Students Get Insights from Top Marketers

More than 100 Booth students enjoyed the chance to quiz 16 executive-level alumni in marketing-related disciplines on topics ranging from hot product categories to targeted advertising.

For some students, that kind of access was the major attraction of the Kilts Marketing Day Forum.
“Usually when speakers come, it’s a big forum and you don’t get to actually talk to the speaker,” said Ken Fenton, a first-year Full-Time student interested in entrepreneurship. (Read what three students gained from their sessions with alumni at the Kilts Marketing Day Forum.)

For others, the draw was the caliber of the alumni attending, with executives from companies ranging from McDonald’s to MasterCard.

“These are not randomly chosen alumni,” said Jean-Pierre Dubé, Sigmund E. Edelstone Professor of Marketing and director of the Kilts Center. “These are people who are passionate about the school and its reputation for marketing.”

For still other students, the appeal was the topics of the different 30-minute roundtable discussions. Tejash Patel, a second-year student and Kilts Scholar, chose to sit at a table with Eileen Serra, ’80, chief executive officer of Chase Card Services, because he wanted to hear about JPMorgan Chase & Co’s design-based innovation efforts.
“Innovation processes and methodologies are relevant in any industry,” Patel said. “I want to understand how companies start with the consumer from a design perspective and then assess and implement an idea from start to finish.”

At a table nearby, Sarah Quinlan, AB ’82, MBA ’84, senior vice president and group head of market insights for MasterCard Advisors, spoke on how to reach the new consumer. With 160 million transactions per hour across 210 countries, Quinlan said, MasterCard is able to spot new consumer trends before government data can capture them. For example, while analysts were looking to the apparel sector to detect a consumer recovery from the financial crisis, MasterCard’s data revealed a key indicator: jewelry—the ultimate discretionary purchase—was the fastest-growing category in October 2013. Similarly, spending on restaurants and travel has rebounded decisively as consumers spend more on experiences. Capitalizing on these trends as marketers, though, requires spotting them through data analysis.

“You as Chicago Booth people have a huge edge because you actually understand numbers,” Quinlan said.

Experience-driven consumption also came up in a conversation with Edgardo Navarro, ’85, president of McDonald's Latin America, who spoke on the challenge of adapting the consumer experience across countries.

“The US is more convenience-driven,” Navarro said. “Our markets in LatAm are more experience-driven. We can’t compete on convenience because there are so many vendors selling food on every corner.”

Meanwhile, Ted Wright, ’00, owner and managing partner of Fizz Corp., discussed the rise of word-of-mouth marketing that has accompanied the prominence of social media. The key for marketers, he said, is not to reach the masses, but rather a few key influencers—individuals who get satisfaction out of sharing stories with friends. Easier said than done: “This network you can’t buy your way into,” Wright said. “You don’t find influencers. Influencers find you.” Wright used influencers in the revamp of Pabst Blue Ribbon, who wore the brand a badge that says, “I haven’t sold out.” By identifying something outside of the can that resonated with consumers, Wright’s team was able to “make PBR a thing again.”

In addition to understanding the consumer, another key theme across the tables was the rising importance of using data to tailor marketing to individual consumer preferences. Andrew Cipra, ’05, vice president of marketing for Dish Network, discussed how much more targeted advertising has become and how this has revitalized the TV ad market.

“Something we know that ESPN doesn’t, is where someone lives and what they watch,” Cipra said.

In contrast, Jesse Singh, ’93, senior vice president of marketing and sales for the 3M Company, spoke on the challenges that come with the lack of data available in business to business marketing.

“We have to be a lot more creative about how to get data,” Singh said. “B2B marketers are flying blind compared with B2C.”

The students sitting around the tables in Room 104 of Harper Center were pursuing a range of careers in marketing and other functions, but in general Dubé has seen a marked rise in marketing interest among Booth students since he joined the school in 2000, when “marketing was considered a service area.”

This is no surprise, Dubé said, given the post-MBA options marketing offers: “If you take someone who is comfortable with quantitative analysis, the career opportunities in marketing right now are so much more exciting than the opportunities in finance.” —Julie Ginsberg