March 2012 | 

Navigating the Brave New Marketing World: Wharton Leads the Way


Procter and Gamble's Febreze fabric freshener joined an elite group in 2011; it became one of the company's billion-dollar brands. But the product almost didn't smell success — thanks to a canary. Wharton marketing professor George Day tells the story: "Soon after its launch, an Internet rumor that Febreze caused the death of a pet bird went viral. Anonymous additional comments on the web blamed the product for the deaths of other pets, including dogs and cats.

"It was the kind of rumor that kills products and severely damages corporate reputations all the time. But P&G heard it early, and took action. Apparently they were able to identify the source, and determine that the canary in question died of old age." The company also quickly added a "Pet Safety" page to its website that addresses the rumor directly. Groups such as the American Humane Association and the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) conducted investigations and issued statements dispelling the myth (Febreze now carries an ASPCA seal of approval).

Day notes that the lesson of Febreze is even more important today, a decade later, when the amount of information and number of people online has grown exponentially. He tells executives in Strategic Marketing Essentials to develop what he calls an "open marketing" capability to help them filter out the noise from potentially brand-destroying rumors and from valuable consumer insights. "There is so much information out there, and most firms don't have the technological skills to deal with it. Most companies would be ill-advised to try to do it themselves. Capturing and analyzing data is extremely sophisticated.

"The marketing landscape has changed as information and technology proliferate. Most companies do use partners to some extent. But managing those partnerships needs to be an adaptive marketing capability that firms do better than their rivals. Marketing executives must now fill a crucial coordination role that orchestrates SEO (search engine optimization), analytics, advertising, and more. You need a clear vision and strategy that you can communicate to all of your partners. If they don't know what you want, their work will be fragmented, unproductive, and wasteful.

"There are some companies right now that are mastering open marketing, and they're grabbing the top talent. If you're late to the game, who will be left for you to partner with? Ultimately, it's about talent. Who has the vision of what is needed? Assuming you have everyone you need in house can be a costly mistake."

Day teaches open marketing in Strategic Marketing Essentials, and says executives will also learn other essentials they need to perform in a rapidly changing marketing environment. "We don't talk just about ‘fundamentals' or ‘principles' because essentials are what really matter — they're what you need to know right now. We've got a wide range of expertise in the Wharton Marketing Department, and our faculty understand the current landscape."

Brand Management

Brand management represents another new marketing challenge. Wharton marketing professor Barbara Kahn explains, "Your brand is your most important investment, but managing it, especially as you enter new global markets, has become more complex. In Brand Leadership: Strategies for Driving Growth in a Global Marketplace, we drill deep into brand as a strategic asset. As marketing paradigms change, and new channels become available, how do you keep your brand consistent?"

Kahn is faculty director of the intensive new three-day program, and notes that, while learning new approaches for management is critical, without quantitative measuring tools, there's no way to assess the effectiveness of your efforts. "Do you know the ROI of your brand? The only way to really tell if your brand strategy is working — and if it's not, how to improve it — is by measuring it."

Executives in Brand Leadership also put their learning to direct use during the program by conducting "brand audits" of their own (or fellow participants') brands. The three-step process begins with a brand inventory in which they collect all the ways in which the brand is being used and compare it to their nearest competitors. Next, an investigation of customer knowledge of the brand is conducted. How do customers think and feel about the brand and its corresponding product category? Participants will identify sources of brand equity and suggestions for new strategies for the brand. What should be changed, and what should be kept? Where are the growth possibilities? Finally, they will make recommendations for the brand for the future.

"It's important to use the information you learn directly," says Kahn. "To understand your brand as an asset, you need to analyze in depth where it stands today and what strategic goals you should set for the future. Managing your brand as the critical asset, and being able to assess your competitors based on their brands, takes know-how and real leadership."