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Professor Gregory Carpenter welcomes attendees to the 7th annual Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit

There’s no better time to talk building consumer trust than right now

As Kellogg debuted its annual Marketing Leadership Summit in Shanghai, its seventh annual Evanston event focused on transparent conversation about trust

By Courtney Ryan

10/27/2017 -
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The Kellogg School of Management, in partnership with Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company, held its seventh annual Marketing Leadership Summit on Oct. 11-12 in Evanston, assembling more than 100 industry leaders to discuss how organizations can cultivate brand trust among consumers.

The Evanston summit comes on the heels of the Sept. 19 MLS in Shanghai, China, an inaugural extension of the stateside event intended to build global presence for the program. The Shanghai conference emphasized how fragmentation of consumer needs, communication and selling channels are accelerated by digital disruption. It featured such speakers as Emily Chang, chief marketing officer of Starbucks China, and Richard He, vice president and head of marketing and innovation at Bayer China Consumer Health.

“We’re very excited to bring this conversation to China,” said Gregory S. Carpenter, host of both summits and professor of marketing at the Kellogg School. “There’s a tremendous appetite in China for the latest ideas in marketing and Kellogg is a natural hub for these conversations. So this is a remarkable opportunity given our history and position, and given the changing nature of the world.”

Both summits featured a mix of interactive sessions and panels, insights from C-suite practitioners, and previews of new research from Kellogg faculty and summit partners. The program in both markets brings together senior level marketing executives and Kellogg faculty, along with partners from McKinsey and Egon Zehnder to create an intimate environment in which attendees can openly discuss the challenges they are facing. In Evanston this year, the topic focused on building consumer trust.

Given the depth of executive leadership in attendance at MLS each year, it was paramount that Kellogg aim for a topic that would register with leaders across several industries. “There’s a well documented, long-term trend of people having less trust in large institutions in general and in businesses specifically,” said Eric Leininger, executive director of the Kellogg Chief Marketing Officer Program. “Kellogg identified and started mobilizing against this issue a few years ago, so we have a full body of scholarly research to present.”

Much of this research comes from The Trust Project, an initiative that connects executives from diverse backgrounds with academic scholars from across Northwestern University who share research and ideas pertaining to trust.

“The old tactics we used to break through the normal skepticism that consumers have about marketers and the messages we send and how we send them—those tactics aren’t going to work so well in the future” explained Kent Grayson, associate professor of marketing at the Kellogg School and faculty director for The Trust Project. He pointed to a recent Gallup Poll that found only 36 percent of Americans trust in institutions, an all-time low. “Many of us learn to manage trust by instinct, but because of the changing circumstances, it’s time for us to become more systematic about trust and to be more intentional,” said Grayson.

Grayson’s presentation anchored two days filled with panel discussions strengthened by some of the industry’s biggest innovators, including executives from Discover Financial Services, Heineken USA and NPR. Tim Mahoney, chief marketing officer and Global Chevrolet and Global GM marketing operations leader at Chevrolet, spoke candidly about Chevrolet’s journey to building consumer engagement and trust. Adam Bryant, "Corner Office" columnist and senior editor at The New York Times, shared his insights on creating a culture of innovation, and senior leadership from Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company and Kellogg faculty presented fresh research involving marketing and trust.

During one panel, Julie Loeger, executive vice president and chief marketing officer for Discover Financial Services, shared insights on creating a corporate image based on reciprocity. “Culturally, we had to do a lot to change the way we thought. It started with really, really listening to the customer… really making the change to actively invest and listen in a variety of different programs.” She went on to describe how simple call listening helped senior-level employees realize that not everything — even when perfectly planned — translates to a good experience for the customer.

Later in the same panel, Meg Galloway Goldthwaite, chief marketing officer of NPR, spoke of the trust her listeners put into the media organization, in considering it a home base for news and learning. “In order to be a home base, you have to sort of be everywhere. And so we are working very hard at NPR to show that NPR is everywhere.”

“Consumer trust is a topic that is regularly on executives’ minds, especially if and when they encounter challenges,” said Leininger. “We’ve created an environment where they can enter and tackle these problems with peers who are facing similar challenges, regardless of the industry.”