The Brand Builder Who Drove Demand Through the Roof
Erica Brinker, Chief Commercial Officer and Head of ESG, Array Technologies
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Chris is joined by Erica Brinker, Chief Commercial Officer and Head of ESG at Array Technologies and an extraordinary leader who knows how to build a brand and prove her impact.
Prior to Array, Erica was CMO at Honeywell, an industrial that historically didn’t believe in marketing. She drove demand through the roof for Honeywell by building a brand campaign that is still driving impact years later. Erica’s insights and approach should prove incredibly valuable for CMOs who are leading through the turbulence of this current economy.
Chris and Erica cover:
- Erica’s early years as a marketer working at Kate Spade, Tiffany, and Ralph Lauren, in a world where brand was everything
- The path she blazed to become Chief Marketing Officer at Honeywell
- Honeywell’s Futureshaper brand campaign, which aligned everyone from the buyer to the C-suite at Honeywell around a shared vision of the future
- How you can earn and grow a trusted relationship with your CFO
- How Erica’s desire to change the future of the planet for her kids led to her current role at Array
And much more!
012 Erica Brinker: The Brand Builder Who Drove Demand Through the Roof
Erica Brinker 00:00
So when you think about doing things differently in a machine that had been working a certain way for a really long time, the change management component was actually by far the hardest piece because we had to change the revenue generators’ minds about why we needed to go do this.
Welcome to The Storied Future Podcast with Chris Hare, a show that provides the knowledge and inspiration C-suite leaders need to shift the future. Hear from experts, innovators, and purpose-driven leaders who have harnessed the power of narrative to create lasting change.
Chris Hare 00:35
Hi, and welcome to The Storied Future Podcast. I'm Chris Hare, and I'm glad you're here. Each episode, I talk to C-suite leaders, experts, and innovators who have used the power of narrative to change minds, change behavior, and change the future. Have you ever shopped at Tiffany? Even if you've never been inside one of their stores or made a purchase, you know that Tiffany blue color, you've seen or heard about Breakfast at Tiffany's, and you have a good idea of what to expect when you walk through the front doors. Why? Because they've built a powerful brand that occupies a place in your mind, maybe even your heart, and possibly even your wallet. Of course, when you walk through those doors, you expect elegance, luxury, and beauty. But you also expect a welcoming environment where they seek to understand your desires, carefully assess where you are in the buyer journey, and do everything they can to make you happy. But what would happen if the first time you walked through those doors, the salesperson ran straight at you, hustled you over to the counter, asked you to fill out a long form, handed you a datasheet with all of their product features, and then asked you to buy a $50,000 diamond ring on the spot? How would you respond? If you're like me, you'd run as fast as you could out those doors, and you’d never look back. Sounds crazy, right? But that is exactly what a lot of B2B CMOs and their teams do. They don't invest in building a powerful brand in the first place, because they don't know how to measure the impact of that investment. And then they resort to short-sighted tactics to help them hit their MQL and pipeline goals this quarter, which to a buyer can feel like that Tiffany sales rep trying to get you to buy that ring, now. Earlier this year, I had a conversation with a CMO who said something to the effect of, “I know I need to invest in the brand to drive impact in the long term. But I don't know how to prove the value of that investment. With my current demand gen approach, I can show the CFO that if they give me this many dollars, I can produce this many leads. They may be crap leads, but at least I'm showing results.” Thankfully, there's a better way. In today's episode, I talked to Erica Brinker, an extraordinary leader who knows how to build a brand and how to prove the impact of brand investments across the buyer journey. Erica worked at Tiffany at the beginning of her career, and eventually went on to become CMO at Honeywell, an industrial that historically didn't believe in marketing. While there, she built a brand campaign that drove demand through the roof, a campaign that is still driving impact years later. In this episode, we explore: her early years as a marketer working at Kate Spade, Tiffany, and Ralph Lauren in a world where brand was everything; the path she blazed to becoming Chief Marketing Officer at Honeywell; the brand campaign that aligned everyone at Honeywell from the buyer to the C-suite around a shared vision of the future; how you can earn and grow a trusted relationship with your CFO; and finally, how her desire to change the future of the planet for her kids led her to make the leap to lead an ESG at Array Technologies. Let's dive in.
Erica, thanks so much for joining me on The Storied Future Podcast.
Erica Brinker 03:44
Thanks for having me.
Chris Hare 03:45
So I wanted to start off. Would love to hear what you were like as a kid and then also how your upbringing shaped your view of what you believed was possible in the world.
Erica Brinker 03:54
Well, like many people my age, I was a latchkey kid, kind of 80s, 90s kid, and had a lot of responsibility. I was the oldest of four. And I was jokingly called ‘the baby that was born with a briefcase’ because I was babysitting my entire block of kids by the time I was 12, getting my siblings off to school. And so I had a lot of responsibility early on, and I didn't really think much about it. And when I think about it today, I'm very grateful for it. It was probably a foreshadowing for where I ended up, though at the time I didn't recognize it. I made my own business cards, The Babysitters Club. I'd come up with my own motto, “I will not sit on your child”, thinking that that was a pretty funny pun. And I wish I still had one because it really was the foray into marketing that I just didn't even know was coming my way.
