John Galloway is chief marketing and innovation officer for Godiva Chocolatier, the 95-year-old Belgian maker of premium chocolate. He joined the company in 2018 after nearly 30 years in marketing, including substantial stints at Pepsi and Hard Rock.

John came to Godiva from a position as CEO of Beautiful Day, where he worked for three years to roll out the lifestyle brand startup. Before that he was with Hard Rock for eight years, handling advertising, public relations, loyalty and social media for 208 hotel, casino, café and music venues in 75 countries.

At PepsiCo he began with the Mountain Dew brand and worked in sports marketing, integration of new acquisitions, and other areas, concluding as vice president of marketing for Gatorade. Before that he worked for agencies including TracyLocke and Burson-Marsteller. John has a Bachelor of Arts in marketing from Manhattan College and attended the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

You can read the edited interview below, or feel free to listen to the entire conversation on Lippe Taylor’s DAMN GOOD BRANDS podcast below. 


Here are some key takeaways from this conversation with John Galloway. 

  • Get your guard-rails in place to disaster-proof your brand. The past year was extremely challenging for most brands, but the brands who weathered the storm the best were the ones who had the strongest sense of who they are. The best way to respond to tragedy is with authenticity, which can only come from a brand that knows its identity, mission, purpose, and overall reason for being. Having a handle on this enables you to not only act fast in real time, but it enables your team to do so as well. If your company has a universal understanding of your brand's identity, you can move faster and further in a crisis by giving more autonomy to your employees. This was a key to John’s ability to weather the storm of 2020 by holding true to Godiva's north star of “opening people’s eyes to a more wonderful world.” 

  • Stick to your cause. This is an interesting, albeit controversial, topic. Godiva is a very cause-oriented organization, but John recommends picking a cause and sticking to it, investing in it, and focusing on it. In a world where there's a lot of bandwagon CSR, people can spot greenwashing, or any kind of washing, a mile away. Sticking to one cause not only prevents you from watering down your company's influence in a specific charity or cause, but it's the kind of dedication that can effect real change, all while showing your customers that you're the real deal.

  • Show your face! This is a simple one, but potentially powerful. In our Zoom-driven world, it's easy to turn the camera off and listen in on meetings--Zoom fatigue is a real thing. However, John claims that keeping the cameras on creates more energy, fosters community, and makes the meetings more productive. Today, a key element of retaining your staff is ensuring that they feel like they are part of a community, and having everyone see everyone else helps do that. Also, studies show that when people go through the motions of looking and dressing their best to prepare to be on camera, they're naturally more optimistic and productive (which we all could use more of). 

Paul Dyer: John, thanks for joining us.

John Galloway: Wonderful to be here, Paul. I look forward to our conversation!

PD: So you have this exceptionally varied background, as somebody who went to West Point, and then has gone through pretty much every possible iteration of the marketing world--marketing, PR, in-house, agency, etc. Can you walk everybody through your story?

JG: I grew up as an army brat, which is a really important piece of my life, and I did go to West Point. I had an army officer at West Point pull me aside one day and he said, "John, you're a little bit too much of a poet for West Point." I took that as a real positive, and I ended up bouncing on that theory to the first part of my career on the agency side.

I actually started working on the Army brand as my first brand out of college in public relations. I ran around for almost three years in a Miller Genuine Draft van working for the Miller business, and really out of that van did every kind of marketing you could do, from radio promotions, to hospitality, to hanging banners. I probably learned more in that three years than anywhere else. Then I spent some time in-house at Pepsi and spent a good 14 years learning the CPG business.

I moved with my family to take a great opportunity to understand more of the brick-and-mortar business with Hard Rock International where we were putting our product on somebody else's shelf. Here, we were bringing our experience to life in the world of hotels, casinos, and cafes across the globe. Two and a half years ago, I got a call from Godiva and the rest is chocolate history for me. I have been here learning the chocolate business over the last two and a half years.

PD: I can't help but notice that you said you learned more in your three years driving around the Miller Genuine Draft truck than you have subsequently, but we are here in 2021, having endured 2020, which was an extraordinarily difficult year for everybody. You've got all of these things that prepared you for it. What was your experience like in terms of facing the challenges of last year for Godiva?

JG: I think in the marketing world, we like to plan. We like to put together an annual operating plan. We like to work with our media agency to have a media plan. We have a social media calendar of all the things that are going to happen during the course of the year. We develop creative, we develop promotions in-store, we set time to launch products with customers.

Then Covid happens, and all of that planning seemingly goes out the window and we're no longer in control of that. I think the biggest thing we faced is, again, giving up the fact that you're in control, and you can control what happens in the next month or six months.

