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Marketing Officers

2020 Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit: A New Brand Framework Built on Social Action

Summary of two discussions Egon Zehnder hosted at the Summit

The 10th anniversary Kellogg Marketing Leadership Summit was unlike any other — a virtual setting that brought more attendees than ever before and content focused on humanity, empathy and resilience, underpinned by diversity and inclusion.

For brands, this translates to being of service — to your employees, customers and communities — and taking social action. As Jim Stengel, Senior Fellow and Adjunct Professor, Kellogg School of Management, put it, “This is the new brand framework.”

These ideas especially ring true during a time of crisis. The actions leaders take now will reveal what your brand truly stands for. Your customers will remember. The executive speakers were optimistic and advised companies to focus on what’s possible, not what’s broken.

Egon Zehnder hosted two sessions, including a panel moderated by Cynthia Soledad, Global Co-Leader of our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Practice, about how companies can live up to their D&I commitments through their brands. We also hosted a conversation on leadership with Chris Kempczinski, President & CEO, McDonald’s. Here are the highlights.

Panel Discussion: Empathy and Inclusion Through Brands

Fama Francisco, CEO Global Baby & Feminine Care, P&G; Sherri Gilligan, Chief Marketing Officer, Mayo Clinic; and Carla Hassan, Chief Marketing Officer, Citi shared how their brands are taking on inclusion gaps they know the people they serve experience in their daily lives. Deeply understanding the lives of their consumers yields human truths. These insights form the basis of powerful marketing content that has the potential to benefit both society and the brands themselves.

Fama’s FemCare team, for example, found out that over half of girls lose confidence at puberty. The brand built a campaign that redefined the descriptor of doing things “like a girl” from a negative to an incredibly positive statement, empowering young girls to own the saying and be proud of their gender. In another social re-framing example, Fama’s Baby Care team uncovered the insight that working moms around the world are guilt-ridden and worry that they may not be good moms. The brand campaign invites those moms to instead “see themselves the way their babies see them” – a hero, the center of their world, capable of anything. Citi recognizes the powerful role it can play as one the world’s largest Financial Services institutions in closing wealth gaps and pay disparities. Carla shared a beautiful video shot and directed by women highlighting the commitment Citi has to closing the gender pay gap. The spot featured the daughters of Citi employees reacting with disbelief and disappointment that women are often paid less than men, and with determination that it should be different. Sherri’s team at Mayo Clinic recognized the power that comes from having answers about one’s health issues. Through their incomparable research and medical care, Mayo can give those answers, and their campaign demonstrated personal empowerment and sense-making that comes from having that understanding. Sherri also shared how committed Mayo is to serving diverse communities and ending the types of health disparities that have been laid bare by the COVID crisis. These are just a few examples of the types of opportunities brands have to not only impact their consumers, but change the zeitgeist for all.

Marketers Help the Business Prepare for and have Impact

Of course, affecting change takes more than awareness. Organizational leaders must be comfortable with the uncomfortable. They need to back social actions — those which align with the company’s values, what a brand stands for, and that support business imperatives. In Citi’s case, it published pay gap figures for women and minorities in the US and laid out its plan to address the issue.

Though it’s easy to assume the world welcomes brands tackling societal issues, negative reactions should also be expected. Good or bad — they’re a sign of impact. As the voice of consumers and customers, marketers help the business prepare for public response. And, as a data-driven function, marketing brings facts to emotional conversations to keep messaging grounded in the consumer insights about the brand.

The Case for Diversity

Companies must be reflective of the communities it serves. Studies repeatedly show that organizations with greater diversity perform better. They yield better shareholder returns and provide a higher level of service to their customers. This improvement can only be realized if a full spectrum of voices, both internal and external, are represented.

Carla suggests three questions as a guide. Ask yourself: Does anything in your diversity, equality or inclusion space feel unsound? If so, what’s the uncomfortable truth behind that? What do you plan to do about it? She said, “The answer will be a big determinant of your brand and personal legacies.”

In Conversation – McDonald’s on managing crisis: Get back to your brand’s values

In taking the helm last year during a sensitive time at the company, followed quickly by the abrupt change forced by the pandemic, Chris Kempczinski, President & CEO, McDonald’s, stressed the value of unscripted, authentic communication from leaders, what it means to define culture and be truly purpose-led, as well as focus on the priorities that are most important right now.

During a conversation with Rory Finlay, Head of the Global Consumer Practice and Dick Patton, Head of Global CEO Practice, Egon Zehnder, Chris told the story of his first town hall as CEO. “I spoke about my character, family and values as well as vision for leading the company, but not too business-specific. It was all about the human element,” he said.

This open, honest approach — especially among senior leadership — “and communication like I've never had to deal with in my career before” helped carry McDonald’s through the global health crisis, which has also forced the company to reprioritize. Non-essential initiatives ceased in favor of only the business-critical projects that support the company’s mission.

This last year has also meant moving from operational execution to truly embracing and defining the culture that Chris envisions for McDonald’s, one that is led by values and people who embody them. The future will be guided by a digital-first strategy and up-leveled marketing function, all while they develop the next generation of company leaders.

A new brand framework requires a new type of marketer

Overall, as the global crisis continues, the consensus at the Summit was that brands must “transform or die” — getting back to their essences and going from customer-centric to human-centric. Marketers play a vital role in the transformation.

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