Top thoughts from BRITE 2014

brite_logo_2013[1]Last week I was at the two-day BRITE conference, organized by the Columbia Business School “brand leadership” think tank. BRITE is for the most part a series of reflections on the impact of technology, delivered by high-level marketers from large companies.

If there was a common thread, it was the impact of technology on a company’s ability to “tell a story.” That is, craft the brand image. We heard plenty of big-budget successes, and savvy marketers can indeed adapt to truly leverage the technology.

Some presentations were just corporate PR, followed by softball questions from the crowd. The Kate Spade CMO had fetching and colorful slides, the IBM guy had complex charts to show deep thinking, and the appealing and dressed-down Warby Parker founder issued the oral version of a Fast Company feature.

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These monologues at least fulfilled the description of the event: “How technology and innovation are transforming the ways that companies build and sustain great brands.” By that yardstick, the conference was a good high-level mental retreat from the daily toils of emails and deadlines.

To make the talks more applicable to said toils, though, I would have liked to hear:

  • How you manage the innovation process. How do you build a portfolio of ideas, staff those projects (inhouse and outsourced), and choose winners among them?
  • The role of metrics; i.e. what KPI’s do you use, and how much importance do you attach to them at different stages in the innovation process?
  • Some occasional humility, acknowledging how the disintermediating power of the internet is an obvious transfer of leverage from seller to buyer.

An intriguingly titled panel on “How to Monetize Social Media” was undercut by the fact that all four panelists were from online publishing industry giants. At least we were entertained by the Buzzfeed COO’s japes at a New York Times SVP.

Good Thoughts

The IBM guy listed four new technology capabilities that affect marketing: mobile, social, analytics, and cloud. I think that’s a good list, useful when considering at your long-term plan for building business. Some companies should add “global” to that list.

Also from the IBM guy (OK, he has a name, John L. Kennedy) a reminder of what your customer needs to hear. 1) Do you know me? 2) What’s in it for me? 3) Why should I believe you?

The Warby Parker founder explicitly said marketing should “remove barriers to purchase,” which reminded me of a Kristin Zhivago mantra.

An ad agency exec (Sapient Nitro, I think) remarked, “Big [marketing] budgets tend to dictate a way of thinking that’s not innovative.” This sounds a bit more rebellious that it actually is. Small projects are the place to innovate.

Startup founder: “You’re not a true business until you’re making money.”


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