Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing JD Dillon.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Following graduation from the United States Military Academy, I served as an officer in the United States Army. My transition from military service was facilitated by a fantastic recruiting firm by the name of Cameron-Brooks and I found technical marketing at a semiconductor company to be a natural fit. It turns out that understanding the competition (enemy) and serving customers (the country) to a mission of profitable growth (victory) has tons of parallels to the military.
I took off the uniform and put on a suit but continued to place people first. Along the way, I picked up my MBA and traveled upstream to the solar industry developing an expertise in pricing, communications, and customer success. Following contributing to a successful turnaround at Enphase Energy, I decided to help Tigo Energy go public in the same industry, which is projected to execute in the second quarter of 2023.
Our mistakes can sometimes be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?
My first role coming out of the military was as a Product Marketing Engineer (PME). Early in my tenure, one of the innovations I helped define was a unique pinout for a given semiconductor. The last thing I did before putting the press release on the wire was a spellcheck. The result was a PR that touted “… unique pignuts.” The lesson here is to use automation effectively in conjunction with a human touch. This is true whether we are talking about a simple spellcheck, MS Excel pivot tables, or ChatGPT. Over-reliance on automation leads to low quality output.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?
Both Sheryl Sandberg and Warren Buffet are on record stating that one of the most important career decisions we make has to do with finding the right life partner. I could not agree more. Hence, I am eternally grateful to my wife, Angel. When I left Toshiba following their acquisition of my company, it took quite a while for me to find my next role. At one point, I was one of the last candidates for a role that would have required a move to Nashville, Tennessee.
My wife, a lifelong Bay Area, California resident, did not balk at the potential of moving across the country to a very different part of the country. While I did not get that job, I was able to land the role of VP of Marketing at Enphase Energy, soon after. In the span of three weeks, I took the job in Sonoma County, sold our house, moved from our home in the South Bay and enrolled the kids in school. Angel is a strong and independent woman while supporting my career every step of the way.
Are you able to identify a 'tipping point' in your career when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different?
I was a manager, responsible for divisional revenue and technical sales enablement, when a friend of mine came to me with the news that my VP was looking for my replacement. I invited a director in a different division to lunch to discuss the possibility of working on his team. Ahmad Chatila told me two things: (1) I had a job with him no matter what happened, (2) the best thing for my career was to solve my problems and leave on a high note. Six months later, I earned marketer of the year, and I moved to his division. There are many lessons, but I will point to Ahmad’s actions. If you support people, they will perform, and talented folks will flock to you.
What do you think makes your company stand out?
This question has a couple of angles, namely brand (external) and culture (internal). Of course, both are intertwined to a degree. I will focus on our culture, where one of our core values is “friendly.”
Recently, one of our employees had his son checked into the hospital with a mysterious illness. For eight days, he and his wife never left their son’s side. They did not have to, because every meal was brought to them by fellow team members and everyone pitched in financially to help them, in addition to a flood of texts and calls. Of course, this attitude cannot help but spill over to how we deal with customers as well. Not all companies have this familial approach and it shows.
Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!
Tigo Energy develops solar solutions for installers and system owners in the residential, commercial, and utility markets. The future of differentiation is in software. Therefore, I am doing my part to help our software team make it more user friendly for the installers to design, commission, and support their customers around the world. It is an exciting time to be in the renewable energy space, and our products save people money, help the environment, and provide energy independence for homeowners and business owners alike.
Being at the forefront of the marketing space and leading diverse teams, what resources or tools do you use to you stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?
In addition to being a voracious reader, I believe 1:1 and small group interactions build upon my knowledge and help me learn and influence the trends. I stay abreast of cutting-edge marketing and leadership trends via multiple networking groups—CMO Huddles, The CMO Club, and CORE Connect. Within the industry, I have a weekly 1:1 meeting with the other members of the Tigo Executive Staff and actively reach out to as many industry experts as possible for regular calls and luncheons.
In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends?
Unfortunately, I feel compelled to give the tiresome answer of—yes and no. Forecasting trends is a necessary part of any marketing leader’s job. The first and/or the last question I get in any renewable energy interview is, “Where is the marketing going?” As a company spokesperson I must answer and have some data or perhaps anecdotes that prove the point. Operationally, it is critical to have read points to react to directional signals that support or reject the trend precisely because forecasts are often incorrect.
In the first half of 2020 every company on the planet lowered their forecasts for obvious reasons. However, the leading market signals, in the form of lead generation statistics for residential solar installers, showed the opposite. My company at the time continued to build equipment to satisfy demand and capitalized. It turns out that working from home increased demand for energy and the drop in other discretionary spending like travel drove homeowners to put their money to work in home improvement.
