Intel CMO Steven Fund Gets A Big Bang Out Of Marketing Theory

Intel CMO Steven Fund Gets A Big Bang Out Of Marketing Theory

Steven Fund thrives from being in the middle of the action. That’s why, regardless of the company he is working for, he always takes chances and goes big with his ideas. That go-getter attitude has led to success after success in impacting the strategic marketing direction of the companies he has worked for.

A 20-year marketing vet, Fund has extensive brand and marketing experience managing and building some of the world’s most recognizable brands, including stints at Staples, Procter & Gamble, and the Pepsi-Cola Co.

In his current role as CMO of Intel—May marks his two-year anniversary at the company—Fund is responsible for all aspects of marketing worldwide, including global marketing strategy, brand management, product positioning, market research, advertising, partner marketing, retail channel marketing, digital marketing, social media, and global communications.

“I continually want to challenge myself by going into new situations and new industries,” Fund said. “I think the core fundamentals of marketing hold true no matter what business or industry you’re in, and the consumer and B2B challenges are all the same as well.”

Fund recently spoke to about his career, taking chances, and Intel’s success with a popular Emmy winner as its spokesperson. As CMO of Intel, you have a wide assortment of responsibilities. How do you balance everything, and what do you feel is your most important part of the job?

Fund: One is to build our brand, and the other is to build our business. If it’s not in support of building the brand or building the business, we don’t do it, and we also try to focus on ideas that are big in scale. We’re such a big company, so we don’t like to do a lot of little things. We like to do big things that have business impact. That’s how I prioritize. One of your earliest successes was the marketing of Gillette Fusion for P&G, which reached $1 billion in net sales faster than any brand in P&G’s history. Why do you think that was such a winning campaign?

Fund: One is the product itself was a great product, but great products need great marketing. What really made the success there was that we had a very well-defined target in terms of performance-oriented males. So sports marketing was a very big part of the way we went to market with Gillette. We created a program around Gillette Fusion, which was called the Gillette Champions, and it was a global program where we signed the world’s best athletes to be brand ambassadors.

But I think what really made the success of that program was we supported the global athletes with local athletes. We were able to create a global template across all different mediums and plug and play different athletes around the world. It was a very efficient way to market the brand, but we were able to do it with very high profile and locally relevant athletes who connected directly with the audience that we were going after. Not every idea works, while some probably work better than you originally hope. How do you know when an idea has that special something to be a marketing home run? What are the signs?

Fund: Well, first, I’ve been doing this for a long time, and I have a great history to draw upon from my own experience—what worked and what didn’t work. At least in most of the companies that I’ve been in, we tend to be very fiscally responsible and conservative, so when we have a big idea, we want to make sure that it truly is a big idea and that it’s going to work. We believe data can help inform good decision making, so we do a lot of homework prior to putting things in the market, a lot of pretesting. In many instances, if you do something that’s truly breakthrough and truly innovative, you’ll get a lot of social media carry-through as well. Fundamentally, you have to absolutely understand your target and their needs and then have an idea that delivers against those needs. Tell me about a recent marketing campaign at Intel and the success you’ve seen from it to date.

Fund: I would point to Jim Parsons [of “The Big Bang Theory”]. When I came here, our advertising was very inconsistent in terms of its quality, and there really was no well-defined, overarching campaign idea. We had a lot of executions but not really an integrated advertising campaign, and we also knew that we needed to connect with millennials. So we went out, and, in Parsons, we got, arguably, the most popular celebrity with millennials who’s on the No. 1 rated show. We knew that he would connect with the audience in a way unlike many other celebrities. We thought he would help us create breakthrough and engagement with the millennial audience, which is what we want, and the advertising has proved to be actually the best-testing advertising campaign in Intel’s history.

All of the metrics that we look at, whether it’s copy testing against our own ads or copy testing against industry norms or tech norms, it consistently exceeded them. We’ve had virtually no wear out in the year-and-a-half, and it’s moving the needle in terms of every brand attribute metric that we track and that we want to move in terms of Intel being seen as an innovative company.

We’re thrilled with [Parsons], and it’s not a TV campaign. It’s a fully integrated marketing campaign. He has a lot of popularity also in a lot of markets around the world, and we’ve been able to leverage the content globally, even where he’s not a well-known personality. He’s just a character, and it seems to be resonating everywhere. Speaking of millennials, how important is mobile in your overall message, since that’s the way most like to get their information today?

Fund: I would say right now we’re still learning. Mobile is a part of our overarching digital strategy. We’re testing and learning our way there. It’s not a big part of our spend, but it’s not a channel that we’re ignoring. In certain markets around the world—Latin America, Asia, and parts of Europe—we dial it up more so than in North America. But clearly, over time, it’s going to become increasingly important everywhere. How about digital channels overall? What other digital channels are you investing in?

Fund: We’re a pretty heavy digital investor, and I would say we’re pretty sophisticated in terms of our understanding of digital. Earlier in my career, I was the head of brand management for an Internet company, so I learned digital from the inside out. We have a very big social footprint here if you look at our Facebook reach or the way we use Twitter. Our site alone has 240 million unique users.