Chris Hare 04:53
Where did that eventually lead you? And then you know, when you left high school, what was your path that eventually took you into marketing?
Erica Brinker 05:00
When I went to school, I actually went to school in DC at American University, thinking that I wanted to be a politician, an international lawyer. I was pretty engaged in politics. And once I got to DC, the reality of what that looks like was pretty disheartening for me. So I thought, well, what could I use my skill set for that maybe, would translate pretty well? And so, I kind of thought about doing something and communications initially, and not really realizing what that meant. I applied for a very unrelated internship at Kate Spade in fashion design, and by some strange fluke got accepted. And when I showed up the first day, my manager was explaining what I was going to be doing. And I looked around and I didn't see any clothing anywhere, I didn't see fabric, I couldn't figure out what was going on. And after she paused for a little bit, I said, What department am I in? And she said, Oh, you're in accessories marketing. And to be completely honest, I had no idea what marketing was. I mean, obviously, I knew what the word meant. But I didn't really know what that meant as a profession. And I always call this the happiest accident of my career, because that internship actually led to a full-time job for the first two years of my career. I had an incredible boss who taught me what marketing was all about, kind of in a pre-digital age, because we weren't doing a ton on the internet. There wasn't a lot of online retail marketing, even in fashion at that time. So it was a great way to dip your toe in. And then really, what I realized about marketing that I didn't know, is that it was this great balance of the art and being creative, but also the science and having a business mindset. And so for me, I love doing both. And that's what I feel like marketing really leads you to both those paths.
Chris Hare 06:52
And how did you end up ultimately at Tiffany and Co? And it's funny, because we're going to talk a lot about B2B marketing today. I was so excited to see that you worked there because I often use it as an analogy with B2B companies that Tiffany is a brand that you know really well, even if you've never been in the store. You know what to expect because of how they've built the brand, right? Anyway, we'd love to hear about what took you there and what your learnings were that impacted your view of brand.
Erica Brinker 07:20
So, because I went on internship, and then ended up staying at Kate Spade, I didn't graduate. So I had to go back to school and finish. I spent two years and I thought, Okay, I gotta go back to school, finish this out, and then I'll rush right back to New York City. And interestingly enough, Tiffany was at the job fair. So when I graduated, I just happened to have a lot more job experience than my fellow graduates. And so it was a great match for me. To be honest, I didn't really know much about Tiffany, except for kind of what you said. I'd never been in one having grown up in Pittsburgh. Tiffany isn't, you know, a number one brand in an old-fashioned steel town. I wasn't really raised in that way. I was the first college graduate on both sides of my family, my dad was a lineman of a utility company. So Tiffany wasn't on my radar as a brand that I was a buyer of. But I certainly knew from a marketing perspective that it would be a great career move to learn from some of the best marketers maybe in history. And so I had a really unique job, and one that was really the only of its kind. I was in charge of the international publications there. And so at the time, in the early aughts, Tiffany had more stores in Japan than they did in the US. I think there were over 40 Tiffany stores there. And so I spent a lot of time doing marketing for Japan, and then opening international stores, the first store in China, the first store in Brazil. And so really understanding how you translate that brand into other markets was just such an incredible learning experience.
Chris Hare 09:00
Obviously, you mentioned your background where you grew up in Pittsburgh, and then it's just a really big contrast with a company like Tiffany, right? What was your mindset going in? Was it intimidating? Did you feel like an outsider, but then you also had that hustle that you brought from when you were a kid, right?
Erica Brinker 09:16
I was completely terrified. And the corporate offices are not where the store is. And so I went to the corporate offices for the first couple weeks, but eventually I had to go down to the store because we also did all the photoshoots of the close up products on our marketing floor. And so I would take my two security guards and go down to the store and pick up the goods we were going to shoot, and then trot them back. But walking in the store the first time, I had a lot of trepidation. I remember my heart beating kind of fast and feeling like, you know, I think I was 23 at the time and thinking, you know, I can't afford a single thing in this store, and really feeling intimidated by it. But it's actually a very welcoming store. I wasn't on the one-of-a-kind diamond floors shopping for anything. So it was actually pretty welcoming. So my expectation probably wasn't met and it became a much friendlier place. And quite frankly, it was filled with tourists on Fifth Avenue. So it was bustling as well. So that really kind of took the pressure off of it.
Chris Hare 10:18
And what was your journey from there that ultimately led you to Honeywell? I know Mark Stouse was kind enough to introduce us. I'd love to hear about your journey.
