What 1 Person Sees CUs As Being All About

MIAMI BEACH, Fla.–The former chief marketing officer for Beats by Dre had some music for the ears of credit unions here when it comes to blocking out all the other competitive noise in the marketplace.

Omar Johnson, who oversaw extraordinary sales and marketshare for Beats by Dre while leading that company’s marketing initiatives, offered credit unions at CO-OP’s THINK 19 Conference reasons he believes they should each create a manifesto and double-down on the concept of membership.

Feature Johnson

Johnson was born in Brooklyn before moving to Atlanta to attend college, with plans to attend medical school. He graduated with a degree in biology and a minor in chemistry, completely unrelated to what would become his career choice. “I say I didn’t find marketing, it found me,” he said.

Marketing found Johnson when he was hired by Coke and paid to attend parties and then report back on what younger people were doing and talking about, a pretty good gig, he admitted. From Coke he moved onto jobs with Chips Ahoy, then Campbell’s and eventually Nike, where he spent six years. “At Nike I learned how to story tell. The first companies taught me how to build unique brands,” he said. 

Johnson left Nike to move to Los Angeles and become the third employee of what is now an iconic brand, Beats by Dre, founded  by the hip hop artist Andre Romelle Young (better known as Dr. Dre), and music producer Jimmy Iovine. While there, he helped oversee growth from $20 million to $1.6 billion, including controlling as much as 97% of category dollars spent on Black Friday. Beats Electronics was eventually acquired by Apple, and Johnson eventually left to form a consultancy called OPUS.

Not So Simple

“I see this a lot: Marketing = brand,” said Johnson. “It’s not this simple. To build a great brand, there is product, people and storytelling.”

Of those three, Johnson said the most important is people.

“People make great products and do great storytelling,” he said. “The more people and points of view you start to add to a group means your idea pool just gets bigger. The word diversity doesn’t mean much to me. It’s become this big euphemism. If you think about diversity, it’s about color, and the color is green, it’s about making money. You add more diversity, you make more money.”

Johnson said the Beats by Dre headphones were not and are not the best product on the market, but what the company has shown it can do best is tell stories. He said the company hired a diverse group of people who collected and shared the stories, to which Johnson said he focused no listening to.

Omar Johnson

Omar Johnson speaking to THINK Conference.

Big Ideas

What adds up to big ideas? According to Johnson, it’s this: Big Ideas = Insight plus Curiosity plus Diverse Team Experience. 

To turn the Beats headphones into a Big Idea, the insights it used included:

  • Free Media Generators. Beats built a significant presence with athletes and celebrities wearing its headphones. “We wanted our consumers to see talented people demonstrating the behavior,” he said, “especially in areas where you want to block out noise.”
  • Fashion Accessory. Johnson said the red color of Beats headphones was also very close to the shade used by Louis Vuitton in its shoes. “Men and women see something different in those headphones. It wasn’t just about headphones,” he said.
  • Pride & Identity. “They are more than headphones; they are a function of something,” he said. 
  • B.G.E. Best Gift Ever. The headphones improve the experience whether one is listening to rock, opera, or hip-hop. “We tried to tie it to more emotional things.”
  • Woman’s Best Friend. Johnson said the company found many women wearing the headphones to avoid being bothered.

The Manifesto

Johnson advocated for organization’s creating their own manifestos, or general rules for the way their teams should think. 

Among the points in the Beats Manifesto, according to Johnson, were: 

  • We Are Young. “Youth is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with age. We were a young brand. We wanted to be authentic and tell real stories.”
  • We Are The Leader. “We positioned ourselves and talked about ourselves as leaders. Once we told our team they were leaders, they felt like leaders. We don’t follow.”
  • Live the Connection. “I think this is vital in today’s marketplace. You can no longer go to work, 9-5 and punch in, punch out. How are you living a connection to your brand, to your consumer’s experience?”

Johnson said the manifesto provides a “rubric” for employees to use to make decisions, especially when there are conflicting ideas.

Beats Headphones

Beats by Dre headphones.

What Can Credit Unions Do

Having given some thought to what credit unions could do, and the type of initiative he might lead were he in a credit union, Johnson said it comes down to “how to make banking emotional.”

“When I think of credit unions, credit unions equal membership. They are not a different form of a bank,” he said. “What does membership typically mean to someone not in your business? Membership is a relationship. It means I know who you are and you know who I am. You know me, my family, milestones. It means privileges, things other people can’t get, access to things others can’t have access to. Those are very powerful things you can weaponize.

“It’s not about the information you have. It’s not card transactions and shared branch visits and payments; that’s data,” he continued. “This is about using information for deeper human connections. People are looking for human connections. You can’t avoid this data; we use data in everything we did at Beats. But we also tried to find these human connections, the conversations. How do you get your product in conversations? Social media. The most intimate form of connection right now after conversations is text messaging. But if you get into my intimate text stream, you don’t sell to me, you talk to me.”


Johnson offered credit unions the following takeaways as advice:

  • Have a manifesto. “Give a team some rules about connecting with the consumer, and big ideas will develop.”
  • Empower staff to pitch ideas. “The biggest challenge, especially with young teams, is most junior talent won’t have a complete idea, but will have a good nugget. Other team members can then fill in around that.” He noted a campaign for the movie Straight Outta Compton, based on the career of Dr. Dre, that went viral was created by a few 24-year-olds. 
  • Ask Your Members. “It’s how do you find our one-on-one interaction. It’s using social to ask members what they truly want.”
  • Inspire Identity. “Make members feel good.”
  • Don’t Forget the Small Stuff, such as locking out distractions and telling an authentic story. “None of it is rocket science; we found real human stories really work.”
  • Data+ human connections + listening leads to our biggest thinking. 



Section: Standard
Word Count: 1476
Copyright Holder: CUToday.info
Copyright Year: 2019
Is Based On:
URL: http://www.cutoday.info/THE-feature/What-1-Person-Sees-CUs-As-Being-All-About