"Telling and selling" is defunct.
Procter & Gamble's Jim Stengel described a major cultural shift that he believes is turning the world's largest marketer into a starter of conversations and a solver of consumers' problems rather than a one-way communicator. "It's not about telling and selling," said the global marketing officer of the company that once lived by that simple mantra. "It's about bringing a relationship mind-set to everything we do."
Lived up to its billing
Mr. Stengel's 4A's Media Conference and Trade Show address, which lived up to its billing as one of the must-see sessions here, opened with his Second Life avatar visiting the virtual Leo Burnett, the marketer's real-world ad agency. And there were plenty of references to the need to understand all such two-way, community-oriented technologies, as Mr. Stengel noted that his travels to Korea have shown him the potential for the "complete irrelevance of what we call traditional media."
But rather than using his speech for one of those "Go digital or go under" warning cries that we've heard before from marketing leaders like Mr. Stengel, he used his platform to describe a different set of imperatives: the need for brands to be authentic, trustworthy and generous.
He described, for example, how P&G took a "human" approach to getting its Folgers factory back up and running after production was crippled by Hurricane Katrina, and how the stories told on film by that factory's employees were used in Folgers' advertising. The end result of the stories and of P&G's focus on its employees lives rather than on the factory's output? The brand not only regained its market share, but has since surpassed its pre-hurricane mark.
Describing a trust-starved world, Mr. Stengel insisted that "generous brands," a coinage he attributed to Fitch Branding, will be winners. By way of examples of generosity, he referenced Starbucks composting its coffee grounds, Amazon giving users other users' reviews, and P&G's own Aerial brand creating a "safe, clean place" for the people of Venezuala's Caracas to do their laundry.
All this sounded rather fluffy compared to the media-oriented attendees' debates over commercial ratings and transaction standards, and Mr. Stengel noted as much. "But think how that sounded to a data-driven organization like P&G," he said, before going on to list numerous P&G brands that he believes have already managed to shift to this relationship-focused thinking.
All this talk of generosity and honesty, might have sounded a little inauthentic itself, if Mr. Stengel hadn't made clear at every turn that there is an underlying metric used to measure all this stuff—sales. As he put it rather pithily: "Market share is trust materialized."
Agencies, take note
Some of the P&G agencies listening to all this will have wondered where they fit in and must have noted that Mr. Stengel's thinking today is clearly focused on conversational two-way technologies (in particular mobile), word-of-mouth, and building real brand experiences with -- not just for -- customers. What that means for the conference crowd here, many of whom are still obsessing over the finer points of distinctly tell-it-and-sell-it media, remains to be seen, but at least Mr. Stengel gave them a welcome break from arguing over how best to quantify their viewing numbers.