Simplifiers Interview: Jeff Jones, EVP and CMO of Target

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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 we interview marketing leaders and founders of brands that have performed well in the Global Brand Simplicity Index. In this Simplifiers interview, we speak with Jeff Jones, recently former EVP and chief marketing officer of Target.

MM: What does Target stand for, and what role does simplicity play in delivering on that promise?

JJ: The Target brand stands for great value, which is expressed through our brand promise: “expect more, pay less.” It’s the combination of those two ideas that truly differentiates us from other retailers.

Simplicity plays many roles in this. At the highest order, simplicity guides what we sell—our guests trust us to scour the world and find the best products at reasonable prices.

Simplicity also impacts our store layout design. We use the racetrack, an aisle that helps people navigate the store and different departments. And we position products strategically based on customer needs. For example, we put women’s ready-to-wear near children’s products so a mother who’s shopping for her family can easily find other products that are relevant to her. This design helps people discover new products they wouldn’t have otherwise.

MM: How do you strive to create simple experiences within Target?

JJ: We start with the belief that being simple is good, not bad. I think many people in corporations think they’re creating value by making things complicated.

There’s a book that was given to me called Obvious Adams. It’s a story about an advertising person who was unafraid to say what was obvious. It’s not easy for people to see that the simple solution is often the best. Our job as leaders is to simplify.

For example, I created a simple framework for initiatives based on three questions: What’s the problem, what’s the guest insight and what’s the idea? If a person on our team can’t answer those three things clearly, no amount of homework or research matters.

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

JJ: Being simple is an extraordinary skill—it means taking lots of ideas, possibilities, and challenges and distilling them into the essence of what matters most. This is being lost among generations of marketers whose education emphasizes technical skills like data analysis and underemphasizes the strategic art of simplifying.

Being simple is an extraordinary skill—it means taking lots of ideas, possibilities, and challenges and distilling them into the essence of what matters most.

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

JJ: It’s important to be a model and be unafraid to be the person that says the most obvious thing. Embrace it along with the power of clarity. My role is really to bring hope and lucidity to the team.

MM: What benefits has Target experienced from simplifying?

JJ: Part of my role is head of communications for Target, which includes team member communications. This requires communicating with hundreds of thousands of employees in a way that sticks. One of our teams came up with the concept of Target Briefly, a newsletter sent every morning to every team, that includes three things no one knows—what we’re working on as a firm, mistakes we made, etc. It has become our most successful internal communication and changed the way we connect as a company.

We’ve also gotten great benefits from the Cartwheel app, which helps people find products they want and save money. It’s personalized, has a gaming component and is easy to use. And it has helped drive more than three billion dollars in sales for Target.

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

JJ: I had an unbelievable order pickup experience at Apple. I was able to make the purchase on my phone, received a QR code that was stored in my Apple Wallet and get a message when my order was ready. When I arrived at the Apple store, a team member scanned my QR code. While the item was being retrieved, my payment was processed and by the time I signed the receipt digitally, an employee was there with my MacBooks offering to carry them to my car. It was the absolute benchmark for order pickup.

MM: What’s the top piece of advice you’d give to executives trying to simplify?

JJ: Shift your frame of reference from simplicity as an “aspiration” to “it’s my job.” Then it becomes the most important job you have and a strategic priority.

Put metrics in place that demonstrate whether you’re delivering simple experiences for customers and employees (e.g., workplace productivity and the Net Promoter Score). Find opportunities to celebrate and acknowledge the people who deliver wonderfully simple solutions to problems.

The bottom line is that it’s hard to simplify. You have to be willing to make sacrifices and prioritize some things over others. This is where brands make their biggest mistake: they lose sight of what matters to the people they’re serving. When you do what you think you should do, as opposed to what your buyer needs you to do, you make poor decisions.

Some people say the customer doesn’t really know what solution he needs. Don’t look to the customer for the solution, look to them for the problem to solve.

MM: Thanks Jeff.

This interview of Jeff Jones, recently former EVP and chief marketing officer of Target, was conducted, edited and condensed by Margaret Molloy.

This is one in an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with Spotify CMO, Seth Farbman; Ally CMO, Andrea Riley; McDonald’s USA CMO, Deborah Wahl; Direct Line Group Marketing Director, Mark Evans; President of Jet.com,Liza Landsman and VP of Marketing at Jet.com, Sumaiya Balbale.

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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