Senior Vice President, Research & Insights
We Are GBH is an employee spotlight series designed to surface the stories of the amazing individuals across our team and what makes them tick. Today meet Rob Hernandez, who is joining as Senior Vice President in our Chicago office.
To kick off our employee spotlight series, we talked with Rob Hernandez, who is joining GBH Insights as Senior Vice President in our Chicago office, working closely on strategic engagements and projects with our growing client base.
Rob has an extensive and interesting background, having worked with dozens of major brands across industries, both in-house and with large agencies. From qualitative and quantitative research to inform brand strategy, equity and positioning to applying data and analytics to help clients solve challenges, his career has run the gamut.
Prior to joining GBH, Rob was a senior executive with Ipsos, leading their work with CPG and financial services clients, and before that GfK North America where he led their innovation and qualitative practices. Brands Rob has recently worked with in his career include AT&T, Capital One, Citibank, Verizon, Gillette, IBM, Microsoft, MillerCoors and Wal-Mart, among others.
Tell us a bit about yourself, your prior career and how you got started at GBH.
I’ve had a number of jobs over the years, and my career didn’t follow a linear path. I’ve worked at a bunch of different agencies (both large and small), and I’ve worked client-side for a number of prominent brands. I even started my own firm at one point. And each of these experiences proved invaluable in the long run, greatly broadening my perspective on advertising, marketing and business in general.
So, I’ll start at the beginning of my professional career: after finishing graduate school, my first ‘real job’ was working in research at Leo Burnett. Accounts included a number of widely recognized brands across an array of disparate industries: Glad brands, True Value, Tropicana, Allstate, Disney, and Reebok, among others. I was primarily responsible for copy testing, creative development, brand equity and positioning work… and it involved a lot of qualitative and quantitative research.
After several years, I was eager to try working client-side. I joined Sears, Roebuck and Company, where I was focused on strategic advertising and brand research including Sears’ ‘whole house’ brand, Kenmore and Craftsman, as well as sales event and promotion…and was able to mix both qualitative and quantitative research, which proved extremely helpful later in my career. After Sears, I worked at several different agencies on prominent brands including Ameritech, Jim Beam, Diner’s Club, and NASCAR.
Around this time I was about to have my first child, and I considered leaving advertising altogether. But ultimately I ended up starting my own company, which is really its own separate story.
Eventually, I was persuaded into working as a consultant in a research firm, where I spent over a decade refining my qualitative skills in CPG, tech and financial services, working with global brands including Microsoft, AT&T, Kraft, Capital One, and others.
In more recent years, highlights have included:
- Building up GfK’s qualitative operations team and helping to steer their business development efforts. My team grew GfK from a $3.5M to $7M+ operation in roughly four years. In my last year there, I was also responsible for running their strategic innovation practice, where we focused on helping clients develop new products and services and hone their brand strategy.
- Leading Ipsos’ qualitative account service function for the CPG and financial service sectors, with responsibility for nearly $33 million in sales and revenue.
As I flourished professionally, I found myself increasingly in sales and people management roles. Unfortunately, this meant spending less time on directly helping clients with their various issues and opportunities. I missed influencing the client experience, and helping brands solve their most challenging business problems.
This is primarily what brings me to GBH: working directly with clients. And notably, working at GBH also loops me more heavily into the world of academia. GBH is on the cutting edge of academic research – and tying that research into real-world execution for today’s leading brands is a unique and important way to help clients.
What will your role at GBH focus on, and what are you most looking forward to?
My new role empowers me to focus on delivering results for a small number of clients, which is my passion and sweet spot. I will also have an opportunity to dive deeper into the data analytics side of marketing than ever before.
To elaborate further, my new role enables me to partner directly with select global brands, to solve their most challenging business problems. I can focus on our clients, and provide answers they need in order to move business forward in meaningful and impactful ways.
GBH allows me to focus exactly where I want to be at this stage of my career. I can jump in and get my hands dirty. I can deal with client issues. I can take a deep dive into the world of analytics, all while working with an agile, experienced team. This fits hand-in-glove with where I want to be right now.
What are some of the biggest challenges facing CMOs and marketers today in your opinion?
First of all, I think it’s the most interesting – and most challenging – time in history to be a CMO. Here are some of the challenges they face:
Challenge #1 is uncovering meaningful intelligence from data. CMOs have more data at their fingertips than ever before. So when we look at established brands, many of them don’t need a lot of new data: they need to make better use of the data they already have. They need to peel back layers to reveal relevant and actionable insights, which are often ‘hidden away’ in their archives, files and data sets.
Challenge #2 is disruption. CMOs need to manage against non-legacy and upstart competitors, which can disrupt a business seemingly overnight. One recent example of this is LaCroix. They’re currently in freefall because other brands have effectively reframed the water category, and their position as market leader is collapsing as a result. So even established and respected brands are vulnerable to upstart competitors.
Challenge #3 is real innovation. Established brands that have been around for many years oftentimes look at marketing through an antiquated lens. They approach product development incrementally, for example adding a different but not-so-novel twist to an existing product. For example, developing yet another flavor of cookie that might temporarily and marginally boost sales, rather than a whole new type of cookie that better meets consumer tastes.
GBH is interesting because it helps brands innovate in revolutionary, not evolutionary ways. It’s about true breakthroughs in innovation, focused on deeply meeting consumer needs…and not the small-scale incremental changes.
What are the biggest success factors for companies as they look to improve ROI for marketing, analytics, research or related areas?
Measuring ROI (from a brand equity perspective) really is the holy grail. Digital media and advertising, SEO and other marketing tactics make it easier to measure impact on advertising activity and spend, but measuring ROI for brand equity is tough. Pinpointing marketing spend and how that translates into business success remains elusive.
There is, however, a lot of work being done to determine things like Lifetime Customer Value. And this is where data analytics has made huge strides; we can more precisely measure the impact of a customer base and calculate the value of that base over time.
What’s a fun fact about you that many people may not know?
In college, I competed in policy debate because I thought I was going to be an attorney. That alone isn’t very remarkable…but I also competed in cheerleading at the same time. I may be one of very few, if any, people on the planet to have competed in both those activities in college simultaneously. In short, those two worlds simply do not intersect.
The great thing is that both have served me extremely well in the business world. Debate skills have been beneficial when developing proposals for clients, and making a case for why your approach addresses a particular business need. And, the speaking skills from debate have helped me be clearer and more compelling in presentations.
On the flip side, cheerleading requires strong team collaboration. All 10 people on the squad need to execute with precision to make a pyramid or perform a routine. These team-building skills have allowed me to work well with clients and agencies and colleagues on projects and engagements. In addition, when people say “be a cheerleader for your brand,” I have literal experience!
What advice would you give others looking to pursue a career in marketing strategy, research or analytics?
You need to understand today’s new world of marketing and the impact of social media. While the ‘Four P’s” still apply, social media has drastically changed the interaction between brands and consumers. In short, it has altered the way in which companies build and maintain their brands.
It’s also crucial to gain a well-rounded view of the marketing discipline. I was fortunate to gain experience on the client side, the agency side and on the vendor side. Gaining perspective from all three of these has been a real boost to my ability to understand and impact the client experience. Each one has provided a unique insight into what clients want and need to accomplish. So, I highly recommend getting experience in each of these arenas…whether through internships or direct work experience.
And my last thought…we all know the world is becoming incredibly data driven. But no matter how much data there is, even the most tech savvy companies need to understand the humans behind the data. Qualitative research is still a critical component alongside quantitative research and data analytics. Understanding the human condition through qualitative research will remain key in this ‘new world’ – and you should absolutely build that into your experience today.