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Conference Board gathering examines Internet impact

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Paying close attention to local customs when launching a global ad campaign. Making technology work for internal marketing. Cutting through the clutter of media, in which people are exposed to thousands (and counting) of different messages on a daily basis.

These were just a few of the topics tackled earlier this month at the Conference Board's 54th annual marketing conference in New York. The two-day conference drew about 120 senior marketing executives from top b-to-b companies, including Avaya Systems, Hewlett-Packard Co., Lucent Technologies and Motorola, as well as agency executives.

The overriding theme of the conference was the upheaval in traditional marketing caused by the Internet-and how the priorities for CMOs will shift dramatically in the next decade as a result.

Jim Schroer, president-CEO of Carlson Marketing Worldwide, recommended that marketers write an entirely new playbook to respond to ongoing changes in customer behavior and media consumption.

"People are sick and tired of one-way barking and are tired of getting spammed," said Schroer, former corporate VP-global marketing for Ford Motor Co. and former lead partner of the marketing group at management consulting firm Booz Allen. "They want to be understood, and they want opt-in, and you better be cool about it rather than `We want you to buy this product.' It's much harder to develop a relationship than to sell something."

Schroer said one way to activate customer relationships is to develop "marketing episodes" that feature two-way dialogues about products, services and branding. "That's the aspect of marketing that's underfunded," he said. "Build that sort of brand equity and the oxymoron between sales and marketing will be broken."

Too many marketers still play it too safe, perhaps because of budget constraints but more likely because an unorthodox approach is "too hard." "Developing these two-ways requires risk," he said. "One out of five ideas is going to bomb. Apologize, go home, come back the next day and try another one."

Michael Mac Donald, president-global accounts and marketing operations for Xerox Corp., said one of the biggest challenges ahead for b-to-b companies is to develop more effective global branding campaigns.

"There are very specific things [we do] in various geographies to get our brand in front of people," he said. For example, Xerox sponsors Notre Dame football in the U.S. and bicycling events in Europe. "You have to customize, but the brand has to stand for similar values, particularly in b-to-b," Mac Donald said.

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