The 2017 P&G Alumni Global Conference took place this month in Cincinnati, OH with the theme of “Catapult” (though sadly, no actual catapults were involved). It was a fast-paced few days with multiple special events to choose from in addition to the two-day central conference. StartUp Week, Brandtopia, BLINK, and many other events were also going on in Cincinnati that same week so the city was alive with entrepreneurial energy.
There was a range of compelling speakers and topics with particularly strong content on change and innovation. Here are three of the key themes from the conference that are broadly relevant (not just for P&G alumni!).
1. Not-so-new media
As Kirk Perry of Google shared, “reach is plentiful; attention is scarce.” Digital and mobile were key themes at the conference and Gary Vaynerchuk told us that traditional TV is the most overpriced media out there (except for Superbowl ads, which he feels are actually a good value). Mr. Vaynerchuk would have brands put all their media budgets against Facebook ads (especially long-form video) and digital influencers.
While he made some compelling points, I do think there is a fundamental difference between growing a new start-up from zero (the majority of his examples) and the challenge of sustaining and incrementally growing a behemoth existing brand. Digital should clearly represent a larger share of marketing spend than ever before, and for start-ups probably their entire spend, but I think TV still has a role to play for big brands, particularly among certain consumer targets.
2. Brands in service
Jonah Peretti, BuzzFeed, told us that brand loyalty is being redefined in the digital age to the brand being loyal to and serving its audience (versus the other way around). “Consumers have become gods”, Rishad Tobaccowala of Publicis Groupe stated boldly in his provocative talk. According to Mr. Tobaccowala, it’s outdated to say brands empower or enable people. Instead, brands need to meet and serve people where they are. Personally, I can’t tell you how many brand purpose statements I’ve read that include “we exist to empower consumers…” or “Brand X enables you to…” so I consider that a pretty revolutionary, and humbling, statement.
How can brands serve people? Providing experiences was a common theme. A few ideas from Mr. Perry included: providing magical experiences (simplify everything and provide utility), seamless assistance, and immersive experiences (using AR and VR). Andrew Swinand, Leo Burnett Group, also reminded us to always ask, “what human problem are you solving?” and shared some beautiful examples from Samsung, including ‘Safety Trucks’ with screens on the back to see around, a ‘Voices of Life’ app that helps premature babies feel close to mom, and the use of virtual reality to make live theater engaging for deaf people.
3. Culture is critical
When it comes to driving cultural change, Nigel Vaz, Publicis Sapient said the most important thing is just to start. Model and encourage the behaviors that will create the desired culture. Mr. Vaz suggested three steps to kick-starting cultural change: build common ground, organize to drive change, and embrace and embed change. A slightly different take on culture came from John Zeally, Accenture, who told us that within a company, you “need to have a culture of cultures, but a single set of values.”
Culture must be modeled from the top down, and in her talk entitled “Dare to Serve”, Cheryl Bachelder, former CEO of Popeye’s, challenged us to take the “best test” by asking, “are the people better off because of my leadership?” She encouraged humility and courage, and even love, as part of servant leadership. Bracken Darrell, Logitech, encouraged reducing hierarchy to enhance culture and productivity, saying, “the new model is partnerships. The flatter you can get your organization, the more you activate people.” Mr. Darrell also advocated for doing away with employee surveys, which got an enthusiastically positive response from the audience!
Sarah Faulkner, Principal, Faulkner Strategic Consulting