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Marketing in Today's Digital Culture

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Does someone marketing in today's digital culture need a pricey MBA? Once considered the zenith of accomplishment in business, the relevance of the MBA degree has come under question. Clues as to why the criticism might stick could be found at the recent Kellogg Business School Marketing Conference. Event organizers took a classic approach, offering scant Wi-fi and burying the Twitter hashtag in the event brochure. Still, there were important lessons worth learning.

Here are just a few things I learned:

1. The American consumer is proving to be resilient. Market researchers from Nielsen to Euro RSCG agreed: although the American consumers have taken a blow to the head, they haven't tapped out. Whether it's coupon clipping, mindful meal planning or a newfound appreciation for health and happiness--Americans are shopping, just more judiciously and less often. And the best news: consumers say they are finding more to enjoy about the shopping experience.

What are they buying? Vitamins, supplements and oral care products are all thriving categories, perhaps because they are thought to stave off expensive medical interventions.

2. Numbers, schnumbers -- the quest to measure success of new media in marketing has created a dangerous illusion that massive traffic is the Holy Grail. Richer veins of loyalty and brand advocacy (with smaller cohorts of consumers) are proving to pay off more handsomely for brands in the near and long term.

3. I've seen the future and it's intuitive. Society is on the verge of harnessing artificial intelligence. Emerging technologies make it possible for ever more sophisticated algorithms to churn growing volumes of data with increasing nuance. As disciplines such as storytelling and data visualization rise -- the quant side of the equation will become a cover-your-ass security blanket relegated to machines. Agency anthropologists, behaviorists and creatives with good "gut" will step from the shadows to re-animate the marketing business.

4. Web and mobile are distinct -- not even kissing cousins. Nothing beats a generous colleague. Ed Kaczmarek, Director of Innovation and New Services at Kraft, is just one example of many of the fine presenters at the conference. Full of hard-won wisdom, he revealed lesson after lesson about Kraft's successful foray in mobile technologies. To wit, leaping into custom iPhone apps is a mistake unless you've mastered more rudimentary forms of new media. Oh, and younger consumers are pushing other technologies toward mobile.

5. I want you to want me. Stephen Baker, author of the book Numerati, thought out loud about the notion that people will soon commoditize their privacy in exchange for social currency, cash, or some other form of reciprocity.

6. Marketing and consumer services are becoming the same thing. Finding ways to help people live more meaningful, efficient, happier lives is becoming more important to brands than advertising -- thereby linking the marketing department to operations. And a related theme was that "free" is not sustainable and capturing micro-payments for valued content and services is the next horizon.

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