AMA's mPlanet draws a crowd

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The American Marketing Association's inaugural mPlanet conference, nearly two years in the making, attracted nearly 1,000 attendees to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in Orlando, Fla., Nov. 29-Dec. 1.

Asked to review the major themes of the three-day conference, AMA CEO Dennis L. Dunlap zeroed in on two. "First thing, everybody was talking about organic growth and, closely related to that, innovation," he said. "Everybody recognizes the relationship between those two." A second theme, he said, was the fragmentation of media channels and the well-documented impact of the Internet on buyer behavior and brand association, most recently with the rapid rise and powerful influence of social networks.

The role of innovation in business success was touched on by IBM Corp. Chairman-CEO Samuel J. Palmisano in his keynote. Companies such as IBM, he said, recognize that sustainable competitive advantage cannot be based on one product or service, which tends to be commoditized. Rather, innovative business models are the new playing field, he said, noting that a recent IBM survey of CEOs found 30% of respondents in agreement with this business strategy. Palmisano's speech focused on trends in international business, especially in China and India, and how IBM is racing to adapt its business and organizational structure to these emerging trends.

Marketing's potential to fuel and communicate business innovation was likewise the topic of a session featuring four marketers from large industrial companies?including three representing companies more than a century old.

Dan Henson, VP-CMO of General Electric Co., noted that most of the examples of innovation come from the b-to-c realm, such as Apple Computer's wildly popular iPod. "At GE, we're not bad?we did that whole lightbulb thing," he quipped, adding that 70% of GE's current businesses were launched in the last 30 years. Henson said the emergence of a "truly global economy," compressed product life-cycles, and a very high penalty for low growth rates were challenges GE and other industrial companies had to confront. In GE's case, long-range (three-year) planning and "innovation labs" involving employees, customers and partners helped the company innovate, he said.

Not all metrics help

Kathy Button Bell, VP-CMO of Emerson Electric, touted her company's use of a "very disciplined measurement process" but said that at least one metric?new-product introductions?turned out not to be aiding innovation or growth goals. While the company was hitting its new-product introduction targets, it might have been missing some big opportunities, she said.

Innovation has driven 204-year-old DuPont Co., especially in the past 60 years with the invention of nylon and Teflon. But the company was somewhat stuck in a "big bang" mentality, said Michael Kullman, director of corporate marketing. Now the effort is to push for incremental innovation as well, he said.

One organizational improvement at DuPont has been the creation of market teams that can look across product categories. This, Kullman said, has been "a huge cultural change" and "a little bit messy." Another big change, he added, has been the decision to partner with other companies around new products.

Marketing accountability and metrics were never far from the spotlight at mPlanet.

"[Return on Investment] is more than the financial calculation," said session leader Jim Lenskold, president of Lenskold Group. He insisted marketers think of measurement not in terms of metrics or tools, such as dashboards, but as a process tied to larger goals.

"It's all about operational discipline?in IT systems, data quality, metrics," said Eric Kintz, VP-global marketing strategy at Hewlett-Packard Co., who took on his role 18 months ago when HP launched a major ROI initiative.

Link to shareholder value

Jim Pedrick, CMO of the U.S. Financial Division of ING, a Netherlands-based global financial services company, likewise had a goal of linking marketing metrics to shareholder value. For instance, based on a review of the performance of various marketing investments, ING reduced the number of countries in which it operates in two years.

Coordinating sales and marketing at Dow Corning has been helped by grafting a variety of marketing metrics on top of a sales-cycle dashboard, said Chip Reeves, director-marketing and sales process at the company.

All the panelists stressed the importance of senior management buy-in, consensus on which things to measure and common, companywide definitions of those metrics. A corporate culture that "facilitates and encourages" experimentation is also key, Reeves said.

The next mPlanet will return to the Walt Disney World Dolphin Resort in April 2008. The AMA will decide at that time whether to hold the event every other year or annually. M

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