Top marketing executives from corporate powerhouses including Yahoo!, Pitney Bowes and Cigna HealthCare convened Friday to discuss marketing innovations in an inaugural Yale School of Management marketing conference.

Almost 80 SOM students, alumni and faculty attended the SOM symposium “Marketing Innovations in Products and Communications,” which was co-sponsored by the SOM marketing club and the nearly two-year-old Yale Center for Customer Insights. Both the keynote speech by Yahoo! Inc. Chief Sales Officer Wenda Harris Millard and the subsequent panel of marketing executives focused on the state of innovation within the industry.

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In her speech, Millard spoke about the ways in which the Internet — specifically, the ubiquity of high-speed broadband connections — has affected consumer decisions and marketing. Presenting research conducted by Yahoo! along with personal anecdotes about consumerism, she noted that families are becoming more democratic in decision-making and that consumers’ purchasing decisions are increasingly dependent on Internet research, among other trends.

“We have moved from a task view to a life-management view,” Millard said of the Internet’s role in daily life.

With the phenomenon of “media-meshing,” or multitasking with many different sources of media, Millard said, marketers have to be specific in their targets and must maintain a constant presence in the purchasing process.

“The message to marketers is you have got to be there at all times, you have to message at every stage of the decision-making process,” she said.

The participants in the panel discussion, moderated by SOM professor and YCCI director Ravi Dhar, answered questions about the changing nature of companies’ interactions with customers. Throughout the panel they emphasized the contemporary challenges of marketing, such as advertising in venues with user-generated content like YouTube and Facebook.

Student organizers from the marketing club said YCCI had asked them over the summer to plan an inaugural conference on marketing that merged academic theory and application. Stephanie Shambroom SOM ’07 said that she wanted the conference to highlight relevant issues in marketing.

“It was a very timely topic, for [SOM], as a school that’s moving towards being known specifically as marketing school,” she said.

Several SOM students said the conference helped illuminate the current state of the industry. Josh Fried SOM ’07 said after a summer job in publishing marketing at Sports Illustrated, he wanted to learn about advances in media marketing, an area he would consider working in after graduation.

“There was a lot of room for improvement in that segment,” he said. “I might as well figure out what’s going on with the industry.”

Local business owners and executives, many with ties to the school, said the conference was informative for them as well. Stephen Kovel SOM ’78, owner of Hull’s Art Supply on Chapel Street, said like other SOM events he has attended, the conference afforded him new perspectives on his business.

“Whenever I walk back to SOM, I feel that my brain gets restimulated, recalibrated and I get challenged with new ideas,” he said.

Organizers at YCCI also voiced satisfaction over the outcome of the conference. Dhar said that he was extremely pleased with the quality of the program, especially with the audiences’ questions for the panel about increasing consumer control over media content and the panel members’ answers.

“It’s a win-win for both sides,” he said. “You learn a lot from these things.”

The panel members included Jack Griffin, president of Meredith Publishing Group; Tim Love, vice chairman of Omnicom, Arun Sinha, chief marketing officer at Pitney Bowes, Karen Strauss, partner and global director of strategic and creative planning at Ketchum, and Jeffrey R. Wyne, vice-president of marketing communications at Cigna HealthCare.