Forrester Marketing Forum 2009: A brief review

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I attended the Forrester Marketing Forum held at the Walt Disney Yacht and Beach Club Resort in Orlando, Florida late last week. Nice venue, good conference. Some thought provoking speakers. I am not going to review the conference or all of the speakers in detail, but will try and provide some highlights from a few of the more interesting speakers, with a focus on observations that were not obvious.

There was, of course, a great deal of emphasis in the conference, on the use of social media and how it is changing the practice of marketing. The audience was encouraged to Twitter during the sessions and the moderators asked questions based on tweets and even gave away some prizes to select twitterers. Nice demonstration of the technology in action, in a very appropriate application.

Some of the speakers also talked about their use of these tools, particularly Marty St. George, SVP of Marketing and Commercial Strategy for JetBlue about how they leverage Twitter to get the word across on promotions and flights to cities they start flying to. Great presentation from a wonderful speaker. The best slide he presented showed that, based on the Annual Customer Satisfaction Index, customers rate airlines the very worst in terms of customer satisfaction, below such crowd pleasers as health insurers, the U.S. Postal Service and even the Internal Revenue Service. Just goes to show that even in the vast wilderness that is airline marketing there are a few oases of innovative marketing thinking and execution. JetBlue has won the JD Power Customer Satisfaction award for airlines for four years in a row and has also, not coincidentally, delivered better financial performance than any other airline with the exception of Southwest, which, although it is also a low cost carrier has a different business model but a very similar business philosophy. Great testimony to the power of customer focus to deliver shareholder value. One interesting tidbit, 80% of JetBlue’s tickets are bought on their own website, an industry record. Their target market is Generation X and Yers, which makes tools like Twitter very relevant for them.

The presentation from the VP of Marketing for 7-11, Rita Bargerhuff, was an indifferent presenter but had a fun story anchored around their tie-in with the release of the Simpson’s movie. Great marketing story, but very old school event marketing stuff. Sounded like it was successful, lots of creative excitement, fun, mucho work involving many partners, but no real metrics and no effort (at least not that she mentioned) around tying it to other channels, particularly social networks which might have been a terrific opportunity for such a fanatical fan base. Sounded like a fun thing to do, but not something that is repeatable and not sure how the institution was strengthened as a result or how the stakeholders benefited in the long term. Sounded like a great opportunity to build a loyal customer base and some multi-channel capabilities was wasted. Classic case of a classic (and probably brilliant) marketer who does not quite get or think about the brave new world of marketing.

Erica Thompson, VP of CRM and Internet strategy for PetSmart, was passionate about her customers—pets and their owners, and it showed. Incidentally, the above mentioned ACSI survey ranks pet food companies # 1 in customer satisfaction. Was not sure if it is the pets or the owners who respond to that survey, and if the latter, what the basis for their response was. One nugget from Erica’s presentation was about keeping segmentation simple—good (i.e. valuable customers) and bad (i.e. not valuable customers). Nice to hear that simple, black and white view when most folks are trying to complicate things. That was indicative of the uncommon sense that she put out there. The difference in value between top decile customers ($ 750 per year) and bottom decile ($ 3 per year) was eye popping, but not uncommon. What was uncommon is the decision to actually focus on the high value customers and doing it effectively, with multi channel deployment, including social networks and user generated content as well as attention to old fashioned operational detail, working with pet groomers and store managers. It does help to have a highly involved customer base. Nice story, passionately but simply told. No fancy fireworks, but it works and the positive financial results in a tough economy shows that it is working.

The panel discussion on the Future of Media with Greg Clayman of MTV, Annis Lyles of Coca Cola and David Verklin of Canoe Ventures was spirited (unlike most panels) and interesting. David is passionate about what he is doing (set top box based targeted advertising) and is clearly on the cusp of some great breakthroughs. If Canoe is successful, it could break many paradigms and could be quite the earthquake in the worlds of TV advertising and related fields including media buying. It may help to stem the tide of dollars flowing from traditional media to online, although on the other hand the lines between traditional and online itself will be blurred in the future and Canoe will help accelerate that convergence.

On Friday, the pace slowed down somewhat. Craig Dewar, Director of Community Marketing at Microsoft Business Solutions was a bit of a yawn, despite his cute New Zealand accent. Not much of note there, except that he seemed to have gotten stuff done within a large company, which I guess is a feat in and of itself.

David Reibstein, Marketing Professor at Wharton, had much to say but did not say it very well. He seemed tired, not too familiar (or perhaps bored) with his own slides and generally, not too engaged, until it got to the Q&A. He presented the now familiar examples of user generated content from Dell’s Ideastorm and Doritos Super Bowl ads. One theme that Professor Reibstein did spend some time on was the concept of Reverse Marketing, which I have written about and find fascinating. Over the long run the trend toward reverse marketing is going to fundamentally change the nature of marketing. Another interesting framework Dr. Reibstein presented had to do with how to think about marketing spending in a downturn. Instead of repeating the received, but often impractical, wisdom that marketing spending should be increased during a recession, he presented a model of how it should be tuned based on competitors’ actions. A much more thoughtful and considered approach to the difficult problem of how much to spend on marketing in difficult times.

Overall, the Forrester folks staged a very good conference. It was superbly organized with a nice blend of clients and sponsors and some engaging speakers. No great new ideas but some good reinforcement of some of the interested trends in this arena. Certainly would be a top pick for me to attend next year.

Naras Eechambadi, Ph.D
Dr. Naras Eechambadi is the founder and CEO of Quaero, a world-class data management and analytics platform empowering enterprises to integrate, discover and democratize their customer data. He is a life-long technologist and entrepreneur with over three decades in the software products and services industry. He has been awarded numerous distinctions as both a marketing executive and entrepreneur. Naras is also the author of a critically acclaimed book, High Performance Marketing: Bringing Method to the Madness of Marketing.

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