Vision 100: how to be a visionary marketer

Leading marketers from our Vision 100 list explain how they confront today’s business challenges.

Being smart about data, cutting through jargon and noise, hiring smart and matching up to the pace of change are all qualities that make up marketers listed in Marketing Week’s second annual Vision 100, created in partnership with Adobe.

It’s a list that celebrates those marketers at the top of their game, whether that’s through having influence at board level or breaking category norms with a positive impact on the business.

Below, this year’s Vision 100 have shared their challenges, ‘lightbulb’ moments and the best advice they have been given in their careers. The responses bring to light give clear themes that summarise what it means to be visionary, showing that marketers are facing new challenges to age old marketing problems.

1. Overcoming the pressures of the moment

Marketers are often faced with what the industry thinks might be the ‘next big thing’ in marketing and communications. This includes endless buzzwords, new technology and new routes to market. For the Vision 100, understanding what is right for their brands means not bowing to the pressures of the moment.

“[The biggest challenge is] continuously filtering out an endless barrage of mindless static and noise in order to be able to identify the rare one or two things that will really make the difference,” says April Adams-Redmond, chief marketing officer at Kerry Foods.

This allows the marketer to push herself and her team to “continuously look at the world with fresh eyes in order to spot the next big thing”.

Nationwide takes a similar view that marketers need to “cut through the noise and rhetoric to focus on things that deliver genuine competitive advantage and make a tangible difference for customers and for the business”, according to chief operating officer, Stephen Leonard.

But he adds that in a large organisation it is equally important to maintain a clear vision and be adaptable to stay ahead of the curve and execute at pace.

“Trust that it will all work out, and if it doesn’t, you’ll find another way”

Syl Saller, Diageo

Deborah Dolce, group brand and marketing director at TJX Europe, which owns TK Maxx and HomeSense believes that any good idea will shine through, despite the tendency of the industry to overcomplicate and write in jargon.

Dolce prefers short and practical presentations, as well as to-the-point and transparent conversations, which she says, “leaves time to talk about the really important matters and issues at hand”.

The noise that brands are trying to screen out comes in similar forms for all of them, but marketers need to remember that solutions are different for each. Catherine Cherry’s lightbulb moment working as Sony Mobile Communications marketing director has been realising that there is “no perfect way to do things”.

Cherry says: “There are different paths to get to the end result you want. Usually the motivation to get to the result is more important than a perfectly defined path.”

L’Oréal UK managing director Michel Brousset believes that in order to win the battle of market share you first need to win the battle for talent

2. Data science and smart insight

One development that assists the Vision 100 in understanding the right path has been the rise in influence of data and insight on brand decision-making. The magnitude of the data available and the number of methods for gaining insight are now changing businesses and their recruitment practices.

“I now sponsor PhD and Master’s courses, allowing data scientists to get those valuable first few years of business experience with us”

Gill Whitehead, Channel 4

For David Timm, chief marketing officer at KFC UK & Ireland, an enlightening moment in his career was the discovery of neuroscience and behavioural psychology. Neuroscience is an insight method that many brands are seeing the value of because it records consumers’ emotional responses – said to give a truer picture of what they think and feel towards brands than surveys, which consumers tend to answer rationally.

Timm is “fascinated” by the latest research into how the brain works and how people make decisions, and admits neuroscience has changed the way he works since he discovered it in 2010.

“[It] challenged the underlying assumptions that marketing historically has been based on, in particular showing that decision-making is driven by emotion, not reason; that the mind is associative, not linear; and that memories shape decision-making,” says Timm.

It also presents challenges for brands in terms of communication and attracting talent. Channel 4 is aims to bring data scientists into the business but Gill Whitehead, director of audience, technologies and insight, admits that many choose the banking industry rather than TV as it pays more.

“I now sponsor PhD and Master’s courses, allowing brilliant graduates to complete their studies while getting those valuable first few years of business experience with us,” says Whitehead.

Brands must also think about the external effect of using data in marketing and be able to explain to consumers why their data is important and how it’s used – without clouding the issues. Julia Porter, director of consumer revenues at Guardian News and Media, has recently organised “the myriad stakeholders at the Guardian” to communicate clearly to its audiences how it plans to use the data readers’ share with the publisher.

“The biggest challenge is ensuring that we don’t over-complicate the already complicated subject of data-driven marketing by using impenetrable jargon to explain or describe it,” she says.

