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The executive roundtable included (left to right) Molly Battin ’98, SVP of Turner Media Group; Drew Madsen, president of Darden Restaurants; David Nelms, CEO of Discover Financial Services; and Crate and Barrel CEO Barbara Turf.

Marketing Conference

Marketing as a core strategy

Top executives share insights on how marketing can impact ‘every piece of an organization’

By Chris Serb

2/1/2010 - Hundreds of Kellogg students, alumni and marketing professionals sought insights on marketing as a core strategy Jan. 23 from five who know the subject well: C-level executives who had risen through the marketing ranks at some of the nation’s best-recognized firms.

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The executive roundtable was among the biggest draws at the second day of the 2010 Kellogg Marketing Conference. The first day of the event, hosted at Wieboldt Hall in downtown Chicago, was geared toward an alumni and corporate audience; the second day, which took place at the Donald P. Jacobs Center in Evanston, was open to all attendees.

Keynote speaker Jim Alessandro, senior vice president of global marketing strategy and planning for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, delivered a talk on “the magic of breaking through while staying true.” The day also featured a series of panel discussions, covering topics that ranged from mobile marketing and micro-targeting to social media, brand repositioning, consumer psychology and traditional and private-label brands.
Former Hershey Company president and CEO Rick Lenny ’77 led the executive roundtable through a discussion on “marketing as strategy.” Topics ranged from the evolution of marketing’s role to pitfalls good marketers should avoid.

David Nelms, chairman and CEO of Discover Financial Services, underscored a concept that was repeated by all the panelists: Marketing has become inseparable from other areas of the company.

“We take over 100 million phone calls a year, we handle over 1.5 billion transactions every year, and every one of those is an opportunity to build or hurt our relationship with the customer,” Nelms said. “Marketing might be a formal, functional area when you’re talking about setting strategy, but the delivery of marketing takes place in every customer interaction.”

Molly Battin ’98, senior vice president of Turner Broadcasting System’s Turner Media Group, encouraged marketers to explore areas of their companies where marketing doesn’t traditionally play a role. “Good marketers need to do the same things that good managers do, and that includes moving around the organization,” Battin said. “That makes you a better leader, and it helps you understand how marketing impacts every piece of your organization.”

Crate and Barrel President and CEO Barbara Turf said she views the evolution of marketing as critical to her company’s survival. “Customers used to come to us, but now we have to reach out to them,” Turf said. She noted that competition has required her company to engage in more aggressive promotions, such as the “Ultimate Dream Wedding” video contest, which encourages young couples to join Crate and Barrel’s wedding registry.

“Ideas like this are a risk,” Turf said. “But because we’re an older, more established brand, we have to come up with more ways to stay relevant among younger customers.”

Keeping brands relevant is also a major concern for Drew Madsen, president and COO of Darden Restaurants. The revitalization of one of Darden’s brands, Olive Garden, came from an unlikely source.

“A behavioral psychologist told us, ‘Everyone is broadly in need of emotional repair. They want to disconnect, relax, and feel like they’re being nurtured,’” Madsen said. That insight led to the Olive Garden’s re-casting of its restaurants around the theme of “When you’re here you’re family,” and redesigning everything from décor to portion size around the archetype of a Tuscan family dinner.

“We went from $1.5 billion in stagnant sales with restaurant closings, to $3 billion in sales while opening 30 restaurants a year,” Madsen said. “And that all started with a psychologist who told us that people just want to be loved.”

The panelists’ insights and real-world experiences spoke to the central theme of the 2010 Kellogg Marketing Conference: that marketing is inseparable from corporate strategy in today’s marketplace.

“A few years ago, most organizations viewed marketing as a discrete set of activities — new product launches, advertising, packaging design,” Lenny said. “Now, you tend to think about marketing being totally intertwined across your entire business. If you lose focus, the impact can be debilitating — but if you’ve thought through all the implications, the impact across the organization can be extremely positive.”