Erica Brinker 10:27
Well, after Tiffany, I went to Ralph Lauren. And I did everything from licensing brands to their men's brands, and then ultimately did home. That's where I had the most fun, is doing some home goods. And I wanted to make a career change and leave New York City. I'd had a great run in my 20s being there, but I wanted to make a change. And so I ultimately wanted to do something in technology. And I was doing my MBA at Thunderbird in Phoenix. And at the time, I felt like I could go anywhere in the world once I graduated. And I happened to have a contact that forwarded my resume unknowingly to Honeywell Aerospace, which is also based in Phoenix. And I wasn't really interested in aerospace. I didn't know much about it. But I went and did the interviews anyway, because I knew Honeywell is a really great company. And so the interview process was quite long, six months, 11 people. And every person that I met was smarter than the next one. And by the 11th interview, I had to have the job. And so that was the start of my career at Honeywell. It wasn't the first B2B experience I had. I actually had come from healthcare technology previous to moving to Honeywell, but it was certainly my first time doing it at this scale. And when you talk about a true B2B environment, aerospace is so insular, so B2B. It also is kind of fraught with all of these kinds of frenemy relationships where you do business with the OEM sometimes as a customer, supplier, or maybe sometimes you're competing. Sometimes you're a tier two, sometimes you're a tier three. And so lots of different kinds of relationships, lots of different targeting opportunities, the importance of segmentation, incredibly important.
Chris Hare 12:19
What was that like? I know you said that wasn't your first B2B experience, but kind of contrasting what Honeywell was like in those early days, especially when it came to investing in brand versus what your previous experience had been?
Erica Brinker 12:32
Yeah, so I think the tough thing that Honeywell was dealing with, particularly in the early days, is that they didn't see the value in marketing. The attitude was a bit, Hey, listen, people have to buy our stuff. But like any industry, the barriers to entry often get lowered, and new entrants come in, and somebody moves your cheese, and you have to start doing things differently. We also started acquiring companies that required a little bit more, I'd say, consumer facing approach. And so one of the really interesting things that I was there to see and lead is how important brand ended up becoming. And so I ended up starting a branding program there, just for aerospace, because, at the time, each business unit really worked on their own. There wasn't a one Honeywell approach. It was aerospace, go do your own thing. You know, if you're in materials, you're going to do your own thing. And so I worked with the CEO, and we came up with a branding program. We worked with a global brand agency and came up with our own tagline that we felt was both authentic, but also ownable in the experience that we think our customers had with us. It was one of the first times that we really dug deep into the customers and asked them what they thought about Honeywell. Where were our gaps? What did we really truly deliver? What did they count on us for? And what did they think we should be known for? And with our breadth of products, the ‘one size fits all’ approach just simply wasn't possible. And so not only did we kind of approach it at the brand level, but it was also where we focused on segmentation. And how do we make sure that we're hitting the executive level with the right message? How do we make sure we're talking to pilots, because they care about something else? They may not be the purchaser, but they're certainly the influencer. And then making sure that we were really building a database and approaching things digitally. So content development, launching a website, I think we took, we had 1500 microsites when I started in aerospace. And we took that down to less than 100. And over time, just really recognizing the importance of, we didn't call it attribution at the time, but it was certainly the beginnings of what attribution looks like now, so that we can understand, What were the needle-moving activities that ultimately drove people, or influenced people, to buy our products?
Chris Hare 15:03
And that was the ‘Future Shaper Campaign’, is that correct? Or was it a separate campaign?
Erica Brinker 15:07
Yeah, that was ‘Possibilities of Flight Made Easy’.
Chris Hare 15:11
Okay. And yeah, what were the impacts and outcomes of that?
Erica Brinker 15:15
Oh, it was really incredible because Honeywell, as not being a natural born marketing, very engineering mindset, it was really seeing us as one force in the aerospace industry, because we had a really broad breadth of products. You're talking about engines, to cockpits, wheels and brakes, SATCOM equipment, the list goes on. And so really comprehensively, especially at the executive level, I think what we underestimated was executive level engagement being important to decision making, even at lower levels. And so we approached, really creatively, airline CEOs, making sure that they knew about what we were doing. They were kind of our customers’ customer sometimes, sometimes they were our direct customer. But rather than have those lower-level engineering and purchasing conversations, we really up-leveled that conversation so that high-level influencers were talking about Honeywell and how we needed to have our products specked in.
Chris Hare 16:17
And when you think about the role that narrative played within that campaign, how were you able to, like, what did that narrative that you put forth look like? And then how did that ultimately shift how people thought about you?
Erica Brinker 16:29
I think that, honestly, we just weren't thought about at all, because we left these conversations to procurement and engineering – which is fine, those conversations need to happen. But creating a story about who we are, highlighting our engineering prowess, talking about the history of firsts that Honeywell aerospace had in the industry, and the level of technological expertise that we had in any given product category, was really important. And I think it was really eye opening to our customers, because if they knew us or thought about us, they only knew or thought about us maybe for one thing. And so having that more 360 view of who we are as a supplier to them was really important and I think eye opening, but also got, you know, results wise, I think it got us in the consideration of many more RFPs than we would have before.
Chris Hare 17:23
And when you ultimately transitioned into being the CMO, was that CMO just… That was broader than aerospace, correct?
