Marketers with a background in consumer packaged goods have experience that translates well to any industry, according to Don Scheibenreif, ’92, former vice president for government and health care at W.W. Grainger, Inc. “In CPG, you are trained to be dropped into just about any situation and figure it out,” he said.
Scheibenreif was among marketing executives who shared their expertise with students in the Evening MBA and Weekend MBA programs at a July 10 event sponsored by the student-led Booth Marketing Club at Gleacher Center.
Much of a marketer’s knowledge begins with examining what customers want—and what they don’t know they want, he said. “What needs do they have, and how is your company meeting those needs?” Scheibenreif said. “More importantly, are you able to listen to what they are not asking for? Companies that are able to listen to what consumers are not asking for are able to do very well.”
The same approach to consumers should be used in entrepreneurial ventures, said Katie Das, ’03, founder and owner of Das Foods LLC, which makes artisanal caramels. “Many small companies will do what they feel is right, which is very biased,” Das said. “Owners say, ‘Well, I like it. My husband likes it. We should launch it. Let’s spend $28,000 on inventory, keep it here, and sell it.’”
Listen to the Customer
Marketers must remember that consumers are “never stupid” and must play an integral role in the process of vetting an idea, she said. “Those type of qualitative and quantitative consumer insight skills are super applicable in an entrepreneurial environment,” Das said. “Properly executing that process is what will make you stand apart from other companies that do not effectively consider consumers.”
Traditionally, CPG marketing consists of customer-shopper marketing, upstream design, and managing delivery, said Keith Johnson, a student in the Weekend MBA Program. Customer-shopper roles cover both marketing to customers in a store and to the retailer, Johnson said. Upstream design takes projects from consumer concepts to execution, while delivery manages daily business in a region, he said.
“What’s emerging now are many new roles in the brand management and marketing of disruptive innovation,” Johnson said. “Additionally, you’re seeing a lot of relationship marketing in online commerce.”
Marketing has evolved extensively over the last 20 years, said Fern O’Neill, associate director of career services, who moderated the panel. “There used to be a brand manager and maybe an innovation manager,” O’Neill said. “That was it. Everything was done within that larger team. Now it’s very segmented.”
In the past, marketing executives were responsible for managing their own careers, even within the same company, she said. “Each individual was responsible for determining what their long-term goals, making sure they got experience in customer marketing and innovation, depending on the role they ultimately wanted,” O’Neill said. “There were very clear roles and expectations, depending on what your goals were.”
The panelists provided valuable advice MBAs can use both on the job and as they pursue careers in marketing, said Frank Chai, a student in the Evening MBA Program. “In every job, you need communication,” Chai said. “I’ve seen projects fail because people are not good at communicating. You also have to be able to take initiative and be proactive in taking advantage of as many opportunities as possible. These things are all very important in climbing the career ladder.”