Are you top of your game?

A new study identifies four key ways that help global companies tower over the rest – and marketing leadership plays a central role. Jo Roberts uncovers how marketers can improve their function to make brands excel.

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Four ways to play a world-class marketing game

The desire to emulate the global success of businesses like Amazon, Apple and Coca-Cola is inspiring businesses to step back and examine how their own companies operate and how they compare to brilliant brands.

While it can be a challenge to take an objective look at the business, smart companies are doing just that: peeling back the layers to examine the inner workings of their marketing departments. By taking a through-the-microscope look at their organisation, they are aiming to elevate their good marketing to world-class levels.

According to a marketing capabilities study by consultancy Brand Learning, seen exclusively by Marketing Week, there are key areas that marketers need to focus on to elevate their brands and businesses. Almost 2,000 marketers in 55 countries have been surveyed in the Radar study, in a quest to unlock the secrets of world-class marketing.

The challenge for many marketers is that if they work in large global companies, spread across several territories, they can easily lose sight of how consistent ways of working across marketing can make a difference to efficiency and profits. Hilary Rickard, innovation director at Brand Learning, says: “A company may have marketers who are very talented and experienced as individuals but if they all do things differently and don’t work as a team, this can hold them back from becoming world-class.”

Here are the four ways in which brands can make sure their marketing teams excel.

1. Learn to be great

British Gas, Heineken and Ideal Standard are implementing an education programme following individual Brand Learning Radar assessments. This is one of the ways in which marketing departments can elevate their function.

British Gas is rolling out an internal Marketing Academy that will teach the entire marketing function the “British Gas way of marketing”, according to its marketing director Will Orr. The utility company is moving away from being an operations-led company to a more customer-focused one, and the new vision has resulted in a learning programme that will instil the company’s values into every marketer who works for the business (see Building a School of Marketing Excellence, below).

Ideal Standard and Heineken are also fans of on-the-job learning. Heineken UK head of marketing capabilities Michelle Keaney says the business is implementing a 70-20-10 training model whereby 70% of the capability building time is spent learning ‘on the job’, 20% is dedicated to coaching and mentoring, and 10% is spent on formal training. This can stimulate change in the business, says Keaney, and she believes training is vital to world-class business.

Heineken set up the Global Commerce University in Amsterdam last year – an internal commercial capability programme for its sales, marketing and trade marketing teams across all its markets.

Over time it becomes a cultural thing and senior people expect to make decisions based on robust understanding of what consumers think

The UK sales and marketing team will start the programme later this year and have played a key role in creating its key elements. Senior leaders are involved with delivery of the training. For example, The UK Insight Team has contributed to the content for the Consumer Insight module, a fundamental element of the marketing capabilities programme and one that sets a key framework for the overall approach.

There is also a focus on making the training “live and breathe” back in the day job, says Keaney. “You can have a fantastic training programme but if you don’t embed that into the workplace and you don’t link it with the processes already in place and with a common language, it will never become a common way of working,” she warns.

In a similar vein to the beer brand, Ideal Standard has introduced ‘live-action learning’ that enables its marketers to learn world-class skills while carrying out their jobs. Initially the business organised a big workshop to “raise the level within the organisation and build a broad awareness of new tools and processes,” explains Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer of the bathroom brand.

The business then implemented live-action learning for brand planning. Bright adds: “We did a mix of theory and workshops and then the teams would go off and do that brand planning work. Then we moved on to live action, on-the-job learning, running processes for real but with a facilitated approach.”

Bright claims the result is a much stronger understanding of what is required to generate successful brand plans. “The brand plans were significantly better than anything we’d seen in previous years. We had much more integrated plans that were aligned to business objectives, much clearer understanding of the insights that we’re activating, and much more focus on the few big things that will help grow the business,” she says.

2. Be the customer representative

Many businesses and marketers will claim that their organisation is customer-centric but to make that a reality, a combination of insight, strong brand positioning and a clear communications strategy are the key ingredients to making a business truly customer-focused, according to the Brand Learning Radar study.

While successful companies already have an effective strategy in place for distilling their data into meaningful insights, many marketers are missing an opportunity to gain human insight by going out and meeting people who buy their products and services.

Doing so ensures that products and services are always developed with the customer in mind. Establishing a strong brand positioning enables customers to see the real difference between your product and your competitors’. It is also vital to take a consistent approach to developing brand positioning across the world so that customers understand what your product stands for. According to Brand Learning’s study, only 44% of marketers questioned agree that all their stakeholders understand what the brand stands for and how to deliver it in a way that appeals to their end user.

Bathroom brand Ideal Standard has identified that growth opportunities are going to come by being more customer-focused rather than its traditional way of operating, which was more manufacturing and technology-led.

Ideal Standard’s Bright says: “The business was focused much more on pushing things out. The management team saw a real opportunity in driving growth through creating a demand-led organisation with a much clearer focus on end users – the installers, architects and interior designers – rather than the more traditional manufacturing push into wholesaler organisations.

