It is always a pleasant surprise when you sit down expecting a presentation that you’ve heard before, only to discover that the presentation is fresh and engaging. Such was the case if you who had:
1) Previously attended Professor David Bell’s Wharton Webinar on March 26, “The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One.”
2) Then sat in his Lifelong Learning master class, “Location is (Still) Everything,” during Wharton MBA Reunion weekend on May 16 to 17.
Your correspondent attended both, and the opening few slides of Bell’s master class presentation appeared eerily similar to his webinar slides. But all anxiety over content repetition thereafter dissipated.
Bell’s power to entertain and inform comes in part because of the depth of his topic—the intersection of online and offline retail—and because of the professor’s talent at delivering material in both a structured, as well as completely off-the-cuff, manner. Bell, the Xinmei Zhang and Yongge Dai Professor of Marketing, appears to be able to emit knowledge at will.
In the case of the master class he taught on Friday, May 16, attendees walked away with gems of 21st century marketing knowledge, which Bell offered during tangents in his own presentation and in response to alumni questions. They included:
• “It’s not necessarily about coming up with the next Facebook.” Here, Bell stressed that entrepreneurs and innovators in the retail space are more often improving upon what’s been done for a century, rather than trying to start a revolution.
• Marketing today is about creating dialogue and crafting an ongoing narrative. The maxim that “bad brands can kill a great product” is truer than ever, Bell said.
• 2014 is the “age of the deep, organic celebrity,” when “anyone has an audience to whom they can connect.” Bell pointed to Michelle Phan, the YouTube phenom who built her own celebrity on YouTube through makeup tutorials—and earned a deal with L’Oreal and a Dr. Pepper TV commercial in the process.
•The inverse of this trend is the “1 million follower fallacy,” by which “real celebrities” are not necessarily the best choice any longer for marketing campaigns because they can be perceived as unauthentic. Take Shaq and Buick. Consumers asked: Can Shaq even fit in a Buick?
• Listen to the Samuel R. Harrell Emeritus Professor, Len Lodish. Bell called Lodish Wharton’s best investor and cited three observations from the recently retired marketing professor:
1. Never write a check if a founder or CEO can’t articulate his company’s customers’ need case.
2. It’s an error to think you have to break into a market with low pricing.
3. With advertising, success isn’t about how much money you spend; it’s about your message.
• “My colleagues and I are always open to working with alumni,” Bell said. His advice to his Reunion audience, and now through amplification, the Wharton Magazine audience: “Alumni, engage the faculty with your business ideas and problems.”
As Bell explained, practitioners often have a lot of ideas on ways to solve real-world problems, but little time. Academics, on the other hand, have plenty of time and few …
Bell didn’t need to deliver his punchline before his alumni audience burst into laughter. After, as the line of alumni who wanted to speak with him at the master class’ conclusion showed, they were laughing with him, not at him.
Editor’s note: Prof. Bell’s new book “Location Is (Still) Everything: The Surprising Influence of the Real World on How We Search, Shop, and Sell in the Virtual One”—on which his Lifelong Learning content is based—will be released this July. Pre-orders can be placed at your favorite online bookseller.