ANA Masters of Marketing kicked off its general session with blockbuster brands, and equally interesting Marketing executives. I knew I would hear from some executive firepower, but I did not expect to walk away with this level of inspiration.
Steven Quinn of Walmart communicated the sobering news of a shrinking middle class, evidenced by a median income in the US that has dropped over the last ten years. With the conference theme of Growth, Quinn discussed a passionate belief that growth will be driven by a combination of currency, community and technology.
- Currency: What does the customer value?
- Community: Participation in the communities where customers live.
- Technology: Realization that everything is now social. People use technology to connect and share.
Bottom line? It is the customer experience that will drive growth.
Esther Lee, the following speaker, seemed to pick up directly from where Walmart's CMO left off.
Lee gave us this advice:
- Understand the business you are in
- Seek the highest possible ground
- Be it, do it, don't just say it
- Start from the beginning
Lee went on to speak about the importance of technology. The consumers' view of technology has changed: people now believe technology enriches their lives, where just a few years ago we may have felt overwhelmed with technology and unsure of how it would help us.
All of this is interesting, but inspiring? Lee clearly believes in the importance of BRAND. AT&T has created a manifesto for their brand, one that guides their vision and their investments: Rethink Possible. For more information, read the Inspiration Room's AT&T Rethink Possible campaign report.
Lee asks, What is the best that we are?
She encourages us to be an angel's advocate and my personal favorite: Outsmart Can't.
Just when I thought the day couldn’t get better, out on the stage walks one of my favorite writers on earth: Thomas Friedman. He spent his time talking about the premise of his new book, That Used to be Us. Upon listening to his grim, yet humorous, view of America, he made sure to reassure us that he and his co-author wrote the book because they are frustrated optimists.
Friedman talked about why the decline of America is important from a world view he said, “America is the tent pole that holds up the world. America’s fate is thus, the world’s fate. (And this from an optimist?)
Summary of advice to parents: How to think about this world
- Think like an immigrant (nothing is owed me).
- Think like an artisan (They brought the extra to what they produced. Ready to carve your initials into what you do) take pride in your work.
- Think like the waitress at Perkins Pancake House. (I gave you extra fruit. She doesn’t control much, but she controls the fruit ladle) Think like an entrepreneur.
Bob Liodice, president of the ANA, asked Friedman “Why are we declining relative to rest of world even though we invest in technology?” His response reminded me so much of our own CEO, Dr. Jim Goodnight, that it literally shook me: The reason is the skills mismatch between our education system and the jobs market. Again, much the same way that Dr. Goodnight speaks of the race for the moon, and what that did to galvanize America, Friedman tells us that America HAD the formula for success, but lost sight of it. He compels us to look to our own history for the answers, and not elsewhere.
Dana Anderson from Kraft foods. Oh my, what can I say except I would love to spend an evening with her! She is HILARIOUS!
Dana’s message was to compel us to leap! She spoke first of a VUCA world, and to embrace it. (What's VUCA? Wikipedia describes it as "an acronym used to describe or reflect on the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity of general conditions and situations.")
The themes that emerged for from this content-rich morning were:
- When seeking growth and improvement, begin at the beginning, the customer
- The role of technology is central to customer experience. People use technology to connect and share.
- All of these companies are great American corporations. I join Thomas Friedman as an optimist!