“It’s quite a transformation for the business. We’re embarking on a sales and marketing capabilities programme to reorientate the company around the end user.”

Understanding the customer can’t just be about focus groups, argues British Gas’ Orr. It has to be something that the entire business believes in, he says. “Over time it becomes a cultural thing and senior people expect to make decisions based on robust understanding of what consumers think.

“You try to take the subjectivity out and put the customers at the heart of the conversation,” he adds.

It’s quite a transformation for the business. We’re embarking on a sales and marketing capabilities programme to reorientate the company around the end user

By creating a customer segmentation model to understand their needs, the utilities company has seen positive results, claims Orr. The company can concentrate its marketing efforts on helping to retain loyal customers. “We’ve got industry-leading churn levels. Our churn levels have been consistently coming down over the past few years.”

But understanding what the customer really wants is only part of the challenge. You need to know what channels customers use to research and buy products. This is something borne out in the Brand Learning Radar study as an area where marketers need to focus.

Interactive channels in particular are not being used to best effect, according to the study. While digital channels are becoming more popular with consumers for researching products, just over half of marketers say they (51%) listen to consumer conversations online. However, only 36% use social media to enable new levels of customer service and only a quarter use digital to work with consumers to develop new ideas.

This hasn’t gone unnoticed by the industry. Peter Kirk, head of sales and marketing at BBC TV Licensing, says there is a digital skills gap that needs to be closed: “The growth of online channels means there’s an enormous amount of customer behavioural data and potential insight. So making sure there are enough people with data and analytical skills who can understand and create insight from data is increasingly important.”

3. Be innovative by thinking how people use your brand

Understanding what your customer wants from a product or service, and where they go to find out about them is vital if a business is to boost the bottom line, says Ideal Standard’s Bright. The bathroom brand had previously been developing products from the point of view of the engineer. But now, the company is being positioned to deliver products that meet the needs of customers, according to Bright (see Innovation that Focuses on the Customer, below).

We find that many companies have a customer segmentation in place but the real challenge is getting it applied across the whole of the business

Innovation is a challenging area, according to Brand Learning. Its Radar study has found that many companies have a ‘risk averse culture’ making it difficult to make real changes to the business as well as stalling on developing products and services. Only 41% of marketers in the study agree that there is an effective insights-based innovation strategy at their company, and only 42% say there is collaboration across the business for developing innovations. The difficulty for any marketer is making innovation and product and service development part of their role. By becoming the customer advocate, marketers should be able to represent them during the innovation process. It is this use of influence to make customers the key reason for developing a product or service that sets world-class marketers apart.

4. Be the kind of leader that has impact

Strong marketing leaders can have an influence across all parts of the business but they have to be respected by those outside of the marketing department if they are to make a difference.

Those who can demonstrate marketing leadership can also act as a mentor for junior marketers, says Brand Learning’s Rickard. The Radar study shows that junior marketers have a tendency to give higher scores for marketing capability than their senior counterparts. This, says Rickard, demonstrates that leaders have to teach others what excellence looks like so that everyone is clear on how to achieve world-class marketing.

She adds: “We find that many companies have a customer segmentation in place but the real challenge is getting it applied across the whole of the business. That means marketers need the authority to influence areas such as sales and customer services in terms of saying ‘these are the people we are targeting’. It requires marketing to have a real leadership role.”

And those marketers who have the ability to influence the entire business will not only have world-class marketing departments but enable their businesses to be world-class too.
While probing the inner workings of your marketing department can be an arduous task and a painful process – it requires a staunchly objective approach – the benefits it brings to your department and the business in raising the levels of achievement are a high pay-off.

Building a school of marketing excellence

Pebble
Life and style: British Gas’ ecoMetre – also known as the Pebble – is evidence of the company’s customer-led vision

“Training is not about courses in fancy country hotels,” says Will Orr, marketing director at British Gas. It’s about creating consistent excellence throughout the business. To that end, the utility company is in the process of rolling out a dedicated British Gas Marketing Academy.

The first of its kind within the utility industry, the aim is to equip marketers with “common tools and common language” that will enable them to approach their job with “consistent excellence”. What that means in practice, hopes Orr, is that his team will learn the “British Gas way of working”.

Following a Brand Learning Radar assessment, British Gas identified how to transform the company from an operations-led business to a customer-led organisation. The marketing school it has set up aims to teach employees the utility company’s business ethos and its customer-centric approach. Orr says the academy is backed by the very top leaders in the company – managing director Phil Bentley and managing director of services and commercial Chris Jansen “have a strong and passionate belief that British Gas needs to be a customer-led company”.

Orr looked outside of his industry to learn how others have created marketing academies. He sought the advice of mobile phone company O2, which had set up its own marketing academy to enable employees to learn on the job.

