Switching roles can help better understand a brand

McDonald’s has demonstrated that it values the worth of its marketers. The fast food chain has promoted its marketing chief for the UK and northern Europe to chief executive for the same region.

At the same time, Steven Easterbrook has swapped his chief executive role for the newly creative title of global chief brand officer, demonstrating serious business people are being promoted into brand-led roles.

But can you switch from one discipline to another convincingly?

Virgin Media’s brand and marketing chief certainly thinks so. Ashley Stockwell swapped his marketing role for several months in the HR department, when Virgin Media merged with NTL:Telewest three years ago.

He wanted to help get brand values inside Virgin to match what it was communicating to customers.

This involved making sure the right people were hired to match Virgin Media’s values, including a focus on service and fun.

Graduates that were once destined for the city are now considering marketing roles. The increase in graduate applications for marketing training schemes demonstrates that switching from a finance career to a marketing one is now considered an acceptable transition – perhaps showing that the reputation of marketing is not a fluffy afterthought but a hardcore business position.

Those with financial rather than marketing degrees should be welcomed by brands hiring because their knowledge is truly needed, as these days marketing is as much more about number crunching and identifying user profiles and working out how to target them.

This week’s Secret Marketer column talks about hiring the wrong brand manager and how difficult it is to dismiss this person without breaking employment rules. He’s been lumbered with a brilliant interviewee who turns out to be lazy and unable to do the job.

Perhaps it would benefit many marketing directors to spend time seconded to HR finding out how people are hired. The Secret Marketer’s problem could be a classic case of not setting the new recruit aims. It might seem like a dull box-ticking exercise but if KPIs are attached to brand campaigns they must also be pinned to everyone who works in a company.

Marketers who get this right are destined for great things, as Jill McDonald has shown this week. Experts argue that her promotion will improve the company’s focus on its customers.

McDonald’s runs an annual “market quest”, where its 28 most senior people spend time in a particular city, eating at all of its restaurants. It runs customer groups at the same time to get feedback, and tweaks its strategy accordingly.

This mix of walking the floor and using data is something Mark Ritson talked about in last week’s column, which garnered many comments.

While people working in McDonald’s outlets know the senior bods are coming, there is also huge value to be gained from a secret mission, as Channel 4’s Undercover Boss shows, the series where business leaders work on the shop floor, unrecognised by staff. Most of the senior people brave enough to appear on the programme have found out more about their businesses during filming than they have in all their time at the top. They go from ambitious number crunchers to people who really understand – and love – their employees and brand.

Switching roles can only improve marketers’ understanding of how a business operates. As Stockwell shows, marketers’ expertise can also be shared with other parts of the business.

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