CMO of the Week: Verizon's Cheryl Gresham - Brand Innovators

CMO of the Week: Verizon’s Cheryl Gresham

Verizon’s Cheryl Gresham knows there are a lot of different ways to think about innovation.

“Often innovation is tied to technology and the future, but innovation is great ideas,” says Gresham. “It’s great thinking. It’s doing something differently. Doing something differently doesn’t always have to mean AI.”

As the chief marketing officer of the Verizon Value organization, which includes: Total by Verizon, Straight Talk and Visible, she is always looking for new ways to innovate across the Verizon Value portfolio. Since she joined the digital-first wireless brand Visible in December 2021, she has helped Visible’s subscriber base grow by more than 60% by evolving its marketing to be more data- and insights-led. At Total by Verizon, she is challenged with bringing a new brand name to retail. 

“This is a brand new brand that no one knows about or understands and we’re trying to drive local store traffic,” she explains. “How did the grocery store Aldi open retail locations? How did Warby Parker open retail locations? We have to think differently. I was challenging one of our agency partners to have a playbook for local that is different.”

With an agency background, Gresham is game for the range of different brands and different marketing approaches she can take across the portfolio which target different consumer segments in different distribution channels. 

“In terms of how we get to market, it’s not oh, I only get to do this stuff over here. Everything is on the table. Someone was talking about gas station TV the other day. It’s just an example of the variety of ways we can think about marketing and building new brands,” adds Gresham.

Gresham has been busy marketing these brands. Recently Straight Talk, Verizon’s prepaid wireless brand exclusive to Walmart, ran a tax time campaign based on a consumer insight that consumers are filing early this year. Visible Wireless ran its third annual Singles Awareness Day campaign offering “family plan savings” to single-line users, with Maren Morris singing Billy Idol’s iconic hit, “Dancing with Myself.” Total by Verizon ran a Spanish-language ad, directed by Fred Armisen, for the Super Bowl.

Prior to joining Verizon, Gresham held senior marketing roles at TikTok, Google’s YouTube, Mattel, Taco Bell and more.“What excites me about this role is that I get to pull from my history of different experiences,” she adds. “It feels like everything that I’ve done in my past, there’s opportunities to utilize those tools and thinking and different approaches here that can make it stronger.”

Brand Innovators caught up with Gresham from her office in the Seattle area to talk about Verizon’s various brands, innovation and collaborating with Billy Idol and Maren Morris. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Explain the portfolio strategy behind Verizon having so many mobile brands?

Verizon is where you live, where you are, where you shop, what your needs are. We’ve got different brands for you. For example, going to a physical store and waiting for a turn is not something I personally want to spend my time on doing. I feel a little bit more comfortable with digital and the thought of signing up for a new phone service while I’m sitting on the couch, binging Netflix. If that’s you, we’ve got a brand for you called Visible. 

If you prefer to have that one-to-one support, maybe you’re deciding on different phones or accessories and you’d like a little bit more service and maybe you live in Queens or Inglewood or the Valley, you can just go run around the corner and stop at a Total store. Maybe you’re in a rural community where Walmart is a big deal. We’ve got Straight Talk that is only available at Walmart. 

Verizon is seeing we’ve got to meet the customer in all these different places. Not everybody needs unlimited data hotspots. Not everybody needs the fanciest newest phone. We want to make sure we have brands and plans to match up with whoever, whatever their needs are.

Can you talk about the recent Straight Talk campaign?

We found there’s a lot of frustration people are feeling with the economy right now. Tax season can be a time that people dread, but also it can be a time where many people are getting a little influx of cash that they might not normally have. That influx of cash could actually help maybe pay off your electric bill or pay off your Christmas debt. Or maybe it’s finally the time that the person in the household can actually do something for themself. 

We commissioned the Straight Talk Stress Index, which helps us understand more about how consumers are feeling. We found more people were filing earlier this year to use those tax refunds to manage their finances or to get some basics like a new phone. We thought that was an interesting insight. 

We wanted to talk about that in the advertising and connect with people in that frustration. The person who’s walking around with this cracked or broken phone who has made sure everybody else has a great new phone. Now it’s time for you to take care of yourself. We developed a marketing campaign around that. We had an event called Tax Breaks in Miami that allowed people to let it out. People could vent their frustration about tax season. They had an opportunity to get a brand new Samsung Galaxy phone that would hopefully leave them feeling a little better for the day. 

Can you talk about the recent Singles Day campaign?

So much focus is pushed and communicated around Valentine’s Day, but we wanted to stand for something for singles. Singles Awareness Day is the day after Valentine’s Day. So much of the savings and the advertising that you see as a consumer – the pricing, the best plans, the best options– are always made for people bringing a lot of people with them. Some people don’t always have a lot of people to bring with them (or they might not want a lot of people to bring with them) but they just want the best rate out there.

Maren Morris, recently became single and we talked to her team about opportunities to create something that would inspire singles, inspire independence. We had her sing “Dancing with Myself” by Billy Idol, which is such an iconic song. She put a beautiful spin on it. Billy Idol was extremely supportive of it himself. It sounded like a brand new song, but a very familiar song. When it debuted in the marketplace, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube all picked it up. It started trending there and on Spotify as well.

People were really connecting with it and also connecting with her personal journey. This is an example of the song, the talent and the product being woven in together. It got the brand talked about in a lot of places that would normally not talk about Visible – Rolling Stone, Us Weekly, Billboard, E. Those publications aren’t normally talking about wireless service, but because of this woven in approach to the marketing campaign, Visible was a part of those articles. 

Can you talk about your approach to innovation?

Innovation can sometimes be what’s old is new again. I love the story of our wireless digital-only brand that’s targeting young people who are very comfortable with direct-to-consumer digital-only services. Direct mail works incredibly well for us. I would call that innovation. Because you wouldn’t think of that. You might be scared. It might be a risk perception within the organization. Is it going to pay out? What’s the ROI going to be? 

Sometimes innovation can just be not limiting your thinking based on it has to be new, but the innovation can be about what’s going to be most impactful. Often innovation is tied to technology and the future, but innovation is great ideas. It’s great thinking. It’s doing something differently. Doing something differently doesn’t always have to mean AI.

Can you talk about how that background has shaped your perspective? 

I started out in an agency so I had the ability to work across a lot of different brands and categories. It’s a great place for marketers to start and learn. Agencies are great in supporting their teams and making sure folks are learning. 

Later on in my career, I worked at a few technology companies. These companies grew up with product and technology first and marketing came later. It helped guide me in how different people think from different perspectives. These tech companies oftentimes are founder led or engineering led. You have to take a different approach than a marketing-led company where the CEO came up through marketing like at a P&G. Testing and measurement, all of that comes into play a lot more. As a result, it’s made me a stronger, better marketer because the creativity side matched with the data analytics and measurement side.