Wednesday, February 17, 2010

How to Get Ahead in this Crazy New World? My Take-Aways from a Conversation With the Chief Marketing Oficer of Frito-Lay North America

The world has changed.

Ann Mukherjee knows it. In case you don't know her, she's the mind behind the Doritos "Crash the Super Bowl" competition . . . where Doritos lovers created their own commercials to be aired on the superbowl. Thanks in part to that campaign's smash success, she's now the Chief Marketing Officer of Frito-Lay North America.

My marketing class was fortunate enough to have a discussion with her about marketing, careers, and decisions today. It was phenomenal.

During the talk, she kept coming back to three points. She presented them as simple facts. They were clear to her.

To me, they're more than just clear points. They are "rules" for the future, which many people do not yet understand. People who grasp them and make use of them will be prepared to succeed. Those who ignore them will be left behind. Here they are.

The points are hers. The interpretation is mine.

Point 1: In a world of intelligent people, curiosity and creativity are the differentiators.

It used to be that intelligence was enough to differentiate you. Not so anymore. Logically intelligent people are easier to find than ever before. A post-secondary education is just a foot in the door now. It doesn't mean that you're amazing.

In fact, Ann has shifted some of her recruiting efforts away from top business schools. She's replacing MBAs with design school graduates, as well as people with very strange backgrounds: world travelers was an example she gave.

These people do have to be smart. Don't get me wrong. However, they also need to be on the cutting edge. And what do cutting-edge idea generators have in common? They're curious. Endlessly curious.

But curiosity alone is not enough. These people need to be able to apply their wealth of knowledge productively. They need to come up with new ideas. They need to be able to envision new things. They need to be creative!

Intelligence? It's useful, but it's old news. In a group of intelligent people, the curious and the creative stand out.

Point 2: If you're going to do something meaningful, be prepared to give up control.

Ann illustrated this point with a wonderful story about the Doritos brand. When Stephen Colbert made his decision to run for president, he called Ann. He wanted to bring Doritos into his campaign as a sponsor. He offered them the sponsorship cheap . . . really cheap.

Financially it looked great, but there was a catch. Doritos could have no say in what he did with the brand. Nothing.

They took the offer. That's giving up control.

Most people aren't comfortable giving somebody else (especially somebody like Stephen Colbert) control over something that is important to them. That is good in some circumstances. But sometimes, we need to give up control.

As the idea, the cause, or the movement becomes large, retaining control becomes impossible. Get used to it. Learn how to give up control to the right people at the right times.

Point 3: Authenticity is a competitive advantage.

Ann had a great example of this. She explained, "When you aren't being authentic, Millenials can smell it. When you're trying to sell to them, they know it. And when they catch the scent, they stop listening."

People don't trust like they used to . . . and with good reason! Big Business? Washington? Institutions are ruining the names that took generations to build. Many are repeatedly failing to live up to the promises that they make to people.

Hiding disingenuous actions is nearly impossible these days. People find out. They write about it online. When enough people mass around a subject, the media latches onto it. The story explodes.

A few people and institutions are getting authenticity right. They make a claims. They stand for something. They make promises. Then they follow through without apology. They take the action to keep their own tribe happy . . . even when that action upsets others.

That is authenticity. It is being true to yourself and to those around you. Authenticity is not often looked at as a competitive advantage. In the future, it will be.

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Class today was brilliant. I feel extraordinarily fortunate that I was able to participate in it. It's great to be a student (Chicago Booth rocks!).

Thanks, Ann, for sharing your time and thoughts with us students . . . and thanks, Professor Dhar, for arranging it!