NALC’s Opening Speakers Explore Industry Innovation And Change

PPAI’s North American Leadership Conference (NALC) got off to a strong start with opening sessions from Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, and Frank Mulhern, professor and associate dean at The Medill School at Northwestern University. Both speakers shared their perspectives on innovation and change in the modern business marketplace.

Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Electronics Association, speaking at PPAI's North American Leadership Conference.

Shapiro’s started Monday morning with a session that visited some of the principles discussed in his latest bestseller, Ninja Innovation: Ten Killer Strategies of the World’s Most Successful Businesses. Among some of the essential qualities shared among successful businesses are luck (being in the right place at the right time), goals (specific, measurable and attainable), being paranoid about lasting success and having the right team.

“You have to put the right team together,” Shapiro explains. “Even Thomas Edison had a team of 100 engineers behind him. And you need people who will push back, not people who will just agree with you.” He explained why it was difficult at first for him to get what he needed from his team. The problem was that he was not recognizing them as people first. “No one is capable of really separating work and home. You need to really care about the person.”

In a session following Shaprio’s, Mulhern spoke on trends in marketing for the digital era and explored marketing’s evolution alongside changing technologies.

“This is the one of the most fascinating times to part of the world of marketing,” says Mulhern, pointing to the amount and pace of transition in the field today.

Frank Mulhern, professor and associate dean at The Medill School at Northwestern University, during his general session presentation.

Television, Mulhern said, gave us modern marketing. It used to be the “new media,” and in learning how to work with it, advertisers began to look at audiences as aggregates and frame consumers’ preferences in homogenous terms, and emotion and imagery became branding’s core rather than information and reasoning.

Digital’s technological revolution has disrupted all of that. Mulhern said that digital, social and mobile technologies will have as dramatic an effect on advertising as television did. Already it’s led to the effectively infinite and free reproduction and sharing of content—Mulhern used iTunes’ takeover of the music business as an example of this trend—consumers’ growing control of and ability to create content, and the customization of content by or for the consumer. And all this is just the beginning, as digital is nowhere near a mature platform.

However, digital has not supplanted the importance of branding; consumers still want products to have meaning. What’s building brands has become more multi-faceted, Mulhern says, not relying so much on imagery. They’re connecting more with consumers’ lifestyles, rather than solely on the merits of their products and services.

With the barriers to creating content dropping, what Mulhern termed “owned media”—content created by brands such as websites, newsletters, video, etc.—has grown in significance at the expense of traditional, advertising-supported content. As examples, Mulhern pointed out that Nike has hired 200 content producers while reducing paid media spending by 40 percent, and Starbucks is luring in customers with the “Starbucks Digital Network” with local news and entertainment.

In the digital world, things are organized by interests, Mulhern said. He explained that people form connections based on shared interests, and in the digital world, marketers will reach out to consumers based on their interests, rather than demographics. Their biggest challenge, he says, is to abandon marketing’s traditional impulse to persuade people and adopt brands’ digital-era mission of serving consumers.

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