Karna Crawford, former CMO of Ford Motor Company joins the crew on CX Decoded
CX Decoded Podcast
May 12, 2023

CX Decoded Podcast Episode 17: Creating Customer Loyalty Through Brand Consistency and Innovation

In this special edition of CX Decoded, recorded live at the JW Marriott in Austin, Texas this week during the CMSWire CONNECT Conference, CX Decoded hosted Karna Crawford, a distinguished marketing and digital strategy leader with a proven track record of innovation and tangible results.

Throughout this episode, Karna, former head of US marketing at the Ford Motor Company, shares her invaluable insights on customer experience and its evolving landscape. She brings a wealth of experience from working with iconic brands and leveraging data-driven insights to shape customer experiences.

Karna's unique perspective as a trailblazer in the industry sheds light on the best strategies and practices for CX professionals, whether seasoned veterans or those just starting their journey.One of the key takeaways from our conversation with Karna is the importance of strategic alignment between brand innovation and customer loyalty. She emphasizes the need for organizations to prioritize their innovation efforts and ensure they align with the overall brand strategy.

By focusing on innovation that enhances the customer experience and delivers on the brand promise, companies can foster loyalty and create meaningful connections with their target audiences.

Another crucial aspect discussed in the podcast is the role of technology in driving customer experience. Karna highlights the significance of utilizing technology solutions efficiently and effectively, rather than succumbing to a multitude of disjointed tools. She emphasizes the need for a strategic approach, where technology decisions are driven by the specific problems they aim to solve and the measurement of their impact on customer experience.Moreover, Karna delves into the importance of fostering a culture of creativity, collaboration and innovation within organizations.

By encouraging a mindset of courage, choosing priorities wisely and implementing innovations that deliver tangible benefits in the present, organizations can maintain brand consistency while driving growth and customer loyalty.

Episode Transcript

Unraveling the Complexity of Customer Experience

Dom Nicastro: Hello and welcome to a special a special edition of CX Decoded. We're on site here in Austin, Texas at the JW Marriott for CMSWire CONNECT Conference. That's our conference. We also have the Reworked CONNECT conference, our sister site and publication I'm Dom Nicastro, managing editor CMSWire joined by my co-host, for the first time in the same room literally, I'm looking at his face. He has a face. This is weird. Editor-in-Chief, Rich Hein. What's up Rich? 

Rich Hein: Hey, Dom, it is great to be here. Not only is it great to be here with you live and Karna as well, but it's great to be here at our first live event since, what is it 2019 ...

Dom: 12,081 days.

Rich: ... CMSWire connect 2023. So everybody who's joining us welcome to another episode of CX Decoded. This is the podcast where we unravel and explore the best strategies and customer experience. Today we have a very special guest joining us someone who is a proven leader in the marketing and digital strategy world. Karna Crawford, former US head of marketing for Ford Motor Company. Karna has held senior roles in some of the world's leading companies leveraging her deep understanding of data driven insights to shape customer experiences in profound ways. She's a trailblazer, known for innovation, strategic approach and the ability to translate complex ideas into tangible results. Today, we're gonna dive into her journey, her insights on the evolving landscape of customer experience and her vision for the future. So whether you're a seasoned CX professional or just getting started getting ready for some credible insights, please join us in welcoming Karna Crawford to the podcast.

Karna Crawford: Hi.

Dom: Hi. what's going on? 

Karna: This is my first post COVID conference activity. I'm very excited to be here. 

Dom: Yes. It's odd, isn't it? I mean, I am upset because I had to get four count them four outfits ready? I do you know what my outfit coordination was for the last three years? Making sure I don't wear the same shirt two days in a row on a Zoom. That's all they see is your shirt. 

Rich: I can definitely relate to him. I had to get all new pants for this event. 2020. Walmart for the win for me. 

Karna: That uses belts? 

Rich: Yes, exactly. It's either got elastic or a belt.

Dom: Walmart for the win for me too guys this week. For sure. I think we  should start with current first, let's get a little background on her. So if you wouldn't mind telling us a little bit about yourself, you know, what are your focus areas? And how did you get here?  

Karna: Yeah, absolutely. So first of all, thank you guys for all so much for having me. I'm Karina Crawford. I am based in town in the New Jersey area called West New York, which is basically like saying I'm based in New York.