In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?
Early adoption, when coupled with a staged allocation of resources, is the best path. Arguably most important is an attitude of corporate emotional intelligence. This requires an ability to provide the right amount of resources to be an early adopter, establish read points about the market and customer acceptance to pull resources, shift them, or double down on them. I believe a great company can mitigate every single con if this is done correctly.
What are some of the past trends that you embraced and what results did you see?
When I was VP of Marketing at a semiconductor company in 2013, a friend by the name of Cathal Phalen pointed out that in a decade, there were going to be half the number of semi companies with twice the number of people at the level of marketing vice-president. I decided to swim upstream towards the customer and have found success in the solar industry – both for my companies and personally.
Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?
Early in my career as a product manager, I worked in a highly technical division. A particular product wasn’t selling so I implemented a simple strategy of selling with a catch phrase based on very low price. All that did was cut margins drastically and accelerate the end-of-life. I learned that selling on price only works if you have a structural and sustainable cost advantage. This is particularly true with a highly technical B2B situation like semiconductors.
What factors should leaders consider before jumping on a trend?
Prior to jumping on a trend, leaders absolutely must establish read points. This is best done in the sobriety of sound thinking prior to getting personally and professionally invested, both emotionally and financially. If one is unable to identify read points prior to jumping in with both feet, it might be best to reconsider.
Based on your experience and success, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?
1. Improving the customer experience – The covid situation caused a massive and immediate decrease in service levels across most of society. We all experienced long lines at stores, stock-outs of important items, and less responsive business partners. Most of us were forgiving, in recognition of the shared situation we all faced. That has ended. The three weeks I was forced to wait for an appointment to fix the front windshield on my car is not acceptable. I provided feedback in my survey and will consider buying a different car next time if future service appointments are equally poor. What was acceptable in 2020 is not in 2023 and companies must respond to keep customers.
2. Value-based segmentation of products & services – People and businesses will pay an appropriate amount for the best possible outcome, given their budget. It is up to profit-seeking corporations to match the right price point to each product or service. Tigo Energy offers a product that enhances the safety (and meets fire code) for solar installations. In addition, we offer a product that does that plus remote monitoring. Finally, we offer a product that does both of those things plus optimizes for greater production in shady conditions. We segment three different levels of value for three different price points. I encourage very company to segment according to value and price accordingly.
3. Bringing the human touch to communications – There is a tremendous amount of hype around ChatGPT. While I expect this to dominate early 2023, I expect an equally swift pendulum swing back to creative and personalized communication. There may well be a place for AI-based communications, but companies will differentiate via the skill of their marketing. As part of an Account Based Marketing (ABM) campaign, Tigo recently sent a very well-worded series of e-mails to a large international retail outlet. The one that received a response was a customized analysis of our 6.6% increase in energy production across a map of every store and warehouse they owned. Customers will respond to human and personalized communication.
4. Merit-based decision making – I expect 2023 to represent a shift as companies invest in assets that provide the greatest return and hire the people who are best able to do the required job functions. As CMO of a solar energy company, Tigo benefits from an ESG focus and there will remain many reasons to go solar over the long term. However, companies will do well focus on the performance of their assets. Likewise, companies should absolutely spend time and money developing their workforce and seeking out a diverse array of candidates. Having said that, in 2023, I believe companies will also focus on the performance of their employees and hire the best suited for the job.
5. Corporate Darwinism – I have always believed that marketing is business and business is marketing. During the covid-induced government shutdowns, the government was forced to prop up a massive number of businesses. Many failed, but an equal number stayed in business because of government funding. As those are forced to survive on their own in 2023, many will fail. I expect significant business closures and consolidation. My wife recently went to a great local Italian restaurant. They made it through covid with takeout, early post-covid due to the government loan (that became a grant), but are forced to close their doors because they have burned through all savings at this point. In the end, the most fit companies will survive and thrive with sound financial management and a customer focus.
Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would it be?
In the workplace, I practice the 8D (Eight Discipline) problem solving technique, which takes a problem to it’s root cause and develops a systematic corrective action. The root causes of a huge volume of problems in the United States are substance abuse and mental illness. I would shift money from the thirteen welfare programs and the various state homeless programs to provide high-quality dual diagnosis treatment centers which are available to every single person free of charge and work in conjunction with the court system.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
I spend a considerable amount of time on LinkedIn and regularly provide original content and distribute interviews, podcasts, and published material about marketing and renewable energy.