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A guest of the Marketing Club's CMO Speaker Series, Kimberly Clark CMO Clive Sirkin encouraged students to "redefine the box" of traditional marketing.

Debating dogma

Debating dogma

Kimberly Clark’s Clive Sirkin encourages students to question traditional marketing practices at CMO Speaker Series

By Daniel P. Smith

1/28/2013 - Clive Sirkin says now’s the time for every marketer to ask “Who said?”

The senior marketing officer for Kimberly Clark — the force behind iconic brands such as Huggies and Kleenex — Sirkin told dozens of Kellogg students that today’s brand builders must be willing to challenge the very core assumptions of marketing theory to win in the marketplace.

“We want people to ask, ‘Who said?’ in an intelligent debate around the dogma of marketing,” Sirkin said during the Kellogg Marketing Club’s CMO Speaker Series on Jan. 14 at the Jacobs Center. Each year, the student organization brings accomplished executives to campus, where they share important insights from the field.

Challenging tradition
In an hour-long presentation that included student questions, Sirkin challenged: 

  • The idea that digital marketing is a distinct space.
    “The notion that this is my analog space and this is my digital space is ludicrous,” he said. “Digital is not a separate entity because we all market in a world that is digital.”
  • Companies that encourage marketers to “think outside the box.”
    Sirkin says that if you have to tell people to be creative, it’s often because your work environment is uninspired. “The box needs to be defined in incredibly powerful ways,” Sirkin said. 

  • The perception that usage equals loyalty.
    “When someone uses your brand a lot and they love your brand, then they’re believers instead of hostages,” he said, adding that “believers” are more insulated against price pressures and eager to be brand ambassadors.

Kellogg Marketing Club officer Talon Rindels ’13 called Sirkin “a brave thinker” and one the club was excited to bring to campus.

“[Sirkin] recognizes that marketing needs to be done differently and we were confident he would spark intelligent debate around the ways we look at traditional marketing,” Rindels said. “He did that and more.”

A case of sameness
Splicing together video clips from toilet paper brands, cereal companies, and auto manufacturers, Sirkin illustrated the me-too thinking dominating today’s marketplace.

Toilet paper brands were thrilled to be soft and strong; cereals happy to tout their offerings as delicious and nutritious; and one automobile company after another used slow-motion shots and daredevil driving to show they were different — just like the other guy.

“That’s billions of dollars of media to be reiterative,” Sirkin said. “Stop telling people the same thing they’re not hearing.”

It’s a message that had Rindels and many others in the room nodding along.

“Too many are focused on marketing the same thing with the same language,” Rindels said. “As marketers, we need to look beyond what consumers are telling us and get to the core of what the brand means in a rich and energizing way.”

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