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Kellogg School hosts marketing leadership conference

Annual event draws experts who say new products key to success

By Kari Richardson

2/1/2004 - In a market brimming with choices in every product category from Internet service to processed cheese to bath soap, some might argue that consumers already have enough options. But smart executives realize staying ahead of the competition means constant innovation — an ongoing search for products that appeal to both new and existing customers.

Marketing executives shared this insight and others at the Kellogg School’s sixth annual marketing conference, titled “Marketing as a Sustainable Competitive Advantage,” held Jan. 29 at the James L. Allen Center. Kellogg students organized the daylong event which attracted hundreds of participants, including Kellogg School alumni, students, faculty as well as corporate leaders.

“If you focus only on what you can make versus what the customer wants, you’re in trouble,” said keynote speaker C. Steven McMillan, chairman, president and CEO of Sara Lee Corp. McMillan said Sara Lee developed a culture of change in order to stay competitive, making hard decisions to sell off 19 businesses within a year to realign its business portfolio, and changing management compensation methods to spur innovation.

Identifying what consumers want, however, is often more difficult than it sounds. Conference panelist Todd E. Magazine, vice president of marketing for the Gatorade brand at Quaker Foods, said customers aren’t always able to identify product improvements that would please them, citing old-style rotary phones as an example.
Customers quickly embraced push-button phones, although the design change wasn’t something they asked for.

“It’s very challenging for marketers to go from understanding consumers’ needs to understanding their real wants,” Magazine said.

Panel discussions at the conference addressed marketing in a variety of contexts, including new product innovation in the consumer packaged goods sector. Other popular panels focused on sports marketing, pharmaceuticals and leveraging the latest technology to gain market leadership in the entertainment industry. Participants also explored marketing in the global environment and using non-traditional methods to build brand equity.

Other keynote speakers at the conference were Target Corp. President Gregg Steinhafel and Anne Nelson, senior vice president and chief marketing officer for Ameritrade Holding Corp.

Said Kellogg School Dean Dipak C. Jain: “This year’s marketing conference was among the most engaging we have hosted. With innovations in technology and production being easily copied by competitors, effective leaders are turning to marketing as a way to maintain a competitive edge. As the world’s leading business school, Kellogg has a special responsibility to provide cutting edge insights into this powerful discipline.”