Erica Brinker 17:31
Yeah, so when I moved to corporate, it was the first time they’d had a brand leader in corporate. The role was created because the CEO who had replaced Dave Cote, Darius Adamczyk, had a vision in his tenure for having this one Honeywell approach. He saw not just the financial benefit to endorsing and enforcing one brand, but he also thought there were some missed opportunities across the businesses that really could pull a thread through where customers would view us differently, and also that our stock would trade differently. So he really set out to find out, Okay, what can we say about ourselves that's true across all of our businesses? And that's kind of where we started. And what was interesting about the project was that he was so engaged, someone who has a very traditional engineer in his background, having to have creative conversations, and really wanting to own it, because he saw the brand transformation as part of his legacy. And so we worked on countless concepts. I think in our first presentation, we had 12 concepts. And you know, he liked a few of them, and his leadership team liked a few of them. And he said, I just can't picture myself saying any of these. And so we went back, and we funded four more concepts. And that's when we hit on one, the Future Shaper Campaign, that he felt like he could really own. But it was also about the transformation the company was also going through from a software perspective. So moving from a pure industrials company, where we just make parts, pieces, devices, things that you can see. And Honeywell had long been making software that either accompanied that hardware or standalone software, but we just weren't known for it. And so when you think about when you kick off any kind of brand transformation, you're doing a baseline brand study to figure out, What do your customers actually think about you? What do the people that don't buy from you think of you? And what do they think about you all over the globe? And so that baselining study was very eye opening for everyone, including myself, just trying, really understanding what we're known for, and sometimes for things that we hadn't made or produced in years. And so knowing that we had a pretty low baseline to build from in some instances, and certainly not being known for software. And so the thought process was, Listen, we're trading with our peers in industrials, we’re at the top of our game. The stock price is doing what it needs to do. But if we really want to get a bigger multiple, we need to trade like a software company. And so part of the Future Shaper Campaign was not just about highlighting our really incredible technology and the people behind it, but it was also about, How do we introduce the concept of becoming a software industrial company and being a leader in that space, not just in industrial?
Chris Hare 20:33
And when you stepped into that role, and then, kind of, uncovered that opportunity, what was your mindset then, if you recall? And I imagine it was incredibly thrilling and exhilarating to have that opportunity. But I imagine it was also potentially kind of terrifying.
Erica Brinker 20:48
Yeah, I mean, it was not thrilling for a really long time. There was not such thing as a corporate marketing team at the center. And so when you think about organizational change, and doing things differently in a machine that had been working a certain way for a really long time, the change management component was actually, by far, the hardest piece, because we had to change our businesses, who are the revenue generators, minds about why we needed to go do this. And so you kind of have to do a little bit of carrot and a little bit of stick. The carrot was I had a lot of dollars to go spend on a corporate ad campaign. Honeywell had never done a television commercial before. So I had a television commercial when I was working with the businesses to highlight which products are we going to show in the commercial and beyond. We had a lot more marketing beyond just a television commercial, but also a little bit of the stick, because we couldn't be everything to everyone. And so while a technology might be really important to a business, it might not be cool enough to make the cut for the campaign. Or vice versa. There might be a really cool product that we want to highlight, and it might not be that important to the business from a revenue perspective yet. And so getting the mindset around what we were trying to demonstrate when you have such a broad portfolio was really challenging. You know, the saying about herding cats was certainly true here. But ultimately, because we had the buy in of Darius and the rest of the C-suite, and my boss who was the CCO at the time, Que Dallara, she was incredibly supportive, helping me navigate how and when we went in to leadership and making sure that we were getting buy in along the way, taking feedback, making adjustments, so that everyone felt like they were part of the process. So ultimately, when we came out with the campaign, there was a lot of pride because everybody felt like they had their input because they did.
Chris Hare 22:53
That's quite an achievement. Because I've, you know, 50% of like the narrative strategy work that I do I tell people at least 50% is internal alignment, right? And that, how do you, to your point, how do you heard all of those cats? And then how do you get the C-suite to say, “This is a story we're comfortable telling”, but not have it get polluted in a way that doesn't resonate with the customer. It's a challenge.
Erica Brinker 23:17
It was probably further complicated by the fact that we also wanted the storytelling to be done by the employees who actually make and create this technology. So it's one thing to just write about it. But then to find talent, who's actually employees, that what they really do is they’re mad scientist inventors, and get them on camera. We didn't make it easy on ourselves. I'll say that. But what it brought to the campaign was this tremendous authenticity about who we are, who we hire, and how we get things done from a technology perspective. So it just lent so much credibility to the campaign as well. But it also made it incredibly difficult for us on the marketing side.
Chris Hare 24:00
I do want to hear about the impact that it had externally. But first, what were the results that you saw internally, at the company?
Erica Brinker 24:09
Actually, that was probably the most unexpected outcome for me. You know, when we were planning this campaign, you make your media buys, you talk about your spend. What's demand gen look like? What are the results we think we're gonna get externally? Here are the new brand guidelines. I mean, all those things we were thinking about. And of course, we had an internal launch. We had a DJ. The CEO came up and unveiled the television commercial, we met with some of the future shapers that were in the campaign itself. Not really realizing that that campaign ended up engendering so much pride in our employee population. Because we didn't have this one Honeywell voice, a lot of employees just had different experiences and you might look at another division of the company and say, Oh, I didn't even know we did that. And actually, that's what we heard with so many different vignettes and different kinds of products. One of the things that we heard that was really surprising was, I had no idea that we made all this stuff. And so it was a little bit of a learning experience internally for a lot of people. But also, it was this idea around the fact that they're part of this bigger movement. And even now, today on LinkedIn, I see that the future shapers, I mean, this is years later, this was 2019, or something like that, when we kicked it off. We're sitting in 2022, I see all the future shaper hashtags. And it's been an incredible success. And it's made, I think, almost an internal employee personality, right, where maybe it was lacking before. So it was a pleasant surprise. It was probably the biggest change that I just wasn't anticipating. I don't think any of us were.
