Marketing Symposium reveals new trends

Big data analytics, multi- and omni-channel campaigns, customer-centricity and social media were among the hot marketing topics addressed at the seventh annual Rice Marketing Symposium held on March 21 at the Jones Graduate School of Business.

This year's symposium, “Evolutionary Marketing Strategy,” featured four marketers – evenly split between B2B and B2C – from the real estate, retail and computer hardware industries sharing their winning strategies and present-day challenges with an audience of 230 marketing professionals and students.

The event was co-chaired by Wolfgang Von Der Rosen '14, Sydney Wilmer Martin '15, Blake E. Parrish '15 and Brad Prescott '15. Von Der Rosen said he was pleased this year's event attracted a broader spectrum of attendees and speakers than previous years. “Traditionally we have looked for speakers from energy companies, but this year we wanted to host alternative business cases to add a bit of diversity to the conference.”

Prescott said, “My biggest takeaway … was the diversity of companies and industries represented at the event. We had 100 different companies represented from industries including oil and gas, business services, real estate and retailing, to name a few.”

Anita Sehgal, senior vice president of marketing and advertising, Academy Sports + Outdoors, kicked off the symposium by sharing her perspectives on marketing techniques and objectives given advancements in technology – particularly multi-device presence.

“Multi-channel campaigns are critically important,” she said. “Pick the channel where you can make the greatest impact. With consumers spending more time on cell phones than a desktop or laptop, we have to think about screen size and download time. Mobile is going to continue to change in great ways.

“It is a really exciting time to be a marketer. We're changing the role and mix of technology. A customer needs to see a message six times before they retain it,” she added. “Content is critically important to your media buy strategy, but now we must know how that content is going to land.”

John Arcidiacono, chief marketing officer, Stewart Title, echoed the importance of content and said that “IT and marketing are going hand-in-hand.” He outlined the re-branding efforts and transformation of his firm's marketing department from a communications-oriented division into a strategic marketing team. The company is now reporting less revenue but higher profits due to greater efficiencies, he said.

“Marketing owns everything about the customer,” he advised. “Figure out what you don't own. It’s not about who you know, it’s about who knows you.” Both Arcidiacono and Sehgal admitted their companies are working to improve their use of social media and the customer data it provides.

Customer data is always at the forefront in the mind of Dell's Teresa Joy, director, North American Commercial Business Intelligence & Strategy, who said that every customer’s online activity provides data about your products and your competitors'.

“Data is the new currency of our time,” she said, adding that the questions surrounding market analytics are becoming more complicated; that omni- as well as multi-channel strategies are crucial; and that traditional push-marketing is a thing of the past – it's now all about pull-marketing.

In addition, she said Dell is moving from transactional to predictive analytics for B2B. “If you can predict data, you are on a winning streak,” she said, adding that data massaging takes time and a particular skill set owned by data scientists and modelers.

Constance Porter, visiting assistant professor of marketing at the Jones School, was pleased that customer-centricity was addressed as it is the focus of a course she teaches, Customer Relationship Management.

“Many of the speakers raised the issue of customer-centricity directly, while others spoke about particular aspects such as designing/managing the customer experience, identifying/managing customer value and fostering loyalty among expanding customer segments,” Porter said. “I do hope that current and former students of mine were able to make the connection between the live cases presented by the speakers and the content of our marketing curriculum.”

Perhaps the most unique marketing strategy of the morning was presented by Christine Mastandrea, chief marketing officer for Whitestone REIT, a real estate investment trust that acquires and operates income-producing retail properties within densely populated, culturally diverse neighborhoods in the “business-friendly” states of Texas, Arizona and Illinois.

Within each property, the company markets smaller-than-average retail spaces for shorter-than-average lease terms – thus minimizing financial risk – to service-based tenants (medical, family, dining, services, education) that cater to under-served immigrant populations. Whitestone pays special attention to each property's visibility and circulation, and partners with community-based organizations to enrich the customer experience and foster a pride of ownership among tenants.

Symposium sponsors included AMA Houston, Cameron, Jones Partners and Schlumberger.

All four speakers illustrated that the marketer's role of increasing product and brand reach essentially is unchanged. The new challenges they face – the proliferation of customer touch points, constant connectivity, and the capture and organization of customer data for analysis, all evolving at a speedy clip – are in fact opportunities that require unique, new strategies.

— Kyle W. Fake