The result of the work Porter did was a short film called ‘Why your data matters to us’, which explains why and how The Guardian uses audience data.

Porter is also chair of the Direct Marketing Association (DMA), where it was equally challenging to reduce the DMA code of practice from 100 pages of rules into an accessible and easy-to-understand five-page ‘outcomes-based’ code.

However, using data and insight has to be thought of as painting only one part of the picture according to Patrick Venning, marketing director at Pernod Ricard. “Research data is just one part of the decision-making process and gut feel, judgement and experience should never be ignored,” he says.

3. Futurology

“If you don’t have a plan to radically change the way you do business, you’ll be out of business,” says Penny Herriman, global brand and marketing director at Boden.

The role of marketers is undoubtedly changing and keeping up with the pace of change is noted as a challenge for many of the 2015 Vision 100. Digital is having an enormous impact on what can be achieved but also on how brands remain competitive.

Herriman adds: “Digital has fundamentally changed the business playing field. You can’t ignore it or innovate at the edges. It challenges your entire business model. You’re either a start-up or a turnaround. Either way momentum is the only KPI worth measuring. Focusing on the status quo is the perfect plan towards ruin.”

“Take control of your destiny and don’t rest on your laurels. Always operate with full integrity and honesty”

Elizabeth Fagan, Boots

The advice here is to know that digital makes it necessary to overhaul the entire business, an idea that is echoed by Russell Davies, director of strategy at the Government Digital Service.

Davies has a challenge in convincing large organisations that ‘digital’ is not about the marketing but about redesigning the whole organisation around the user. He says: “If you do that right, you’ll do way less marketing, have way happier customers and staff and make way more money.”

Brands need to own the user experience but it’s not always an easy task.

Colin Lewis, director of marketing at bmi regional, says: “The effect of almost unlimited media channels, more control put in the hands of the consumer and a huge shift in purchase behaviour means that the lines between marketing, sales, customer service, user experience and product are all blurring.

Good ideas will always shine through, says Deborah Dolce, marketing director at TJX Europe, which owns TK Maxx

“Working out what to do and how to do it, as well as where and when to do it, poses a real challenge,” he adds.

Lewis believes that the role of the marketer now and in the future will be one of combining different data sources, distributing authentic content in lots of different formats across fragmented channels and trying to effectively tailor each piece of marketing.

But he adds that “it has to be done at the same time as optimising spend and strategy, accurately measuring results and showing the business impact of marketing investments to stakeholders”.

Digital is creating an opportunity for marketers to ensure that any brand communications are right for the customer but it’s something that requires the ability to seek out ideas and take risks on them.

“I’ve always worked in industries that are constantly evolving, innovating and re-inventing themselves so my lightbulb moment was learning not to sit and wait for one,” says Jonathan Rigby, head of marketing at Manchester United.

Instead Rigby works on maintaining a constant stream of scalable ideas and activations to engage with the club’s 659 million global fans.

Simon Wallis, sales and marketing director at Domino’s also believes that in today’s data-rich digital marketing environment “while others are deliberating whether or not to do something, it’s better to just go and do it and then learn how to do it better”.

4. Prioritising talent and learning

Even the most visionary marketers cannot do it all alone, however, which creates a battle for hiring talent and creating an environment where knowledge can be shared. Talent is vital in business as it’s people that help it grow, according to Michel Brousset, UK managing director at L’Oreal.

“The businesses that win do so because they have better ideas and execute them better and faster,” he says. “In order to win the battle of market share you first need to win the battle for talent.”

“Culture beats strategy: people make strategy happen”

Martin Glenn, The FA

However, it doesn’t stop at just hiring smart as Irwin Lee, vice president and managing director, Northern Europe at Proctor & Gamble recalls the best advice given to him in his career.

“No one has a monopoly on excellence. Whatever talents we have been blessed with, others have in different forms and amounts. Be humble in victories for there will always be things to learn and people to learn from.”

Amanda Rendle, global head of marketing at HSBC, was given similar advice earlier in her career to “recruit people who know different things from you, learn from them and keep learning”.

It’s also vital for marketers not just to learn from others but also to develop their own skills and expertise. Ed Kamm, chief customer officer at First Utility, says he always tries to move away from his “comfort zone” by taking on new challenges and taking risks to do something completely different.

