One of the most highly anticipated and penetrating presentations at the summit was a panel discussion on digital marketing led by Virginia C. Drosos, president of global beauty of P&G Beauty & Grooming at the Procter & Gamble Co.

This story first appeared in the June 11, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The discussion was fueled by experts from different aspects of the digital world with well-honed insights, including B. Bonin Bough, global director of digital and social media at PepsiCo; Jory des Jardins, president, strategic alliances, and co-founder of BlogHer Inc.; Kevin Kells, national industry director of consumer packaged goods at Google Inc., and Fred Mossler of Zappos.com.

Drosos set the stage for the wide-ranging talk by outlining how digital is redefining how business is being pursued and brands are being built. She boiled it down to five C’s — consumer, credibility, content, customized scale and culture.

“A recent blog post tracker revealed that there are 126 million blogs on the Internet today,” Drosos said, “and 84 percent of social networking sites are dominated by female members — a lot of opportunity to engage.”

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Des Jardins drove home the point that companies need to interact with bloggers by presenting their products in ways they can relate to in their daily lives, and companies should court bloggers with a large following and ample credibility, even if they don’t specialize in that firm’s product category. To lure women, Michelin portrayed tires as shoes for cars, and GM provided autos for carpoolers.

But the example that the panelists turned to was PepsiCo’s Refresh project, in which the company gives away $20 million to sponsor community projects that are advocated by highly motivated individuals, not organizations. The aim is to build relevance in the eyes of the consumer and promote the health of its brand. Bough observed, “When people are having conversations about our brand online, are they mentioning these attributes — a brand that I can’t live without, a brand that I know supports my passions?”

He continued, “What it was really about was, can the brand stand for something, can we remind people that a soda can make a difference and, even more, that your choice makes a difference? Kells of Google added, “Relevancy is tied to effectiveness. That’s where I think in the next decade, the conversation has to switch.” He added that the industry has been too hung up on efficiency. The best way to grow the top line, he asserted, “is to be more effective. The way to do that is to be more relevant at the right moment for the right outcome.”

Mossler from Zappos agreed that brand evangelists can come from unexpected places. That is why his company puts a lot of effort into dealing with customers who return merchandise — by definition, the least profitable clients. “They may be your biggest brand mavens,” Mossler said. “They may be out singing the song of how easy you are to work with and how wonderful your customer service is.”

Discussing the various brand diagnostics, Kells of Google said there’s more to look at than sales and profits. “The hidden beauty of online is brand building as well as transactional,” he said. “Too many people think of it as ‘I can go buy something online.’ But the brand building is the thing that is at the heart of most digital stuff.”

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