Innovator Interviews: Verizon Wireless’ Kristin McHugh - Brand Innovators

Innovator Interviews: Verizon Wireless’ Kristin McHugh

An 11-year company tenure isn’t commonplace in today’s marketing ecosystem, but Kristin McHugh, senior vice president of marketing and creative at Verizon says her job is a “marketer’s dream” — as her team is able to activate across all facets of marketing. 

McHugh’s team is responsible for how the Verizon brand shows up across the entire shopper lifecycle—TV, digital, retail, you name it. By translating creative concepts to incentivize shoppers to join over 140 million users on their 5G ultra wideband services. Through brand partnerships to above-the-line campaigns with talent like Jason Bateman to personalized offers via email, McHugh’s team aims to connect with customers across their interests in real-time.

A self-proclaimed student of marketing, McHugh stays up-to-date with industry trends by marketing book reads, digital community content and admiration of other brands’ activities. Additionally, she’s making sure to be well informed on the 2023 industry hot button item: Artificial Intelligence (AI): “We need to make sure that we are sharpening our skills, that we’re learning how to connect with customers, and that we’re meeting customers where they are. So, going deep in digital understanding AI—how to utilize AI in a way that is appropriate for the brand that allows us to get the right message to the right customer in a way that is faster and more efficient.”

Brand Innovators caught up with McHugh from her home office in New Jersey to talk about the importance of customer-centricity and the ongoing evolution of marketing channels and efforts. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

You’ve been with Verizon for 11 years now, can you elaborate on what has shifted and become focal for the brand in how you show up with shoppers? 

From a media perspective, we would rely heavily on TV. We need to make sure that we’re creating programs that are on TV but also very focused on digital and how do we think about personalization that we can connect one to one. So it’s about the mass and we have a very large customer base, so it’s how you balance mass communications with very targeted and digital communications that are relevant to different segments. 

So that’s certainly a big shift as we think about the marketing dynamics and the amount of channels and how we can be personalized, how we can get to market faster, and how we can have a message that hits the right customer at the right time. It’s things that have been building over time, we’re now just able to refine those two and use those tools in a way that drives not only our business goals but also our brand goals.

Talk to us about brand partnerships. How do they come to life?

A lot of what we do is about how we ensure there is shared alignment and goals between partners. So whether that is us and Apple, that is us and Disney, that is us and the NFL— how do we ensure we’re clear on what we collectively want for the partnership? How do we get clear on what this is going to be, the benefits that it’s going to unlock for our customers? Always about putting the customers in the center and building something that is unique and bespoke for our Verizon customers. And if you think about the partnership, we think about the journey that our customers go through. 

And for the fans of sports, how do you ensure that we’re thinking about when someone is getting a ticket? How do we think about that mobile experience? When someone’s getting to the stadium? What can Verizon unlock for that experience for fans, when they’re in the stadium? What does that look like? And then again, how do we make sure that we’re leveraging the partnership to connect with them when they’re outside of it as well? 

So leveraging the teams and the players so that we can harness the power of our partners to connect with our customers, and to give them something that they wouldn’t have had otherwise? And how do we ensure that the network and the 5g network is the underpinning of that, that the Verizon network can create experiences for you?

The Verizon technology can create something for you and an experience that you wouldn’t have otherwise had. 

Can you elaborate on your NFL partnerships?

We’ve been a long standing partner of the NFL and we have been in many ways. Our focus used to be on NFL mobile and how we could create an experience where fans could watch NFL on their phone…Now the focus has been how do we ensure that the network experience in stadiums is an incredible one and we want to make sure that if our name is on that stadium or in that stadium, that fans are having an incredible network experience… 

So we have 5G Ultra wideband in all of our stadiums to ensure that we have the best possible experience. And then we have that to say how do we think about unlocking the Fandom of the NFL but also our local teams. And we have many local team partnerships that we can connect to the fans and the local fandom to create bespoke experiences. 

So this year we launched our partnership with YouTube TV for NFL Sunday Ticket and that allowed fans to have access to content and access to NFL Sunday Ticket in a way that we hadn’t been able to offer before. So connecting and being super targeted to avid fans with something that was really important to them and giving them NFL Sunday Ticket free on us was a great way to connect with what matters to fans. And again, connecting that to the stadium experience allows us to give clear value to our customers and a value exchange for our partnership with the NFL.

We were just in the thick of the holiday season, how did you and the team want to show up in 2023?

The work that we’ve done this holiday is all about delivering the right offer to customers. But as you think about a holiday season, it’s as much about giving to your family as it is about giving to society and that’s something that’s so important to us. As we think about how we give back and citizen Verizon at Verizon, our work in CSR is not philanthropy, it’s part of our strategy. We believe being a responsible business is good business. And it is critical to all of the work that we do for this holiday. 

We partnered with Disney and they have a new incredible film out this holiday season. That’s all about wishes. And when you wish upon a star which is obviously such an iconic line from Disney, and it’s all about wishes up in the sky. We worked with Disney to understand the film before it was released and said what can we create together that really allows us to grant the wishes of children in need across the country who might not get that wish granted otherwise.

Looking ahead to this year. What can we expect from you in the team? 

You’ll see a lot more of Verizon making an emotional connection with our customers, putting our customers at the center of everything that we do. It’s been a really big focus for us in 2023 and you’ll see a lot more of that in 2024. How do we ensure that it is all about our customer and that we are relentlessly focused on what matters to them and how we communicate to them? 

What are you most bullish about this year?

You’re going to see a lot more of that as we think about the brand as we think about what’s driving the business on the consumer and on the business side. 

I’d say what we’re most bullish on is personalization, segmentation, how we focus on local and how we focus on our different segments and we do a really good job of hitting a broader message that is relevant to everyone. But you’re gonna see us do a lot more personalization as we get into 2024 and you’ll see us leveraging AI as a tool to enable that.