Chris Hare 25:54
And I think it's pretty unique as well, for a B2B brand. People love doing new stuff, and coming up with new creative and new campaigns. And there's always got to be something new, everyone has to make their mark. So the fact that it's still running and still having an impact is remarkable. And then having that commitment to the creative for that long is pretty cool.
Erica Brinker 26:14
No, I love to see it.
Chris Hare 26:15
And so what were some of the impacts that you saw externally? And do you have any favorite stories from some of the impact that it had?
Erica Brinker 26:24
I mean, obviously, demand gen through the roof. We saw a lot of results, because we had never, you know, the television commercial. We heard from executives, and this is just directional feedback, but, Wow, Honeywell is really different. We didn't know that you made that. I know that Darius got a phone call from a CEO, from an airline in the Middle East, gave him a call and said, I saw your commercial. I didn't know that you guys did software. And so it opened up a lot of C-level conversations, which is certainly, in the B2B world, a dream come true, because that's always the nut you're trying to crack. From a demand gen perspective, and as you work your way into the businesses, we tried to do a good balance of buying kind of global media, and also trades for all of our top industries. And so we know from our businesses that the response was really, really strong. And then maybe one of the things that I think there's two pieces that really came to life. The investor community really woke up to who Honeywell was, and they started to really buy into the software industrial story, and so that it gave us a platform to open up those conversations about, Okay, listen, we're experts in devices and hardware. But now we also can use that knowledge in software. And they really bought into that story and started to understand that it was much more well understood. And probably one of the other things that I think was such an incredible coup for the campaign is the fact that our recruitment brand, which was maybe somewhat non-existent, really, the doors were blown off of it. We had over 100% increase in job applicants. And I think the traffic to our website for careers was double that. Because finally, we were telling the story of what we made, instead of, you know, we just, we only told our customers if we told them at all. And so finally, it was like, Oh, wow, they make really cool stuff. Because we always talked about, Wow, we'd love to be able to hire people from Google or Apple, if only they knew we make stuff that's even cooler. And so that was kind of the end game. And ultimately, I think that that's been the outcome.
Chris Hare 28:38
That's amazing. Would love to hear how you used analytics to really prove the impact and prove the value of what you were doing as a CMO.
Erica Brinker 28:55
Well, I think there are two really important pieces to measurement, when you think about your strategy of measurement. The first is, Who are you communicating the measurement to? And so I'm a big believer in there being an executive level dashboard that gives you only the things that executives care about. And these are revenue generation related. They're business related. It's, Are you moving the needle in the things that they care about? What is not impressive to a C-suite is 100 different metrics on a slide with no analytics, and no insights as to what those numbers actually mean. That is not impressive. And I think that's where a lot of people go wrong. They try to wow you with all of these charts. But at the end of the day, what do they mean? And that's what executives want to know. And so when you don't take the time to say what those analytics mean, you're missing the really important part of the effort. And likewise on the lower level, you need those, the practitioners need to know and be actively adjusting their campaigns. And that might mean that you're tracking 100 different things, that's okay, because that's the practitioner level. So really understanding that you have those two different audiences that you're serving is so critically important and to never mix them up, especially the executive level. I think that's critically important. The other thing is using money wisely, and over communicating what you're using it for. And I think sometimes marketers are afraid to show how the sausage is made. But sometimes it's necessary to either get more money, or to keep the budget that you have.
Chris Hare 30:41
And what was, you know, at Honeywell, what was your relationship with the CFO like, and how did you earn their trust?
Erica Brinker 30:48
Well, if they're listening today, I couldn't have done the campaign, the Future Shaper Campaign, without you. Honestly, it was such a great relationship, and not just at corporate, but when I was in aerospace as well. But particularly in corporate, if we were having a favorable quarter, because we were communicating our results, he would say, Hey, listen, we have a couple extra million, what can you do with it, and they knew that I could deploy it in a smart way. And so when you're able to prove your metrics, have some meat behind them, and they're moving the needle for the company, you'll see more to come.
Chris Hare 31:25
That's amazing. I've never heard that happen before.
Erica Brinker 31:29
And you know, listen, Honeywell is a pretty conservative company. They're very tight with making sure that every investment is smart. So it was surprising to me, too, but it was also just a fantastic example of how you can partner with your CFO.
Chris Hare 31:45
So in 2021, you made the move to Array Technologies. Would love to hear about what inspired that move and what your role is today.
