#22: Dominate Global Markets with Cleo Franklin

How do you dominate in global markets? We spend a lot of time in academia discussing US companies going overseas, but this interview takes a different perspective. Cleo Franklin, CMO of Mahindra North America (now VP of Marketing and Business Development - Latin America) talks to Professor Scott Davis about bringing an Indian tractor company to the US market. Along the way, Cleo reveals tremendous insights about navigating global markets.

Podcast Audio of Scott's Interview with Cleo Franklin

Show Notes

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Transcript of Scott's Interview with Cleo Franklin

Announcer: [00:00:00] This is Marketing Mixtape where people like you become better marketers. And now this is your host the professor Scott Davis.

Scott Davis: [00:00:10] Are you involved in global marketing? We have a huge guest in this episode. He's a brand builder with an incredible track record in global markets. He was CMO for Mahindra USA and recently transitioned to Vice President of Marketing and Business Development Latin America for Mahindra Americas. Welcome Cleo Franklin. 

Scott Davis: [00:00:32] Cleo, thank you so much for joining me. You are such a huge guest for me. And one reason for that is that I show a Mahindra North America video to my MBA students when we're discussing global marketing and when the idea for this podcast came into my head I was thinking, how cool would it be if I could get guests on this podcast that I'm already talking about in class? So I love that you're bringing my class to life and that your schedule is so busy that you found time to sit down and chat with me. So first I just want to say thank you for being here.

Cleo Franklin: [00:01:03] You're very welcome, Scott. It's a pleasure of mine. And finally to get a chance for you and I to connect and I want to welcome all of the students and of course your network as well as the colleagues that you deal with and thank you for also talking about Mahindra. I think we have such a unique story that quite frankly none exist in North America. We've only been in the business since 1994. Looking forward to sharing more about Mahindra and our meteoric rise.

Scott Davis: [00:01:32] Awesome and I want to really dig into that story. But I think that the first thing that we should do if you could give us kind of a two or three minute overview of your career and kind of how you got to where you are today I think that would get us off on great footing.

Cleo Franklin: [00:01:48] Thank you very much. Well, let me I'll share this with you. I graduated from Morningside College with a degree in social work and minor in business. My MBA is from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. But that being said, I spent time in banking and finance and never thought that I would ever be involved in marketing. 21 years with John Deere in various leadership positions. 9 those 21 years were with John Deere credit and financial services where I was involved in retail and wholesale credit analysis as well as operations. Marketing, business development, a little bit of everything. The rest of my time with John Deere was spread over in sales, marketing, business development, strategy. I had a big opportunity to run the parts business as well as lead the small tractor business for John Deere which really gave me a chance to get recognized here with Mahindra, that's when I was introduced into Mahindra brand but I left John Deere in 2009 to be senior director of sales and operations for New Holland North America. I was promoted to Vice President of Sales and Operations for all of North America. Part of New Holland's global leadership team and joined Mahindra back in July of 2011 as the vice president of strategic planning as well as business development. But I'm currently the CMO and vice president for strategic planning and business development. My responsibility, the utility vehicle business vertical as well as international sales. All of the branding all of the marketing, strategic planning, market research, new business development. You name it whatever needs to be done here at Mahindra, we're not really title centric. We're cross-functional and we need to do what we need to do to grow the business so that's a little bit about me. Hopefully in less than two minutes.

Scott Davis: [00:03:42] That is amazing. I'm blown away by how many different functions that you've touched and how broad your exposure was at John Deere which really makes sense. Given what your role is with Mahindra North America that you can understand finance and sales and marketing and kind of put all these things together and the supply chain. So I think that's a really cool path. And now that I know what I knew about you through videos and through reading about you and looking at some of your other interviews but this makes it click for me how you kind of worked your way up the ranks and earned your way into your current position. So thank you for sharing that. And I want to I'm eager to get back into this conversation about, I think you called it the meteoric rise, and it's so fascinating for me because in teaching American students I think if I ask about farming equipment, most of them, John Deere is going to come into their mind first. But if we really step back and look at this industry, Mahindra North America is growing faster than anyone else. So I want to take this opportunity to ask you what is the secret sauce? How is this happening?

