Digital Fitness Is Latest Craze in Building up Your Marketing Ranks

CFO, Sales, Legal and PR Must All Understand Digital Marketing -- Not Just the CMO

By Published on .

Rifle through the average person's gym bag (if you dare) and you're likely to turn up exercise clothes, towels and energy bars. Go through Bonin Bough's, and you'll uncover 3-D phones, a variety of tablets, Apple TV, Nintendo DS and a Slingbox.

Bonin Bough, Pepsi
Bonin Bough, Pepsi

Mr. Bough, director-digital and social media at PepsiCo, is a believer in digital fitness, and like any athlete running a competitive race, wants his team to be prepared by training with and understanding the tools of their craft. He's emblematic of an era when consumers have better technology in their pocket than the average executive has in their office, and marketers such as Pepsi's Mr. Bough and Adobe's Ann Lewnes are becoming increasingly responsible for getting their organizations up to speed.

"Society is becoming 100% digital and most organizations are not 100% digital," said Mr. Bough. "There's a gap, and we have to work relentlessly to close that gap. We've looked for a way to describe it, and that 's fitness. You can't just work out once."

PepsiCo has gone so far as to create a "digital fitness" boot camp. Other marketers have turned to their agencies to build out formal education programs of their own. Digital shop 360i launched an education center, 360iU, earlier this year and recruited Mark Avnet as its dean. Mr. Avnet had been a professor and chair of the creative technology track at Virginia Commonwealth University's Brandcenter.

For many marketers, one of the key challenges of digital marketing is educating executives. It's one thing for the chief marketing officer and a core group of lieutenants to understand the ins and outs of mobile marketing, social media and digital startups. But it's just as important for the chief financial officer, chief sales officer, legal team and public-relations team, among others, to understand aspects of digital marketing.

"As we look at where our customers are going in the future, [we realize] everything from supply chain to sales needs to understand how to operate in this digital world. And it's going to happen really quickly. It's not 20 years out, it's four years out," said Mr. Bough. "Most organizations are going to go through a pretty massive rescaling, asking "How do we make sure everybody can apply [technology] to their part of the business?'"

No sweaty towels in this Digital Fitness gym bag.
No sweaty towels in this Digital Fitness gym bag.

Pepsi's program includes a series of online classes, as well as some experiential sessions. An experiential session could involve putting a dozen or more tablets on a table and then demonstrating how mom, the kids and competitors are using them. This is where Mr. Bough's "gym bag" of digital goodies comes into play—he lets other executives borrow and experiment with its contents. In the coming months, he hopes to begin conducting classroom training for various internal groups as well.

At Adobe, Ann Lewnes, senior VP-global marketing, has led the charge toward digital, to the point where it now commands 74% of the company's marketing budget. But that "extreme" shift hasn't been easy, requiring plenty of hand-holding. "Marketing today has two roles; one is to educate," she said. "You need to be able to explain why search is going to be more valuable than perhaps a live event. And in some markets and regions outside the U.S., there's more resistance."

During a recent panel about mobile marketing, hosted by the Association of National Advertisers and moderated by Ad Age , executives from HP, Wal-Mart and Coca-Cola discussed the dramatic shift taking place among consumers and inside their organizations.

"We don't have muscle memory on this," said Wendy Clark, Coca-Cola's senior VP-integrated marketing communications and capabilities, during the panel. "They've been making TV spots for years. Mobile is a couple years old. When you go up the ranks in our company, this is entirely new. The people who are doing mobile programs are the guys in flip-flops. There is a very big cultural shift."

360iU has been helping its clients to tackle that cultural shift with tailored training sessions and, occasionally, one-on-one coaching sessions with C-suite execs. The agency, which counts Coca-Cola, JCPenney and Kraft among its clients, has also worked more broadly with customer service and legal teams. Clients can even invite customers -- such as grocery retailers, if it's a packaged-foods client -- to workshops or seminars.

"You have to think through the entire food chain, whoever is in your four walls, but also your customers -- the Walmarts or Krogers -- because it's in your best interest," said Sarah Hofstetter, senior VP-brand strategy at 360i. "What's interesting about digital is it's a mind-set, not just a media channel."

Ms. Hofstetter offered the legal department as an example. "Social-media education for legal is wonderful and very necessary," she said. "It's not just about allocating dollars and getting contracts signed. What if legal isn't comfortable with you retweeting? If you have to get retweet approval every time, you're not going to be particularly effective."

But not all execs are going to become adept tweeters or suddenly take an interest in the ins and outs of Android vs. Apple operating systems. And, at the end of the day, TV or radio or magazines are still media that 's infinitely more familiar to the majority of C-suite executives.

"Ideally, we'd like all of our executives to participate [in social media] and some of them do," Ms. Lewnes said. "But you have to really want to do it. The reluctant tweeter isn't a good tweeter, because there's no authenticity. I feel the same way about Facebook or LinkedIn or anything else."

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