Karna: And so most recently, I was the head of us marketing at Ford Motor Company, during a time that we were really driving marketing, transformation and kind of transforming the business as a whole to continue its evolution towards an electric future. But I've really built my entire career being a full stack, full funnel marketer that really prides on being also my full self, I really show up as me and that's the way that I lead organizations as well. Prior to being at Ford. I've also led different marketing strategy and media and creative roles across Verizon, JPMorgan Chase, Coca Cola, Miller Brewing Company, as well as some great agencies like Moxie. 

Rich: So when you talk about being full stack, do you come from like a technologist background? 

Karna: I don't actually, I actually grew up as a purebred marketer, my first roles were all at or for the Coca Cola company. And so I grew up as a true brand marketer, but very early on, I got excited about data and technology, I actually have a biomedical engineering degree. So in the way my brain functions, I'm highly analytical and data focused. But in the wake of the other part of my brain functions, I also really love creativity. And so I started on that side of the house, in licensed merchandise and event marketing, and then learned very quickly that digital was going to be the future. And inevitably, that also means data and technology. As the enablers of that have really been fuel to my career.

Dom: I was just at a session with Tony Byrne of Real Story Group talking about the creation of a new role, like I think he called a marketing data ops person, someone who really needs to sit between the engineer the data scientists, and the marketers, the brand people the content drivers, like in all your roles, was there like a consistent place where you sat in the marketing role? Was it like more towards the data analytics I showed you earlier analytics person? Or was it brand And, and messaging and campaigns, or was it a little bit of both? 

Karna: I would answer the question a little differently than the way you posed it, I have always sat at the merge of creativity and data in roles that actually allow me to marry them together. So whether it's leading marketing as a whole, which inevitably, by default marries them together, but then also, it might be roles like I was, when I was at Coca-Cola, I was the director of media and interactive. And in that job, it is about audience targeting and data. At the same time as it is about the message, the storytelling and the creativity in the digital space, and how you bring those two things together, that's really where I thrive is when I'm bringing those things together, or I'm helping to enable a team to be able to bring those things together. 

Dom: Yeah, you need those middle people, right like that brings IT and marketing together at the table.

Karna: That's an actually a really important role that we were building when I was at Ford and that other organizations have identified because you've got this amazing talent bed of deep data and analytics, people who can probably solve any problem that you can imagine. And then you've also got those deep technology people. But then you have to be able to translate a business problem to them in a way that they can actually utilize it and drive the solutions. And so we in multiple ones, we've had a position that's kind of a marketing analytics or marketing ops type of role, where it's a person who is a marketer at their core and understands the marketing agenda. But they also have a level of technologist and a level of analysts in their heartbeat as well, that allows them to kind of be that bridge between the two.

Related Article: 3 New(ish) Ways to Think About Customer Loyalty

Avoiding Silos and Maximizing Martech Efficiency

Rich: We've talked a lot about the people. Let's just jump into the technology a little bit here. There's so much technology out there now. 11,000 martech solutions, right? And not even to mention all the AI things that are coming into play. Now? How do you approach leveraging these technologies to you know, get ahead of the curve and stay ahead of your competition?

Karna: One of the things that I would say is, if you look at my career, most recently, I've been at a lot of large enterprises. So the challenge that I'm usually faced with is, how do you streamline your end, maximize or optimize your usage of the technology? Because there's always a plethora of stuff, because some group across the enterprise got something approved and installed, and now all of a sudden, you've got everything, right. And so the real opportunity is, is in taking a step back as a marketer, and saying, what are the business problems I'm trying to solve? How am I going to measure those things or enable those things, and then, which is the most efficient use of technology to enable that. A lot of instances, a technology solution is installed to solve a singular problem. And then you end up with five different unrelated technology solutions inside of your organization. And when you then are tasked with, Okay, what's the end end experience? And where are you seeing the drop off? Or where are you seeing the fall off? Or where do you have opportunity? You can't actually fully answer the question, because you put five point solutions in instead of thinking about the end to end experience you're delivering for your customer, and therefore how you're going to measure the experience from end to end. And so I think what I've really been pushing teams on is, make sure that you're looking at your technology decisions and your data decisions through the lens of what is the problem you're trying to solve? And how are you going to measure that problem? 

Rich: Do you see commonly that that is one of the ways that organizations get siloed? As far as data and analysis is that like you said, there's potentially five different solutions solving the same problem?

