Virtual conferences are structured events, with smartly taped talks and polished appearances. It’s in the live Q&A sessions that personalities really emerge as speakers exchange views on pressing issues.

IT World Canada’s president and CMO, Fawn Annan, had the opportunity to channel some Q&A enthusiasm on Nov. 6 at Strategic Marketing USA, a Reuters Event that assembled more than 5,000 virtual attendees to hear some of the world’s most influential CMOs. Annan’s guests for the session were three of the conference’s key speakers: Martha Boudreau, AARP’s chief communications and marketing officer, Brad Hiranga, chief brand officer for General Mills, and Doug Jensen, SVP, CRM, corporate marketing analytics and innovation insights for Estée Lauder Companies.

The session began with a question from Annan about the absolute must-have metrics required in order to ensure an organization’s accountability. Jensen referred to the marketing mix modelling outlined in his talk, emphasizing the importance of incorporating a multi-stage approach to measure the marketing impacts on the consumer funnel and connect the results. For Boudreau, in her role with a non-profit, the prime metrics are around engagement metrics, including the number of memberships and renewals. “For us, sales is membership,” she said. Brad Hiranga described the ‘Force for Good’ ambition built into some General Mills brands and spoke about metrics related to social accountability.

The General Mills emphasis on service surfaced again when Hiranga responded to Boudreau’s description of the metrics specific to non-profits. “As a food company that sells products, we are actually learning a lot from organizations that are more service-based,” he said, noting that retention is hard to quantify because General Mills sells to large retailers like Walmart. With the pandemic, however, and a greater shift to online ordering, people are no longer doing their shopping by walking down a specific aisle in a store, which adds a new dimension to marketing initiatives.

In response to a question from Annan about the lessons learned from COVID-19, Boudreau spoke about the importance of listening, pulling examples from AARP’s sophisticated voice of the consumer (VOC), a program that since March 2020 has collected nearly 9 million pieces of consumer feedback across 10 different data sources, including phone calls, emails, social media, and Net Promoter Scores. “At no time more than during COVID, and in the months ahead, is it more important to really listen,” she said.

Jensen echoed the importance of listening to how consumers talk about what they need and then responding in kind. “I’ve turned into a kind of social listening expert,” he said with a laugh. “I talked today about measurements and increments, but at Estée Lauder Companies we put that off to the side for six months and focused on listening. We might have had goals for a certain mix of business online, but a lot of that is already happening today. It’s really about paying attention to all the signals.”

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