Kevin Roberts on Dreams a the World Business Forum 2007

November 10, 2007

in dreams, marketing

What a best way of starting to populate this blog than some conclusions on Kevin Robert’s participation to the recent World Business Forum 2007 that took place in Milan 23-24 October. Why him? Well, he’s probably the most representative speaker for a marketer (though I really don’t consider myself a pure blood marketing guy, but a business developer that is lately dedicating most of his business time to something that could be tagged as marketing).

Kevin started with a strong pulse. He felt as the “meat of the sandwich” because his speech was inserted between an italian legend like Alex Zanardi and Renzo Rosso (founder and CEO of Diesel, whom he technically defined as a “fucking genious!“)… “I [Kevin Roberts] am the monkey and Renzo is the organ grinder”. But this feeling didn’t put him aback and he went on in his characteristic provocative way: “in the next hour I’ll try to insult you all, and if I miss you… don’t worry.. no matter what sex you are, what football team you support, whether you’re gay or straight, old or young or all of them… I WILL FIND YOU!

Immediately after came his most mobilizing affirmation: “it is a great time to be alive in business because everything is changing”. And then came his first straight punch to the jaw of the paradigm of many managers (specially those with an MBA): “I have zero belief in strategy” (and while he was saying it he hoped Michael Porter -another WBF 2007 speaker- was not still roaming in the plenary room).

I believe the success of a company can be measured directly in inverse proportion to the amount in time it spends on strategy

Does he really believe that strategies are of no use? My impression is that he does not, but it serves as a provocation against a very general concept that is too often abused. And it’s precisely this abuse of strategy that he fires his guns to. “Strategy” could be applied to businesses in general and also to the micro-activities that compose a company. Roberts attacks static strategies product of too much jerking off, which try to forecast everything on paper or create weird hypotheses to consider every possible aspect (have you ever seen a dot.com Business Plan in the late 90’s? I have and…). Why are strategies useless? “Because we live in a world in constant change, where consumers are not strategic, business are not strategic and governments are not strategic” (come and teach us italians about that!).

Kudos to Kevin on a good argument.

We used to believe in government, religion, the family. We can’t look to this institutions for leadership anymore”.

Business is the main event, but not business as practiced today in America and the so called developed world. I am not in favor of capitalism of exclusion. The future for business is inclusive capitalism”.

To his Cambridge MBA students he teaches that “the role of business is to make the world a better place for everyone. Because only we in business can create new jobs, create choice, create self esteem. And that should their role be. It’s a hell of a challenge because until now the main focus of business was only to create shareholder value (which is pretty obvious)”.

And he showed the following video about how they handle challenge in New Zealand (Kevin’s motherland):

Everything relies on the way you set up your business. Our XXI Century society (well, not all societies but that of some European, American and Asian markets) is experiencing a steep power shift that has taken power back to consumers.

His first practical tips and probably the most important (that I hope to make mine): “Go back to your business tomorrow and wright down your dream… get rid of your vision and mision statements”.

We must give much more importance to dreams. “You have to have a dream… People want to be part of a dream, want inspiration, work for something bigger that a product, a dream is about reaching for the stars, not counting them”.

If you’re working for a company that does not have that great dream, change the dream… or change the company!

For those who have never seen Kevin Roberts live, he makes a great introduction to the Lovemark concept (he has recently published Lovemarks Effect). To better explain how a lovemark positions itself against a “normal” brand, he places them on two axis: Love and Respect.

  • Low Respect + Low Love: commodities. “no life here. it’s all the same, all crap”.
  • High Respect + Low Love: most brands are here (in particular the classic ones)
  • Low Respect + High Love: Brands that are fashionable now, which live a short but intense life (reality shows, tv, britney spears. “no money to be made here”).
  • High Respect + High Love: Lovemarks!

The following are some other short concepts I cherish from his speech:

  • Not “attention economy” (to bombard people to capture their attention). We live in the “attraction economy”. From interruption to engagement.
  • There are two kinds of ROI. The “wrong one”, Return on Investment, difficult to calculate and not always representative, and the “right one”: Return on Involvement, which concentrates on the empathic relation with people/consumers.
  • Move from big promises to intimate gestures… (“consumer is sick of all this promises and false claims… everybody is claiming the same stuff: bigger, faster, whiter, cleaner…”)
  • You must not become marketers anymore, you must become connectors!
  • Consumers don’t want to be marketed… “they’re too fast, too wise…”. “You must learn to connect with them… to give up control”. This reminds me of so many company blogs that don’t want to give up control, that don’t accept the rules of a medium which should have sincerity and freedom of expression as an undiscussed base. So many companies treat their blogs as an extension of their direct marketing instruments, losing the opportunity to develop a communication channel which allows them to interact with their own customers, fans, prospects and more generally, the world itself.
  • Stop thinking about consumers and start thinking about people” (louder please, it’s about PEOPLE!!!)
  • No btob or btoc but ptop” (people-to-people)
  • Wright connectivity plans, not marketing plans!” (I swear I’ll try!!)
  • Lovemarks belive in mistery, sensuality and intimacy
  • Rationality leads to conclusions. Emotions lead to action
  • Big budgets do not matter. People don’t know how to spend that money anyway.

The only thing I didn’t fully understand was his joke on Al Gore, who according to Roberts got the Nobel Price on “good powerpoint use”. Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth does strongly use a powerpont-esque presentation, but it was structured like a movie, the kind of stuff Saatchi & Saatchi does in many of its spots. From my point of view, Al Gore’s work is strongly based in SiSoMo -sight, sound and motion- more than what Roberts wants to give him credit for. I’ll try to ask Kevin the next time I’ll happen to meet him (if you know me, you know that during the events that we organize I hardly have time to socialize with speakers, as I’m always working in the background, taking care that everything works the way it has to…).

This edition of the World Business Forum has also been about leadership with General Colin Powell, strategy with Michael Porter, design with Giorgetto Giugiaro and Renzo Rosso, innovation with Clayton Christensen, the experience of top CEOs like Antonio Perez (Kodak) and Bruce Chizen (Adobe), Alex Zanardi’s speech on safety and responsibility, world economics with Alan Greenspan and exploring our next 50 years with technologist and futurist Ray Kurzweil… and then so much networking, a series of conferences with more than 30 italian speakers and a great exhibition area.

This is the spot he used to close his speech

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