Karna: Yeah, I've seen it in a couple of different ways. In some instances, the five different solutions solving a problem is because the organization was already siloed. And so as a result, since Bob wasn't talking to Jennifer, because their organization had separate remits, and they weren't in a mindset of working as an end to end integrated organization, then you end up with Jennifer had a problems, and Jennifer looked at the opportunity to solve it. Bob had a problem et cetera, et cetera. So in some instances, it's that in other instances, frankly, data is power. And so you find both technology solutions and data silos because of the fact that people want to maintain a level of power and influence inside of their enterprise. I pose though, that that is a short sighted way of looking at it. And it's also rooted in internal politics, not in best solution for your customers. So when I think about things in the way I push my teams, it's always pushing us to what is the problem we're trying to solve for the customer? And what is the best solution for that to enable that for the customer. And that continued to help drive a breaking down of barriers and silos both technologically and datawise. 

Dom: This discussion like brings up in My head martech audit martech audit, right? Like, have any of these iconic brands you worked for? done something like that? Where they said, Alright, let's get together, see what we have. So Bob and Jim, don't each buy a CRM, because we already have one? And who would lead that generally to in an organization?  

Karna: Yeah, absolutely. So I'm gonna answer that through my experiences, and then answer that through my point of view, which is not necessarily the same thing. Perfect. From an experience perspective, I would say yes, at every one of the companies that I've been at, there has been some look at an audit either, because we were earlier in the martec stage. And so it was less of an audit and more of a, what do we need, and let's do an enterprise view of what we're trying to create. And then in other instances, it's been, you know, like, for instance, in some of my more recent experiences, we've got everything under the sun available to us. But they're not connected, they're not interrelated to each other. And let's figure out what we want to do about it. The reality is, you need a steward, when you don't have a steward, who is helping to drive an enterprise cross divisional perspective, then you end up really struggling to have alignment on objectives, alignment on intent, and therefore alignment on solution. Now, I have seen instances where your IT slash chief technology organization is responsible for that, I've seen instances where your CMO organization responsible for it and where your digital organization or your EComm, organization etc, is responsible for it, I think it can be done in any of those ways. As long as whoever the core leader is helping to steward the decision making is thinking about things through the lens of the customer first, and the best solution to deliver for the customer. And then the most efficient and effective way for us to deliver that. And who's thinking about it with an enterprise mindset, not a siloed, individual, self self-serving mindset.

Related Article: Building a Next-Level Customer Loyalty Program

Balancing Immediate Needs and Future Aspirations

Rich: The self serving mindset, it sounds bad, but I think a lot of us find ourselves in that situation where we're in a job, you get this problem that you have to solve. And it's like, I need to get this done ASAP. You go you buy a product, you put it on, you know, your your company credit card. And the next thing you know, six months later, you got like you said three people were doing different solutions ...

Dom: Collecting dust

Rich: Or not being used even worse.

Karna: I've been in an organization where we had every solution under the sun and including, like Pega, and Adobe. And yet, we were using, we weren't even actually using the business rules engine for Pega, which was apparently the reason why we actually got Pega. But then as a result, you're every year going up against the CFO trying to justify why you're spending the investment for the solution. But in reality, your organization doesn't even know how to use the solution optimally. So I mean, it's a real thing. I lead my teams with a mindset of I call it OPP not to be mistaken with the song, outcomes, people and partnership. And so when we think about what solutions we're trying to create, we should be thinking about the people impact and the impact on the partnerships that we have, meaning our partners within the organization, you are not a winner if you solve your problem. And in doing so, it creates an equal and opposite problem in a partner's organization, you are a winner. If you find the best solution that meets the needs of both of you guys. Obviously, sometimes that isn't possible. But that means that you have to proactively align on what needs are not going to be met and why and ensure that you guys are approaching that from a partnership mindset. Enterprisewide thinking is how I believe people elevate inside of organizations siloed thinking is a in my opinion, a career killer because while it may get you really far and get you great performance scores right now, at the end of the day, people start to see that you make all of your choices and decisions for you and your best interest and not the best interest of the customer or the enterprise. 

Dom: But it is true in these meetings between marketing and technologists that you can in fact start the meeting with Naughty By Nature's theme song OPP correct.

Dom: You can start the meeting with that song if you want.

Karna: You can. Now here's what I will tell you that I have learned over the years because that has been the OPP has been my mantra for many many years.

Rich: And that is outcome people in partnership.

Karna: Correct. 

