The global marketplace is changing too fast for complacency

What are some of the best companies using social channels for customer engagement? Who is doing it right?

Starbuck's has done a good job of not only connecting their brand to customers, but allowing for customers to connect to one other. Coffee is made for socializing; Starbuck's has expertly used social channels to get people to meet online and exchange stories.

P&G is another company that comes to mind. While I can't personally relate to it, there are people who want to connect on a social level about cleaning clothes. And just as in traditional media, P&G uses social to relate to consumers on an emotional level which in turn makes them want to share their own stories.

Unilever's Dove campaign has struck a chord with women all over the world. When Dove research revealed that 8 out of 10 women encounter negative comments on social media that critique women's looks, and that women are 50% more likely to say something negative about themselves on social media, they deployed a new technology to encourage women and girls to turn ugly tweets into beautiful ones as part of #SpeakBeautiful. Likewise, Unilever's Axe brand has been connecting with guys in the places and moments that are important to them, and much of that is on social media. Playing off of guys' passion for music, sports, and style, Axe associated itself with the NBA draft pick, teaming up with future NBA players as they make the leap to the next level of their careers.

And 123 year old GE is refreshingly novel in its approach to social. Their new "Owen" campaign targets college grads to come work for GE, the digital industrial company, by linking traditional TV advertising on late-night comedy channels with social channels as Owen shares his first days on the job.

Who are the most interesting upstarts disrupting the marketplace right now?

Jet.com. It was started and run by a former student of mine, Marc Lore, to compete with warehouse clubs like Sam's Club, CostCo and Amazon's bulk products business. Lore built and sold diapers.com to Amazon; now Jet is betting on dynamic pricing to compete with Amazon. The company even dared to change its own business model just three months after launch based on customer feedback and data.

And who could argue with Tesla? They just don't pay attention to the old, traditional ways of doing things. While companies like GM and Toyota have far more resources, Tesla skipped the hybrid market and designed an electric car from the ground up. And they're not waiting for the electric companies to catch on, either. They're leaning on users to help users, making their outlets available to each other. In a recent announcement, Tesla cars will increase to 640 miles per charge by the end of next year, up from about 240; that's disrupting.

I find it fascinating that the largest taxi company (Uber) doesn't own a car. The largest hotel company (Airbnb) doesn't own a hotel or even a room. And the largest eCommerce company (it's not who you think) doesn't own inventory. SAP has the largest B2B marketplace in the world; larger than Amazon and Alibaba.

Many CXOs anticipate changing the way their organizations are led and managed. How do you advise leaders to make decentralized decisions? What's the role of the CXO in this?

Trust is key. CXOs must create a culture of trust and empower employees. A hotel front desk attendant should have the power to sell an available room to a walk-in at a discount.

CXOs also need to create an environment where people can learn quickly and adjust. They need to have the ability to change decisions on the go.

What do you think of putting scouts on the frontline and getting input from your customers? Do you believe that speaking to your customers is the best way to see how markets are changing?

I think we need to broaden that question. Companies should not only speak to customers, they should speak to their competitor's customers. And they should speak to the customers they used to have.

I once had the opportunity to speak to a senior management team about how they could better understand and serve their customers. So I asked if I could talk to a few customers, and they said yes. Then I asked to talk to a few lost customers, and they refused. That's a shame because there were probably more lessons to be learned from those lost customers than from all of the current customers I could have talked to.

What are the top 3 ways companies can stay nimble and innovative while competing with disruptors, upstarts and innovators?

Disrupt your own business before someone does it for you. You need to assign some people in your company to constantly work on destroying your brand and your business. Constantly experiment; constantly learn.

David Reibstein, Ph.D.

Professor of Marketing
The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania

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