Jim Speros of Fidelity Investments on Generating and Riding Momentum

By Ken Beaulieu Legends & Leaders Archives

Over the course of his 40-year career as a marketer, Jim Speros has contributed significantly to the transformation of advertising. A great example is the iconic "Green Line" campaign he launched in 2009 for Fidelity Investments, where he serves as Executive Vice President of Corporate Communications. Though marketers often fixate on the creativity of their campaigns, Speros believes that marketing is ultimately about driving momentum for companies.

According to Speros, there are three important drivers of momentum: redefining and transforming consumer experiences, eliminating significant friction points that consumers experience and inventing the future.

"Marketers who work with their internal business partners to focus on these three areas can reap significant competitive advantage and drive new revenue streams," Speros contends. "It's useful to think about the momentum drivers across these three areas: enhancements to core businesses and products; new markets you're not in today (think CVS' expansion into Minute Clinics), and creatively destroying your business model through transformational ideas. If you're only focused on your core business, you may wake up one morning and find yourself left behind."

In this interview Speros, who will speak at the ANA Masters of Marketing Conference October 19-22 in Orlando, FL, shares his thoughts on creativity, how Fidelity is driving momentum, the importance of standing up for what you believe in and the key lessons he has learned over the past four decades.

Ken Beaulieu: How would you describe the current state of creativity in the marketing industry?

Jim Speros: Creativity in our industry has reached new heights and is flourishing. Creative people and their client partners are willing to take more risks than ever before and deliver much more disruptive and compelling work. At the same time, the explosion of new media forms and innovative applications of technology are ushering in entirely new ways of engaging and entertaining consumers in ways I never could have imagined when I first started out in the business. Every time a new medium or technology application emerges it acts as a catalyst for creative ideation and experimentation. The pace at which these changes are occurring requires that we all keep ourselves in a constant state of learning, experimentation and risk taking, with rapid feedback loops on our work. The one criticism I have about the state of creativity in our industry is that we're not sustaining great ideas long enough. Perhaps we're becoming a bit too tactical given the emphasis on driving short-term results.

Ken: How can marketers improve their creative thinking in an age when time is of the essence?

Jim: As marketers, we have zero time to let any dust settle under us. We live in an age of real-time marketing that requires rapid response to consumer conversation (both good and bad), events and trends occurring around us, and voluminous amounts of data that must be quickly synthesized to uncover insights and drive strategies. At the same time, we have an obligation to enhance our creativity in order drive value for our companies and strengthen our own abilities. Many people believe they are not creative, yet studies reported in the Harvard Business Review and by INSEAD indicate that creativity is 85 percent a learned skill.

There are techniques and approaches to driving greater levels of creative thinking. First, I believe creativity requires eclectic thinking and drawing from our reservoir of experiences and putting it all together in unexpected and surprising ways. However, if you are not filling and stimulating your brain, you will have little to draw upon. So, great creative people are generally those who are inquisitive and draw from an interest in a broad range of topics, including art, music, technology, events, design, trends, fashion, etc. If you're not feeding your brain, you'll have nothing from which to come up with ideas. Second, improving our creative thinking requires that we question often and much more deeply. The initial questions one asks generally expose the most obvious ideas and solutions. It's not until you peel back the onion even more that you are able to get to deeper insights. Third, we have to learn to accept failure and be willing to "color outside the lines." There is a Russian saying: "He who takes no risks, drinks no champagne." This is the only way we'll get to breakthrough thinking. It's incumbent upon leadership to encourage experimentation and allow for failure if we want to get the best out of people.

Ken: Talk about some of the creative ways Fidelity has built momentum in the financial services industry.

Jim: This year Fidelity celebrated its 70th anniversary. We began in 1946 as a mutual fund company, which was started by Edward C. Johnson II, with $3 million in assets. Today we're still owned by the Johnson family and have become a fully diversified financial services company, administering over $5 trillion in assets. We've accomplished this growth by constantly innovating with new products and services and focusing on delivering the best customer service in the financial services industry. Our focus on the customer experience translates to things like new and cutting-edge ways to interact with Fidelity via the Amazon Echo, where you can get stock quotes, or on the Apple Watch and Apple TV, where you can get current market data and transact with us. We're using advanced technology to reduce the number of hand-offs customers experience when they call in to our call centers so they get to the right person as fast as possible. We're eliminating friction points at every interaction point we can.

In addition, we've moved aggressively into creating a great mobile and online experience for our customers who increasingly have a mobile-first approach to doing business with financial services companies. We've also entered adjacent/new markets with the establishment of the Fidelity Health Marketplace. It's a private health exchange for small to mid-sized companies with 10 to 2,500 employees, providing one-stop access to health, wellness and retirement benefits. Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't mention our Green Line campaign. It's the longest running marketing campaign in the company's history and has energized our customers and our associates. The green line has become the metaphor for guidance and navigation, and many customers will literally ask us to give them a "green line" of their own. It is now synonymous with Fidelity and has driven strong results for our business.

Ken: You once said, "Have a backbone and the courage to stand up for what you believe in." What holds some marketers back from living those words?

Jim: Marketers are often the first to become the scapegoats for lackluster performance and the first to get "shot." While the relatively short tenures of CMOs have improved based on studies I've seen, they understandably can be somewhat overly cautious. It takes courage to advance new ideas, particularly those that are transformational. Transformational ideas don't come with a playbook. They involve risk, and many CMOs are not comfortable taking significant risks. Many would rather wrap themselves in the comfort of consensus-driven decisions, which result in going to the lowest common denominator. As I've said to my team many times, "A camel is a horse designed by committee." Don't get me wrong here, the CMO role is a tough one. CMOs are tasked with being momentum generators, orchestrators of multiple functions they often don't control, advisors and the stewards of extensive financial resources for which they are expected to drive a return and measure it. Still, I believe CMOs must be much bolder in their approach and be willing to stand up for new and fresh ways of thinking about their business. Ultimately, it takes courage, leadership, passion, conviction and an inspiring vision for where you want to go.

Ken: You are retiring at the end of the year. What valuable lessons will you pass down to your team?

Jim: I've witnessed and learned a lot over the course of my career. There are a few lessons I would pass along to the next generation of marketers. First, leadership is ultimately the art of achieving results through people. So, you've got to surround yourself with great people who not only complement your skills but fill in the deficiencies you have. Your role as a leader will ultimately be to inspire people to do their best work and to listen to alternative points of view that may lead you to new places. Second, my dad always told me that whenever I sign our family name to the work I do, it should be the best it can possibly be and bring pride and honor to the Speros name. It's not about perfection but about taking pride in the work you do. If you approach work this way and demand it of your people, you will see amazing results. Finally, stay hungry and inquisitive. Embrace a constant state of learning. The world is moving very fast and we all need to keep up with it if we're going to remain relevant and add value to our businesses. You'll be a much more interesting person, too.

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