Erica Brinker 31:55
Yeah, well, I think a lot of people made a change in 2020, 2021. I had a baby in 2020. So we have a bunch of kids, but it was my last one, right before lockdown. And like a lot of people during COVID times, started thinking about different things that might impact your children's lives. And one of the things I started really thinking about was sustainability. And I'd kind of said to my husband, If I ever made a change from Honeywell, I'd only do it for something that's in sustainability. And so Array Technologies is actually in my backyard. And I got a call that they were looking for a CMO. And I wanted to explore it. I wasn't really sure what Array did. And so I learned more. And we talked for a while and they kind of said, Oh, we're not ready for you. We're not ready for you. We're not big enough. And they went public in October of 2020. And so by 2021, they said, Hey, we're ready, we want to really grow globally, we're ready for you. And so for me, it was about doing something that I feel like is going to change the future for my kids. And also, probably the other component to it was that I got to do something that I hadn't done before, which is lead an ESG effort. So when I was first hired, I was CMO and head of ESG. And I've been leading their ESG programs since I started. And it's been a tremendous learning experience, but also super rewarding learning about what's happening in the ESG space. And to be a solar company, what we say ‘the big E in ESG’, to actually be helping our customers deploy solar has been really incredible.
Chris Hare 33:39
Can you talk a bit about your core business there and kind of what's the future and the narrative that you all are putting forth to your customers and to prospects?
Erica Brinker 33:47
Yeah, sure. I mean, it's very B2B. I don't know if it gets more B2B than this, than a utility scale solar tracker. Big hunks of metal that actually hold the solar module. So when people think about utility scale solar, these hundreds of acres of solar fields, they think about the modules, but the modules are made much more productive if they sit in a tracker rather than in a fixed frame. They call it fixed-tilt. We're a tracker, we actually move with the sun. There's software that accompanies it. So we make the hardware and software that makes the module productive. And so our tracker technology makes modules 25% more productive with about a 10% more investment as compared to a fixed-tilt solution. So we really have revolutionized this space. We've been around for 30 years. The founder of the company was a pioneer in solar and there's kind of this quirky saying about solar being the solar coaster because there's been so many ups and downs. And I thought it was just a bit cheesy, but it's real. He really did live through so many ups and downs of solar. And I think now you're seeing finally that, especially, there's data points like the IRA bill passing and so many incentives for solar, you're finally seeing renewable energy be a viable alternative to the energy mix for utilities.
Chris Hare 35:20
And what are the challenges that you're kind of tackling right now when it comes to the market as a whole, and then kind of building the brand and growing and then capturing demand as well?
Erica Brinker 35:32
In some markets, I think you see challenges with not wanting to spend the extra money on tracker technology, maybe thinking, Okay, fixed-tilt is cheaper, let's just go with that. But once you see the numbers and how much productivity it provides, it's a bit of a no-brainer. So you're even seeing, kind of, pure price buyer regions change their mind. And so you're seeing tracker growth kind of like grow exponentially. I think there's also just skepticism around renewables. I would say it's not warranted. But there hasn't been a lot of knowledge. If you think about the energy mix from a utility perspective, just in the U.S., solar is only 4% of the solar generation today. So the scale at which we need to grow in order to be a significant mix, and to make sure that we're getting off fossil fuels, it's just incredibly huge. And so that capital investment is big. You have also like, in wind, you have some nimbyism, so not in my backyard. People skeptical about, you know, are these sites harmful if I live around them, which of course they're not. These are like completely harmless sites, and they're quite quiet. But a need to maybe educate the general public around it. But I also think that COVID, for all its impact negatively, there has been kind of a change in mindset around climate change that's been good for the business and good for the general movement around renewables. Because I think people are seeing that we have to make a change. And we have to make it soon. So this transition has got to get underway.
Chris Hare 37:15
Yeah, and I think there's also just the challenge of, in a number of our episodes on the show, we've talked with folks about, you know, there's the narrative that companies put forward of, Here's our purpose in the world, and it's often very disconnected from their actions. And so getting folks to follow through, I imagine, is a huge part of it as well.
Erica Brinker 37:35
It is, and that's actually something we talk a lot about on the ESG side, because one of the things you don't want to be accused of is not doing something that you say you're doing. And so you've seen companies get punished for greenwashing. And we want our say/do ratio to be 100%. We want to do what we say we're doing. We are meticulous in tracking, we're working with some of the best partners around the world to make sure that we are a company that's doing well as a publicly traded company, while also doing good for the world. And the point is that you can do both.
Chris Hare 38:14
What are you most excited about? And what are some of the challenges you're trying to crack?
Erica Brinker 38:19
I am really super proud of the program. So in under a year and a half, we have had two ESG reports launched. So we did full year 2020, full year 2021. We have put in place mid-range goals. So 2025 goals that cover everything from environmental goals, social goals around diversity and inclusion and diversification of our board, our leadership, and also around safety. So we have a really broad swath of goals. And the reason we chose 2025 intentionally was that 2030 or 2040 goals, which lots of companies put out there, and I think it's fine. We just wanted the people that are making the commitments to see them through and to have some meat on the bone and put some skin in the game that we're gonna get these things done. So for instance, we've already met one of our 2025 goals. We met our board diversification goal, we just added another female to the board. And so that was a big win for us. But it's also from a stock trading perspective, a lot of funds are looking at these metrics now. And so we have to pay attention to them not just from a financial perspective, but also because we believe as a company, it's the right thing to do.
