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Over the course of three days in late January, thought leaders from around the world bridged the gap between academia and industry at the 2015 Thought Leadership Conference at Mays Business School.

During the course of three days in late January, thought leaders from around the world bridged the gap between academia and industry at the 2015 Thought Leadership Conference at Mays Business School. During several intense think-tank discussions, participants tackled topics relating to mobile marketing for the opportunity to be published in a special issue of the Journal of Interactive Marketing, the premier journal on direct, digital and interactive marketing.

The importance of being responsive

Shawn Morrissey, vice president for mobile engineering at Macy’s, began the conference by justifying the need for conversations about the mobile space. A former student at Texas A&M University, Morrissey earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Mays.

Morrissey shared an example of Macy’s ability to capture data on consumer behavior throughout the day and across mobile channels, working from the Macy’s Innovation Lab in Silicon Valley. Customers begin their morning on their smartphones, and then shift to a desktop while at work. “We see a little uptick around 9 in the morning for online sales, a similar uptick at 4 o’clock in the afternoon, a switch back over to their phones, and then back to their tablets at night,” he said.
However, because of the hyper movement across mobile channels, companies must pay close attention and embrace change. Macy’s is constantly testing new services to better engage consumers connected to smart phones, even when ROI is unclear. Morrissey said Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren encourages such innovation and investment so that Macy’s is seen as a leader rather than a follower in delivering an omni-channel experience.

Companies must also keep up with the changing sizes of desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones year after year and design a user interface that is friendly – especially now that Macy’s is equipping their associates with technology on the floor so as not to disrupt the in-store experience.

Before smartphones, shoppers came to the store to seek styling advice and product recommendation. Now, a peer relationship has evolved, removing the assistance needed from a sales associate. The “well-armed consumer,” as Morrissey identified, instead comes highly informed – possibly even more than the associate – about products. Often, he or she only needs a purchase to be fulfilled, which can be done through mobile payment.

It’s an app world

Steve Holland, chief technology and digital officer for 7-Eleven, served as Thursday’s morning keynote speaker. Providing an overview of the chain, Holland shared that 7-Eleven currently operates with more than 54,000 stores in 16 countries and opens a new store every 2.2 hours.

With the tremendous growth, the company is also working to expand its product assortment beyond convenient CPG products, such as beverages and snacks, into fresh and healthy choices.

Holland also described the 7-Eleven customer as value driven and time conscious. Therefore, his team is constantly assessing their Current Situation Analysis (CSA) to be able to create a better emotional relationship with each customer and reach each one differently, especially through the 7-Eleven digital app.

Downloadable in the App Store and available with Google Play, the 7-Eleven app is a portal for savings, recommendations, upcoming events and exclusive deals and an “idea hub” where user are empowered to suggest how to make the company and their user experience better. The app is also adaptive to the weather and the user’s location, and will only display a hot drink on a cold day or a cold drink on a warm day. As Holland asserted, “apps rule only if they are relevant and contextual.” In the meantime, he said, 7-Eleven is only focusing their efforts on winning with mobile strategy. Development of the tablet applications will come second.

Similar to Morrissey’s presentation the previous day, Holland also mentioned the importance of the path to purchase. Products shown online and in-store should be a collaborative effort between marketing, IT, app development and inventory to showcase digital relevancy.

Profit is king and whereas most would identify impressions with success, Holland and his team prefer to measure the “yield,” to determine the dollars, reach, engagement, conversion and profit from across all efforts.

As he closed, Holland shared the future of 7-Eleven with the company taking the iconic Slurpee into new territory at Six Flags theme parks and Cinemark theatres, as well as a self-practiced word of advice: “Fail fast, fail early and fail cheap.”

Creating a lasting impact

A goal of the Thought Leadership Conference is to identify key future research topics.

During the final morning of the conference, team leaders from each group – Mobile Advertising, Mobile Channels and Supply Chain, Mobile Shopper Marketing, Mobile Promotions and Mobile Services, Gaming and Global issues – shared the framework for their papers going forward.

Several big ideas that emerged from presentations and discussion included:

• Information privacy and the digital footprint
• SMACIT (social, mobile, analytics, cloud, Internet of things)
• Integration of on/off-line pricing strategy
• Transaction integration and virtual currency
• Behavioral targeting
• Millennials
• Gamification

With 20 minutes to summarize and 10 minutes of Q&A, the accelerated-learning format allowed for each group to receive critical feedback that will be beneficial for continuing the conversation away from campus.

During the next several months, teams will continue to work together to refine their research for publication in 2016.

In attendance at this year’s conference were:

Academic participants

Baohong Sun (Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business), Charles Hofacker (Florida State University), Dhruv Grewal (Babson College), Joseph Pancras (University of Connecticut), Kelli Hollinger (Texas A&M University), Ko de Ruyter (Maastricht University), Mark Houston (Texas A&M University), Martin Spann (Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich), Michelle Andrews (Temple University), Mirella Kleijnen (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam), Nicholas Lurie (University of Connecticut), Peter Zubcsek (University of Florida), Puneet Manchanda (University of Michigan), Ram Janakiraman (Texas A&M University), Sam Hui (University of Houston), Subodha Kumar (Texas A&M University), Suresh Ramanathan (Texas A&M University), Venky Shankar (Texas A&M University), Yakov Bart (INSEAD)

Industry practitioners

Jeff Donaldson (SVP, GameStop Technology Institute), Bharti Mishra (Vice President, CITI GROUP), Jody Goehring (Head of Business Development, RetailMeNot), Lance Thornswood (Senior Director, Omni channel Digital Platform, JCPenney), Michelle Skupin (Sr. Manager, B2B Communications, RetailMeNot), Shawn Morrissey (VP, Mobile Engineering, Macy’s), Steve Holland (CTO/CDO, 7-Eleven), Wendi McGowan-Ellis (VP, Strategy, Brierley+Partners)

Ross Rizley (Research Director, Marketing Science Institute)

The 2015 Thought Leadership Conference was graciously supported by the Marketing Science Institute, the American Marketing Association, Mays Business School, Center for Retailing Studies (CRS), the Office of the Dean, Center for International Business Studies (CIBS) and the Department of Marketing.

Marketing Professor Venkatesh Shankar served as the chair of the conference.

Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School educates more than 5,600 undergraduate, master’s and doctoral students in accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and supply chain management. Mays consistently ranks among the top public business schools in the country for its undergraduate and MBA programs, and for faculty research. The mission of Mays Business School is creating knowledge and developing ethical leaders for a global society.