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McKinsey & Co. Senior Adviser and Former Kraft CEO Betsy Holden '82 outlines "10 Keys to Marketing Excellence" at the James L. Allen Center on Nov. 30.

‘Marketing is a philosophy,’ says Betsy Holden ’82

Kellogg grad and advisory board member brings strategic insights to executive speaker series

By Aubrey Henretty

12/4/2007 -

McKinsey & Co. Senior Adviser Betsy Holden ’82 returned to the James L. Allen Center on Nov. 30 — this time as a guest lecturer.

Before she began her presentation, “10 Keys to Marketing Excellence,” Holden regarded the assembled executive MBA students and asked how many of them worked in marketing. A few people raised their hands.

Holden persisted: “How many of you interact with marketing?” inquired the former Kraft Foods CEO. More hands went up, but Holden wasn’t satisfied. She put the question another way:

“How many of you are in firms that have customers?”

Holden, today a director of the Western Union Company in addition to her McKinsey role, spoke in the Tribune Auditorium as a guest of the Kellogg Executive MBA Program’s Luncheon Speaker Series. Throughout her hour-long address, she urged students of all disciplines to think more critically about marketing.

“My goal today is to convince you that you’re all in marketing,” Holden said, adding that no single department should ever be solely responsible for selling the company’s image, products or services to the general public. “Marketing is a philosophy that says, ‘We’re going to put the customer at the center of our organization.’”

Sometimes, said Holden, putting the customer at the center means venturing out to meet consumers where they live, both literally (at home) and figuratively (on the Internet).

“The Internet has generated a lot of opportunities to reach out to consumers on a regular basis,” she said. “If you’re a marketer, you should be on the Web finding out what people are saying about your company.”

While technology may be an important tool for marketers, Holden reminded students that some aspects of successful marketing — like tapping into the consumer psyche to build better brands — are timeless. No matter the medium, great brand developers must continually ask themselves: “What are the intangibles? What are the feelings and emotions and memories that people have for your brand, and how do you bring them to life in a really vivid way?”

To get the highest return on each marketing dollar spent, Holden said, “The first, most important thing that you have to do is spend your money in the right place … the second key is brilliant execution. You need to develop a distinct visual look that, whenever people see it, they think of you.”

Holden, a member of the Kellogg Dean’s Advisory Board, has remained active with the school in various ways since graduation, including participating in conferences and sharing her professional experiences with members of the Kellogg community. During her EMBA presentation, she encouraged students to maintain the networks they established at Kellogg and to share best practices with their peers.

“Some of the most valuable lessons you learn here, you learn from each other,” Holden said. “Stay current and keep learning.”