We have an amazing digital footprint that we leverage well, and I would say we’re a content machine. You can go in any one of our social channels and just see the amount of content that we pump out, and we’re seeing great success. So, in a lot of the events that we participate in—whether it’s CES, Mobile World Congress, or our own events—we typically get the highest or second-highest share of voice. We know how to engage the consumer through digital channels, and we know how to distribute and create content that they want to engage with. We have built a digital ecosystem to take advantage of our content and distribute it on new formats to new audiences. Let’s talk about those social channel and platforms. How do you leverage their power?

Fund: I would point to our current brand campaign that we recently launched, Experience Amazing. We created a microsite,, that has pretty deep, rich content, and it sits on We also distribute all of our content through all of our social channels. So you can go on our Twitter feed, or our YouTube site, or Facebook site, and you can see all the content that we’ve distributed.

The campaign launched [in January], and [in the first week-and-a-half we] already had a number of videos that reached 8 million impressions. We completely leverage channels to distribute content, and we try to do it in real time.

We also had a technology integration with ESPN and the X Games where we put our microprocessor, Curie, on the snowboards, and we streamed data in real time as the athletes were performing. Then it went on broadcast. So when the snowboarder was doing a big air jump, they would broadcast the height of the jump, the distance of the jump, the speed, the revolutions, and the force of the landing, and then we would immediately take those clips and distribute them out through social media. I think some of the clips got over a million views almost instantaneously. We try to do things as close to the action as possible and get the content out in real time. Facebook, Twitter, and the other social networks are great platforms to find and build new audiences. Then we can engage with them and build direct relationships. The X Games example is a great out-of-the-box way you have delivered Intel’s message. Can you talk about another success?

Fund: Our brand promise is Intel makes amazing experiences possible. So it’s all about connecting Intel inside with the amazing experiences outside. We’re trying to do a lot of experiential marketing events and programs that bring to life that brand strategy and in a really authentic way.

At this year’s NBA All-Star Game, they used a technology that we call Replay, where we put cameras around the entire arena, and you can stop-motion on a play and then spin around the play and view it from any angle. It’s a breakthrough idea for sports broadcasting that we’re partnering with the NBA on, and again, we send up a social team to every one of these events. They can distribute content in real time.

We also partnered with the Grammys and Lady Gaga to create the pinnacle performance of the Grammys’ broadcast. Her performance was only made possible through the use of Intel technology. You’ve been in this business a while. What do you believe defines a successful CMO in a 2016 marketing world?

Fund: I think you have to understand your customer deeply. Just doing marketing that you think is right that may not address a customer need is not going to be successful. I think you have to be an expert in digital channels and digital distribution. That’s where the people are living today and want to engage with content, especially the younger generation. So you have to really understand how to distribute content and engage digitally. You have to think globally, at least if you’re in a global business. It’s a big world out there, and you have to think of ideas that can carry globally and could be adapted locally and work successfully. I also think you need a mindset of being willing to take risks.

You have to do things that push the envelope. You have to think big, and you have to do things that are going to break through and get people’s attention. The conservative proven-and-tried approach is not going to get you the attention that you need. Describe for me a mistake you made in your career and what you have learned from it.

Fund: Not everything you do is going to work out. We are a big player in gaming, and we have our own gaming tournament called Intel Extreme Masters, which is in its 10th year and is incredibly popular. We sell out stadiums of 50,000 people across the world for people to watch other people play video games, which is just amazing. It gets tens of millions of views, live streams online.

It’s been this amazing success, but we wanted to take it to the next level, and we did things that didn’t totally pan out. One was we created a documentary film called “All Work All Play,” which was around this notion of professional gaming using our Intel Extreme Masters as the storyline. It was a creative way to extend our ownership of this global event, but we didn’t put a lot of marketing muscle behind it, and we didn’t get a good ROI on it.

So that was a mistake, but the mistake doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t go develop documentary films as a way to extend the reach and impact of things that we do. The mistake was to develop a thoughtful content distribution strategy and then just rely on word of mouth as the only way to get distribution. So it did air in 2,000 theaters worldwide, but it aired in a very limited way because we didn’t do enough marketing behind it to get the word out. Describe your working relationship with Intel CEO Brian Krzanich and the rest of the C-suite. How much collaboration is there among the team?

Fund: A tremendous amount, actually. We’re a very tight-knit group. Brian has staff meetings every Monday morning. Every month, we have a full day-and-a-half together to talk about strategy. We meet constantly one on one, or informally, or in product road-map sessions. It’s a super collaborative and supportive C-suite, and Brian has just been an amazing boss. He recognized the need for change and recognized the need to bring in a consumer marketer, which could’ve been viewed as heresy here.

His hiring someone who had absolutely no tech experience with a consumer background was a risk, but it has paid out for him to bring in someone who really understood brand building and who really knew how to connect digitally and with the millennial audience.

At the end of the day, the CMO is the quarterback on the team, and you need to be able to run the plays through all your stakeholders. A lot of it is around creating strong relationships and trust and building the right team around you, both internally and externally.

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