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HP's Mendenhall Urges Marketers to Venture Into Digital Whirlwind

Looks for Handle on How to Navigate Brand Discussion Online

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ORLANDO, Fla. (AdAge.com) -- During an address before the Association of National Advertisers this morning, Mike Mendenhall, chief marketing officer at Hewlett-Packard, said the web has upended relationships between brands and consumers. In this digital age, where 1.3 billion of 6.6 billion consumers have internet access, brands must insert themselves into the global digital conversation while still adequately managing their reputations.

Putting a brand out into that digital conversation can be unnerving, he admitted, because you don't know what the result will be. YouTube, along with Facebook, MySpace, countless blogs and Twitter are generating news and pushing brand conversations forward.

Media swirl
"Who are the real journalists anymore? Deadlines are dead and cycles are 24/7," Mr. Mendenhall said. "You can't afford a mistake or missed opportunities. Today's gaffes become tomorrow's attack ads."

Indeed, Mr. Mendenhall pointed out that "brands are no longer defined by the 30-second TV spot." But that doesn't mean the conversation should be about when digital is going to replace TV. Instead, companies should be looking at how digital strategies can play beyond marketing.

Digital resources underutilized
Many companies, Mr. Mendenhall said, have employed digital strategies as just one component of their marketing communications. He urged those companies to look at digital strategies from an operational perspective as well. "It's very important that you look at R&D, at how you use the digital space to produce better results," he said. "Look at your customer service -- digital can play an incredible role."

One example Mr. Mendenhall offered is that of social communities that exist around HP, but are not an official part of the company. Those groups sometimes solve customer-service issues better than the company's internal service group, he said. "I do believe it's a digital strategy that should exist across the operations of the company and not just in marketing communications."

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