company.

  • 3. In the course of your career you have worked for big corporations and startups. Do you prefer one kind of environment over the other?  What do you see as the virtues and drawbacks of each?

I have worked for big companies (IKEA, Mattel, Johnston & Murphy Shoes) and small companies (eteamz, ClubLocal, Ergobaby) and believe that experiences at one, actually enhances working with the other.

When you work at a large company, having spent some time at a small company, you bring a sense of urgency, creative problem solving and just plain scrappiness to that large organization. Sometimes large companies get lazy and fall into routines and stop questioning inefficient processes.
Having an entrepreneurial, small company mentality within a large organization can often inject some much-needed new thinking that drives change. Conversely, when you’ve had experience at a large company and you go to a start-up or early stage company, you can bring process & discipline.  It has been my experience that a number of smaller organizations are very reactive and less strategic.  Big company experience can be really helpful to bring some badly needed structure that helps small companies grow.  For me,
I really like and have learned from both situations, but at these later stages of my career, I find more personal fulfillment in a smaller environment where my impact is greater and I get the chance to truly spend time mentoring young marketers.
  • 4. One of the many interesting things about your bio is that you have left and returned to three different companies in your career. In my experience this is unusual.  What can you tell us about these changes?

While some may find this really odd, I like to think that this means I have always left companies on good terms and when a new opportunity has come up, the company has thought of me fondly and wanted me to return.

  • 5. You are currently CMO at Ergobaby & Orbit Baby.  Is your marketing strategy a mix of both traditional and digital media?  If so, how do you decide how much of your resources you will devote to each?  Have you seen greater effectiveness in one or the other?

At Ergobaby, our target market is primarily the Millennial Mom.  Her smartphone is her lifeline, she stays in contact with friends & family on social media channels, and she rarely buys things without checking ratings and reviews online.  As a result, the majority of my marketing resources are spent on digital media.  In addition, I find the performance-based aspect of digital media critical to the success of Ergobaby.  When I run a print ad, I have no idea how many people saw it and responded to it by visiting a website or walking into a retail store.  Not all resources are spent on digital media. We do invest in consumer events.  Expecting and new moms who attend some of these events are a valuable source of consumer influence (opinion leaders on social media) and product feedback.

  • 6. These days “Big data” is an oft-heard buzz phrase.  How do you use data to inform your marketing decisions? How much do you rely on data in making your marketing campaign decisions?  Is there still (or was there ever) room in marketing for going from the “gut?”

What a great question.  I remember talking to someone who worked at Google years ago and she said that you would get thrown out of a meeting if you began a sentence with the words…”I think”.  The point being, no one at Google cares what you think.  They want to hear what you KNOW from the data.  At Ergobaby, we use data to inform as many decisions as possible.  From analyzing sales data on what is selling and how it is trending to consumer insights to better understand and segment our consumers, we use data to drive our business. One of the biggest shifts in marketing in the past 15 years has been from “engagement” marketing (no accountability) to performance-based marketing (full accountability).  Performance-based marketing can be anything from looking at user acquisition and average order value on your eCommerce site to re-targeting consumers with relevant ads who visit your website.  To answer your question about “gut”, I like to believe there is still room for it.

When designing a digital ad for example, we will design at least two versions. I may approve both to launch (‘gut”), but my “favorite” will always be the one that performs best based on the data.
  • 7. Do you feel social media channels are effective ways to grown and reach your customer base?  Can you tell us which ones work well for you and why you think they do?

To me, the greatest thing about digital marketing is that it is always changing.  My Space gave way to Facebook & YouTube.  And now there is Instagram , Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and a whole host of others.  We go where our target market is.  Our social media strategy includes a handful of channels but we use the data to analyze where our target is going and engaging most with our brand.

  • 8. What would you say are the most common mistakes you see in digital marketing?
One of the most common mistakes I have seen are companies ignoring consumer comments. Social media is a 24/7 commitment and if are not prepared for a two way conversation, you should not become involved.
Another common mistake is that social media truly “takes a village” within any organization.  Within large organizations, there is often a fight among different departments as to who “owns” social media – brand marketing, digital marketing, PR, corporate communications or customer service.  The real answer is that you need a centralized approach with digital marketing creating a “hub & spoke” model where they partner with the other departments but own the analytics & strategic recommendations.
While I was doing digital consulting, I cannot tell you how many times, I’ve encountered different departments within the same company bidding on the same keywords. Enough said.
  • 9. What product or service have you seen lately that really excites you?

At the end of the day, I am a tech nerd.  I really love new products that integrate with your smartphone.  My two new favorites are the Kinsa thermometer that connects to your smartphone and lets parents take and track their children’s temperature.  My other favorite is TILE.  I often scout Kickstarter to look at interesting new products and saw TILE a year ago and became a sponsor.  Attach TILE to your keychain and download the app to your smartphone and if you lose your keys (and have your cellphone), you can track down your keys with the GPS sensor in the TILE.  