We really relied upon the ingenuity of our people in the marketplace. The great part about it is people really shined. People stood up, people came up with new ideas and worked harder than ever before, really day and night--sitting on a couch or sitting in their kitchen to come up with ideas to reframe our business approach.

I'll give you a great case in point from China, which was hit first. We shut down our retail stores in China and our retail stores make up the biggest percentage of the revenue there of any country, which would be a devastating blow to us. The team acted fast and took the database of customers from individual stores, and actually started live streaming from stores with our retail employees. They had the emails from their customers and they reached out and said, hey, at 4:00 PM, two of your favorite chocolatiers are going to be on, broadcasting live from the Godiva store.

The customers loved it because they had an opportunity to get some really unique content. Our chocolatiers are certainly very friendly and have loyal fans, so it's an opportunity to be reacquainted. And by the way, we were able to tie it into selling more product. It's just one example, but I would say the teams universally stepped up to figure out how to be really agile.

PD: It's inspiring to hear you speaking about the team that way. So, here we are, talking with the chief innovation officer of the company, and you're telling me that the innovations just came out of the store associates in China. In order for that to happen, there has to be a culture of innovation. How do you create an environment that encourages innovation, encourages people to come forward with their ideas like that?

JG: It starts with knowing your brand. It starts with knowing the guardrails of the brand. If you have questions about the guardrails of your brand going into something like this, certainly it can turn into chaos. For us, the mission of our brand is that we have what I would call an audacious mission about opening people's eyes to a more wonderful world. That was our mission, pre-Covid. When Covid hit, the question was, how can we keep up with that mission of opening people's eyes through our product, through our people, and through our purpose?

The fact that our people know the brand really well allows us to empower people. A culture of empowerment certainly did make me nervous. The thought of chocolatiers going on livestream--it makes one nervous, but then I saw the work. We knew it was going on, and our chocolatiers know this brand as well as anybody, because prior to Covid, they were educated on the brand. They knew the guardrails of the brand. And again, they certainly own the brand as much as anybody else. The foundation of the brand being strong really allowed people to adapt and quickly determine what's relevant for their market and what's relevant for their channel without the head of marketing and innovation having a major freak-out all the while.

PD: Having those guardrails in place, and then also, obviously, a lot of trust. You're somebody who has built a lot of very different types of teams over the course of your career. In the current environment, everything's different. You're probably not seeing your direct reports on a daily basis, and just everything has changed in terms of how we interact with our own teams. How has this impacted your perspective on building teams and team dynamics?

JG: As leaders, we work for the employees. Our job is to bring energy to situations. I like to say, bring oxygen to the room. When you walk into the room, it's not a dread, it's actually oxygen on top of that fire and gets people really excited. That doesn't change.

A principle of empowerment is that every one of my employees feels like they're the CEO of their projects, of their brands, and they own them. 

We checked in often on each other, and I give credit to this organization because we made it a point that it wasn't an option. Leaders were expected to do daily huddles.  We saw everybody's faces every day on Zoom and had conversations like the Brady Bunch. You got to know people's lives a little bit better, and you got to know their cats and their dogs. You were expected to show your face, not to just have the name on the screen on Zoom. That was not okay, and we'd call people out for it.

PD: That concept of energy and bringing oxygen into the room as a leader is a good thing to pick back up on. My favorite definition of leadership comes from an MBA textbook that is otherwise completely skippable, but the one takeaway is that leadership is about managing energy first in yourself, then in those around you, which I thought was just really so simple, but to the point.

When we look at a brand like Godiva, that's been around for 95 years, you're the guy breathing energy into this brand and balancing new product innovations, new SKUs, bringing new things to the market with a heritage brand that people want to have a long-term relationship with. What is your thought process behind that balance of constantly bringing something new versus sticking with the heritage?

JG: We're lucky in that we have a playbook that was given to us by the Draps family. Pierre Draps, Jr., our founder, famously invented truffles after World War II with the simple goal of making people happy. That was the goal. Today, ironically, we find ourselves owned by a company called Yildiz, and the motto of the chairman of Yildiz, Murat Ülker is “Make happy, be happy.”

I pontificate on opening people's eyes to a more wonderful world as a brand mission. All of those are centered back on the pretty fun job of making people's day a little bit better. That's what we need to do. Whether it was a truffle in 1942, or in 2021, Signature Mini Bars from Godiva that you can get in a grocery store, we want to deliver an amazing product experience. Again, science will tell you that, factually, chocolate can boost your mood. We believe there's some science to it (although we're not going to go down that road), but it's the mission of the brand.