Chris Hare 39:39
And what has the evolution for you from being CMO to being Chief Commercial Officer, what does that mean for your scope? And then also as you look to the future, how it changes things for you?
Erica Brinker 39:50
The change has been pretty huge. So what got added to my responsibilities was product management, which really has nice ties to what we were doing in marketing. And so all the segmentation work we were doing in marketing translates really nicely to launching a product management team. So we didn't really have that. So we have product management now. Customer and product support, so everything from the time that a contract gets signed and we're delivering, to when we need to service our projects kind of in the aftermarket. So customer product support. I also have what we call sales excellence, but it's essentially sales enablement, and sales operations. Owning Salesforce, make sure it's doing what we need it to do for us, making sure that the sales team is well prepared when they get out there to pitch, ensuring that we're having pipeline reviews with the sales team so that we're providing signals to finance and to our supply chain organization. And then also, we kind of added government relations to the ESG mix. So just for fun, I also do government relations on the side. Yeah, I have a good team. So if they're listening, I shout out to my amazing leadership team and everybody who just works so hard here. Everybody's just so passionate, and they're here, it's a very purpose driven culture. We're all here for the same reason. So it's cool to be a part of that.
Chris Hare 41:18
That is awesome, to have that culture and to have that strength of purpose is a powerful thing, and see that play out. So I know, talking about government relations, recently you were at the White House, and you were celebrating a big win. Talk to me about that, and what it means to you and to Array and also kind of your vision of the future.
Erica Brinker 41:36
Yeah, it was actually one of those moments that I was wondering if I had dreamed it, because if you think back, Build Back Better was the first incarnation of the bill. And there was a lot of solar legislation in that bill. And so it was defeated pretty early on, because there was just too much packed in the bill. And with the number of Democrats to Republicans, we just knew that it wasn't going to go anywhere. We then worked with a lobbying firm, engaging them and engaging politicians and educating them about solar, which we're continuing to do. But at the time, what we were hearing was that there was going to be kind of a skinny down climate package of Build Back Better that was going to go to vote. And unfortunately, that got defeated, too. And so really, because we were coming up on summer break for Congress, we pretty much thought that we were done. And we had met with a few senators who are very supportive of the solar industry. And they kind of indicated that, you know, we'll just try to get back after it in the fall. And then right before summer break, all the sudden IRA passes. And the way that we understand the story is that there were a lot of quiet meetings with Senator Manchin and others to quietly get this done, because there was so much noise around the other two iterations that it made it really difficult to get anything done. And so I remember, it was a Sunday, and I found out that IRA passed and there was a ton of solar legislation in there. And what's really cool about the bill is that it really is driving change for solar across lots of different parts of the food chain. So whether you're a developer, or you're an EPC who actually does the installs, or you're a supplier like we are, and we're also a manufacturer, and we also have downstream suppliers. It's really a great story for solar. It's a great story for the incentives for domestic manufacturing. And so when you talk about what the IRA really means, at its most serious level, it really is about national security. Energy independence, which solar provides us is absolutely about energy security. And so being able to make things in the USA, and deliver them provides a lot of energy security for us. And so the IRA bill on so many levels has been important to not just Array, but the industry, and also to the country.
Chris Hare 44:15
Well, congratulations to you and to the team. I know it's not just Array. There's so many people working on that, right, but for your role in that, that's huge.
Erica Brinker 44:25
Yeah, we have an incredible trade association that was very critical to making this happen.
Chris Hare 44:32
Well, when you think back to your career up to this point, we've talked about some high points, what was kind of a, like a big dip or a low point for you, and how did you manage through that?
Erica Brinker 44:43
So, you know, in terms of low points, I might actually choose something from Honeywell, when I made the transition from aerospace marketing to actually wanting to get closer to the customer. I moved into a business development role. And so as a marketer, we talk about what the customers care about, but we don't actually always talk to the customers every day. And so making that transition was really difficult because a little bit, you get to kind of sit at your desk, and you're very protected from those conversations. But when you go into business development, it's almost like being stripped of your coat and you're out in the cold. And you have to just figure it out, because the customer is sitting right in front of you. And so I may not call it a low point, but it was definitely a pivotal point for me, because what I realized is that so much of what I had produced as a marketer was not necessarily what a business development or sales person might actually need to do their job. And so it changed the way I thought about what I did in marketing, and also kind of how I viewed business as well. And so it was a great experience, and it was a really hard transition in the beginning. And I would never change it because I learned a lot. But it also was a real pivotal point for me as well.
Chris Hare 46:08
I really appreciate you sharing that, because I've heard throughout our conversation that customer obsession, and starting with the customer and working backwards, right, but knowing kind of where that came from is pretty awesome.
