Yale Marketing Conference - It's a Wild Ride!

January 1, 2011

The world still spins at the same speed as always, but these days, technology, innovation and consumer expectations are moving faster than ever. Last Friday at the sixth annual YCCI Marketing Conference: “The Higher Velocity Marketplace: Technology, Innovation and Engagement in the New Marketplace,” 5 key change-drivers took us for the ride.

Jon Iwata, CMO of IBM, opened with a bold observation: when executives are asked what they are most and least prepared for—the answers are the same. The explosion of data, social media, and rapid growth of new channels is both exhilarating and frightening to those who need to manage change. How can today’s leaders tackle these challenges? First and foremost, by focusing not simply on building strong brands, but on building strong corporate character. When a company lives and breathes the messages they convey—transparently—it inspires belief, and hopefully, advocacy, in the consumer.

Geoff Cottrill, CMO of Converse captured our attention next by flipping our perspective of a fast-moving market on its head. Instead of attempting to always stay one step ahead of the consumer, Converse gets behind them—listening and providing a platform for them to do what they love. By celebrating those that wear the shoes, rather than the shoes themselves, Converse gives consumers the steering wheel, and this has taken them from the basketball court, to the garage band concert, to the hipster scene, and now with efforts like Rubber Tracks, to the recording studio. They are there not because Converse makes their shoes popular, but because people do.

Gina Boswell, EVP of Personal Care at Unilever took us through two case studies on the Axe brand, to show how creative thinking can keep a brand fresh and top of mind. With the insight, “Guys love learning moves,” Unilever was able to create a gaming sensation that branded not just a product—but an action. Even though I don’t quite fit the target profile, I officially feel in the loop, and if I ever do see a “Double Pits to Chesty” move, I plan on calling it by name. The second case study featured the new campaign around Axe Anarchy, which put consumers behind the storyline of a graphic novel.

Although I’m not a Millennial, after Ross Martin, EVP of Viacom Media Partners, spoke, I wanted to be one. With Ross’s experience running Scratch, Viacom’s internal insights group and creative swat team that works with brands like MTV, VHI and Comedy Central in unique external partnerships, he painted a dynamic and vivid picture of the Millennial mindset. Independent and with extra cognitive space, this generation can’t be swayed by the traditional approaches of advertising and promotions. They’re looking for new experiences that help them define their own space in a saturated world.

Google’s Claire Johnson spoke about a different type of consumption—that which is measured in gigabytes of information rather than units sold. Google plants itself in the middle of this massive knowledge transfer with a number of platforms designed to facilitate, connect and capture both information and attention. Claire spoke to how emotionally resonating with the consumer provides a more meaningful way of connecting—both Google’s offerings together in a cohesive brand, and to the consumer. It was interesting to hear about, but even more, to see it come to life.

Rounding out the presenters was a group of students from Yale SOM. Christina Bruno, Priyanka Garg and Jason Klein investigated the ever-expanding role smart phones play in today’s society, and how the marketplace can best utilize them moving forward.

Glancing inside the inner-workings of today’s pace-setting businesses, as a student, was a tremendous opportunity. And even though the marketing environment is changing rapidly, the lessons learned throughout the day will hold constant. One thing’s for sure though, the next YCCI Customer Insights Conference in May, can’t come quickly enough!


by Kate Mooney
Yale School of Management
Class of 2012