Jeff Jones, CMO of Target

*All quotes are from Jeff Jones unless otherwise stated

8/1/2014
Today I had the pleasure of hearing the CMO, Jeff Jones, speak to us as part of a Leadership Speaker Series which Target provides to its interns. I entered the hall with a Vanilla Latte in my hand and left with a mind buzzing with so many thought-provoking ideas Jeff Jones had given. During his speech, times were rare when I could tear my mind away to jot down notes. Here I have summarized the most exciting takeaways that I had discreetly typed into the Notes section of my phone, for all the world to devour. A note I must make before I begin: I refer to him by his full name “Jeff Jones” throughout this entire post; the reason for that is that he goes by his full name. Within the company, you won’t hear “the CMO,” “Jeff,” or even “Mr. Jones,” but rather only hear him being mentioned as “Jeff Jones.” Talk about personal branding.

One thing I really appreciated about Jeff Jones is his realness. He’s candid but composed, meaning his answers are very honest- no fluff- yet he sounds very put-together and eloquent. He was the first to admit that “we are a good/great company trying to become awesome again.” A lot of media outlets and consumers have noticed that Target has been slightly straying off its throne as looked-up-to and aspirational retail leader. A recent Forbes article gives Target a kind of ultimatum: “a return to a unique identity, or a future as a me-too Mass Merchant.” Jeff Jones does not deny that is the actual fork in the road. After accepting Target’s recent shortcomings, Jeff Jones provides several roadmaps that lead to solutions – making Target the Best Brand Ever again.

Jeff Jones comes from a creative background (a highly accomplished journey at both McKinney and Leo Burnett). A intern in the audience asked him what challenges he faces as a creative person that is the head of a well-recognized brand that can’t afford too many drastic changes. Jeff Jones divided the definition of a brand into two parts: the static parts of a brand and the dynamic parts. The static part of Target’s brand would be, for example, the bullseye logo and the affinity for color and design. The dynamic parts could be attributed to Target’s “voice” and focuses as campaigns change throughout time. Jeff Jones creates a scale in which the goal is to find the balance between consistency and relevance; he warns that there is a fine line on this continuum. It is important that Target feel like part of a lifestyle, and not just a store, but it can be hard to maintain a balanced consistent and relevant image in times where the status has fallen. Jeff Jones introduced an acronym called “VUCA.” It is important to stay buoyant in times that are Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. This characteristic not only applies to brands, but also people too. Leaders that can stay inspiring and relevant in VUCA times are the ones that come out on top (which is so important for someone like Brian Cornell, Target’s new CEO).

Jeff Jones mentioned another tip for success, which is to Listen. I capitalized it because the power of Listening is the beginning of change. Jeff Jones advised all of us interns who are keen on success to listen to our mentors, listen to our peers, listen to the world around us, and of course, to listen to ourselves. That is crucial for success. Jeff Jones said a thoughtful tidbit on the incitement of innovation. He said, “One of the ways to foster innovation is to constrain time and money.” This comes from Jeff Jones’s personal experience as an entrepreneur of a start-up which he created with his friends, back at the beginning of his career. I think this concept buds from the fact that humans are more resourceful when they have to be, and resourcefulness is often the driving force behind innovation. There is always a need and the urge to find a new way to quench that need.  One example of this at Target is the necessity to create a seamless omnichannel experience for the guest. Instead of pulling out extravagant ideas out of a hat, the Target team as a whole must see the questions that are floating around and how we can answer them using the tools we have at hand. A question Jeff Jones served as a example and provoked us all to think about is one that is important to Target’s omnichannel strategy and brand re-haul: “How can we fundamentally change the role that the handheld (the phone) plays in shopping?”

In order to change Target’s brand while keeping the static parts of the brand afloat and also driving towards full omnichannel synchronization, Jeff Jones implies at a restructuring of how the company is essentially run. Of course, with the current constraints, this would be hard to implement, but the ideal would be a “fusion of the marketer and the merchant.” I think that this strategy would be most useful in Target Canada, where merchandising and supply chain issues didn’t balance with what marketing was doing, and a huge fiasco ensued. Jeff Jones’s remedy is certainly one that should be considered and implemented in as many ways as it practically can.

Jeff Jones is a powerful speaker and an even more powerful mind behind his words. It was an honor to hear him speak and answer our questions. Even with the stunning resume he possesses, along with his stellar track record, Jeff Jones remains witty and relatable.

Intern asking a question: Where did you get that jacket?
Jeff Jones: I had this blazer made for me.
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