CMO Spotlight Interview

CMO Club Spotlight: Laston Charriez of Denver Mattress

This week, we’re turning the spotlight onto Laston Charriez, Chief Product Officer at Denver Mattress, recent SVP Americas Marketing Product and Market Development at Western Union and Denver Chapter member. 

Laston Charriez, Chief Product Officer, Denver Mattress

1. What was your first (or favorite) job you’ve had?

My favorite job was Brand Manager, Central America for P&G. The position involved me being sent abroad to oversee the brand in six countries – Guatemala, El Salvador, Venezuela, Belize, Costa Rica and Panama – and of the six, four were at war at the time. It was a crazy time; definitely sink or swim. But it was incredibly exciting too as we were launching products every month in different countries.

Because of the circumstances, we were forced to be very agile: trying new things, seeing what worked and then minimizing damage if things didn’t work. We failed miserably with Pampers in Costa Rica. We shut it down six months later and that was it. It was a beautiful environment where you could make mistakes and learn by doing.

2. What are the 3 most important components for your personal and professional success

  • Curiosity: I’m curious by nature and have to learn something new each day. I try to read different things and explore new outlets every day. If I haven’t learned something new, the day was a waste.
  • Tenacity: You have to keep at learning, doing and trying. Be very cognizant of what’s going on around you.
  • Fearlessness: You have to be on the leading edge of your field – doesn’t matter what it is. If you try something and it doesn’t work, you try something else another day.

3. Can you name an “inflection point” experience that prepared you for your recent position as SVP of Marketing for the Americas at Western Union?

I was with P&G for 20 years and toward the end of my time there, I was feeling very safe. The company had deep pockets and incredible suppliers so if you screwed up there, you didn’t fall far.

When I left for Sara Lee, I left the security blanket and had to re-learn everything. I had to reinvent myself on a team with fewer resources and in the process, learned so much about SEO, social media, content marketing, etc. So when I arrived at Western Union, I was digitally savvy. I was ready.

4. Until recently, you were SVP Americas Marketing Product and Market Development at Western Union. What are some ways you’ve disrupted the financial services industry in recent years? Why do you think you were so successful?

One great example is when Western Union was reassessing their position in the industry: strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities. When we did a word cloud exercise, the two words most associated with the brand in the United States were “Fraud” and “Scam”. We knew that we needed to confront that negative reputation and deal with it before we could do anything else, especially on social media because social is a reverberation machine (good & bad).

To accomplish this, we started responding to all (good and bad) reviews online in a positive way, offered help, and generally upped our customer service. We also provided content and great news about all of the amazing things the company is doing. We launched our Facebook page in December 2013, which now has 6.2 million followers and the highest engagement rates in the financial services industry.

A second example is Western Union’s partnership with Walgreen’s. They currently have 8,032 stores with three kiosks in each store for printing pictures. We partnered with them to allow customers to send money via Western Union from the kiosks. It’s been an amazing value-add for consumers as well as the biggest distribution and expansion Western Union has ever done in one day. We also ended up expanding the program to allow customers to pay their bills from the kiosks as well. Our team at Western Union recently won a consumer distinction award for this self-service product.

We’ve also done tremendous work reaching millennials. For years, we had been successfully breaking through to families with children but couldn’t seem to reach millennial men through traditional advertising. To solve this problem, we researched and mapped their points of passion and found that this group loves Marvel comic books. We began testing different ways to leverage this interest.

Eventually we teamed up with Marvel and started reaching that demographic in unprecedented ways via native advertising campaigns in comics featuring Captain America and other superheroes. We printed over 15,000 copies and gave them away at the Marvel booth at Comic-Con, which resulted in extreme social sharing. People went crazy for them. We also held a Facebook contest to give away signed comic books and got amazing amounts of snail mailed submissions from young men. Then we started creating video, which has been tremendously successful for us on social media. We learned that our success is all about providing something this demographic wants to engage with.

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5. What characteristics do you value most when hiring new marketing talent for your team?

I look for people who are teachable and teachers. The individual has to be willing to learn. But that person also has to bring something to the table that they can teach me and the rest of the team. I’m all about bringing in specialists who are very good at what they do.

6. Which book would you recommend to your fellow heads of marketing right now?

Beyond Disruption: Changing the Rules in the Marketplace by Jean-Marie Dru. Now, more than ever, we must disrupt or else someone else will do it instead. Look at all the new unicorns who are disrupting traditional industries – Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, etc. I work for one of the oldest companies in America and we have to stay one step ahead of the competition but in an authentic way that is true to Western Union’s heritage and what we do. We transfer money in minutes and that’s the heart of the company. It means a lot to our customers.

7. Name one CMO or Head of Marketing who impresses you today and tell us why. 

I really admire Rob Lynch, CMO at Arby’s. He reinvented the brand completely and expanded the portfolio, and in the process, saved a great brand that was dying.

8. Do you have a personal mantra, words of wisdom or favorite inspirational quote? 

I’m a big mountain biker. In mountain biking, if you’re not falling, you’re not going fast enough. When it comes to marketing, you have to give yourself the opportunity to fall. Don’t go so far as to break your leg but take calculated risks.

10% of everything we do in digital everyday is new. We test it on beta and fail on the cheap. If it doesn’t work, we don’t expand and shut it down quickly. That’s the key to success. I expect my team to fail and take risks. If they aren’t, they’re just resting in the comfort zone.