Cleo Franklin: [00:04:56] Well, I'll share as much as I possibly can without giving away too many secrets. But this without question, I've been blessed and humbled to work for, well talk about four iconic brands, that's John Deere, Case New Holland and Mahindra and one of the things that makes Mahindra unique is that Mahindra has over 200,000 employees. We have over 100 companies and operate over 100 countries, and our footprint really is one of our strategic advantages. For example, we're in the automotive sector. We're in military defense, aerospace, technology, hospitality, financial services, agricultural equipment, technology and more. What this does for us, it gives us an opportunity to enter into markets in a way globally and connect across the federation opportunities to sell other services and products that other companies would not be able to have a chance to do. But one of the things that's unique about Mahindra is the fact that we're really not interested in just selling products and services to customers. We're interested in really partnering with our customers and our communities and doing things beyond trading products and services and what we call that is our Rise philosophy. Our Rise philosophy really is based in three tenets. That's, of course, accepting no limits in everything we do. Number two, we try to make sure that anything we do defies the convention. I'm gonna tell you a little bit about our company Mahindra North America and how we've gone from nowhere to number three but that second tenant is about really taking alternative thinking and that's defying the conventions, disrupting, innovating, making sure that we find new ways to do things. The last thing that is very important to us is driving positive change, and that's through corporate social responsibility, making sure that wherever we are, wherever we're in place, we're partnering and we're helping communities rise.

Scott Davis: [00:07:10] I love that it's you have this kind of breadth of product line that kind of gives you ins to all these different global markets. And then once you're in you have you have a lot of different products and services that you can offer. And not only that you're trying to become a part of these communities which is really cool and the first time that I ever saw you was on a Mahindra North America video that I think you made to share with dealers and it was just so interesting to me how this company that started in India, and based on the people that you've brought in, and the way that you've approached different markets, it really felt to me like an American company which with Mahindra North America that's the whole idea. So I just think it's fantastic what you've done because we as professors talking about global marketing, we're often looking at how are American companies making foreign direct investment somewhere else. So what I love about introducing your company as kind of a different way of thinking and a different type of case study is that you're coming into North America from overseas and I love that angle to it. And I want to I want to use that to lead into my next question. So you have all of this experience with John Deere, and John Deere is a fantastic company don't get me wrong, but I think if I had to pin a weakness on John Deere one of them might be global brand awareness and it's kind of the reverse for Mahindra and I wonder if you have any other insights about, other than just having this breadth of technologies that you offer, what makes Mahindra so great at serving all of these different global markets?

Cleo Franklin: [00:08:45] You know I think the unique thing about Mahindra truly is our culture and of course the fuel to our growth and innovation and being very distinctive is the Rise philosophy. One of the things our Chairman/CEO Anand Mahindra talks about is that we want to be one of the Top 50 global most admired brands. That's one of our visions. Now what's unique about that is that it doesn't talk about top line growth or bottom line growth and what Anand talks about and I love this quote, he says it's not becoming big but it's how we become big. And so it's the "how" and so one of the things that's very good for us is this, we do have an expansive product line as well as services. We talk about going to particular different markets in different ways and not from a selling services and products but also a partnership mindset. What I think really helps ingrain you within the ecosystem and create this advocacy base that really gives you an affinity about your brand with our customers because it's not how we talk. It's not what we sell. It's really about what matters beyond the selling of products that makes their lives better and so it is something that's simple to say but hard to do. But you have to be committed to it and we're committed to that as well. The other thing I wanted to share with you is what makes us very unique is this. India, we have about 45 to 47 percent market share, that's the largest tractor industry in the world. Second is China. Third is the U.S. and Canada. We are number one and we're number five in China. And when I started here with the company and our team we're about number six in 2011 in market share. We're number 3 in 0-120 horsepower here in the U.S. And so what I'm trying to say is this, we look for opportunities through our federation and we want to make sure that whatever markets that we enter that we're going to enter them with a partnership mindset and we want to make sure that we have the customers first in mind. We want to be disruptive. We're not interested in warming up the old soup du jour. We want to be very distinctive and do things that are compelling and relevant to the customer base that we're serving.

Scott Davis: [00:11:07] Okay great. And I imagine that having this broad product line and all of this expertise in technology gives you better footing for doing that for offering customized solutions in farming equipment, for example, because you have all of this domain knowledge in technology and all this knowledge of how other global markets are working. So I love this global mindset and this global approach for Mahindra. I want to zero in a little bit more on the U.S. market because I think, being American born, I think of farming equipment as like this is Americana, right? We have all this American imagery associated with farmers and the farmland, my grandfather and grandmother ran a farm for their entire lives, and I just think that it had to present certain challenges for Mahindra to come in here with Mahindra North America and then go on this meteoric rise as you said. So how did you overcome the challenges of penetrating the American market with an Indian product?

