By Patrick Lueck, class of 2019.
Marketing Decisions that Matter: The Need for Purpose, Accountability, and Transparency
The way that brands interact with consumers and global culture is changing. The era where brands could exist outside the realm of social and political discourse is coming to an end as consumers want every purchase to be a reflection of their beliefs. Consumers want to buy brands that reflect their sense of self, and brands around the world are thinking about how to navigate the landscape of Millennial and Gen Z consumers. While this paradigm shift presents an opportunity for differentiation, it also requires business leaders to understand the responsibility they have as influencers of culture. Marketing’s new reality and the challenges it poses to brand managers were the foundations of the Center for Brand & Product Management’s Spring Advisory Board Meeting.
A diverse group of marketing executives and academics gathered with the full-time MBA classes of 2019 and 2020 to share their experiences and strategies for navigating the complex, changing world of brand management. To begin the day, academic director and creativity researcher Page Moreau provided an introduction to influential frameworks for understanding the psychological biases that both reinforce and complicate corporate social responsibility. Page’s discussion demonstrated the important role corporate leaders play in shaping company culture. She explained the need for managers to be aware of their own quest for self-fulfillment as the motivations that propel them into executive positions are often the same ones that can lead to unethical behavior while in positions of power. Backed by research and filled with contemporary examples, Page’s introduction set the stage for the day.
The broader theme of the meeting was bookended by a pair of presentations from Barton Warner, VP of Strategy and Portfolio Management at Bayer, and Shawn Dennis, President of GoldieBlox and former VP of Marketing at MasterCard, the NFL and Dell. Pulling from years of experience, Barton discussed strategies for making the tough decisions that every brand manager faces and challenged us to think deeply about the messages we choose to deliver. With the influence of large companies growing rapidly, especially among young people, he encouraged students to reflect on the big decisions they will make and to ask themselves if the final outcome is both positive and worth fighting for. To Barton, a good brand manager should go beyond what is required of them by law in order to build customer relationships founded on trust and transparency.
Shawn’s presentation concluded the day by asking students both when and how the brands they will manage should take a stand on the issues that are the most controversial and important to consumers. Shawn explained that, more than ever before, brands are becoming the symbols that define communities. Individual purchases are a growing form of support and identification with social, cultural, and political movements. Rapid advances in technology allow cultures and messages to diffuse faster than ever before and, while functional claims are still necessary, the brands that build strong emotional connections are the ones that rise to the top of a cluttered media landscape. Summarizing the theme for the day, Shawn stressed the importance of accountability and purpose for marketers. Brand managers must know what their brands stand for and communicate those beliefs authentically and transparently.
Consumers are eager to take part in the global cultural and political conversation and brands are increasingly providing the forum for discussion. Brands are evolving from vehicles to communicate commercial value to deeply important social symbols and the brand managers of the future must embrace their new responsibility. To prepare us for our careers and give us the tools we need to succeed, The Center for Brand and Product Management’s Spring Advisory Board Meeting tackled this subject head on and provided expertise and experience that extends far beyond traditional marketing curriculum.