P&G’s 8th Alumni Conference: What’s in it for you? (A lot.)

P&G’s 8th Alumni Conference: What’s in it for you? (A lot.)

By Lori Yuhas
CEO & Managing Partner, Marquee Brand Builders


What a fantastic week in Cincinnati! Over 1,000 P&G Alumni from all around the world gathered October 10th - 12th to celebrate successes, make new connections, and bounce ideas around with other marketing trailblazers. Speakers included visionaries and leaders from companies like BuzzFeed, Coty, Logitech, Coca-Cola, Publicis, Google, Burt’s Bees, Mondelez, Arbonne, American Airlines and Vayner Media, to highlight just a few.

While megawatts of brainpower covered numerous topics, key themes were consistent with today’s C-Suite conversations. But for CPGers, the dominant message was to stay true to identifying and solving consumer needs & pain points, while taking what you’ve been taught about discipline in marketing execution and shaking it up, fearlessly.

Let’s get to it.

Key themes:

“Disrupt or be disrupted!”: The real-life Ironman is coming. 

Yawn. You’re hearing it all day, every day. I know. We’re in an era of unprecedented disruption. But are you taking it seriously? Disruption is real, and it’s happening all around us, in every category. The lower the capital investment required, the easier the disruption. No product, no brand, no category, no company, no leader can rest on its / his or her past successes. Nothing, and no one, is safe from erosion and potential extinction.

Rishad Tobaccowaia, Strategy & Growth Officer for Publicis, characterizes disruption as an “inconvenient truth” for tenured leaders and organizations who find their security in structure and routine. While disruption is creating benefits for consumers and wealth for disruptors, it has caused and will continue to cause big and often uncomfortable change for billions stuck in the status quo, both professionally and personally. Where are you on the disruption scale? (10) Accepting or (1) resisting? Why?

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Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO of Vayner Media, left scorched earth after challenging CPG’s long-held belief that big advertising is the preeminent way to reach and motivate consumers, predicting that many of today’s top 100 CPG brands (90% of whom lost market share last year) will no longer exist in 20 years because consumer attention is increasingly fragmented, and CPG companies aren’t keeping up with “media attention” trends through the “Middle Ages of Disruption”. In fact, several speakers shined a light on traditional advertising – “in a long-term, secular decline” – and quoted NYU professor and serial entrepreneur Scott Galloway, who famously quipped, "advertising has become a tax that the poor and technologically illiterate pay for entertainment."

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Google’s President of Brand Solutions, Kirk Perry, shined a spotlight on technologies coming down the pike that are going to spin our lives into the real-life Ironman age and beyond. (Kirk brilliantly opened his presentation by showcasing how the Jetsons and other pop culture TV/film programs foreshadowed many of the technologies we’re using today & are working on for tomorrow.) Themes of real-life Ironman age technologies include: 1) Accelerated Mobile Revolution, 2) Magical Customer Experiences, 3) Machine Learning / Artificial Intelligence, 4) Seamless Assistance (conversations with machines), 5) Immersive Experiences (e.g. virtual reality & augmented reality) and 5) Real-time Health Care. 

“Change is about to escalate,” Perry warned. And all of this technology (in concert with evolving consumer trends) is going to change reach, marketing and engagement the way we know it. Will you act, or be acted upon?

YOUR NEXT MOVE: Obviously, is face your fears and change before you have to. Self-disrupt and reinvent, even when things are going great.

Technology: Pick an Ironman-age theme or two, learn what you can about the technology, and get working on how you can leverage it to advance the way you deliver your product, service and/or category to the customers you serve.


Consumer trends: Nonni’s Foods CEO Brian Hansberry called out the food industry for ignoring another “inconvenient truth”: chemical-laden, manufactured foods high in sugar and salt have for decades been pumped out by large CPG while the trend was/is clearly in wellness & nutrition. Wha la! Small and large, purpose-driven wellness brands began slow eroding market shares. Former Starwood CEO & CFO Tom Mangas told alums that Starwood missed getting ahead of the peer-to-peer trend (Uber, Airbnb), which ultimately drove the sale of Starwood to Marriott. “Guest personalization at Starwood was necessary,” Mangas said, “but not sufficient” to differentiate, compete and thrive. The lesson? Don’t stick your head in the sand like the CPG food industry did, or make Starwood’s mistake. Start acting on consumer trends, now. As P&G’s retired CEO & Chairman A.G. Lafley said, “You have to gut it up. If you see a real consumer need, you are better off looking at it, pushing into it and taking a short-term margin hit. Otherwise, be cannibalized.” 

Competitors: During the conference, I engaged a brand-building executive at a leading pharmaceutical company who has a team actively anticipating & planning for, and against, Amazon’s anticipated moves. If you think Amazon can’t, or won’t, breach your category’s firewall, kindly think again. Besides Amazon, who else could take you out?

Consumers are large (in reach) and now in charge. 


The immersive, formative years I spent at P&G provided an exceptional (post-MBA) education in branded consumer marketing and disciplined business leadership. For decades, P&G has been the place that ambitious, excellence-oriented marketers & leaders go to learn, develop and launch their careers. While nearly every ex-P&G conference speaker, including CEOs Meg Whitman (ebay, HP), Scott Cook (Intuit) and Jim McNerney (GE, Boeing) began by remarking on how their professional successes were rooted in the discipline and consumer fundamentals ingrained into their DNAs at P&G (Scott Cook was the first to bring product (usability) testing to software), several speakers enlightened the audience with some outsider ideas on the subject. 