  • 10. What are you most proud of in terms of career accomplishment?
I feel like I have been really fortunate to have had some big moments in my career but a definite highlight was launching IKEA in Los Angeles.
At the time, IKEA had a very well entrenched competitor called STOR, who had basically imitated the IKEA concept and launched it first on the west coast.  This was the first time the venerable Swedish retailer had to launch into a market with a competitor who had a similar concept. IKEA advertising worldwide (they were in 26 countries at the time of this launch) was relatively similar, but I had a unique problem….how to communicate to consumers that you are the original, not the imitator?  The marketing plan was multi-layered including TV, Radio, Outdoor and direct mail with 2.5MM iconic IKEA catalogs sent to neighboring homes. In the IKEA world, the philosophy is that you launch a store only once and you better make a big splash. I found a young scrappy advertising agency that came up with the tagline “Today the world…tomorrow Burbank” to communicate that IKEA was a global company with stores all over the world and now we were coming to you.
On the first day of the launch, we caused a SIG alert on the 5 Freeway stopping all traffic had over 55,000 people walk through the doors.
 There was a line to enter the store for the first six days and when we did the customer tally, we counted 106,000 people in less than a week. Needless to say, it took only one year to put competitor STOR out of business.

  • 11. What is the most surprising result you experienced in your career?  For example is there a product that you thought was a sure winner that did not perform as well as you hoped?  What did you learn from this experience?

Again, I would go back to the IKEA Grand Opening in Burbank and call that one of the most surprising results of my career.  Two weeks before the Grand Opening, I started to doubt if anyone would really show up on opening day.  I remember going to get my hair cut and hearing some of the other customers in the salon talking about IKEA.  Later that night, the same thing happened at a restaurant.  I don’t consider myself an eavesdropper, but hearing strangers talking about IKEA in a casual setting gave me a bit of confidence, but the sheer volume of people attending the Grand Opening (and willing to stand in line for hours to get into a retail store) just shocked me.

  • 12. What is the biggest risk you have taken in your career?  Did it pay off?  How and why or why not?   What are some of the things you’ve learned?

Hands down, the biggest risk I took in my career was passing on the offer from Neutrogena in favor of a position in the very new field of consumer computer software with an unknown educational software company (Davidson & Associates that later purchased Blizzard Entertainment, creators of the World of Warcraft franchise).  That one decision led me down a path of technology that been a huge influence and kept me relevant even in the later stages of my career.

  • 13. We call this blog, Influences and Influencers, who are the people who have influenced you?  Have you ever had a mentor? Can you tell us about him or her?  Whose work or input has impacted you the most in your career and how?

My second job out of college was working in Corporate Communications for a large retail corporation that owned The Broadway department store chain, Bergdorf Goodman, Walden Books, Henri Bendel, Holt Renfrew and many others.  My boss, Glenna Grey, influenced me a great deal because she really taught me the importance of writing clearly and concisely. Thanks to her, I think in bullet points. The closest thing I’ve had as a mentor has been you, Sarina.  While you were at Philips, I remember being in a few meetings with you and being really impressed by your intelligence, forthrightness, and respect for people in the room (even when they were junior marketers).  We later reconnected and you have been amazing at staying in touch and offering me sound career advice at several critical points.  While I can’t say that I have always followed your advice, I have always valued you as an important sounding board. Lastly, an important influence in my career has been my mother.  She went from teacher to office manager for my cousin’s medical practice for 30 years.  She literally helped my cousin build his practice from scratch and taught herself how to use a computer and become a beta tester for some of the first medical billing software that was integrated with Medicare and Medi-cal.  

But the most important lesson I learned from my mom was how to manage and motivate people. Her golden rule was “Praise in public and criticize in private”. Definite words to live by.
  • 14. If an aspiring marketer came to you for career advice, what would you tell them in terms of building a career?

I actually mentor a handful of young women marketers and we often talk about everything from overcoming disappointment to planning their next career move.  Some of the more frequent advice that I give is challenging them to think about short term AND long goals.  I also remind them that very few decisions are irrevocable.  If you make a decision you later regret, you simply need to formulate a plan on how to work your way out of it.  And lastly, I am a big advocate of always learning & growing.  Take a webinar, read blogs and newsletters, attend conferences and network.  When is the last time you updated your LinkedIn profile or asked someone to write you a recommendation? As a marketer, you must remember to be diligent in marketing your own brand.

  • 15.  If you could start all over again, what career would you pursue?

Another great question.  I love to cook and would have probably enjoyed going to culinary school and opening a small restaurant.  I am also passionate about education and while I thought I would have enjoyed being a teacher, after going through the college admission process with both of my sons, I now think that I would really enjoy being a guidance counselor.

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