Christopher Moloney, CMO of TaxSlayer, on hiring new talent, switching over from the creative side, and how CMO’s can change the world.
The CMO Club recently sat down with CMO Christopher Moloney of TaxSlayer. Christopher has a long and distinguished career in the financial industry for such iconic brands as Wells Fargo Advisors, Scotttrade, and Experian. He has also worked on the creative side for numerous agencies and newspapers, including graphic design for USA Today early in his career. He is a proud native of St. Louis, Missouri, the youngest of seven siblings, and currently lives in Augusta, Georgia, with his wife, Erin, and their four-year-old daughter.
CMO Club – Welcome. Tell us about how you started in marketing.
Christopher Moloney – Interestingly, my parents bought me one of the original Macintosh computers to ever come out, the very first with a mouse, way back when I was in high school. I became an early adapter to Apple, quickly gravitating to graphic design. I worked for a local newspaper, The Springfield News-Leader, a Gannett paper, adapting the USA Today style of bold design and graphic, colorful layout, changing the old paste-up layout to a fully computerized one. I was always a computer guy. That gravitational pull toward creative design led directly to marketing.
I worked for a company in the early nineties called Meridian, doing database marketing, analytics, customer loyalty, direct-response marketing, everything digital way before it was a big thing. At some point I switched over from creative to the marketing side of things, diving into the psychology of why customers do what they do. I’ve stayed with that ever since.
CMO Club–Tell us more about your transformation from this creative, left-brain person right out of college to the right-brain marketer you became. Was that a natural evolution?
Christopher Moloney – It’s probably the most significant transformation I’ve gone through in my career. Looking back, I’m not even sure which one was more of a natural state for me. My focus was to be successful, to do something that I enjoyed. I found that although I got a lot of personal enjoyment from the creative design side, there seemed to be a set limit on how high you could go and how much of a role you were given. I decided to let that go and became the creative person on the analytics team and merge the two. Because of where I came from I’m better able to communicate with creative and give better direction and feedback. It’s helped me to be a much stronger marketer. I’m very proud of that.
CMO Club – You mentioned you worked customer loyalty programs before they were a big deal. What were some of the things you discovered?
Christopher Moloney – I worked for a large research company in the late nineties. One of our clients was the Marriot Rewards Program. We ran all the data, looking at what drives customers to be loyal. The breakthrough came when we convinced the client that you have to track both the behaviors and the attitudes of the customer, together, within the same database. We were seeing these customers being behaviorally loyal for long periods before completely disappearing off the radar. We wanted to understand why that happened, and what we found was, there were a lot of customers who were unhappy, but appeared loyal. There were also a lot of customers who said they were happy but appeared disloyal because of their behaviors. We convinced leadership that both behaviors and attitudes needed to be addressed at the same time. Typically, those two were very separate silos without much communication between the two. When you can do that, you can make great progress. It’s probably the coolest thing I did. We had a lot of fun with it and wound up publishing a new way of measuring customer behaviors and attitudes.
CMO Club – That’s great. Is there anything new, any surprises taking you in a different direction lately?
Christopher Moloney – Over the last twelve years, I’ve been a CMO with a digital focus. What happens, though, is because digital is so measurable, it’s very tempting for the CMO, or the CFO or the CEO to turn their back on the role of brand. Someone usually says let’s stop doing this thing that we can’t measure, and do more of the thing we can measure. It becomes all digital all the time. Striking that balance is always really tough, between data and branding. Once someone gets their hands on a Google Ad-words Report, they want you to do all that all the time. What hits me on the head is, we get a ton of searches on our brand name, and If a customer is Googling our name, they had to hear about it from somewhere. You’re not Googling TaxSlayer because it came to you in a dream, you’re Googling it because you saw advertising. That’s been a daily balancing act.
We also did some breakthrough things in print last year. Every article you read says print is dead, but we had some things we thought were newsworthy, and we wanted it to have the feeling of an old-fashioned newspaper story, so we ran some big-scale print in USA Today, we tracked the traffic from print to digital, and we found that the print had a really positive ROI. It worked well for us. That was a pleasant surprise.Û
CMO Club – What are some of the characteristics you look for in new hires?
Christopher Moloney – I’m a ferociously difficult hirer. I had a boss back in the day who, when asked how he judges me, said: I will always judge you by the last hire you’ve made. It focused me on hiring A-players, people who are skilled and passionate. Everyone I hire has to love marketing, have a good level of enthusiasm, have to be curious, and have to be willing to work across divisions. The more collaborative they are, the better. Most important to me, however, is they have to be great presenters. Marketing is about getting great ideas spread, period.
CMO Club–How do you feel about raw-talent versus experience?
Christopher Moloney – I think it’s about raw talent. You can always educate people in a particular industry. It’s the great marketers, that raw talent and commitment that comes first. Our field is constantly changing. I need people who can challenge me. A lot of bosses don’t necessarily like that, but I’ve learned a ton from people who forced me to look in different direction. I’m not on the front line anymore, so I love it when people raise their hand and ask ”Why are we doing it this way?”
CMO Club – If you could go back to your 21-22-year-old self, what advice would you offer?
Christopher Moloney – It took me forever to realize how busy the client-side is and how you can’t assume whatever you’re presenting is the most important thing that day for them, even though it’s probably most important for you. I would have spent much more time learning the customer’s pain points. There’s a huge gap in really listening and understanding clients when you’re with an agency.
CMO Club – With all the headlines in the news these days on data security, how much of your day do you spend on knowing where your data is coming from and what’s happening to it after, especially on the personal finance side of things?
Christopher Moloney – The main thing you want to do from a marketing perspective is to reassure without creating concern. You need to be upfront and transparent on how you’re protecting them and using that information.
CMO Club – what are you most passionate about outside of work?
Christopher Moloney – I’m a fanatic about seeing live music. My wife and I try and see as many concerts as we possibly can. We’ve probably seen over 500 concerts together, both old, classic stuff as well as a lot of new music. That’s about a concert a week over many years. I get such a charge out of live music, all that energy in the room. Our house is full of framed concert tickets hanging on the walls.
It relates to marketing as well. We have to bring some of that visual and audio entertainment to your business. A lot of advertising has been about broadcasting to someone on television or radio, telling your story in thirty-second spots. We’ve been focused on creating experiences around our brand. There’s something about marketers realizing that it can’t just be about what you say on a phone or television or a computer screen. You’ve got to think about your brand engaging with people in person. My passion for live entertainment has allowed me to use that as part of my overall marketing toolkit.
CMO Club – Wow. Any new music you recommend?
Christopher Moloney – There’s a new band called Bastille. We’ve seen them quite a few times. I think they’re energy and vocals are great, under the radar for most people. I also would go out of my way to see Muse. A three-piece electronic explosion of The Police.
CMO Club – Anything that you can share with the club that not a lot of people know about you?
Christopher Moloney – I was an Electronic Digital Music DJ. I’d do parties dressed in wacky sunglasses and sparkly costumes, spinning electronic music late into the night. Here I was with this day-job at a finance company, wearing a suit and tie, then going to parties in crazy helmets and shiny, sparkly suits after. It was a lot of fun.
CMO Club – Can a CMO like yourself have a hand in making the world a better place?
Christopher Moloney – Absolutely. We constantly need to be looking at what we’re doing to help our customers live better lives. I believe that very strongly. You have to believe in the mission that you’re genuinely helping people. We aren’t here just to sell more of something. CMO’s have a higher calling.