Want to Be a Smarter Marketer? Here's What's Worth Learning

Lessons From Kellogg School of Management's Recent Marketing Conference

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Patricia Martin
Patricia Martin
Does someone marketing in today's digital culture need a pricey MBA? Once considered the pinnacle of accomplishment in business, the relevance of the degree has come under question. Clues as to why the criticism might stick could be found at the recent Kellogg School of Management Marketing Conference. Taking a classic approach, event organizers offered scant Wi-Fi and buried the Twitter hashtag in the event brochure. Still, there were important lessons worth learning.

Here are a just few things I came away with:

1. The American consumer is proving resilient. Market researchers from Nielsen to Euro RSCG agreed: The American consumer has taken a blow to the head, but hasn't tapped out. Whether it's coupon clipping, careful meal planning or a newfound appreciation for health and happiness, Americans are shopping -- just more judiciously and less often. And the best news: Consumers say they are finding more to enjoy about the shopping experience.

What are they buying? Vitamins, supplements and oral-care products are all active categories, perhaps to stave off expensive medical interventions.

2. Numbers, schmumbers. The quest to measure the success of new media in marketing has staged a dangerous illusion that massive traffic is the holy grail. Richer veins of loyalty and brand advocacy (with smaller cohorts of consumers) are paying off more handsomely for brands in the near and long term.

3. I've seen the future, and it's intuitive. Society is on the verge of harnessing AI (artificial intelligence). Emerging technologies make it possible for ever-more sophisticated algorithms to churn growing volumes of data with increasing nuance. As disciplines such as storytelling and data visualization rise, the quantitative side of the equation will become a cover-your-ass security blanket relegated to machines. Agency anthropologists, behaviorists and creatives with good "guts" will step from the shadows to re-animate the marketing business.

4. Web and mobile are distinct, not even kissing cousins. Nothing beats a generous colleague. Ed Kaczmarek, director-innovation and new services at Kraft, is just one example of many of the fine presenters at the conference. Full of hard-won wisdom, he revealed lesson after lesson about Kraft's successful foray into mobile technology. To wit, leaping into custom iPhone apps is a mistake, unless you've mastered more rudimentary forms of new media. Oh, and younger consumers are pushing other technologies toward mobile.

5. I want you to want me. Stephen Baker, author of the book "The Numerati," thought out loud about the notion that people will soon commoditize their privacy in exchange for social currency, cash or some other form of reciprocity.

6. Marketing and consumer services are the becoming the same thing. Finding ways to help people live more meaningful, efficient, happy lives is becoming more important to brands than advertising -- thereby linking the marketing department to operations. And a related theme was that "free" is not sustainable, and capturing micro-payments for valued content and services are the next horizon.

Patricia Martin is CEO of LitLamp Communications, a Chicago-based marketing and communications boutique acclaimed for using culture as a medium to connect brands with communities of consumers. Author of the book "Renaissance Generation: The Rise of the Cultural Consumer and What It Means to Your Business" (Platinum Press 2007), Martin pioneered the point of view that the convergence of art, technology and entertainment is remaking the American consumer.
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