When friends survey Chris Phillips’ extensive collection of retro toys and comic books, he loves watching their smiles as they find a toy they once had as a child. And as vice president of marketing for Decatur’s Land of Lincoln Credit Union, he also appreciates how their reactions reflect the expertise that went into marketing those toys.
“Marketing is more psychology than business,” says the 1998 MU graduate. “You want to make people change behaviors.” He sees marketing as a combination of science and art. “Find a blend of those,” he says, “and you find success.”
As a student, Phillips came to Millikin to study music, but eventually changed to business. “Marketing seemed to be the most non-business business degree,” he says. Phillips has been in marketing now for nearly 16 years and is a graduate of the Credit Union National Association Management School, where he was chosen to participate in Filene I3, a think tank focusing on the development of innovative products.
One of his successful marketing ventures is a national film festival held each year during the Decatur Celebration festival, the 21 Film Project. The project began seven years ago, with Land of Lincoln creating it to give people a chance to have their “15 minutes of fame,” Phillips says. Contestants create four-minute videos in any style or genre and must incorporate the Land of Lincoln Credit Union name and tagline. The top 21 films are screened during the Celebration, and awards include people’s choice and grand prize. The project illustrates an interdisciplinary aspect he finds intriguing.
“I love numbers and analysis,” Phillips says, “but I also love creativity, development and understanding people.” Interweaving psychology into his work requires observation of an ever-changing culture and a willingness to change with that culture. He sometimes envies construction workers who can stand and admire a newly completed project. “It would be nice to build a building,” he says. “It’s something you can see, and it’s finished.” Phillips, on the other hand, sees the evolution of his projects, but they can be constantly changing.
This constant change, however, is also what Phillips likes about his job. “It’s a moving target. You look at things in new ways. There is something new in the environment every day, and you’re constantly learning.”
Sometimes learning comes from a project that didn’t go as planned. When social media first came to prominence, Phillips and some colleagues launched a social media site for financial literacy that offered bill reminders, sales alerts, and helped users calculate their expenses. The heart of their project was a “trade and save app” based entirely on trading items, such as a dryer for an Xbox 360. The plan was for users to save money by trading products rather than buying them.
“We didn’t count on the trust factor,” Phillips says. “People trust Facebook because it’s big and they’re familiar with it. No one knew our site.” The site didn’t catch on the way they had hoped. “We thought big and tried something different,” he says. He remains optimistic, though, noting they may find another use for the site in the future.
Phillips also has a larger interest in the well-being of the Decatur community, including his alma mater. A member of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center advisory board and former member of the Alumni Association board, he sees his involvement with MU as a way to support both the university and Decatur: “I like the excitement of opening up the Millibubble and tying Millikin and Decatur together, because they live and breathe off each other.” His passion, he says, is “to better the perception and overall experience of Decatur.”
This emphasis on community reflects his personal marketing philosophy, which he shares with marketing students: “Treat people properly. Successes come through other people. You’re working with them, leading them or being led. You don’t get anything done by yourself.”
Amanda Hamilton ’14 interned for the alumni and development office much of 2014. She now works as a marketing specialist for HSHS Medical Group.