Cleo Franklin: [00:12:10] You know I think one of the things that I just want to set and provide some context for is in the market that we basically participate from 0 to 120, there's no manufacturer that builds from the ground up a tractor. It's globally sourced and the rest of the brands that we compete against are global sourcing transmissions, components, etc. across the world. And so that makes this market unique. That being said though, I come from a generation my great grandfather in 1897 homesteaded in Casscoe, Arkansas and we still have the land where my grandfather farmed as well as my father who decided not to farm and go to Chicago. Same thing on my mother's side in Bootheel in Missouri. That's Wardell Missouri in southeastern Missouri. She is a fourth generation farmer and they began in Wallace, Mississippi. But when you talk about these traditional roots of Americana and you look at brands such as the green brand, it has 96 percent unaided awareness, it's tough. And so one of the things that was good for us is where we decided to compete. We came here to Texas which is the largest state that provides the biggest industry for tractors back in 1994. We came with a very simple two-wheel drive, more built-in weight, a reliable tough tractor. And we felt that if we're going to compete in this market we need to compete where it was very competitive and Texas, if we can basically deliver a product and gain a good customer base and acceptance, we would be successful. Well guess what? We were able to do that. And from there we branched out across the country and into Canada. And as I've talked about the fact of going from nowhere to number three in market share has been very unique. What's unique in our market is this. Customers are very interested in making sure that you give them a product that has value and not only that is delivering value but you're connected to the particular brand that you're dealing with that you can be assured, and also depend on that it's going to do what you want it to do, when you start it, where you basically are starting it, and where you're working with your tractor. And our product delivers in that. And so I would tell you this, we have 98 percent customer referral where would you get 98 percent of the customers to agree on anything? That's one of the things that has basically driven us because of our ability to deliver great product. From 2011 to now, we've basically taken our product offerings from 28 products to over 60. We've entered into the utility vehicle space. We've also almost doubled our dealer network which basically talks about where we're delivering our products as well. We've also have been able to do some very innovative things like having no frills, hassle-free engine called mCRD which saves you time, money and gives you uptime. And our marketing is very edgy. We're not basically laden by some of the traditions, we're a challenger brand that some other brands don't have the opportunity to do, and we're not afraid to talk about who we are what, we have from a product offering and do it in an edgy way in a traditional market. So I've talked a little bit about our product, our place and also our promotion but I'll get into more of that.

Scott Davis: [00:15:36] Alright. Perfect. That's really cool and I think that the way that, I am glad you brought up referrals because I was going to ask you, I figured word of mouth must be a huge component here that once you start to get penetration in Texas, these dealers start talking to one another, farmers start talking to one another, and because you were delivering superior value whether it's on quality or just providing the right product right, so maybe it's a scaled down version or a different version than what other manufacturers are offering, then you start to just make inroads and I know that that you all hit the road really hard to go out and talk to dealers and I'm really curious again kind of sticking with the American market and how it compares to what else is out there, whether it's a story or just kind of generally, what makes, and you've talked a little bit about this already, but what makes the American market either unique or different from a market like India or somewhere else where Mahindra is operating?

Cleo Franklin: [00:16:33] What's unique about, well I would say what connects tractors and more or less agriculture and farming is the land. I've had the honor to go for China, Japan, I was just over in Australia, Brazil, Mexico, UK, Germany, and although we may speak a different language, what farmers and tractor owners can agree on is what they're very proud of, and that is being able to work the land they love and have a passion for. What's unique about the U.S. market and Canada that is different across the globe is that we have in our market, pretty much 70 percent of the market is going to be a lower horsepower market and tractors are being purchased for non-income generation. These folks are called rural lifestylers, gentlemen farmers, or hobby farmers or even rural politics. What I like to segment is say it this way. Are you earning revenue from a tractor? And no, they're not. That's what's different across other particular places because other places in Mexico, Brazil, also in India, China we have, of course, lower horsepower tractors that are sold to hobby farmers and rural lifestylers here that are being used for farming in other markets. Let's talk about India. India probably you're going to see three to four harvests. You're going to have tough soil conditions, you're gonna need a heavier-based use tractor and you're going to be using that tractor much more than what we do here in the U.S. whereas you may have one and two harvests. And so when you talk about the differences, we're talking about the fact that you're going to have a greater number of people in this particular market that are using the product to not generate income.

