The Person Behind The Brand
The CMO Club recently sat down with Michael Barrette, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer for Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn, headquartered in Paducah, Kentucky.
Michael is a 36-year veteran of both marketing and sales, holding leadership positions for such companies as M&M Mars, L’Oreal, and Revlon in both the U.S. and Canada. His career has spanned all major Consumer Product Goods industries including grocery, drug, mass, club, convenience, food service and leisure & entertainment.
Since joining Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn, the number of direct accounts grew by 20% in the first three years, doubling sales growth from 2012 to 2016. Michael’s experience in retail channels led both companies to successfully diversifying outside of the Food Services industries with the launch of the Dippin’ Dots Distribution program in C Store & Drug Channels with over 4000 retail locations. Today, the Dippin’ Dots brand is in more than 100 shopping centers and retail locations, in more than a thousand theme parks, stadiums, arenas, movie theaters and other entertainment venues across the country.
Michael is a native of Montreal, Canada. He is fluent in French and English and is a lifelong hockey fan. He lives in Nashville, Tennessee, with his wife, Betty, and has two grown children, Matthew and Stephanie.
CMO Club – What was your first industry job?
Michael Barrette – My first marketing job, back in my days in Canada, was a product manager with a company called Maple Leaf Foods. Back then it was called Canada Packers, the equivalent of Oscar Meyer here in America.
CMO Club – What do you remember about that first experience?
Michael Barrette – Back in that meat industry culture, we ran our own brand P&L’s every Monday by hand. We had graph paper and mechanical pencils, and we scratched out business P&Ls. That’s something that stuck with me. It left a footprint for the rest of my career. Marketing tends to be, of course, about creative insight and foresight, but in reality, is about running a business. If you can’t make deposits in the company’s bank account, then what are you doing.
CMO Club – You’ve worked for brands such as M&M Mars, Revlon, L’Oreal, been a leader throughout the Food Service industry and Customer Products industries. How did those experiences help shape who you are today?
Michael Barrette – As I reflect on my different experiences, the one that I think prepared me as much as anything for the role I have, especially these past eleven years here with Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn, was when I was promoted to the first team leader of the first fully cross-functional team. I ran the M&M Mars snack business, calling on the global headquarters of Walmart and Sam’s Club. The team was not just customer marketing. It was account leadership, sales, data analysis, category management, customer finance and customer logistics all rolled up. My role here as CMO and Sales Officer is to be a strong advocate for the demand creation side of the business, working with the entire supply-side of the corporation. A good number of my folks are either based in the field across the country or based in our marketing office. I have to be the one who has to negotiate, influence and cajole key decision makers in our leadership positions in such things as operations, finance, logistics, manufacturing, etc. A lot of marketing from a project management perspective is working cohesively with these other functions as well as with other teams. I certainly had to do that. A lot of cross-functional teamwork had to be done, and that’s very much what I do today.
CMO Club – What are some of the benefits as well as challenges with holding both the CMO and Sales Officer positions?
Michael Barrette – One of the enormous benefits from my experience has been that as much as you would think of demand creation as a combination of marketing and sales or perhaps market, sales and R&D, that those particular silos would and should work seamlessly with each other, it’s not often the case. I’m not trying to be disparaging to any of my colleagues in marketing or sales elsewhere but, you can be isolated. Where you’ve got head office folks who tend to be in marketing and sales folks who tend to be in the field, they don’t necessarily sing from the same song sheet. I have the opportunity to make sure that sales and marketing are both very much attached at the hip. That is a big positive. The challenge, of course, to having the two different hats is a lot of my folks on the sales side are more distant, geographically-based, so from a team leadership perspective, you have to work harder at maintaining high-level relationships scattered across the country in concert with marketing and the inside of the business. It can be, at times, pulling and pushing from different directions, but the upside of a coordinated effort outweighs some of those headwinds.
CMO Club– Can you tell us some of the strategies you’ve implemented over the past year?
Michael Barrette – We are blessed with an adoring and loyal fan base here at Dippin’ Dots and Doc Popcorn, especially Dippin Dots, which just turned 30 years young. We know we can’t rest on our laurels, however, so one of the things we’ve done is try to remain relevant with our consumer through popular culture and popular media. Our core demo is kids eight-to-eighteen years of age who live on their smartphones. We’ve teamed up with Z-100, the pop radio station in New York City for their huge Jingle Ball concert, did a co-promotion with their ticket sweepstakes, which we over-laid with ours, generating almost 10,000 entries. We did a huge pre-concert trade show where people came to our booth to do selfies with our consumer contest-named mascot Frozeti The Yeti. We also look for influencers wherever we can, such as WWE Wrestler Titus O’Neill, who did a charity event for underprivileged children and families down in Tampa this past February. We try and align ourselves with the high-integrity, family value-based sweet-spot of our core demo whenever we see the opportunity, such as doing a movie promotion with Teen Titans Go! To The Movies this coming July. One of the most fun things we’ve done recently is having people take photos of themselves with Dippin’ Dots stuck all over their tongues, which we share on our website. We even have some of our franchise employees in on the fun, wearing big buttons showing one of our staff with their favorite Dippin’ Dots flavors and colors stuck to their tongue.”