Dom: How can you not blast that in your, in your car? If you hear that? On the radio, I've said FM radio to the kids and I listen to FM radio. So I feel like I may need to come up with like a new mantra that I use when I'm when I'm setting up my organizations because I feel like I'm losing the cache. Yeah, that I want to add contemporary artists you might have to throw like, The Weekend. Yeah. But being with these iconic brands character, and again, by the way, beautiful Austin, Texas here, Rich this is awesome, we're in person doing this podcast, this is amazing. CMSWire CONNECT three days and Friday is the last day, which will enter this podcast, but kind of in those iconic brands, how did you go about fostering that culture of creativity, collaboration, to eventually drive innovation and growth? Because innovation is such a nice word makes you feel all warm and fuzzy. But sometimes it's like, I have a great idea. Why doesn't it go anywhere? You know, how does it die in like a Slack chain? That's where great ideas go to die, right? Slack chains?

Rich: Or email? Yeah, exactly. No one does anything about it. So what were some of your core concepts to really approach that true collaboration, creativity and innovation?

 Karna: Well, let me first say that I have had instances where I've been more successful in instances where I've been less successful. And so no one is perfect at it, especially when you're in these kind of legacy, wonderful heritage enterprises that are rooted in risk elimination. But there are a couple of things that I believe in and that I then instill in my organizations. One is be courageous. Make sure that "no" is a challenge, as opposed to "no" being a barrier or a dream killer.

Dom: We should take that into account, we hear no, here and there, don't we, Rich?

Rich: That's usually a dream killer, Dom.

Karna: Another really important aspect of creating a culture that will be supportive of innovation is being choosy. And when I say be choosy, I'm meaning prioritization. A lot of times, the reason why dreams die is because you've got 1000 dreams, and no focus and no prioritization. So that's a, that's a second key one for me. And then the last one is Be Now, and when I talk about being now I'm talking about making sure that not every innovation, and every new approach, or new idea is so far out that it requires an effort to be able to achieve it, you need to make sure that your innovation ideas and your innovation roadmap is rooted in now. And then, so that you can make some small wins, you can drive some progress, you can build and maintain momentum, versus really great ideas that look extremely cumbersome, that are inside of 1,000 other ideas and are sitting out there because they're going to never go anywhere, because they're going to take you forever to do and too many people and they're not being prioritized. 

Dom: You know, it's a great point, because you are good at that I have a lot of great ideas that I share with my boss, this guy sitting across the room from me. And he'll say, great, but what about six months from now. And that's exactly what you were talking about. I'll give you an example. The AI column that Jenn Torres does. So it's called "All in on AI. "We every week, we do a bunch of nuggets on what's going on in the world of AI because I was so excited. Everyone's so excited about AI now with ChatGPT coming out in November. And I said let's do a column. And Rich says, Okay, what happens when the a buzz dies down? Right? You know, do we just stop doing the column and I said like, it's not going to die down, Rich, not gonna die down. But he made a great point. But AI hasn't died down and we're going to still run with it. 

Karna: You make a good point, because I also kind of inherent in all of that is having a strategic lens. So I have, you know, my team back at Ford, fantastic group of people. What I ensured was that we had a really clear view of strategically what we needed to accomplish, so that the innovation direction and the thing, the ideas that we were stewarding sat inside of that, so in our instance, it might have been things like we need to drive growth with women, Hispanic and African American. One of the mechanisms for us to do that is to be a digital first and social first organization that tells stories that are relevant to those audiences. So then when my team is thinking about innovation and great ideas, etc. They're thinking about it through the lens of how will we enable doing that one innovative approach that my team took was to crowdsource the name of a new Mustang vehicle, something that they had never done. Obviously, not necessarily the first time. any name for something has spent crowdsourced. But for our company, it was a groundbreaking approach that was rooted in being customer centric and being relevant to a specific audience, we therefore went to that audience to come up with the name, which then led us to a new approach to how we can really make sure that we're connecting with those audiences are

Dom: Talking about voice of the customer.

Rich: I can't remember the details. But there was a story a year or two ago, where I think it was the British government put out a contest where they wanted somebody that named the next naval ship. So they put it out and they got back was not a name that they wound up using, because that's where there is a problem. 

Karna: The world have fun, clear their light of day for various reasons. And then even of the top of the top performers, you still have to go through due diligence with legal and trademark and all those things. But at its core, what's really important is how you listened to the customer in a social first, where they are way to help create something that is designed by and for them. 

Rich: Yeah, you just talked briefly about targeting different demographics and different people. And I think that brings up a big question. I mean, you've worked for some of the most iconic brands in the US. And, you know, how does an organization like for example, JP Morgan, or Ford Motor Company? What is their approach to customer loyalty? And brand consistency? Like, how how's that baked into your thought process?

