10 takeaways from the 2008 Economist Marketing Forum ~ Brand Mix

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

10 takeaways from the 2008 Economist Marketing Forum

For the last couple of days, I've been attending the Economist Marketing Forum here in San Francisco (Landor is the Founding Sponsor). This year's theme: "Mastering Brand and Marketing Strategies in the Digital Era," approached from the different perspectives of speakers from a wide range of backgrounds and industries. And the ten takeaways are:

1) "You can't fake the guts of a company"
Cathy Coughlin from AT&T led off the conference introducing a theme that was to be repeated by several speakers - that branding has to be more than a promise made - it has to be a promise kept and be an authentic reflection of the company. Risking permanent seating next to the restroom on all future flights with a certain airline, Cathy went on to say: "There's nothing friendly about the friendly skies."

2) Seizing opportunity
Cathy Coughlin also talked about the transformation of the AT&T brand after the Cingular acquisition. She talked about the blending of Cingular's cool factor and youth focus with the reliability of AT&T. But what was also clear from her speech is how fortunate it was for this brand transformation that the i-Phone partnership came along at exactly the right moment. The ultimate in proof points, a gift from the gods, and one that AT&T, to its credit, took full advantage of, making sure to leverage the hell out of it.

Later in the conference, Andy Burtis of McKesson pointed out that it's not only luck that provides opportunity. He gave an example where McKesson had upset a whole bunch of its customers but then made things right with them. As he said: "Service recovery provides one of the best opportunities for customer loyalty."

3) The fifth "P" = Participation
Mark Addicks from General Mills introduced the idea of a new "P" - participation. He's trying to close the "yawning" relevance gap between consumers and the company by seeking out their active engagement. In these digital days, so many things (like co-creating advertising campaigns) are now possible. Engagement is the new metric; membership is the nirvana.

4) The fallacy of command and control
Russ Meyer from Landor made the point that the stimulus-response model of branding - that you do something and the subject (consumer) reacts in a predictable way, always a fallacy, is absolutely wrong in the digital era. It's not about command and control. It's about influencing, building relationships and being honest.

5) "As long as you're explaining, you're losing"
Andy Burtis from McKesson was quoting a colleague from his previous company, Siebel. In a great discussion about reputation risk management, Andy talked about the wrong way to address negative attacks in the blogosphere. Engaging in a battle and being on the defensive never works. Better to admit mistakes and move on.

6) MAD (Mnemonics are "da bomb")
Stephen DiFranco from AMD proved himself Mnenomic/Mantra Master. He described how he has boiled down key strategic initiatives into easy-to-remember calls to action like: "War in the Store" and "Reach the Rep" (both reflecting AMD's strategy of focusing on channels and the retailer rather than the consumer). There was general consensus at the conference that branding and brand messages must be simple, memorable and actionable.

7) Coffee-mate's Second Life
This would never have happened when I was in charge. Robin Harper from Linden Lab talked about how Coffee-mate had succeeded in developing a top three venue on Second Life. In a pilot test, its "SwirL Cafe" supported by buzz agents, strategically placed coffee carts, a "swirl lovers" group, a mixologist and god knows what else shot close to the top of the Second Life charts. Kudos to the team working on my old brand. Whatever happened to 5o cent coupons?

8) "Customer's should be walking the hallways"
Bob Pearson from Dell described some of the initiatives that Dell has introduced to get in better touch with the customer including Ideastorm, one way to "get a whole new level of engagement." Bob also described a new sales cycle: From socializing to browsing to purchasing (where most of the time is spent socializing and only 1% on purchasing). Getting the experience right through this sales cycle is the "holy grail" for marketers today, in his opinion.

9) Lenovo introduces itself to the world
Deepak Advani from Lenovo described how the Thinkpad brand has been successfully transferred from IBM to Lenovo. By understanding customer concerns (that there would be a loss of quality, innovation or service and support), Lenovo structured a careful transition program - keeping the IBM brand initially for reassurance, demonstrating by action its commitment to the Thinkpad brand and slowly starting to talk about Lenovo, positioning it as the best engineered PCs built by the world's best engineers.

10) "You could be Eliot Spitzer, so let's put this in perspective"
Martin Giles from The Economist said this to excuse himself from a tougher-than-typical question to Eduardo Conrado of Motorola about that company's recent challenges. But Spitzer's name also came up a couple of other times when speakers wanted to highlight the importance of brands living up to the standards they set. Greenwashing, for example, was compared to Spitzer's "ethics-washing."

Links:
1) Sixth Annual Marketing Forum: Mastering Brand and Marketing Strategies in the Digital Era: Economist Conferences - programme and speakers
2) Coffee-mate's SwirL cafe: Case Study by This Second Marketing LLC
3) Ideastorm: Dell's community of idea generators

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