BrandconversationDecision MakingDifferentiationEstablishmentInnovationLeadershipManagement

Stop Circling the Wagons

This past week I had the privilege of attending The Economist’s 2009 Marketing Forum. As you might expect, the topics this year were focused on managing through challenging economic times, how to prepare for what we all hope will be better times in the near future and how we might know when better times are coming.

The audience was smaller than in past years, which was not at all surprising, but still represented the marketing leadership of a diverse set of companies and organizations – enough so that it was not hard to see how different sectors and industries are faring, and how the thinking differs – or doesn’t – across these businesses. (you can read more on the twitter stream, some commentary on it from day one and day two and read another perspective on the conference)

I heard discussion of the expected topics, such as measurement, marketing mix and spending and investment allocation, plus branding, promotion, channels and the long list of things marketers think about. But after a day and one-half listening to and talking with this group of marketing leaders, there were two things that were notably missing.

I’m pretty sure that if you’re bothering to read this, you don’t need to be convinced that an economic downturn, regardless of how severe or prolonged, is the time when it is imperative that great companies (read: the ones that want to survive) innovate – not just creating a few new, related products, but re-think the way they relate to their customers and the rest of their market, they way they develop and roll-out product (I am intentionally avoiding the word “launch” here) and how they manage the marketing investment for their companies.

I won’t suggest that there were no interesting ideas offered. There were a few. But out of 12 panels and presentations, not one was focused on innovation in marketing or how companies can create the kind of significant differentiation that will allow them to succeed in bad times and dominate when the market turns up again.

I would hate to suggest that, among this group, not one person was thinking about how to do this for their company (or clients for the branding firms in attendance), but there was little to no talk of this, either on stage or in the hallway between sessions. The thing that struck me also, is how much of the conversation still assumes that marketers own and define their brand themselves (hint: your market owns your brand) and how much the style of thinking is still command-and-control-driven in most marketing organizations.

So what was missing? Let me start with these perspectives:

  • The CMO as the portfolio manager of a range of marketing investments (some of this was hinted at by Ward Hanson of SIEPR)
  • The CMO as the steward (not controller, or owner) of the brand in the minds of the members of the market
  • The CMO as the facilitator of the conversation around the company and the brand
  • The CMO as the steward of the relationship with the market(s)
  • The CMO as the driver of a sustainable business model (no, I don’t mean green products)

This is the opportunity that faces us in this challenging market. William Pearce of Del Monte Foods suggested that one of the key responsibilities of the CMO is to be the “driver of growth” – and with that comes the challenge of how to put your company in position to lead the market (and gain market share) in challenging times and to accelerate out of this downturn, leave your competition in the dust and become dominant in your market.

Your market is thinking differently about its relationship with you – and your competitors. Are you willing to do what it takes to enter into a new relationship, start to think differently about how your company operates and markets, and become the organization that everyone else wishes they were?

I hope so – and I’d like to hear how you are getting started.

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