Everyone in the British Gas marketing function will take at least three days of marketing academy training this year. The first tranche of people have just completed their introductory two-day course covering all core marketing capability areas such as insight, communications and customer experience.

Later this year and in 2013, the utility company will introduce more advanced learning, with a series of masterclass-type courses that are more specialised and geared towards particular job responsibilities.

While the aim is to create world-class marketing standards across the business, it will also benefit those who want to progress their careers. The idea is that marketers will collect points for completing particular courses and gain internal qualifications. Orr adds: “The hope is that, over time, people’s marketing academy experiences will influence their career progression”.

The British Gas Marketing Academy’s success will be measured like other marketing activity and will be scrutinised to ensure that investing in its people provides a good return on investment.

Innovation that focuses on the customer

Ceramix
Strategy turnaround: Once new products from Ideal Standard were the idea of engineers, now they are led by the needs of its customers, such as the CeraMix Blue tap (above)

Ideal Standard used to be a company led by the brains of the engineers and product development team, but now it is led by what customers need, according to Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at the European bathroom brand.

Following the sale of the company to private equity company Bain Capital in 2007, the leadership team have been looking at the business to discover growth opportunities.

The business looked at how it could change from a manufacturing and technology-led company to a customer-focused company following a Brand Learning Radar assessment. Now the business thinks first about its end users – the plumbers, architects and interior designers – and new products result from that insight.

“We didn’t always understand the end user decision-making journey and how to design products and services that best suited the needs of customers,” says Bright.

Bright, who took on the role of chief marketing officer in early 2011, has been working with her team to gain more insight into consumer needs and ensuring this informs innovation and product development. There are several new products in the pipeline that will come to market later this year and in 2013, as a result of consumer insight. And while Bright won’t confirm what these innovations are, she says the culture of product development is already changing.

“Over the past year we’ve more than doubled the amount of products we have brought to market,” she claims, adding that these products have resulted in strong sales because they reflect bathroom fixtures and fittings that people want. “In the past year we’ve seen a much greater rate of incremental sales and sales that come from new products than we’ve seen in the past two or three years, so I think that’s early evidence that we’ve started the journey of transforming the company,” she adds.

One such innovation is the CeraMix Blue tap, a fitting with the technology to help save water and energy. Originally, engineers developed the technology used in the tap for another purpose, but the marketing team realised it could also save water and money. Bright explains: “Through the eyes of the end consumer we thought we had something powerful because consumers are really interested in saving water and energy.”

The product was launched last year, and the marketing team were key to this, explains Bright. “In the past, engineers and the product development team would have developed a product around the benefits they thought were important. Now we know what our end users want and can bring to market innovations based on this. It also means we can communicate the benefits of these products that people are really interested in.”

Just what does marketing capabilities mean?

Heineken
Lager than life: Heineken’s training is meant to ‘live and breathe’ back in the day job

The term ‘marketing capabilities’ is one with no consistent definition but it has been used within businesses for a while now, often to make sure that everyone in the business is focused on the consumer. Will Orr, marketing director at British Gas, says it has been used at his company for a couple of years now, while it has been on the agenda for around five years at Heineken, says Michelle Keaney, who has been head of marketing capabilities at the alcohol company for 18 months.

The Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM) has recently set up a Marketing Capabilities Council, of which Heineken’s Keaney is a member. The aim of it is “to gain board-level recognition for marketing capabilities development”. Council chair and IDM director of marketing capabilities Paul McCarthy says one of the first tasks he and his members will tackle is attempting to come up with a definition of marketing capabilities that is clear and consistent because, he admits: “At the moment it probably means different things to different people”. He adds that the term marketing capabilities has only been part of the “marketing lexicon” for three or four years.

Many think that marketing capabilities is solely about training and developing the marketing team, but Keaney says that is a common misconception.

Kerris Bright, chief marketing officer at Ideal Standard, agrees, saying business capability is “the ability of an organisation to run effective processes that result in sustainable and profitable growth in the business. So, marketing capability is the ability to design and run processes effectively to a programme that drives profitable growth.”

Brand Learning, meanwhile, defines marketing capabilities as enabling “the whole organisation to excel at customer-centric marketing to deliver superior customer value and drive profitable, demand-led growth.” The agency believes the key to this is leadership, so that marketing has an influence across the entire business in getting everyone rooting for the customer.

78% of marketers ‘love’ their job
Only 42% agree that there is a clear focus on people development to build marketing capability
44% agree that they pioneer new ways to engage with consumers
51% of marketers say they listen to online customer conversations via social media
46% use digital channels to help build relationships with consumers
36% use social media for new levels of customer service
25% use online tools to work with consumers to help develop innovation ideas
41% agree there is an effective, insights-based innovation strategy and only 42% say there is collaboration across the business
44% agree that all stakeholders understand what the brand stands for and how to deliver it

Source: Brand Learning Radar

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