On and off the podium, marketers from Procter & Gamble Global Brand-Building Officer Marc Pritchard to Coca-Cola Chief Marketing and Commercial Officer Joe Tripodi and Dell's former CMO, Erin Nelson, evangelized about purpose-driven marketing. The concept is, at its core, a return to the basics of intensely engaging customers and creating a culture where the corporation can benefit by giving back or enabling its consumers to do so -- and profiting in the process.
Mr. Pritchard might have put it best: "There's a lot of cynicism and distrust in the world of big institutions, and companies really need to share with people what they value, what they care about," he told fellow marketers. He showed off programs from Tide's Loads of Hope, which helps launder clothing for disaster victims, P&G's program in Nigeria to encourage young girls to stay in school by offering them feminine protection, and the company's multi-brand Winter Olympics campaign that was themed around athlete's moms; P&G even paid to transport 250 of their moms to the Games. "We decided to say we're in the business of helping moms, and it hit an emotional chord with people and also had a great halo effect on the rest of our brands." The effort, though, also paid off: The Olympics program brought in $30 million in incremental sales, he said.
"Purpose isn't just good for the soul, it's actually really good for the bottom line," said Dell's former CMO Erin Nelson, who presented alongside her successor, Karen Quintos. "The purpose can become the filter that says 'do I or do I not invest the resources in getting this done, is it going to help me achieve the purpose for which my company exists every single day.'"
Jim Stengel, the former Procter & Gamble Co. Global Marketing Officer who became the guru of "purpose brands" at P&G during his seven-year tenure in that post, which ended in 2008, is now one of the chief movers of the concept as a consultant (for Dell among others). He was registered but couldn't make the conference, he said, apparently pinned down in Cincinnati with a bit of work on purpose-branding consulting. But he said the frequent references to purpose, which he was following via Twitter, were "gratifying."
Coca-Cola, meanwhile, is trying to help consumers "live positively" around the globe, Mr. Tripodi said, talking about LOHAS, which stands for "lifestyles of health and sustainability." To that end, it is aligning with water-preservation projects and recycling pushes. He showed a YouTube video called "Hand Revolt" created in-house that shows people with cans stuck to their hands -- until they hold their hand over a recycling bin. "We have to move from impressions to expressions," said Mr. Tripodi. "Above loyalty is advocacy." Via this strategy, Coke has a lofty goal to double its sales over the next decade.
Cindy Gallop, who has founded a purpose-driven venture called IfWeRanTheWorld, went so far as to call it the "future of advertising" and argued it would help reverse the bad connotation the discipline has among consumers. Advertisers must engage with a project that has meaning for consumers or helps them change the world, she said, adding that "action is transformable and bonding."
Others discussed the issue of bonding with consumers in more general terms. Marilyn Mersereau, senior VP-corporate marketing for Cisco -- a tech marketer not usually seen as warm and fuzzy -- displayed the consumer-friendly Umi device as a means of connecting families. The key, she said, is discovering "what is the emotional connection that my brand has to its customers." Said Target exec VP-CMO Michael Francis: "Expect more, pay less" isn't just a tagline, it is our emotional connection to our guests."
Of course, the economy reared its ugly head in hallways and on stage. In a very gloomy and much-discussed presentation, economist and New York Times columnist Paul Krugman offered this sober assessment: "History tells us that we should not count on any kind of recovery anytime soon," he said. "The economy is depressed because people don't want to spend."
And much of the event, as reflected in talks from Mr. Francis, Fidelity Investments Exec VP-CMO Jim Speros and Geico VP-CMO Ted Ward, was also centered on how to get them to spend. That's as purposeful as it gets.
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Contributing: Judann Pollack