At first glance, Jim Stengel’s marketing class at the UCLA Anderson School of Management looks like any other business school seminar.
The students come into the lecture theatre, turn on their laptops and listen to Mr Stengel, his colleague Sanjay Sood and a guest lecturer – from a different company each week – hold forth on a variety of topics, from ideals-driven marketing to “activating” the personal brands of managers and employees.
But a closer inspection reveals that the students are all using Twitter and Facebook during the lesson, which is where Mr Stengel breaks from the norm. Rather than condone social networking as distracting, he encourages its use during classes to stimulate discussion and allow the students to share ideas and links related to relevant topics in real time.
“We tell the students on the first day that this is the Saturday Night Live of business classes,” he says. “They’re using Twitter, they’re blogging ... we want to prepare them to be advocates of this way of thinking.”
Ten per cent of the students’ grades come from an assessment of their social media use – before, during and after the class. This may sound unconventional but Mr Stengel is no ordinary teacher.
In his former role as global marketing officer at Procter & Gamble, the consumer products group behind brands ranging from Crest toothpaste to Duracell batteries, he ushered in a new approach to marketing and advertising, one that emphasised the need to forge closer emotional bonds between brands and consumers capable of withstanding the rapidly evolving media environment.
With the fragmentation of television audiences and the rise of the internet, he declared existing marketing models “obsolete” and once told an audience of the American Association of Advertising Agencies: “We must accept the fact that there is no ‘mass’ in ‘mass media’ any more.”
His departure from his high position at one of the world’s biggest advertisers shocked the marketing community when he left in October 2008 to form his own company and take a position as adjunct professor at UCLA Anderson. The school, he says, “was the right fit for what I wanted to do”.
Judy Olian, dean of Anderson, says: “I saw an announcement about Jim’s retirement from P&G and immediately e-mailed him – along with every other major university, I’m sure.
“The stars lined up and we were able to recruit Jim to Anderson. I consider him a branding guru and a remarkable gift to our MBA students and faculty.”
A long-time friend of Prof Olian, Mr Stengel was asked to pass on to the school’s MBA students some of the knowledge he had learnt in his 25 years at P&G.
“This is a school that likes to innovate,” he says, proud of the unconventional format that he and Prof Sood, who specialises in research into marketing management, brand management, advertising and consumer behaviour, have put together.
The course, taught for the first time in the winter of 2010, is structured around Mr Stengel’s view of what marketing should – and should not – be. It is the subject of his new book, due out later this year, Grow: How the World’s Best Businesses use the Power of Ideals to Outshine the Competition, and centres on his philosophy of the “brand ideal tree”.
He argues that a core group of values and ideals form the basis from which a brand grows, whatever the product or company. His class explores a group of companies that he believes has the right approach.
“We’re modelling in class what great brand behaviour looks like,” he says. Students have a chance to deconstruct some of these brands by performing a “brand audit” – a consulting project for a number of companies that have sent executives to the class. The students are divided into teams, which deconstruct the brand in question. Participating companies include Luxxotica, which owns the Ilori sunglasses brand, Toyota and Intel. In the case of Toyota, the student audits were presented to the company’s senior management team. The students offered Toyota a unique perspective, says Mr Stengel.
“There were a lot of things that got the class thinking but one of the big ones was how this generation of people in their 20s [want to] buy or lease their transport. It’s very different from how companies have typically sold their cars.”
The ideas presented by the students got Toyota thinking, says Bill Fay, vice-president for marketing at the carmaker. “Jim’s students came in and participated with some of the things we did,” he says. The class, he adds, “is more of a living lab ... Jim selected two teams to make a 15-20 minute presentation to us”.
“The amount of work they had put in, their thinking and their insight ... it was very impressive. Some of it was a reaffirmation of the things that we are doing [but] we are also looking at our brands and how we might make some adjustments to our marketing.”
The class has had a varied range of guest speakers, including Simon Clift, the former chief marketing officer for Unilever, Brian Fravel, director of marketing with Intel, and Alex Tosolini, the vice-president of global e-commerce at P&G.
For the MBA students in the class, Mr Stengel and the high-level contacts he can draw on, makes for a different kind of teaching experience. Hannah Ko completed a consulting project with Ilori as part of Mr Stengel’s course. “We were able to apply the theories we learnt in class. The company was very co-operative and has folded us into their own strategy and marketing team.”
The key to the brand ideal as taught by Mr Stengel is to get under the skin of a company, she adds. “What we’re learning ... is that you have to understand what a company is. Then consumers can learn that as well.”