Karna: there are a couple of things I would say. One is absolutely the brand. And the product can be a driver of loyalty and passion. And that's where brands like Bronco brands like Mustang play really well. But there is a broader lens of loyalty than just that. One of the things that Ford was in the process of doing is helping to create a relationship with customers that goes beyond the purchase itself, creating services, creating experiences and creating content that would create a relevant experience for them in between vehicle purchases, so that they have a reason to care and love the brand, even when it's not a passion brand, right? So how do I get people to love and care for an escape, or being a Ford owner, just as much as you know, someone that might have been a passionate fan or fanatic have a Mustang or a Bronco?

Dom: Who came up with a Ford Freestar name, because I had that that sucker drove me six hours back and forth on Christmas, I'm being serious like this. There's so much emotional connections to vehicles. everyone goes, remember that car! 

Karna: Because it's connected to experience in your life, and that and that's what's really important. So when you think about what vehicles can do today, the technology that's enabled in them the data and the digital connectivity, it allows your vehicle to be a part of experiences in all new way, that then creates new memories, new emotional connections and new opportunities for people to fall in love with the brand and stay in love with the brand. And I you know, there there was a point where you guys were asking me a little bit about how do you maintain brand consistency, while driving innovation, I don't see those as at odds to each other. Because in my opinion, your innovation has to be rooted in your brand and your brand strategy. If you do innovation for innovation sake, and it's not aligned to where the brand and the business needs to go, then that's where inconsistency comes from. That's also where waste comes from. So unless you're a company that is looking for a new spark and a new approach or a new direction, typically your goal is for your innovation to be enabling the brand delivering on the brand and helping to take that brand to mean more to your customer. 

Rich: Yeah. I'd love to hear about some of the initiatives that you're the most proud of that you've worked with in the organization.

Karna: A couple of things that I will say is when I was at Ford, one of the initiatives that I was the most proud of was the work that we did when we were launching the Maverick. The Maverick was our first compact size pickup vehicle that was designed specifically to engage a multicultural audience and women for the people who didn't know they needed pickup truck. And we took a strategic approach both to the way the product was designed and to the go to market strategy to make it laser focused on being relevant to that multicultural and female audience. A digital first approach our first ever TikTok endeavor. And we utilized data to then also enable how we were reaching and finding those customers out in the marketplace. We also utilized great African American talent as a part of the launch with Gabrielle Union and really told the story of a pickup in a very non-traditional truck way. That was for our business in our brand, one of the most of the innovative approaches to a go to market strategy. And it led to the vehicle being sold out. Before it was even available to actually get. It also led to some 70% of the buyers being new to Ford, which is an important aspect of how a mature business drives growth.

Rich: Absolutely. Unbelievable.

Dom: I would love to know what's coming up next for you like in terms of thought leadership, what's coming up next in your world, and you know, where people can follow your thought leadership. 

Karna: You joked a little bit about AI and ChatGPT. And I will tell you that I'm I'm really bullish on what it will be able to do for marketing and for businesses. A part of it is from a productivity perspective, there are simple basic things that we generate, as marketers, that we spend unnecessary time doing that we could just get done faster and cheaper. There's a lot of opportunity there. I also think that there's opportunity where this can actually become a tool inside of a lot of our operational processes that will accelerate and speed up some of the things that we do operationally, I'm still at the learning stage here, and the testing and trying stage, but it's something that I really want to go deep on. And then in terms of what's next for me, I actually have a new role that I'll be starting in a few weeks. We haven't, we haven't actually announced it to the press yet. So stay tuned. Stay close to your LinkedIn, because that's probably where it'll get announced.

Rich: Oh, is that where you want people to follow us on LinkedIn?

Karna: Yes, the best place to connect with me to see my point of view and then also for me to engage with us LinkedIn

Rich: Sweet.

Dom: Karna Crawford here from the JW, Marriott, Austin, Texas, unreal conversation, our producers in the background like this is amazing. And they usually have some constructive criticism. They had none. They had none because you crushed it. Thanks. Pretty sure you're on. So you have a speaking engagement. We appreciate you taking the time with CX Decoded, very much. Rich last words. 

Dom: Just happy to be here at CMSWire CONNECT. Thank you so much, Karna, for joining us. Today's is a great podcast. 

Karna: Thanks, guys. Have a great day. 

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