KidZania CMO Cammie Dunaway takes her lifelong love of roleplaying to a theme park centered upon it
When she was a kid, Cammie Dunaway, Global Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) and U.S. president of KidZania Inc., wanted to be an actress. She loved dressing up and pretending to be someone else.
“Since role-playing is at the heart of the KidZania experience, I guess I started preparing for my ultimate role at a very young age,” she said.
KidZania has 16 locations around the world and provides an indoor theme park environment for children between the ages of four and 12. While at KidZania, kids do what comes naturally to them: role-playing by mimicking traditionally adult activities, such as choosing to serve as firemen or shopkeepers—or one of nearly 100 other jobs—and receiving payment for their work. Headquartered in Mexico and with three venues there, KidZania works with franchisees to run its other locations.
Finding Her Passion Early
While today she spends her days working with colleagues as far away as Brazil and Kuwait, rather than on Broadway, Dunaway considers herself lucky to have found her passion and talent for marketing early in life.
Dunaway often encourages young people to spend time in a large, well managed company. In her case, she learned about cross-functional excellence during her 13 years at Frito Lay, where she served in various roles, including Vice President of Kids and Teens brands and Region Vice President of the Northwest U.S. In the latter, she succeeded in growing profits by 22 percent and increasing market share by 5 percent.
That said, Dunaway has had a diverse career. At Nintendo, she learned the importance of product excellence within a large global organization, and at Yahoo!, she discovered firsthand how the digital world is transforming the ability of marketing to connect with consumers.
“I have to be willing to jump in and help,” Dunaway said of her dual roles as U.S. President and Global CMO. Because KidZania plans to open its first U.S. location in 2016, she’s focused on driving those activities, in addition to marketing campaigns around the world. For example, a recent week was packed with discussions about the opening of a KidZania location in Turkey, training franchisees, working with colleagues in Brazil on a marketing launch, completing customer satisfaction research, and reviewing plans for expanding the company’s loyalty program.
Collaborating virtually with teams across various time zones, which requires getting up early in the morning and staying up late for conference calls, has its challenges, Dunaway noted, but what helps make her successful is surrounding herself with strong talent. She focuses her energies on areas in which scale drives business value: rewarding customer loyalty, for instance.
In the past, KidZania hadn’t rewarded their kid citizens for their loyalty at its locations around the world, nor was the company communicating with parents on an ongoing basis.
“We needed a unified program,” Dunaway said. “Kids visit KidZania in Kuwait and Cairo, and they just want to be recognized and rewarded. Taking a centralized approach to rewarding their loyalty is very important.”
If You Fail, Fail Forward
Dunaway learned early in her career to keep things simple, especially when launching a product to a consumer audience.
“Many times you get excited about a program and it has a lot of detailed complexity. You might think it’s the best thing ever, but the consumer doesn’t have all of your background. Learning the power of simplicity was key for me,” she said.
Another of her more powerful lessons came during her tenure at Frito Lay, where she was responsible for the Doritos brand. The flavored tortilla chips’ “bull’s-eye audience” is young men between 18 and 24, for whom Dunaway’s team created some pretty edgy and well received marketing. The problem was that the campaign didn’t lead to an increase in sales. Instead, the efforts caused a “negative backlash” against the Doritos brand.
Lesson learned: “It’s important to have an eye out for your broader consumer base,” Dunaway said. “In most situations with a very big brand, you have to balance marketing to niche targets without alienating other audiences.”
Dunaway embraces takeaways like this one and encourages her team at KidZania to be comfortable with failure and to learn from such experiences.
“If you’re not failing, push harder,” she advised. “Just make sure you fail forward.”
Aine Cryts is a freelance writer based in Boston, Massachusetts.
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