Among them:

Rishad Tobaccowaia (Strategy & Growth Officer, Publicis) pointed out the fact that brands are no longer marketing to consumers whom they’re striving to empower and enable. Rather, brands are marketing to “gods” who are already empowered and enabled. 

BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti took it a step further, suggesting “the model is no longer [measure] loyalty to the brand [like classical marketers have been taught]; the question now is ... is the brand loyal and of service to the people / the community”? 

Take a moment to let those two ideas sink in.

Then, listen up...

What used to be a one-way, brand-to-consumer conversation via TV, print and banner ads has evolved into meaningful two-way conversations anchored in shares, likes, video influencers, tweets, commentary and searches ... for brands who listen. Leo Burnett Group CEO Andrew Swinand challenged fellow marketing leaders to pay better attention: “There are 6 billion searches a day beginning with I want, I need, where is .... folks, people are telling us what they want, but brands aren’t listening!” Former CEO of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Cheryl Bachelder, advocated passionately for servant leadership within organizations, a mentality I believe must extend to brand leadership as well. Look around you. The best, most successful brands are listening, and have driven results by becoming servant-leaders to their customers, have they not?

Finally, the digital age has unleashed powerful benefits for consumers (personalization, responsiveness and social connectivity), and has put consumers – billions of voices – squarely in charge. Brands are capable of reaching far beyond the old boundaries of “local or national”; the digital age has made reach global, and immediate, and has paved the way for a new kind of brand – the social media brand (i.e. BuzzFeed’s Tasty) – to root and prosper. Consumers demand all types of brands – service brands, product brands, CPG brands, technology brands, personality brands, media brands, etc. But in a crowded theater with so many screens vying for attention, will your brand (continue to) get noticed? Or will your brand fade away? 

YOUR NEXT MOVE: “Seek to understand before trying to be understood.” Listening is a virtue P&G instilled in me from Day 1. So, listen up and listen in ... identifying & innovating around customer needs and pain points has never been more important to brands and leaders. Lift your head out of that spreadsheet and go out and talk to more customers. Sculpt five fresh questions you’ve never asked before. What can you learn from customers’ answers to shake up your thinking, and therefore your results?

Execution is King.

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In the age of digitization and disruption, and with a wave of Millennial-driven entrepreneurialism sweeping the world, good ideas aren’t enough to break through. It’s the details of execution – and the customer’s experience in particular – that separates out the winners. 

Venture Capitalist Tim Schigel, Partner at Refinery Ventures, said emphatically, “Ideas are a dime a dozen. Execution is where the proof is.” 

Ideation is extremely important, although it only gets you half-way. It’s the actual execution of that idea which yields superiority. To catapult ahead, you need to have a great idea AND superior – even disruptive – execution.

So, what does superior and / or disruptive execution look like?

  • It’s human, authentic.
  • It’s courageous.
  • It’s creative.
  • It’s simple. (And therefore easy.)
  • It’s fast.
  • It’s transparent.
  • It tolerates failure, learns from it, recalibrates, and re-executes. Quickly.

e.l.f. Beauty’s Chairman & CEO Tarang Amin encouraged leaders to embrace failure, create systems to allow quick failure, and learn from it. Jim Stengel, CEO Jim Stengel LLC and former Global Marketing Officer at P&G, shared how GE is turning its culture upside-down to create a let’s-speed-it-up-idea-to-execution environment where employees will be encouraged to create courageously, and their greatest failures will be awarded (and learned from). If an industrial giant like GE (another of my previous employers) can shake things up, what are you waiting for?

YOUR NEXT MOVE: If the ideas of “execution is king” and “disruptive execution” speak to your soul, take action! Place your initiative into a proverbial petri dish, round up your team, train eyes on your lab specimen, and take yourselves through the checklist above. Ask, “as we bring this (product, service, technology, software, website, app, etc.) to market, are we being human(e)? Are we being courageous? Are we being creative?” etc. If the answer is no, why not? And then, what are going to do to make it (more)so? Don’t let naysayers stop you. Try. Stretch. Explore. You’ll create a crown-worthy customer experience in no time.

On a personal note, P&G people are exceptional.

Setting aside the occasional gross recruiting error or blown humanity chip (we all have our stories), there’s a reason P&G’s people are so highly sought after in the marketplace. Surrounded by a sea of fellow alums, each uniquely accomplished and charitable towards their P&G family / the world around them, I was reminded that P&G people are inherently high achievers ... leaders with excellence mentalities who want to do the right thing, while making a big impact. These traits, along with the company’s values of Integrity, Leadership, Ownership, Passion for Winning and Trust, are what makes a “Proctoid” and binds together as a family those who have been a part of P&G’s long, storied history. I am proud to be a member of the P&G family.

IN CLOSING, P&G’s latest Alumni Conference was a suburb experience – deliciously human, intelligently insightful and memorably inspiring. I hope you took equal inspiration from the key themes, speakers’ ideas and recommendations articulated herein. Please share your thoughts on anything you read, keeping in mind the great advice of Alex Tosolini, Kroger’s VP of New Business Development, who said, “don’t take a strong POV [about anything], because things change very fast.”

Marquee Brand Builders