Eli Broad College of Business alums brought back to campus their most telling insights about a marketing landscape in a state of flux at the Forbes CMO Alumni Symposium on Nov. 2 at the Wharton Center.

Jay Spenchian. Photo by Omar Sofradzija

Jay Spenchian. Photo by Omar Sofradzija

The day-long event, themed “Connecting with Customers: Growth, Disruption, and Innovation in a Changing World” and co-hosted by the Broad College and the College of Communication Arts and Sciences,” featured chief marketing officers and other brand experts from a range of companies across the nation, all with Spartan roots.

This reunion of sorts of CMO alums “is important for MSU, the Broad College, the marketing department, and their various constituents in that it is representative of our mission of creating and disseminating knowledge through collaborative relationships while developing transformational business/marketing leaders who make business happen,” said Douglas E. Hughes, chairperson of the Department of Marketing and the United Shore Faculty Fellow in Sales Leadership at the Eli Broad College of Business.

A common theme was the dramatic changes in how consumers link to companies and content that were being driven by digital technology.

“Marketing tactics are changing faster than ever before, starting out with social [media] and everybody was chasing Instagram; augmented reality is more important,” said John Costello (MBA ’70), chief executive officer of Bottom Line Branding. “And there’s a lot of pressure to stay up to date on the latest techniques.”

The 2018 Forbes CMO Alumni Symposium. Photo by Omar Sofradzija

The 2018 Forbes CMO Alumni Symposium. Photo by Omar Sofradzija

But new procedures don’t necessarily mean abandoning old principles: “What I found in my career is that while marketing tactics are changing faster than ever before, the principles and strategies of brand-building aren’t changing,” Costello said.

Jay Spenchian (BA General Business Administration ’81, MBA ’82), senior vice president of marketing at U.S. Cellular, said new media like streaming video has displaced traditional vendors like radio and billboards among a younger demographic.

“I bet a majority of the room does not watch a ton of TV. You’re consuming [content] mostly through online video,” Spenchian told students in the audience. “That’s how we have to reach you. We call your group aspirational and agile: people that are moving up, influence their friends, tell all their friends about where they should go and where they need to get their cellular service.”

Jim Trebilcock (BA Marketing ’80, MBA ’81), chief concentrate and international officer for Keurig Dr Pepper, said while shoppers, suppliers, and retailers are all “customers” and “incredibly important” to make business happen, “our ability to engage is dependent upon our engagement with the consumer.”

Doug Hughes

Doug Hughes

“Our ability to understand the consumer’s needs, and then connect, in relevant ways, when, where, and how a consumer wants to engage with our brand, ensures our success and is the foundation of customer engagement,” Trebilcock said. “If we’re relevant with the consumer, they will help drive engagement as a shopper, with our bottlers, and with our retailers.”

Andy Royston (MBA ’89), global chief marketing officer of the Kerry Group, said even the oldest and most necessary economic sectors are not immune to changes. Like the food industry, which is facing changing consumer tastes, needs, and expectations.

“It’s no different in food. Everyone’s got to eat, so everybody thinks the food industry is very stable. But it’s just the opposite,” said Royston, adding that a “food revolution” was underway.

“It’s all about inspiring food and nourishing life, and no one company is going to make an influence here,” Royston said. “It’s going to be contributions from the consumer in terms of having a voice; the retailer and the manufacturer; the brand owners; the suppliers; the delivery units. Everyone in the supply chain has to play a role here.”

For today’s student, all this means preparing for a future of ongoing change, said Tamara Steffens (BA Marketing ’85), GM of business development for Microsoft and president of the Broad College Marketing Leadership Advisory Board.

“You’re going to have a lot of jobs. You don’t know it yet, but you’re probably going to change jobs every three to four years at least in the first 10 to 15 years of your career,” she told students in the audience. “So make the best out of the jobs that you get, because the more experience that you have and the more you learn, the better opportunity you will have to follow.”