Ad Age Digital Conference

How Embracing Digital Can Change Corporate Culture

A Host of Web Strategies Can Enhance Communication With Consumers and Employees Alike

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- "It's not about stickiness on our website, it's about slipperiness," Bob Kraut, VP-marketing communications at Pizza Hut, said today at Ad Age's Digital Conference in New York when describing the company's approach to digital marketing. "We want people to come in and out as fast as they can because they know what they want and we want to give it to them in the minimum amount of time."

'How Technology Changes Your Company, Inside and Out' panel (l-r): Josh Weiss, Managing Director, Delta.com, Self Service; Bob Kraut, V-P Marketing Communications, Pizza Hut, Inc.; Pete Blackshaw, EVP Digital Strategic Services, Nielsen; and Michele Azar, V-P, Emerging Channels, Best Buy.
'How Technology Changes Your Company, Inside and Out' panel (l-r): Josh Weiss, Managing Director, Delta.com, Self Service; Bob Kraut, V-P Marketing Communications, Pizza Hut, Inc.; Pete Blackshaw, EVP Digital Strategic Services, Nielsen; and Michele Azar, V-P, Emerging Channels, Best Buy. Credit: Gary He
Michele Azar, VP-emerging channels at Best Buy, and John Weiss, managing director of Delta.com, joined Mr. Kraut on a panel moderated by Nielsen Online's Pete Blackshaw to discuss the ways in which technology has changed their companies from both an internal and external standpoint.

Online land grab
While Pizza Hut has experienced some softness in its restaurants, the same can't be said for its website, said Mr. Kraut, and Pizza Hut views the digital space as a land grab and an area to invest in. "We look at our web business as a gold rush and it's all out there for the taking," he said. "And the [quick-service restaurant] marketer that's there first with great solutions and a website that's easy to get in and out of is the one that's going to win."

Full Coverage of the 2009 Ad Age Digital Conference

But as Mr. Weiss pointed out, getting the higher-ups to adapt to a more digital mind-set can be hard to achieve, especially at an older, more traditional company such as Delta. Coming out of bankruptcy a few years back the airline was looking to push the notion that it had changed and wasn't a stodgy legacy carrier by creating a strong online presence. "That meant having a totally unconstrained area on the site where consumers could come and talk about our product good and bad and hopefully make helpful suggestions about our product," he said.

For his efforts Mr. Weiss met with senior counsel and the head of communications and marketing, who were concerned that consumers could say anything they wanted about the airline. His retort: They already are, so why not be part of the conversation?

One step at a time
"At that point we were just not ready for it from a corporate culture standpoint to have unfettered social media on delta.com," Mr. Weiss said. "So we ended up with a blog where we talk about our services and offerings. And we do have customer-posted feedback. So we got [management] there eventually but definitely not without hitting some bumps along the way."

Hardwiring a company to make it more digitally based internally also has its benefits, said Ms. Azar. She said it has fostered stronger and more relevant communications between executives and those working in Best Buy retail stores. She cites a recent example where Best Buy executives were looking to significantly cut the retailer's discount policy but the groundswell of comments on sites such as Blue Shirt Nation, the company's employee site, and Facebook voicing their disapproval of this change got it reversed in a week.

Mr. Kraut said Yum Brands, Pizza Hut's parent company, launched last week an internal social-networking application as a way for senior executives to connect with employees on the front lines. "It was the desire of the company leaders to be in contact with employees on the most local level so they can share best practices and real-time information about their consumer interactions." Mr. Kraut said the company CEO is using it and encouraging the entire company to follow suit in order to make it more of a "virtual/technology-based company" in the way it communicates.

Other benefits form opening dialogue
Best Buy's Ms. Azar said there other benefits to being more digitally savvy within a company. Best Buy also recently opened up all of its retail data to employees, a move that resulted in one of them creating a Best Buy mobile site. Ms. Azar describes the mobile site as an accessibility play that allows Best Buy to extend its relationship beyond the store to where its customer resides.

"Showing customers all that we know can happen through mobile," she said. "When you're shopping in the store and want to know what the crowds and employees think about a particular product, you can take a picture of it or use the bar code to get reviews. A mobile site allows you to extend employee knowledge, brand presence and personalization beyond the presence of the store."

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