“This has significantly aided my learning, understanding, and ability to understand other people’s frame of reference,” he says. “If you are not learning and doing something new, you are not challenging yourself or your organisation hard enough.”

Ultimately it is about making a positive impact as an individual and realising that people have a part to play in businesses, according to Pete Markey, chief marketing officer at the Post Office.

Markey says: “Seeing the powerful and positive impact of how you as an individual and leader can drive real change is amazing. It’s a lightbulb moment to realise organisations are made up of people and it’s people that drive an organisation, so there’s no room for passengers. Each person has a unique, powerful and vital role to play.”

5. Maintaining momentum

The biggest challenge for many of the visionary marketers in our list is about maintaining momentum and meeting expectations of consumers, particularly in heritage or legacy brands.

Sally Abbott, group marketing director at Weetabix, says a key challenge she is facing at the moment is how to encourage consumers to reconsider a brand like Weetabix that they “have known well and loved for over 80 years”.

A key question Abbott asks herself and that rings true for many of the visionaries in this years list is: in a complex multichannel world where consumer engagement with brands is so important, how can brands stay relevant and persuasive?

“When communicating, first be clear, then be clever”

Nigel Gilbert, TSB

Maintaining momentum and meeting high expectations is certainly a challenge for Lidl in the coming years. Advertising and marketing manager, Arnd Pickhardt says: “We have managed to attract the attention of an entire nation and have changed misconceptions about our brand. The challenge now is to keep that momentum going and that intense interest alive.”

TV is one area seeing a period of huge change but brands operating in this space have equally big legacies behind them. Rufus Radcliffe, group marketing and research director at ITV, says that balancing the present with the future to ensure the channel continues to stand out in a rapidly changing world is one of his biggest challenges.

“When I started my role at ITV in 2011, social media was a minority sport and Netflix did not exist in the UK,” he says. “Now, both are an integral part of the viewer landscape.”

But Radcliffe remains positive. He says: “There has never been a more interesting time to work in the industry and there has never been a better time to be a viewer.”

Rival broadcaster Channel 4’s mission statement, ‘Do it first. Make trouble. Inspire change’, still strikes a chord according to Whitehead, whose lightbulb moment was getting to 10 million registered users of Channel 4’s online services faster than Facebook and Twitter achieved that figure.

“We ruthlessly tested the value exchange to get the right balance of what’s in it for our viewers versus what’s in it for us. It taught me if you get your consumer proposition right you can move mountains,” she says.

This period of change is also an issue for the challengers where momentum is achieved by adapting.

UKTV’s executive board marketing director, Simon Michaelides, believes that the television industry is going through “the most volatile, complex, and rapid period of change that it has seen in the last 20 years” and that it’s forcing all broadcasters to redefine audience and competitor sets, and adapt and diversify business models.

Michaelides says: “As a challenger brand in the industry, creativity and innovation are critical to maintaining our growth, and that puts added pressure on us to be comfortable leaving established thinking and ways of working behind.”

It’s clear that marketers today are faced with numerous challenges but those that succeed create campaigns and provide products and services that are truly relevant for consumers.

As Leonard at Nationwide summarises: “The CEO of a major brand once advised me ‘remember everything we do is marketing’. The advice stuck with me and is ever more relevant today. Marketing is no longer just the ‘top end of the funnel’ but about every touchpoint of a brand delivering an exceptional and integrated customer experience.”

I am a great believer in Woody Allen’s thought that “80% of success is turning up”; also that you need to have fun in what you do. My biggest challenge as CMCO is also what I see as our biggest opportunity, and that is really engaging people at scale around living more sustainably. There is a growing demand for this as people become more aware and engaged around climate change and social inequality – particularly millennials.

Leading is about capturing the minds and the imaginations of people with what is possible and allowing them to test new frontiers beyond the beaten tracks. It takes courage to embrace change but the satisfaction and rewards can be truly exciting and empowering for an entire organisation.

To be of best service to my organisation, I strive to provide clarity of strategic direction, help find systemic sustainable solutions, and simplify the complexities that crop up all around us. My job is to serve from the bottom not direct from the top.

In tough times, it’s even more important to invest in brand building since it is a time when trading down and commoditisation gain momentum. Brands have to sharpen their value propositions and have to be relentless with continuous innovation and creative ideas.

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