Sanjay Sood and Jim Stengel

April 26, 2010

By Paul Feinberg

Residing at the intersection of theory and practice, one of UCLA Anderson's newest courses - The CMO Experience: Strategic Brand Management - seamlessly merges academic research with real-world experience, offering students the opportunity to explore branding best practices while understanding the underlying theories. Taught jointly by Sanjay Sood, associate professor of marketing at UCLA Anderson, and Jim Stengel, formerly the global marketing officer of Procter & Gamble and currently an adjunct professor of marketing at Anderson, the course bills itself as a "living lab," one that takes students on "the entire journey of a brand."

The course complements the traditional lecture/case approach and takes the show on the road through a series of field trips. Students visit Rodeo Drive (to examine how brand strategy gets activated in retail), Target offices (to examine how brand portfolios are managed within a brand) and advertising giant TBWA (to examine how brands are built, managed and maintained over the long haul). On campus, students engage with a series of guest speakers who join class discussions, including Alex Tosolini, vice-president of Procter & Gamble; Mike Allen, managing partner of 180LA; Monique Bonner, director of global branding for Dell; David Lubars, chief creative officer at BBDO; and David Cavander, chief science and innovation officer of Market Share Partners.

Making a Difference
"We told the students on day one that our objective in this course was to inspire them with the notion that marketing, the practice of bringing a brand to life, can make a huge difference in people's lives, a positive difference," Stengel said. "We wanted to inspire them through practical experiences, academic experiences and by teaching a new framework and a new approach to business and brands."

The course, Stengel explained, is organized around this framework, beginning with revelations about the particulars of different brand's beliefs and values, then an examination of how they reflect the beliefs and values of the brand's consumers or customers. From there, students learn the tactics, including organizational strategies, points of difference and points of parity and other nuts and bolts issues. Branding, Stengel said, is the entity, the centering focus of the company. Marketing is the practice of bringing the brand to life.

"Companies call it different things," Stengel said. "What I found in my study and in my experience is, if marketing isn't central to the company, it's not a leading company."

Stengel's study was carried out with UCLA Anderson researchers and Millward Brown Optimor, a leading global research agency specializing in advertising, marketing communications, media and brand equity research. It looked at how different brands have grown over a nine-year period, both financially and in terms of customer loyalty. Stengel started with 50,000 brands, narrowed it down to the top 50. The resulting analysis will be the basis of his upcoming book, "Grow," which will compare and contrast best practices and differences between top brands. The lessons distilled in "Grow" not only formed the basis for much of the course, they also helped form a bond between Stengel, the practitioner, and Sood, the professor.

A Shared Vision
"Jim and I worked well together, because we see a lot of branding issues in the same way," Sood said. "In fact, we discovered early on that his philosophy on branding is very similar to mine, and in fact, his book on brand ideals or purpose-driven marketing contains specifics that I am investigating in my own academic research."

This shared vision of purposeful marketing permeates the course's underlying message. As an example from his days at Procter & Gamble, Stengel noted that Pampers (the largest brand in the P&G universe) at one point saw its sales dropping. He said this was the result of the brand losing sight of why it was created. He explained that they were invented to help mothers and babies live their lives better, with more health and convenience and more happiness. When the brand returned to that original idea, the product program changed, the people that it attracted and recruited changed, the culture changed, the communication changed and the brand started to grow 10 percent plus, he said.

"When creating and building a brand, go back to the beginning and understand why the product or company was originally conceived," Stengel said. "Then talk to a lot of people who are important to the brand, employees, retail customers (if you sell through retail), certainly end customers, other stake holders and agencies. Then also be in touch with the values of your customers, because the brand should reflect those values. That's a long way of saying, go back to the origin. Make explicit the values of the people you're serving, and in that, you will reveal the meaning and the ideal of the brand."

Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts
Sood said the course, taught for the first time in winter quarter 2010, had a number of highlights for him, including the visit with Procter & Gamble's Tosolini and the trip to advertising-giant TBWA, where the class discussed the innovative branding ideas and tactics behind Pepsi Refresh and Pedigree dog food. The professor also said he learned a lot from the practitioner.

"In academics, we don't get the chance very often to speak with somebody of Stengel's stature in one conversation, let alone having a whole class together," Sood said. "What we do in research is one step removed from what happens in practice, and to hear Jim talk about his career and what programs he put in place starts to trigger different research ideas almost immediately. I think Jim and I will work on some projects together that came directly out of the class."

From his own career experience, Stengel has distilled what he thinks are the two vital qualities that worked for him and for other people that he has observed along the way. He said that being a great brand manager and a great entrepreneur are very similar in this regard. First, they are curious, always asking why and not just taking the accepted truth without question. Second, they want to make an impact. He also said that these successful leaders help to keep everyone else focused on the three or four things that can really make a big difference for their company, so their values and ideals don't get lost in day-to-day distractions. And, to keep the central focus for his students, Stengel said that there is just one main take-away or lesson from the class, a simple one: "That great marketing and great brands can change the world."

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