CMOs debate how to build brands as marketplace shifts

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record attendance at the Association of National Advertisers' annual conference was a result, many said, of the star lineup of presenters and a hard-hitting agenda focused on how to build successful brands, marketing accountability/ROI and marketing innovation and creativity.

Tapped to give their insights on "Building Successful Brands," top marketers from McDonald's VP-Global Chief Marketing Officer Larry Light to Home Depot's Exec VP-Merchandising and Marketing John Costello explored the idea of how much brands must change to stay relevant in today's marketplace.

Mr. Light poked holes in the advertising world's age-old holy grails-"the unique selling proposition" and "differentiation"-by declaring that today "you own ideas for about an hour and a half." McDonald's strategy, which Mr. Light has dubbed "brand journalism," features new ads every month or two and a series of line extensions that seek to build relevance for the chain among different consumers in different ways. He condemned the brand-positioning maxim that once something is positioned in consumers' minds it can't change. "Our business is persuasion, not just communication," he said.

change crucial

General Electric Co. VP-Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock likewise offered that change is crucial to re-energizing even the most stalwart brands. Ms. Comstock recently shifted GE's longtime ad campaign, "We bring good things to life" to a new "Imagination at work" theme to stay in tune with the times. "Marketing must be an agent of change," she said. "If your customers see the company you used to be more than the company you want them to see, it's not their problem, it's yours."

But Home Depot's Mr. Costello called for marketers to go back to the future. "At a time of tremendous change, the tactics may be different, but the principles remain the same: the single most important thing for enduring brands is to create a meaningful point of difference in the marketplace," he said. While Mr. Costello called for marketers to help overwhelmed consumers by focusing on fewer, bigger things and to focus on the most valuable customers, he also cautioned not to get distracted away from the basics of the brand message when using branded content or other marketing means.

Toyota Motor Sales USA's corporate manager-marketing communications Deborah Wahl Meyer asserted that, while it's highly seductive to change, a constant change of direction is counterproductive. "While we may have to change the way we deliver the message, we have to stay true to our core DNA," she said. The car marketer's new campaign, "Moving forward," is "not flashy and brand new," she said, but it speaks to the strength of Toyota's longtime "kaizen" positioning, the Japanese term for continuous improvement. "Strong brands create a sense of security."

frustration

Paul Hyde, VP-Financial Services Practice for Booz Allen Hamilton, was to speak on the need for marketers to do things differently in terms of metrics-especially if they want to keep their jobs. Mr. Hyde recently completed a study undertaken by the ANA and Booz Allen (see chart, below left) that found the lack of true ROI analytics and continued reliance on surrogate metrics such as awareness have many CEOs frustrated with their top marketing executives. While most companies have in recent years placed more importance on marketing, and reorganized marketing departments in many cases to create chief-marketing-officer positions, the study found many senior marketing executives have discovered their influence actually receding.

Jim Garrity, chief marketing officer at Wachovia, planned to discuss the backing he gets from his CEO following the merger three years ago in which the lesser-known Wachovia name was chosen. That called for the two to collaborate to virtually build a brand from scratch. Mr. Garrity has scored points recently by experimenting with more measurable nontraditional media including street teams in New York and local radio-driven promotions that Wachovia has found drive "phenomenal results" in terms of signing new accounts and raising existing account balance.

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