Erica Brinker 46:20
Actually, what I tell my team, anytime someone starts on my team, and when we collaborate with different organizations within Array, and I talked about this at Honeywell, too, which is something I really believe: When you're having kind of a challenge between departments, or you're trying to figure out what to do, I always tell my team, if you start with what the customer wants, you can't go wrong, because it's indisputable. Any team that you're having a challenge with, you start there. So it's kind of like the center. Then you go out and say, Okay, not as a marketer, but for the business, is this the best thing for the business? And so when you put your business person hat on, not, Hey, is this a really cool tactic marketing-wise that I really have wanted to do? That's not a great reason for the business, like think about the business. Then you can think about, Okay, in my own fiefdom, is this something that sounds like it's a good idea? So you just kind of have to lead with the customer need first and have empathy. Then think about, Okay, is this good for the business? Okay, great. And then, Okay, now, can we pull this off from a marketing perspective? And can we measure the success? And so that's kind of always my checklist on anything that we do.
Chris Hare 47:31
Yeah, I found that was one of the critical lessons that I learned at Amazon. So now, any narrative strategy campaign content, it's, Yes, we may have research, we may have the data, etc. But it's always going and building it with the customer, right? And through actual conversations on the ground with them, right? So I love that.
As we wrap up, first of all, I just really appreciate your time. But you know, I'd love to hear, there's a lot of challenges going on in the world right now. No surprise. But what are some of the things that you're most hopeful about as you look to 2023 and beyond?
Erica Brinker 48:04
I think that first and foremost, what's top of mind for a lot of us is around climate change in the energy transition. And I am very hopeful that we, not just around the world, but especially in the U.S., we are headed in the right direction. This is no longer a political volleyball, this is something that has really become the truth. And we're all operating from the same playbook. We may not all agree on how to get there, or how fast we need to get there. But the energy transition is something that is, in my mind, indisputable. And when we talk to, not just politicians, but other partners, they see the space as really a great space to grow in, but also to invest in. And so I think that that's really promising. I'm also really encouraged by just young people that are coming into the workforce. I love seeing the passion-driven attitudes that they bring every day. I think for some of us of a certain age, we kind of went into the corporate world with our heads down, we didn't really think about what we were doing. And it didn't necessarily tie to our personal life. And it seems like younger people do what they care about. And I find a lot of energy being around that. And so I think that's super cool. And it's what I hire for. I can teach skill, I cannot teach passion and problem solving. And so that's something that gets me really excited.
Chris Hare 49:39
Well, awesome. Well, thank you so much, Erica. It's been a real pleasure learning from you and hearing your story.
Erica Brinker 49:45
Thanks so much for having me, Chris.
Chris Hare 49:48
I was struck by at least three things that helped Erica win as CMO at Honeywell. First, her ability to create a new narrative by obsessing about customers and building with frontline employees. Second, her commitment to investing in brands over the long haul, and the hard work she does to prove the impact of that investment. And finally, her ability to earn the trust of the C-suite, in particular, the CEO and the CFO, by speaking the language of business. How about you? How are you approaching your investment and brand, especially in this current economic environment? What are the challenges you're facing? And how is Erica story inspired you to think differently? I'd love to hear from you.
This is our final episode in Season 1, and I want to thank you for joining me so far on this journey. Your support has been extraordinary. We're taking a break for the holidays, but look forward to sharing Season 2 with you in the first part of 2023. And we have some amazing guests lined up for you. We're just getting started. And that's it. Thanks for joining us. Please subscribe, leave us a review, and be sure to visit TSFpod.com for more information about Erica Brinker, Honeywell, and Array Technologies. You can also access Show Notes and check out other episodes.
The Storied Future Podcast is a production of The Storied Future, LLC, produced and edited by Ray Sylvester, audio engineering by Ali Özbay, logo design by Evan MacDonald, theme music by The Brewz. Your host is me, Chris Hare. Learn more about our work helping leaders create great B2B narratives for a change at www.thestoriedfuture.com.
Erica Brinker is a technology-, data-, and mission-driven problem solver with 25 years of diverse corporate strategy, brand & marketing, ESG, media relations, communications, business development, operations, and sales experience. She has held global leadership roles with Fortune 100 and multinational brands including Honeywell (NASDAQ: HON), Array Technologies (NASDAQ: ARRY), Polo Ralph Lauren (NYSE: RL) and Tiffany & Company (LVMH). Erica is passionate about the clean energy transition and sustainable business practices.
Erica is currently the Chief Commercial Officer & Head of ESG for the global leader in renewable energy, Array Technologies. In this role she leads product management, customer & product support, marketing & product management, strategy, ESG, sales enablement, and government relations for the fast-growing company. Before joining Array, Erica spent 10 years with blue chip leader Honeywell, where she was Chief Marketing Officer and Vice President Commercial Excellence.
Erica has her MBA from Thunderbird School of Global Management and her bachelor’s from Pennsylvania State University. She completed a Harvard Business School certificate program in Sustainable Business Practices. Erica resides in Phoenix, Arizona, with her five children and husband.
- Futureshaper Campaign | Honeywell | Case Study – Jack Morton
- FNEI Insights: How to Tell Your ESG Story: Array Technologies’ Erica Brinker (FiscalNote Executive Institute)
- The IRA’s transformative tax incentives for solar energy projects and manufacturing operations (JD Supra)
- Crazy About Tiffany’s [documentary about Tiffany and Co.] (YouTube)