Branding, corporate values, word of mouth—Americus Reed’s marketing course shows how any business can reach consumers on a deeper level.
“Sell more stuff to more people more often for more money”—that quote from a Coca-Cola executive is the essence of marketing, says Whitney M. Young Jr. Professor of Marketing Americus Reed. In Customer Analysis, his course for Executive MBAs, Reed takes a more nuanced look at both the field and something that is critical for the success of any business. “Marketing is a strategic process to understand your customers at a deep level,” Reed says. “It’s essentially applied disciplinary topics from other areas— psychology, economics, statistics, sociology, ethnography. A big part of the class is marrying creativity with analytics.” Reed dispenses with textbooks and combines his own research with curated readings, insights from industry experts, and experiential learning. (He also offers a modified version to undergrads, titled Consumer Behavior.)
The course unpacks the four key areas of marketing: segmentation, targeting, positioning, and messaging. The culmination of the course is a group project in partnership with a team of executives from a real-world company to analyze those four aspects of its business. Previous collaborators include Payless ShoeSource, Microsoft, and Nike, which eventually used a concept in its flagship retail stores that came directly from Reed’s students. Guest lecturers also stop by Reed’s weekly Marketing Matters show on Wharton Business Radio, Sirius XM 111, and these podcasts are used as outside “readings” to prepare for in-class discussions.
Episode 1: What Is a Brand?
Josh Feldmeth, senior partner at global marketing firm Prophet, explores how the essential paradigm has changed from broadcasting to a set of consumers to a “bi-directional” approach in which the users shape both the product and its messaging. “Consumers are part of the conversation,” Reed says. “How do you navigate this world where you’re giving up control?” Feldmeth discusses how heavy hitters like Amazon and Google have handled this new reality and how the C-suite crowd can’t afford to be silent anymore.
Episode 2: How to Be a Unique Brand
“A big part of branding is creating something unique,” Reed says, and Elizabeth Windram WG09, brand director of JetBlue, talks about “how to stand out in a sea of sameness.” To examine differentiation, she looks at two products that most people don’t scrutinize beyond price points: wine, and her own business, airlines, where she’s tasked with creating loyalty that’s deeper than frequent flier miles.
Episode 3: Brands and Companies Connect Through Values
Aligning corporate values with the world is the focus of this conversation with Drexel University marketing professor Daniel Korschun. His theory supports the thesis of one of Reed’s favorite TED Talks, by consultant Simon Sinek: Customers don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it. Korschun looks at when companies should brand around the values they stand for and the impacts for those that have taken public positions, like Google, with its misogynist memo writer. “You can’t claim values willynilly,” says Reed. “You need a track record of being a valuesbased organization. Even if people disagree, they’ll respect you.”
Episode 4: How Do You Create and Measure Customer Centricity?
Reed chats with the man who literally wrote the book on the subject—marketing professor and Frances and Pei-Yuan Chia Professor Peter Fader, who debunks the myth that the customer is always right. Fader translates his analytical models—complex, but deceptively easy to do— and suggests where to put resources so customers respond. While he says not every customer is worth focusing on, you need to be obsessed with serving the ones who have long-term, impactful value.
Episode 5: Measuring Brand Effectiveness
How much is a Facebook “like” really worth to your business? Drexel marketing professor Elea Feit takes a closer look at using analytics as a tool and the methods of communicating your message. “Everyone thinks they have to be on Twitter and Instagram as a brand,” says Reed. “But do you know if that’s more valuable than sending a brochure or an e-newletter? These are deep ROI issues.”
Episode 6: How to Create and Manage Word of Mouth
Broadcast is dead—what moves markets is word of mouth. That’s the mantra of Fizz CEO Ted Wright. (He’s the reason Pabst Blue Ribbon made a comeback in the early 2000s and why you’re now thinking of chocolate milk as a sports drink.) Wright shares insights into creating WOM that doesn’t feel like corporate shtick, social media influencers, and the principles he uses to get people talking.
Published as “Make Better Customer Connections” in the Fall/Winter 2017 issue of Wharton Magazine.