Scott Davis: [00:18:20] That's so interesting because I've never thought about that and I don't even associate farming equipment with use that doesn't generate income. But it makes sense to me now that you're involved in, you said you're doing some ATVs and things like that with Mahindra, so that's a completely natural tie-in to that product line. Wow. I think that's so cool. And you kind of mentioned this, I don't think you called it renegade marketing, but you have this kind of, you're really on the bleeding edge of marketing in this space and how you approach different markets and the U.S. market in particular. Does any campaign come to mind or any particular tactic or strategy that you use that's a little bit different that you could share with my students?

Cleo Franklin: [00:19:04] Yeah. You know the marketing I call it edgy marketing. We are a challenger brand and of course we defy the conventions and we like to disrupt. But we also try to create this, tap into the word of mouth and really have people talk about stories about our tractors. There's a couple things that we do. We've trademarked our tractors. Of course we're the world's number one selling tractor, the toughest tractors on earth campaign has been very good for us because our tractors have more built-in weight, highest lift capacity with its 3-point rear lift or the loader lift and you can just do more, we say push more, pull more, lift more with our tractors. There's another campaign that I think is very good for us that we just rolled out and it's really the campaign that talks to the advocacy of our customers and how much they love our tractors, and it's 98 percent. Again it's driven by market research, 98 percent of Mahindra customers would recommend a Mahindra tractor to a family member or friend or neighbor and that's a campaign that truly has great authenticity and the reason why is this and what's unique in what we do. We don't hire actors for our commercials. We use our real live Mahindra dealers and our Mahindra customers and so they are able to connect with their customers from Southwestern Texas or if a customer's from the northeast part of Pennsylvania or even to Saskatoon, Canada. We are able to tap into our customers to help them advocate for us and represent the brand as well as our dealers, so those are about three or four things that give a unique place and distinction that other brands have not been able to do. And I'm really not interested in why they haven't been able to do because we have to market with our strengths and really have to show some distinction and differentiation and we tap into that very, very well.

Scott Davis: [00:21:03] Yes, that's so cool and I mentioned to you that that there's a video that I show to my class and that is one thing that stood out to me that you're talking to real employees and you're talking to real customers and dealers and that really struck me. So again, a signal that the referral side, the word of mouth side is working really well for you. So wow, this has been a whirlwind of information. I think that one challenge I have because I'm teaching classes like marketing management and, of course, we want to cover global marketing but I'm not out there. Right, I'm in Houston, Texas at least three hundred and fifty days a year, probably more than that. So to talk to people who are living it, who are developing brands in global markets, who have all of this diverse experience, it's so valuable and we're just we're so grateful that you could sit down for this interview. And I think that what I'm going to try to do is pull together a lot of different resources so that people can find more information. Because you're so close to us at UH-Downtown that I'd love to kind of bridge some communication there and we've already started to discuss this so thank you for being here. It's so awesome to talk to you, Cleo.

Cleo Franklin: [00:22:16] I appreciate it Scott and I just want to add one other thing too for global marketing. I've had the unique honor to come up with a strategy here in the U.S. and Canada and it's called Come Rise With Us campaign, it's a call to action. And it really talks about the reasons to believe why Mahindra will not only help you be able to work the land that you love with passion but also how we invest in the communities to take them to the next level. That campaign I've been able to also take that campaign over to Japan as well as Australia and other markets, as well as in Mexico. And now we're going to be introducing to Brazil but the distinction about that campaign is this. It will be localized. But the essence of the message is going to be compelling and relevant. And so there's some things that you can do here. And of course still transfer from a portable perspective to other markets. But you have to localize and so I want to share that last piece of information. That those things can be done. It's not a one size fits all, you have to understand the markets that you're competing against and see what plays and what doesn't play.

Scott Davis: [00:23:19] That's awesome because we always talk about the tradeoffs and how much customization do you have to do so I'm glad that you brought that into it too because I'm just thinking about presenting a chapter on global marketing with some case studies and what value that adds versus doing that and then, oh by the way now we're going to talk to Cleo at Mahindra and see how this stuff really works. So again I just want to thank you for your time. And I hope that we'll talk again very soon.

Cleo Franklin: [00:23:46] We will, Scott. Thanks a lot. I appreciate the opportunity to speak with you. And whatever more we can do, I know we'll look forward to getting together at one of your classes down at the University of Houston and all the best.

Scott Davis: [00:23:58] Alright. Thank you.

Announcer: [00:24:01] If you enjoyed listening please subscribe, rate and review Marketing Mixtape on iTunes and visit scottwdavis.com for more information.