Simplifiers Interview: Meg Goldthwaite, CMO at National Public Radio

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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 leaders, often CMOs or CEOs, that we deem Simplifiers. In this Simplifiers interview I speak with Meg Goldthwaite, CMO at National Public Radio.

MM: What does NPR stand for?

MG: NPR is known for our informed consumers and our trusted journalism. What makes NPR’s brand so unique is that our stories do more than just inform—we transform hearts and minds. You may hear a story on NPR and take in the factual bits but then we go deeper, right into the hearts of our audience. That’s why our stories stay with our audience much longer. As I like to say, we take what’s global and we make it personal.

MM: How do you deliver on that promise every day?

MG: We don’t just provide the basic facts; we go deeper. We do that daily with our journalism and as we create our programs, be it one of our How I Built This episodes or a story behind Hidden Brain or one of the marvelous, magical threads that come out of our Invisibilia podcast. There is also a tonality and sound to NPR. We are taking you on a journey through audio, which is a very intimate and intense medium. Hearing and having someone take it in through their ears provides this intimacy, in a way that merely reading a news article does not.

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

MG: Simplicity is about the delivery mechanism—how we are distributing our content on multiple platforms. For example, I can say, ‘Hey Google, play NPR,’ and hear the news without me having to take my eyes off the road or whatever it is I’m doing with my family at home. Smart speakers are one example of how we’re delivering on that brand promise of simplicity.

MM: What benefits has NPR experienced from simplifying?

MG: Our mission is to create a more informed public. We do that by getting people simple and easy access to our content. The simpler it is for people to access NPR, the more audiences we’ll be able to touch, and the more listeners we will be able to reach.

MM: How do you strive to keep things “simple” for your team as a leader?

MG: It’s very easy when you live and work in a world of endless choices to get caught up in the effort to boil the ocean. What I work with my team to do, is determine the top one or two levers that are going to have the greatest impact and lean in hard on them. That’s particularly important in a not-for-profit world, where we don’t have endless resources and we have to be very surgical with how we spend our marketing dollars. That concentration helps us simplify.

MM: What is a recent simple customer experience that inspired you?

MG: I had to get a handful of new mattresses and I found Saatva. The website was so easy to use and there were only two choices to select from. I was contacted, and they showed up. The whole process was easy and simple.

MM: What is the biggest mistake brands make with regards to simplifying?

MG: The biggest mistake people make is they don’t consider the customer experience. I use a particular meditation app every morning and recently, they released a new update which did not make life simpler. Let me explain… I meditate very early in the morning. I push some buttons; I’m barely even awake. This app messed with their simplicity and unfortunately, it affected my morning ritual. I’m sure they think their update is very intuitive, but they haven’t considered their users.

MM: What does “simplicity” mean to you? 

MG: Simplicity is a lack of friction—something that is easy and is not going to make me anxious. Often, limiting choices is a very good way to get to simplicity.

MM: What advice would you give to other brands trying to simplify?

MG: Take a step back and identify the brand vision. Determine the key levers, then lean in on them in a very intentional way. You have to keep focusing and set your mind every day. When other things come in, you need to understand that if you’re going to be pulled off to do something else, you aren’t going to be able to push that lever. For us, as a news organization, things are constantly in flux. It is my job to ensure we are focused on where we want to be going. If we do have to take our mind off of the task at hand, we need to understand what that tradeoff will be. Brands that are trying to simplify need to keep their eye on what it is that is going to have the biggest effect on their business. Ignoring your priority is a choice you make at your own peril.

MM: Anything else?

MG: I wanted to discuss the NPR One app, which is perfectly in-line with simplicity. It’s so simple that all you need to do is turn it on. It doesn’t just curate NPR programming but public media in general. It feeds you stories and learns your behavior, so if you forwarded past a story, it will skip that type of content in the future. We’re eliminating choices and allowing our audience to experience these wonderful soul-filling NPR stories. It’s the epitome of simplicity.

MM: Thank you.

This is an ongoing Simplifiers series. See interviews with CMO at IKEA, Barbara Martin Coppola; CMO at Deloitte, Diana O’Brien; CMO at Georgia-Pacific, Douwe Bergsma; CMO at Lenovo, David Roman; EVP – Chief Marketing and Communications Officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Henry Gomez; CMO at Twitter, Leslie Berland; CMO at Blue Apron, Jared Cluff; SVP, Global Brand Management at American Express, Clayton Ruebensaal; EVP and Group President at Verizon Wireless, Ronan Dunne, Director of Strategy and Innovation at Cofra Holding Ltd, former CEO of C&A China, Lawrence Brenninkmeyer; CMO at The Recording Academy, Evan Greene; CMO at Mary Kay, Sheryl Adkins-Green; Head of Marketing at Home Centre, Rohit Singh Bhatia; SVP, CMO of Aflac, Gail Galuppo; SVP and CMO at Cambia Health Solutions, Carol Kruse, Managing Director of The Nature Conservancy, Geof Rochester, Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer of Motorola Solutions, Eduardo Conrado, EVP; SVP, Chief Marketing & External Affairs Officer at Abbott, Elaine Leavenworth, 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; Jet.com 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: mmolloy@siegelgale.com

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

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