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Eric T. Anderson, the Hartmarx Professor of Marketing, speaks at the 2015 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Conference on Oct 8.

Eric T. Anderson speaks at the 2015 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit

Building culture in a digital era

Kellogg’s 2015 Marketing Leadership Summit explores lessons companies learn from the tech-savvy

By Theo Anderson

10/19/2015 - The Kellogg School of Management hosted its 2015 Marketing Leadership Summit Oct. 7 and 8, gathering senior marketing leaders across a wide range of sectors for discussions on maintaining a strong brand culture in the midst of digital disruption.

The 100-plus marketers attending the fifth-annual Marketing Leadership Summit found common ground around the conference’s theme: “Cultural transformation for growth in the digital age.”

“The reality is that in the digital age, some of the old rules no longer apply,” said Gregory Carpenter, the James Farley/Booz Allen Hamilton Professor of Marketing Strategy and faculty director of the Kellogg Markets and Customers Initiative. “So the challenge for many organizations is reflecting what is unique about the organization but also adapting to these changes.”

The summit, hosted in partnership with Egon Zehnder and McKinsey & Company, continues Kellogg’s tradition of convening discussions with senior executives to discuss the complex, cross-disciplinary challenges that corporations face today, including:
  • The Corporate Governance Conference, a discussion among directors of public companies on maximizing shareholder value for investors while heeding increasing calls for public accountability
  • The Malcolm MacEachern Symposium, a discussion among policymakers and business leaders on navigating the health care landscape in the midst of regulatory and compliance hurdles 
Continuing education

Speakers and panelists at the summit offered several takeaways for building a culture that excels in the digital era. Some key lessons included:

Intelligent risk taking. Older companies can learn from startups “how to build energetic, action oriented, risk-taking cultures,” said Jim Stengel, the former global marketing officer for Procter & Gamble who gave the summit’s keynote address. Startups are distinguished by their speed and agility, he said, and by their willingness to take risks and learn from their mistakes.

Tanguy Catlin, a leader of McKinsey’s Digital Quotient initiative, cited the case of Google Glass, which has failed from a commercial standpoint—at least so far. But the knowledge Google gained from research and development on it is “incredible” and will be leveraged in many of the company’s projects going forward.

Creative storytelling. The St. Louis-based engineering company Emerson has raised its profile dramatically by partnering with Hank Green, a popular musician and blogger who has a strong presence on YouTube. Green’s work often focuses on science, and the partnership allows Emerson to tell its story to a broad audience—especially young people.

Traffic to Emerson’s YouTube channel increased from about 24,000 visits during a three-month period in 2014 to 475,000 visits in the same period in 2015. Traffic to the “careers” page on its website has also spiked. “We’ve seen that kind of engagement go way, way up,” said Kathy Button Bell, Emerson’s chief marketing officer.

Productive external and internal relationships. Keurig, which innovated the single-cup coffee machine, grew from zero sales in 1998 to $4 billion in sales last year. A key to the explosive growth is its ability to create value for partners all along its supply chain, said Eric T. Anderson, the Hartmarx Professor of Marketing. “They learned how to bring it to market by partnering,” Anderson said. “They make money not only for themselves but also for their partners”—including manufacturers who make the machines and distributors and retailers who supply single-cup coffee pods to offices and grocery stores.

Strong and productive external relationships, though, are no substitute for a healthy and synergistic internal culture. “Don't forget about human relationships,” Stengel said. “You do amazing creative work when there's trust and there are high standards and expectations of each other.”