Forward-looking marketers will lead the way on wireless

By Published on .

It's been two years since the Nasdaq collapsed, signaling the beginning of the end of the dot-economy. At the time, senior executives at more than a few "old economy" companies breathed sighs of relief. At last, they figured, we can put the brakes on and get back to work.

But the ba-da-bing at the boom's end didn't slow down globalization, technology transfer, the speed of information exchange or shareholder demands. If you're leading a business, you're still working, as they say, 24/7 to keep pace with today's demands and anticipate tomorrow's needs. "The theme that technology has gone away because of the Internet bust is a fallacy," James M. Citrin told me the other day.

I'd gone to Jim to investigate how marketers and their suppliers-which include advertising agencies and the media-are coping with the maelstrom of reinvention. He is the author of the fine new book "Zoom: How 12 Exceptional Companies Are Navigating the Road to the Next Economy." He is also managing director of the global technology, communications and media practice at Spencer Stuart, one of the world's leading executive-recruiting firms. So he's actually helped place many of the people doing the storm-tossed navigating.

His response surprised me. Marketing leadership is going wireless.

"The next big marketing breakthroughs will come from helping clients understand and integrate their businesses with the new technologies, and the wireless Internet may be chief among them." Jim said. "I say this knowing the wireless sector has been a big bust. But human beings are driven by two genetic forces: mobility and freedom. The Industrial Revolution, which tethered people to workplaces, was almost unnatural."

To Jim, the wireless revolution will influence three areas in marketing directly: image, management and practice. Short term, the technology will appear increasingly as an element in marketing executions, conveying the emotional appeal of mobility and communicability. That has a value beyond the youth market Motorola currently is trying to reach. General Motors, Jim pointed out, is using one wireless technology feature, XM Radio, and making it a fundamental part of the Cadillac Escalade positioning.

Company leadership will be influenced by senior executives' newfound ability to reach out and touch-well, everyone. In "Zoom," Jim cites social-science support for the concept that economic growth depends on the speed and rate by which people communicate. "That means leaders must facilitate communication internally and externally," he said. "Boiled down, in a brutally and chaotic business climate, that means leaders have to be visible."

In practice, one leader living this vision, and adapting new technologies to it, is Starbucks Corp. CEO Howard Schultz, who, in Mr. Citrin's words, "thought differently about what a brand is and how you build it." He understood from the start that the brand experience would be communicated to customers through employees. But he's also continually experimented with new ways to bring the experience directly to customers. That's included, very recently, a venture with a wireless company, Ontain, that allows customers to program coffee preferences on a Web site and to punch up a cuppa from cellphones-all while on the run.

"Experiments can create experiences that help the brand live inside customers," Jim Citrin concluded. "That's the challenge for marketing's next generation."

Randall Rothenberg, an author and longtime journalist, is chief marketing officer at consultancy Booz Allen Hamilton.

Most Popular
In this article: