The MMA’s CEO & CMO Summit Virtual—exclusively reserved for CEOs and CMOs from top brands, technology, platform and media companies—kicked off with a message from the MMA’s CEO, Greg Stuart. He called the pandemic and social unrest “a giant wakeup call that highlights everything marketers need to fix” and urged marketers to join the MMA in tackling some the industry’s toughest questions, like how to align marketing organizations to capabilities as well as what it will take to bring the whole ecosystem together.
After admitting he desperately needed a haircut, Nobel Prize-Winning Economist and Policy Entrepreneur Paul Romer set the tone of the event with a report from the trenches in the fight against the coronavirus.
He likened the U.S. coronavirus response to actions taken by the crew of the Titanic and a complacent French Army facing the Germans in World War II. For marketers he delivered a valuable lesson: Anything you think won’t happen could happen, so you better realize it when it does, coordinate resources in a decentralized way, and innovate and experiment as quickly as possible.
Many of the event’s speakers and presenters echoed Romer’s sentiment, saying that being nimble and decisive got them through the early days of the pandemic.
For Petco CMO Tariq Hassan, the key is to keep learning and adapting: He and his team review conditions on the ground in every state three days a week in order to make the right moves.
Joanna Lu, VP & CMO, Greater China & Korea BU for The Coca-Cola Company, said that her team did a lot of social listening at the beginning of the pandemic to measure how consumers were feeling. Insights gained from this activity led them to focus on product delivery in the first month, add food delivery to the mix in month two to help people overcome boredom, and create the Cloud Meal in the third month so people could enjoy Coke with friends and family online.
Being able to notice change and respond accordingly comes down to having the right mix of capabilities in the areas where your marketing organization is called upon to add value. It can also mean embracing and accelerating digitization.
Omar Rodriguez Vila, Associate Professor of Practice in Marketing at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School, presented research from the MMA’s Marketing Organization Structure Think Tank (MOSTT) that shows marketers how to assess exchange, experience, and engagement value on the consumer side while measuring and aligning strategic, operational, and knowledge value internally.
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When it comes to thinking creatively, there was consensus among the speakers that, as Petco’s Hassan put it, “Adrenaline makes you deliver.” According to Deidre Smalls-Landau, CMO and EVP, Global Culture at UM Worldwide, “passion and bravery can replace anxiety and breed creativity.”
Brian Kalma, Entrepreneur in Residence Zappos, said that his business used a dramatic decline in shoe and clothing sales at the start of the pandemic to turn its customer service team into a more impactful source of support by empowering them to answer questions about anything. The creative pivot attracted a lot of media attention and fostered loyalty among customers: people even started calling just to see how the people at Zappo’s were doing.
For e.l.f., the pandemic inspired a PSA that generated 1.5 million pieces of user-generated content (UGC). CMO Kory Marchisotto said that because those 15-second TikTok videos often take hours to make, the brand was really integrated into people’s lives and created much stronger relationships with their customers.
Burger King’s CMO, Fernando Machado, entertained the crowd with videos of moldy Whoppers, proving that bold, risky creative can really cut through and generate earned media and social media exposure.
He stressed that creative must be aligned with a clear strategy to be effective, said that it often takes years of hard work and dedication to the brand commitment, before a creative execution can even begin. It took nearly six years, for example, for Burger King to remove all the preservatives that finally made the moldy Whopper ad possible.
Hershey CMO Jill Baskin observed that working remotely has brought her team closer together, because being able to see people’s homes, pets and kids offers a richer and more relatable perspective of who people are that you can’t get in an office setting alone.
Summit speakers conveyed a general optimism for life after the pandemic and social unrest. The general feeling was that the current crisis situations would effect real change—operationally as well as socially.
In a session on diversity and inclusion, Nielsen Global Connect CMO Jacqueline Woods led a panel discussion with Tiffany R. Warren, SVP and Chief Diversity Officer, Omnicom Group and the President and Founder of ADCOLOR; Andrea Bibbs, Sr. Director, Diversity & Inclusion Strategy, WarnerMedia News and Sports; and Victoria Russell VP, Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DE&I) Papa John's International.
All four women talked about the importance of staying hopeful, despite the range of emotions they felt in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd.
Russell said that it’s important to frame all D&I discussions around the idea of “everyone against racism” versus pitting groups of people against each other. “The end game is equality and inclusion for all,” she said. “It’s not about bias training, it’s about anti-racism.”
The panel talked about how John Lewis and C.T. Vivian gave them a blueprint for success, and how leadership support for larger and more resourced teams, ample budgets, and cross-functional allies are needed for D&I to truly have an impact in business organizations.
Nearly 64 percent of Summit attendees felt that their brands’ reputation and values were coming through more clearly to consumers in the current crisis.
According to the MMA’s new Global Board of Directors Chair Deborah Wahl, Global CMO of General Motors, “the soul of your brand really becomes apparent in a crisis.”
It’s up to marketers to seize on the opportunity to highlight their brand’s purpose. For Smalls-Landau at UM Worldwide, the key is for brands to determine what their responsibility is and then take action to bring it to life.
This can be lofty, like Burger King’s philosophy “that the delicious, affordable and convenient meals you love can also be sustainable.” Or, it can be simpler, it just has to be authentic.
Hershey’s Baskin related how the candy maker’s “Mint Before You Mask” campaign exemplified the brand’s purpose and boosted sales in a category that got hit hard by social distancing.
In a divided world with a social media minefield of hate speech and misinformation, companies have to be careful about what they say and who they partner with.
Josephine Chew, Head of Brand and Reputation at Wells Fargo, uses AI technology provided by IBM Watson Advertising and Influential to help find the right social media influencers to promote the company’s support of community food banks. According to Chew, positive sentiment has risen 200% thanks to the campaign.
Influential’s CEO Ryan Detert says that natural language understanding (NLU) technology narrows down the field of candidates for brand partners and advocates, but that art comes into play when finding the right emotive fit.
For most of the Summit speakers, building trust comes down to mutual respect for other human beings. Petco’s Hassan put it well when he said, “Take care of your people and they’ll take care of your customers.”
The Summit inspired attendees to take action now, because one never knows what events or crises are on the horizon. As GM’s Wahl said as she encouraged the crowd to stand up against racism and fix the digital ecosystem, “it’s one thing to have an opinion, and quite another to do something.”