Simplifiers Interview: Elaine Leavenworth, SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott

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Behind every brand delivering simpler experiences for customers is a leader who recognizes the inherent value in keeping things simple. Here I interview marketing leaders and founders of brands that have performed well in the Global Brand Simplicity Index and /or that we deem as simplifiers based on a review of the brand. In this Simplifiers interview, I speak with Elaine Leavenworth, SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott.

MM: What does your brand stand for, and how does it deliver on that promise every day?

EL: We help people live life to the fullest.

We do that in a lot of different ways. We keep your heart healthy, we nourish your body at every stage of life, we help you feel and move better, and we bring you all you need to manage your health, which lets you live the full life you want to live.

MM: What role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

EL: Simplicity is about delivering on what we’ve told the customer we would give them. It’s all about understanding the experience the customer has when they interact with us and our products.

Simplicity means focus—focus on what your customer needs and how you can best deliver on that need.  

MM: How does your organization strive to create simple experiences?

EL: It starts with understanding the experience the customer has when they engage with us and our products. I’m a big proponent of not just doing quantitative research, but getting out in the field, observing customers and then creating experiences based on our observations. Here’s an example:

I just came back from London where we were a sponsor of the World Marathon Majors. I spent time with diabetic runners to focus on their experience and what it was like to use one of our products. How did it work in their lives, what did it mean to them as they trained for this major physical experience, how was it helping them live life to the fullest? That’s the kind of insight I can bring back to the team that’s designing the device to help them iterate on the product.

People want to live a full life. But sometimes people see impediments. This is an example of the role of observation in creating simpler experiences.

MM: What are the challenges in creating simple experiences for customers?

EL: First, most insight-driven processes lend themselves to creating a lot of data. One of the challenges is determining what the key takeaways are, and how to convert data into insight.

MM: How do you strive to conquer complexity within Abbott?

EL: Our CEO has created a global marketing council comprised of key business and functional leaders to consider what Abbott needs to accomplish and how to deliver that in a streamlined way to our customers.

The council is an organ of simplicity—by getting all the right people together and aligned on Abbott’s priorities, it helps us determine what matters to customers and focus our resources on delivering to that end.

MM: How do you strive to keep things simple on your team?

EL: I help my team determine priorities for a given day, week or year. Staying focused on what’s most important is priority number one. Second, is working with collaborative, integrated and small teams. I believe that if you know what you have to do and you have the right people, you’ll get it done.

MM: What’s the most recent simple customer experience you’ve had?

EL: OpenTable makes my life significantly simpler—I easily can find a restaurant, even in a remote place, and get that reservation in little time.

MM: What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to a brand looking to simplify?

EL: Think about the big insights that shed light on what your customer needs, and ask yourself, are we delivering the experience that we promised?

MM: What organizational changes, if any, need to be made to build a culture of simplicity?

EL: A key to simplicity is to do more thinking and doing, and have less meetings. The tendency is to be inclusive and invite everyone who knows something about a topic to comment, but I’ve started to think that it can be a waste of people’s time. You need to get small and nimble teams of the right people together, make a decision and act.

MM: Why do you think it’s so difficult for the majority of companies to deliver simple experiences?

EL: People try to do it all, which often means they spread themselves too thin. By trying to do too much, you might miss out on doing the things that matter most to your customers.

MM: What’s the biggest mistake brands make in regards to simplifying?

EL: It goes back to not focusing. People often gather lots of research, and miss out on the key insights. The fundamental part of having a good strategy is true insights. After observing the market and gathering data, it’s imperative to synthesize it, connect the dots and ask yourself what you’re going to do as a result of that insight.

MM: What does simplicity mean to you?

EL: Simplicity means focus—focus on what your customer needs and how you can best deliver on that need.

This is this an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with GE CMO, Linda Boff; McLaren Automotive Head of Brand Marketing, Stephen Lambert; Ascension Chief Marketing and Communications Officer, Nick Ragone; Hertz CMO, Matt Jauchius; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; McDonald’s CMO, Deborah Wahl; President, Liza Landsman and VP Marketing, Sumaiya Balbale; Target CMO, Jeff Jones; Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally Financial CMO, Andrea Riley; Gannett CMO, Andy Yost; CVS Health CMO, Norman De Greve; Dunkin’ Brands CMO, John Costello; Zappos CEO, Tony Hsieh; Southwest Airlines CMO, Kevin Krone; and Google CMO, Lorraine Twohill.

Know a simplifier or would like to be included in the series? Please recommend an executive for my next interview:

Margaret Molloy is global CMO and head of business development at Siegel+Gale. Follow her on Twitter: @MargaretMolloy and Instagram:@MargaretMMolloy

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