CMO Club – What characteristics do you most value when hiring for your team?
Michael Barrette – When we think of marketers, we tend to think of those folks who possess a certain amount of consumer insight, but, beyond that obvious trait, what we are looking for are good team players with excellent organizational skills. I believe that some folks in marketing have been groomed and have the impression that they are the anointed ones, and really, what we want are people who possess those great consumer insights, but are really at their core, people of integrity, humility, and grace.
CMO Club – Can you name a brand that impresses or inspires you right now?
Michael Barrette – There’s one that I’ve admired for some years and is owned by Pepsi-co, which is the Mountain Dew brand, which was a sleepy regional brand initially out of Tennessee. It’s incredible how that brand has been pretty successful at reinventing themselves and staying current within the popular culture, not just in recent times, but over the past two decades. Another brand would be the BMW Mini Cooper line. They tapped into an insight when they saw one of their competitors bring back the Volkswagen Beetle. One of the challenges Volkswagen had when they brought back the Beetle was the heavy female skew. They had trouble attracting men to that particular brand. Our friends at BMW were able to tie-in to something both men and women liked that was fun.
CMO Club – Any books that have inspired you recently?
Michael Barrette – I tend to be more inspired by historical non-fiction, biography-type books. One of the more meaningful books I’ve read recently is Truman” by David McCullough. It talks about leadership in dealing with challenging situations. It’s a tremendous book that teaches and can uplift when, as business leaders, the situation can be so daunting around us. One more is from Dr. Roberto Canessa called I had to survive. He was on the Uruguayan National Rugby Team, and in 1972, he and his teammates crashed in the Andes Mountains. Only 16 survived. He was nineteen when it happened and went on to become a pediatric cardiologist, saving many babies’ lives. I met him two months ago. He was one of the humblest people I’ve ever met.
CMO Club – Do you have any passions or hobbies outside of work?
Michael Barrette – “For most of us from Canada, trying to beat hockey out of us is like trying to beat soccer out of a Brazilian. It’s almost impossible. I never played competitive hockey, but I’ve been playing since I was five or six recreationally. When I lived in Northwest Arkansas, I joined USA Hockey to become accredited as a youth hockey coach. I figured I could give back to kids in the community and teach them my love of a great, fun game.
CMO Club – Anything you’re willing to share with us that not many people know?
Michael Barrette – Many years ago, when my young daughter was a competitive dancer in Canada, she belonged to a dance studio whose owner started a tap dance class for grown-ups, primarily for moms, but, believe it or not, this group had two dads, and I was one of them. My daughter and I did a duet. She was about maybe eight years old, and we performed live at various competitions, including a fairly large competition in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. We performed in front of about two thousand people to a song called Little Girl by Vic Damone. I got written up in our local newspaper back in Toronto and got a letter from the Mayor. My fifteen minutes of fame.
CMO Club – Can you name one important lesson learned in the last 12 months? Something you were surprised didn’t work, or you were surprised did?
Michael Barrette – When it comes to social media and using influencers, leverage everyone’s relationships on your management team to find a diamond in the rough, who can be a cost-effective influencer for your brand. Like with Titus O’Neil, the WWE star, who became friends with our CEO through a random charitable meeting for Susan G Komen. We have been able to use that relationship in a very cost-effective way to create a positive halo about our brand with our Franchisees and consumers. I didn’t know how this would go, but the values that Titus holds dear nicely tie in with our company’s values of families having fun and putting smiles on peoples’ faces.
CMO Club – What’s your best advice to other CMOs?
Michael Barrette – Many shoppers are loyal to the venues where they purchase products. Brands can take advantage of that loyalty. Brand marketing teams can work with internal sales leaders to collaborate with key accounts leveraging marketing and social media from both teams to create promotions that elevate both brands. Key accounts also invest a lot of resources to better harness shopper insights, and they should be able to assist you to drive brand relevancy with typical consumers, and potentially will help meet some of your brand’s long-term goals.
CMO Club – How can a CMO like yourself change the world for the better?
Michael Barrette – The mantra for both our companies, is all about creating smiles for people. When I’m out on the road, working with various team members, interacting with consumers, it’s always incredibly enjoyable to get into conversations with consumers because they’re always intrigued by what you do and how you spend your day. Sometimes we get a chance to work behind the cart, just serving the Dippin’ Dots to the kids, seeing them smile, smiling with them, creating some of that joy. That’s what I can do in my little corner of the world to try and amplify that feeling of happiness.