February 2019 | 

Digital Marketing: Learning from the Masters

Digital Marketing: Learning from the Masters

Marketers are aiming for a moving target. Consumers and businesses are all online, and the way they are buying products and services and interacting with brands is continuously evolving. The strategies and tactics that work to connect with them are too: we can expect that what’s effective today will shortly become obsolete. Yet that target still needs to be hit, as Leigh Radford, vice president of P&G Ventures, knows well.

Charged with evolving 180-year-old Procter & Gamble from the inside, P&G Ventures is focused on finding new sources of value and creating new brands, technologies, and business models. Radford says they are actively testing multiple new brands in direct-to-consumer markets and experimenting with digital marketing in ways that are new to P&G — and to many other companies.

As Radford and her team experiment, the rules of marketing on digital platforms are constantly being rewritten. She says when she learned about Wharton Executive Education’s Digital Marketing Strategies for the Digital Economy program, she saw it as a great opportunity to “learn from the masters and get immersed in the subject. As an entrepreneurial group, we are constantly learning from the outside, and I wanted my team to be exposed to a broad aspect of the latest expert external thinking.”

She brought six team members to Wharton, including three marketing directors, and one person each in sales, finance, and communications and influencer marketing. “I felt it was important to have my entire leadership team at the Digital Marketing program to assure we all had the same level of competency and the best knowledge, and could hit the ground running,” says Radford.

One challenge in the fast-paced world of digital marketing is that proven strategies and models are almost nonexistent, leaving a vacuum that is often filled with anecdotes rather than research-driven knowledge and tools. Global Risk Manager Lisa Silverthorne says Wharton faculty’s expertise was different. “I was looking for broad and in-depth knowledge from credible experts. What I had gleaned previously from speakers and articles was either personal experiences or non-data-based opinions.”

Silverthorne says her criteria were met. “I wanted solid, well-articulated, and reliable explanations, rules of thumb, guidance, and examples across a wide range of digital marketing topics, and Wharton delivered.” Lauren Thaman, director of communications, added that the program’s instructors are not only the leading academics in the field, but most are personally involved in start-ups. “That gives them insights into how the latest, most nimble organizations are succeeding on digital platforms — and in still-important brick-and-mortar locations.”

In fact, a number of the P&G Ventures team said they were surprised to learn how vital the direct, real-world consumer experience is. Betsy Bluestone, commercial discovery leader, says an important takeaway was that “despite the decline of brick-and-mortar volume, having a physical presence in the right location remains critically important to brand awareness, trust, net promoter score, and growth, especially direct-to-consumer growth.”

Bluestone said another key lesson was the need to explore ideas that deliver a “triple bottom line” (consumer centricity, social impact, and profit). “Corporate citizenship and social impact are becoming more important to today’s consumer. The start-ups that are entering and disrupting our markets are delivering more than just product and we need to do the same.”

The P&G Ventures team came into the program facing some specific challenges, including creating compelling influencer content and gaining earned versus paid media. They say participating in the Digital Marketing program together allowed them to better meet those challenges by being able to quickly implement what they learned. “The shared learning experiences accelerated our progress as an organization much faster than individual participation,” Betsy Bluestone explained.

Lisa Silverthorne agreed. “It enabled the ability to quickly and competently discuss the material with co-workers, compare perspectives, deepen my understanding, and discuss how to apply it at work. If I had attended alone, I would have only my own perspective that I would have to share.”

For P&G Ventures, the Digital Marketing program not only gave them the latest findings and insights into what is working on digital platforms, but it confirmed that they were already on the right track. As Lisa Silverthorne described the experience: “For me the bar is always about not just learning something new, but evolving my thinking in places where we have existing expertise. Wharton delivered on both.” Radford noted, “The Wharton program reinforced that we have the right approach. We now have the knowledge and tools we need to perfect it.”

Perfecting the approach has already begun. Radford says just months after attending, the program has already had a tremendous impact. “Based on what we learned, we have modified some of our programs to take in account location, physical experiences, and how we enroll influencers. It was a great investment and time well spent.”