Modern Lessons In Brand Leadership — Highlights Of The 2011 ANA Masters Of Marketing Conference

The 2011 ANA Masters of Marketing conference once again brought together the power brokers of US advertising in a state-of-the-state event of entertainment, networking, and speeches over three days. In all, more than 1,700 marketers and marketing service firms convened in Phoenix to share in this year's official theme — growth.

Indeed, these are trying times for CMOs to deliver growth through traditional marketing. Growth has been challenging and inconsistent for most marketers over the past three years as they fight a war on two fronts — the turbulence of the economy and the turbulence of empowered customers. Thomas Friedman reinforced those points, asserting that in order for America to grow, as a market and a people, the notion of "average" cannot be accepted; companies must become exceptional once again by unleashing creativity and innovation on a global stage. That's why the more salient subtext of the conference was leadership.

Despite the somewhat cautious tone of many speakers, CMOs who are delivering growth are doing so by demonstrating enterprisewide leadership: leadership to act with courage and make difficult, uncertain, and unpopular decisions; leadership to defy the status quo by challenging the mission and vision of the company to serve a greater purpose for its employees, its customers, its community, and the planet; and personal leadership to inspire and motivate people in the organization. Some of the best examples of marketing leadership on display were from Stephen Quinn, VP and CMO at Walmart; Esther Lee, senior VP of brand marketing and advertising at AT&T; and Jon Iwata, senior VP of marketing and communications at IBM.

Lead like your customer is your boss. Stephen Quinn challenged CMOs to reconsider the impact that America's hourglass economy has on their company's value proposition. To follow Walmart's lead, CMOs must redefine customer currency, community, and technology. As lower- and middle-class consumers shift to more responsible and resourceful patterns of consumption, Walmart creates new value by expanding its layaway and price-match programs. It is becoming a more active participant in the communities of core consumers, like in its effort to rebuild the Joplin, Missouri, Walmart in record time. And it is using technology to extend the value of Walmart outside of its stores, into a digital experience platform. For instance, it is launching a retail development kit to enable local stores to manage their digital and social presence.

Lead beyond the marketing function. Esther Lee outlined the journey of AT&T's brand transformation from a voice company to a data company. It's a shift she describes as moving from technical and functional to emotional and experiential. But the complexity of delivering on this new brand platform has expanded the scope of the CMO. She emphasized that four new marketing leadership competencies are required for CMOs to evolve the role of brand marketing: 1) business model impact; 2) cultural impact; 3) brand operationalization; and 4) experience design.

Lead by building corporate character. Jon Iwata led IBM's journey to become Interbrand's second most valuable brand in 2010 by asking questions of substance — not questions about how it will raise awareness or how it will become a thought leader. They were instead questions such as, "If IBM went away tomorrow, what would be the impact?" That led to IBM's Smarter Planet platform, which wasn't simply designed as a brand campaign for lead generation or thought leadership. It was more importantly designed to embody an authentic enterprise. The platform embodies the mission of IBM's employees and articulates the company's mission and vision in a way that resonates with and inspires its employees and customers. Jon challenges others CMOs to go beyond just awareness-building by creating brand platforms that are belief-building for the company.

In an era that has been marked by the turbulence of unstable global economies and empowered consumers, what will define the great CMO leaders of this generation?