“Customers can no longer be led around by the nose”

Dr Dominique von Matt has been president of the gfm for three years now. In a personal conversation with him, he talks about this year’s gfm Marketing Award winner, the state of society and how marketing has changed in recent years.

Interview by Matthias Ackeret, persönlich

Mr von Matt, Valora is this year’s gfm Marketing Award winner (reported on persoenlich.com). What tipped the scales in its favour?
Valora has not only excellently mastered the digital transformation but also seized upon the opportunities it offered. Valora has a clear, comprehensive strategy with a consistent focus on customer convenience and is constantly making a name for itself through innovations. The result has been profits that have steadily increased for years.

You have been President of the gfm for three years, that is, roughly 1,000 days. How would you describe the current state of the association?
It is an important point of contact when it comes to the content of market-oriented business management because it has its finger on the pulse of trends and puts forth its ideas with a neutral, scientific perspective. It communicates its expertise in formats that are constantly evolving. However, it has not yet reached the point where I would like it to be at, which is why I am running for another term as president.

How has the gfm changed under your leadership?
It has geared itself more towards innovation and has gotten younger, and its membership base now includes a higher proportion of women. At the trend conference and other events, we are focussing more on innovation, and through more female and younger speakers, we are attracting more and more participants who match this new profile.

Do you want to recruit more members, or where do you see specific potential for growth for the gfm?
We want to increase the number of members who are pursuing digital business models, and we are also focussing our programme more in this direction. In general, it is important to us that our new members are managing brands and looking for appropriate content in marketing and technology.

You give lectures at the University of St.Gallen (HSG), and you are also active as a practitioner in the market. How has marketing changed in the last three years?
We are seeing a clear power shift in the direction of the consumer. We should not succumb to the illusion that we can still lead the customer around by the nose. What we can do is support and inspire them.

You are regarded as a great proponent of digitalisation. We are now hearing again and again that many businesses as well as customers are feeling overwhelmed by it. Can you understand this, and what could be done about it?
I am a proponent of going on the offensive in the face of change. As a business, you have to establish a culture that sees change as an opportunity. It is of course the case that customers are feeling overwhelmed by the speed of change. Our inherited and learned behaviour is not changing at the same pace as technology. It is up to the companies to simplify the innovations in such a way that customers actually perceive them as added value.

You’re on the road a lot. What country or region is currently the global leader in marketing?
Since marketing is increasingly shaped by technology, I believe technology is ultimately what is crucial in the long run. China currently has the lead here: the country is benefiting from the Chinese returning from Silicon Valley, from the nearly unlimited opportunities presented by economies of scale, from government support and from a data protection regime that allows almost any experiment to be carried out. However, the Chinese are still falling short greatly in brand management, as they have so far been primarily white-label producers and have therefore not developed the required expertise.

What trend surprised or even inspired you most in the past year?
Although its use in totalitarian countries is hugely problematic, facial recognition will offer a great deal of convenience for consumers. It can come into play when paying at the supermarket, when boarding a flight at the airport or when opening a hotel room door.

You will find the detailed interview with Dominique von Matt in the November issue of persönlich.