Chris Kuenne has made a career out of quantifying abstract concepts. “I have focused on developing approaches to understanding and creating the boundaries of things that heretofore were thought of as being unbounded,” he says.
But Kuenne is not a scientist or a philosopher; he’s a marketer. He made his fortune building the marketing firm Rosetta, and selling it off for more than half a billion dollars to Publicis Group in 2011. He now uses the skills he built at Rosetta as a venture capitalist at his Nassau Street-based company, Rosemark Capital (U.S. 1, October 16, 2013).
Kuenne will speak at a meeting of the Association for Corporate Growth on Tuesday, December 2, at 6 p.m. at the Westin Princeton. Tickets are $85 for ACG members, $110 for nonmembers. For more information, visit www.acg.org.
Rosetta was known for using data to create profiles of potential customers at whom companies could aim their advertisements. By categorizing and quantifying very human and very abstract needs and desires, Rosetta was able to help companies target its marketing more effectively.
For example, Rosetta was hired by the manufacturer of Excedrin to promote its over-the-counter headache pills. Rosetta’s research showed that Excedrin customers were aggressive medicators; people who wanted to “nuke” their headaches. Although aggressive medicators were only 18 percent of the overall headache medicine market, they were half of its customers. Rosetta decided to stop all advertising that wasn’t catered to aggressive medicators, and was able to boost sales as a result.
This approach is called personality segmented marketing. “That is a process to understand how and why consumers choose the brands that they choose,” Kuenne says. “By understanding how consumers make decisions, you are able to figure out the answers to three fundamental questions: whom should you target, what should you say to them, and what offer should you give them to entice them to buy your product.”
Rosetta used this approach to sell credit cards, consumer technology, all kinds of pharmaceutical drugs, and products in more than 1,000 categories, Kuenne says.
“Personality-based segmentation is used to create boundaries and to create structure to understand consumer choice,” he says. “These things are not perfect. They’re really just a better lens, which is better than no lens at all in understanding enormously complex things like consumer choice or personality, or motivations of whether to buy or not to buy a certain product. So I wouldn’t ever want to portray these things as being right 100 percent of the time, but they really are a systematic framework in which to wrap deeper understanding, through analysis, of how and why things happen the way they do.”
Kuenne, a 1985 Princeton alumnus who earned an MBA from Harvard and worked at J&J and Nelson Communications before starting in 1998, has taken this approach to investing at Rosemark and used it to develop a way of analyzing the performance of companies, which he calls “The Four Cornerstones to Breakout Growth.” Kuenne, who is also a lecturer in high tech entrepreneurship at Princeton, has spoken about the “four cornerstones” approach many times, and will do so again at his ACG appearance.
The basics of the four cornerstones are:
Think big: Focus on a big economic problem for your customers. Rather than focusing on a big market, Kuenne says, this means solving a problem that is economically important for your customers. In Rosetta’s case, that was solving the problem of ineffective marketing.
Be different: Your product or service has to be highly differentiated, and it has to be scaleable on a platform that will allow you to acquire customers and retain customers at scale, Kuenne says. “Whatever you do for your customers, you have to do that in a better way; a visibly, deterministically better way. You must have a basis of superiority,” he says. As for scalability, that means the product or service has to be repeatable at high volumes so that the business can acquire more customers.
Build a brand; cultivate culture: “People are drawn to your company based on culture, and customers are drawn to your company based on your brand,” Kuenne says. “You must recruit, train and retain the very best people in your industry. It’s the people that fuel this, and it’s the culture, internally, that inspires the people. It’s the brand, externally, that inspires the customers.”
Measure the value: Kuenne credits management guru Jim Collins for the final cornerstone, which is to have some sort of “value creation metric” that allows the company to rationalize the investment made by its customers. “You can use it to reward people with bonuses, measure people’s effectiveness, and decide which people get promoted,” he says.
Now Kuenne is taking this approach a step further in an attempt to identify characteristics of successful entrepreneurs. “Is entrepreneurial success just a random event, or is there some kind of systematic pattern to entrepreneurial success that we can understand?” he says.
Kuenne’s company is currently engaged in research into this topic by interviewing several hundred CEOs. He says he plans to write a book based on what he finds, and create a test to examine the natural strengths and weaknesses of a businessperson against the four cornerstones he has identified.
Although Kuenne says he is not employing academics to create the test with a high degree of scientific rigor, he believes the experience of Rosetta is a “tried-and-true” methodology that will prove to be a useful approach to understanding the intersection of business and personality.
“We believe these four cornerstones are integral ingredients to entrepreneurial success,” he says. “It’s not really about corporate growth. It’s about how you build a company that beats the odds, grows faster, and is more profitable than its competitors.”