Forum explores 'adaptive marketing'

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More than 500 marketing executives met at the Forrester Marketing Forum in Los Angeles last month to discuss the new era of “adaptive marketing,” in which organizations must be more flexible and nimble to succeed in a world of changing customer behaviors. The event was hosted by Forrester Research and featured prominent b-to-b and b-to-c marketing executives, who talked about how their organizations are adapting to changes in the marketplace. “We have a much more transparent world from a consumer perspective” said David Williams, chairman-CEO of customer relationship management agency Merkle during a keynote speech. “The advancing use of technology by consumers and organizations is bringing about fundamental changes in the way consumer decision-making is evolving.” Williams said marketing has a key role to play in this new era. “Marketing's day for transforming competitive advantage inside the organization has actually arrived,” he said. “Competitive advantage in the future will be based on how well we can change and influence the behavior of an individual consumer.” Marketers need to build an enterprisewide strategy that is focused on the value of the customer as a core business strategy, Williams said. “If that is not happening in the C-suite, it will probably fail,” he said. During another keynote address, Steve Sickel, senior VP-distribution and relationship marketing at Intercontinental Hotel Group, discussed IHG's transformation into what he called a “real-time marketing organization.” “Customers are much more informed about our product,” Sickel said. “They do real-time research and may have read a post that is 12 minutes old. That information leads to power. The customer controls the purchasing process, and customers are demanding more relevance.” To adapt to these changes, IHG has dramatically shifted its marketing budget so that 85% of its discretionary marketing dollars are now directed to new media, Sickel said. Its major online investment this year is in search engine marketing, and it is also getting into mobile marketing and social media. Also during the conference, a panel of leading b-to-b marketers discussed the role that adaptive changes have had on their organizations. “The market has changed,” said Deborah Nelson, senior VP-marketing, enterprise business at Hewlett-Packard Co. “One-third of our business is now made up of services. Most of our customers don't know that. We have had to transform our marketing and look at how to do things more efficiently and also more effectively across this broader space.” HP has taken several steps to overhaul its marketing structure, including streamlining its agency model, centralizing its global content development and setting up new processes to improve efficiencies. During the same panel, Marjorie Tenzer, VP-marketing and communications at IBM Corp., talked about the challenges of launching a new brand campaign, “Smarter Planet,” in the midst of the financial meltdown in November 2008. “It was a real challenge for us to market in that type of business climate,” she said. “We got our senior leaders together and decided it was a great time to lead through the change. It was adaptive for us because it allowed us to come together and focus on nine key industries and six key capabilities.” Tenzer said another key focus this year for IBM is sales enablement, including the development of new tools such as desktop and mobile widget applications to help its sales force access better information in real time for clients. Panelist James Cornell, senior VP-CMO at Prudential Retirement, said his company has gone through a transformation in recent years. “The company went from mostly b-to-c to b-to-b,” he said. “We sell a very few products to a very select target market: the top three or four people at the top Fortune 1,000. It was a real shift trying to engage and reach 4,000 people who may or may not be engaging in social media. Over the past three to four years, we have had to retool our marketing organization to be entirely b-to-b.”
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