Every year the Customer Strategies for Sustained Growth conference brings a group of about 30 business school academics from around the world to INSEAD’s campus on the edge of the forest of Fontainebleau. The objective of the conference is to promote thinking about sustained growth and to talk about ways of introducing this thinking into business school curricula. In these recessionary times when growth seems elusive, ways of sustaining it (at least at the firm level) are all the more necessary. The conference is a small, well organized meeting in which discussions with friends, over delicious meals and nice wines, meander through topics both academic and non.
The formal sessions include plenaries in which three speakers present brief, insightful ideas, followed by a general discussion, as well breakout parallel tracks in which a speaker walks the audience through a deeper hour-long discussion of an idea.
“Customer strategies for sustained growth” is a sufficiently large tent to allow for a wide variety of topics and perspectives. For example, this year’s presentations included papers on innovation and innovation adoption, competitive advantage, social responsibility, emerging markets, the internet and web design, brands and branding, inter-disciplinary thinking, sales, the sales-accounting interface, business models, consumers’ reactions to service failures, and the teaching of consumer behavior and technology management.
I always come away from this conference with some neat insights and ideas. Since it is an inter-disciplinary conference, I get to see presentations outside of the marketing literature. This year, for example, Luis Almeida Costa (Nova University, Lisbon) presented evidence on how companies with a unique resource as a competitive advantage may still end up losing money (and may even reduce industry profitability) if their competitors’ are forced to cut prices to compete with the deployment of this resource. In other words, your competitive advantage could spark a price war.
Sridhar Moorthy (Rotman School, University of Toronto) sketched an idea that distinguished between brands born of products versus brands born of marketing activities. Consumers know and understand the Google brand through our use of its products rather than through its positioning activities. Pepsi is a brand we come to know through its marketing activities. The Pepsi generation is an arbitrary (constructed) association that could just as well apply to any other cola, or indeed any product. This distinction led to a lively discussion in which Sridhar asked us to consider if the internet would favor one type of brand over the other. Would purely marketing based brands stand up to the internet’s scrutiny? Will consumers view the web merely as another entertainment pipe through which they receive conventional brand related messages, or are the web’s particularities as a medium (its transparency and social networking) going to tilt the balance in favor of product-based brands versus marketing based brands?
Aaron Ahuvia (University of Michigan, Dearborn) presented a new way to teach consumer behavior in which less content is delivered with more impact, and the students really “get it” by engaging in carefully structured, progressively complex tasks. Aaron’s course design insights could apply widely to the design of any business school course.
A big thanks to Professors Jean-Claude Larreché and Hubert Gatignon for organizing the conference, and to INSEAD for hosting it.
I’m looking forward to meeting up with this group again next year, and readers of Just Marketing can look forward to insightful guest posts from some of the attendees at the conference.