We are evolving to meet different channel needs that are sitting in front of us today, but we learn a lot from our history. I love a brand that has roots. I love a brand that is steeped in authenticity. Certainly, we are a brand that is steeped in an authentic story. If you ask anybody at Godiva, one employee, they'll tell you very quickly about the foundations of this brand. That's important to keep the heart and the soul of the brand, as we’re simultaneously looking forward.

PD: Well, you've done an amazing job of leveraging that authentic heritage into a modern purpose. Every month that goes by, I see more and more of these purpose discovery workshops and different ways of creating your purpose. I always think if your purpose isn’t obvious, then you probably are missing something. But just making everybody's day a little bit better with a truffle, I mean, that's as simple as it gets.

JG: Yes, and we want to make our people's day a little bit better by opening our employees' eyes to a more wonderful world. But our purpose expands into the things that surround us, how we conduct business externally, and how we contribute to the balance of the ecosystem in the world. Are we making the world a better place as well? It's a lot on the plate. There's not a night I go home and say, gosh, mission accomplished. I wake up every day and say, okay, there's a hundred things on the to-do list to make the world a better place. We've got opportunities with people and chocolate and sustainability and you name it, but that makes it fun.

PD: You've opened the door to the societal responsibility that we have as companies today. It's more so than ever before, right? There was a vacuum created by lack of trust in government, lack of trust in larger organizations. Companies are now being asked to step in and play the role of leading societal conversations and being a role model in many ways. So I'm curious about how you think about the role of the company. You still have shareholders, you still have business responsibilities, but you also have to play a role in society.

JG: This is where the conversation today gets tricky, dangerous. People take words a lot of different ways these days, and it's interesting. I don't know that there's necessarily a Godiva point of view, but I think as a brand person, it's important to understand that you're not asked to be a spokesperson for every cause. You don't have a role to play in every cause. If a discussion is going on at a table next to you in a restaurant and you find it interesting, you don't run from your table and go and jump into that conversation just because you think you have something to say.

You as a brand owner or as a company have to pick the spots where you have credibility, where you're doing something. But not every company has to be a spokesperson on every cause. It just doesn't make sense. I think, rather, you should be having conversations about it.

We had a lot of conversations about diversity and inclusion. But it started internally, and it started with looking at ourselves and understanding what our strengths and opportunities were. I had a gentleman on my team start a diversity and inclusion conversation on Zoom once a month for our team. It became a safe place for everybody to come and talk and give their experience, and again, not be judged. 

There were some amazing stories about our employees and how they were really feeling about diversity and inclusion, internally and externally. I think it's got to start with making sure your own house knows how you all feel. Then if there are cases where it is relevant to who you are, jump on in, for sure. 

At Godiva, we're a company that's 75 percent women directors and above. Do I feel we have a space to play and talk about female empowerment? We probably have a good conversation space to play in, but we've got internal conversations to have first, work to do before we go out and put our voice into a conversation, and maybe we need to listen more so than talk.

PD: I think that really continues your theme from earlier about authenticity and making sure you can authentically speak about something before you weigh in. A lot of the conversations we're engaging in today tend to circle around this concept of earned creative--creative ideas that can take on a life of their own, even without paid media amplifying them. I'm curious, what is your perspective on the role of earned creative vis-a-vis all the other marketing efforts that you have going on?

JG: I think it's one that remains a little bit out there in front of us in terms of grasping it and really having excellence in that area. I would look at that and say the world of PR, the world of content creation is an area where quite honestly, we have to step up our game.

I think one of the things to consider when you're a premier, pristine, luxury brand, is how much you're able to flex. How much am I able to give up from a user-generated content perspective? How much am I willing to flex on having different content creators touch the brand and give their spin on it?

Ideally, we have more and more content coming our way, but even real-time through Covid we did some at-home cooking, with our chefs cooking from their own kitchens. Then when you start to see the video through the lens of a premier luxury brand, and you notice the lighting's not great, and you might not really like the way that the chocolate looks, it can be hard. Somebody pulled me aside and said, "John, that's what's happening in reality, every day, in the world. That's what people are seeing online. You've got to get over it." That's something I'm still struggling with.

PD: Did you get over it?

JG: Obviously, I didn't get over it. No offense to our chefs, I think they do a fabulous job. But putting our brand representation into an unearned hand, it can be twisted a lot of different ways. It kind of hits my mind at about 10:30 at night when I'm going to bed, because I think it's such a rich, rich opportunity. I want the John Galloway Godiva Content Studio. I want us to be banging out more and more. I think we've got really talented people in our organization that can make that happen. We've just got to find the right unlocks.

PD: Well, I think that's a great way to wrap up our conversation. Thank you for sharing all your insights today, John. 

JG: Thank you, Paul.