Kellogg Panel on the Future of Marketing Misses Impact of Social Media

Last night I went to a panel discussion on “Perspectives: The Future of Marketing” hosted by Kellogg Graduate School of Management as part of their centennial celebration. Alumni from MTV, AMEX, The New York Times and Google, the kind of media/advertising/finance panel you’d expect in New York, gave their insight on the big trends:

  • Stephanie Ruyle, VP of National Accounts at MTV talked about how the DVR has pushed them to focus on “integrated marketing” (getting placement and sponsorships during the actual programming because users are fast forwarding through the commercials).
  • ”Mobile,” was the one-word trend of the future offered by Bill Sickels, Head of Healthcare at Google. He pointed to the proliferation of smart phones and massive increase in traffic from these devices in the last year, as well as the fact there were three times more mobile devices than PCs and laptops combined as things that will fundamentally shift how marketers communicate.
  • Also insightful was Deborah Curtis, VP Advertising from AMEX, noting today’s marketing execs grew up in a “TV generation” that responds to visual cues whereas the “digital generation” consumes so much more data, and respond in a very different way, which will force marketing execs to re-train how they communicate with consumers.

What really struck me, though, is that none of the panel really discussed at length how social media was going to change things for marketers. Yes there was the discussion of the dual challenges of hyper segmentation and monetization; the need to learn a new lexicon and modify your brand voice; and social media as a huge focus group. But to me social media means a much more fundamental change is coming to marketing.

For example, fellow alumni Erica, Jeff and I were surprised no one talked about how marketers are losing more and more control of their brand and product because today consumers expect to have input. To borrow a bit from social monitoring company Radian6, a company’s brand is no longer something controlled and disseminated by PR and the marketing executive team. Your brand is the “sum of all the conversations” about your brand. That’s a huge fundamental shift for traditional marketers.

Consumers are not shy about giving their opinions about your brand and social media like Twitter and Facebook make it that much easier to make your voice heard and find others that share your frustration or opinions. AMEX noted they learned more this year by really listening to their user base. MTV does really cutting-edge guerilla research to get to know their users (like asking users if they can video tape their closet or putting users in a “MTV deprivation” house for 30 days to see how they respond) but they said they continue to “follow” their demographic where they are going, while it struck me they should be having a conversation about where they are going together.

What is true for the brand marketer is also true for product marketing: including users in the design phase and getting their buy-in early-on in the process is critical. Even social media giants who by their nature should know better somehow forget to include their customers in the product development process (see Facebook changes in their terms and conditions forcing them to let users vote and the recent user “#fixreplies” backlash by Twitter users after the company made changes in reply functions).

Integrating customer input into the product development cycle is potentially easier in the web environment where development cycles are weeks and months (versus traditional products which can take one to three years). While at Power Soccer, giving our core users access to the beta of a new version of the game really helped us hone in on issues and things we needed to get right for our users. Once the new version of the game went live, we were able to listen to our users in our forums and on our Facebook Fan Page to understand where other issues were cropping up, huddle with the product team to come up with a series of fixes, and diffuse issues by communicating to users a clear roadmap of new changes we would make to address their concerns. But even some of these late fixes could have been avoided with better input from end-users in the design phase. There is always room to optimize and improve.

I think the exciting yet challenging thing in the “future” for marketers is that there is a new groundswell of user conversations happening that we need to get our arms around – how we tap into it, shape it, and leverage it to make better products and enhance our brands. Wednesday’s panel discussion only made it more clear to me that many traditional marketers are only beginning to grasp that the future is now.

Other Tidbits

  • The New York Times notes in research on influencers that it was interesting how similar demographically the users are, even across different cultures and countries. They are all curious, tell others what they think, well educated, optimistic, heavy news and information consumers and influence about 5-10 people
  • Google shared that there were 15 hours of content being uploaded every minute on YouTube
  • On CMO turn-over, the concensus was that marketing was still proving itself to be C-worthy in the eyes of a lot of organizations and that success relied heavily on an organizational culturally valuing marketing

2 thoughts on “Kellogg Panel on the Future of Marketing Misses Impact of Social Media”

  1. Excellent summary and analysis of the session (and great meeting you there!)

    To add to your comments about how companies are “losing control” of their brand, because customers expect to have input: I agree, it seems the boldest companies are embracing this trend and co-building brands in partnership with their customers. Zappos is a great example. Although this a radical shift, in some ways, it’s simply taking the principles I remember from marketing class about building customer-centric brands, and then extending these principles several steps (daringly) further.

    Another interesting twist from Josh Bernoff of Forrester Research and co-author of Groundswell: what happens when your brand isn’t *interesting* enough for customers to care to shape the future of it? With “exciting” brands like MTV, customers are so engaged, they may demand input. With brands like Tampax, probably not. But, we know that brands that enjoy deep customer loyalty have active, engaged customers… so how do you engage customers with “boring” brands like Tampax? (which, to be fair, probably falls in the category of “brands/products that most people specifically *don’t* want to talk about”)

    To address this challenge, P&G is applying another tried-and-true marketing principle to social media: Successful companies don’t just sell products; they solve their customers’ problems. So, P&G built beinggirl.com, an online community that’s about pre-teen life and challenges, with a bit of tampon-related discussion mixed in. By inviting pre-teen girls to discuss their problems, they build loyalty to Tampax — in fact, according to P&G, this is 4x as effective per dollar spent as advertising.

    (Plus, perhaps P&G will take a cue from Power Soccer and leverage their pre-teen community for input on product development etc… that’s all I’ll say on that subject.)

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