Diageo’s CMO on how marketers can succeed in a volatile and chaotic world

To cope in a volatile world, marketing leaders must be prepared to embrace change and feel able to ask for help, according to Diageo CMO Syl Saller.

Wake up with the Economist

Marketers need to be prepared to shift their mindset to cope with a rapidly changing and volatile global market, says Diageo CMO Syl Saller.

Speaking at an event hosted by The Economist at Cannes Lions today (18 June), Saller argued that recognising how much volatility there is in the world expands your repertoire as a leader.

For this reason Diageo frequently moves its marketing leaders around the world to give them fresh challenges and expand the scope of their thinking.

“We recently took somebody out of one developed market where his biggest problem was that Tesco had moved away from promoting his product and put him into a market [in Africa] where the disruption from election, the rapid tax increase, the supply shortages and occasionally not having electricity became the things he had to deal with – and still find growth,” Saller explained.

“We put a lot of focus on the fact you don’t wake up knowing how to deal with a volatile and uncertain world. We put a lot of emphasis on training our people to be able to cope with that, to expect that, because so much of that is mindset.”

How the team coped with that and still found growth was nothing short of awe inspiring.

Syl Saller, Diageo

She explained the concept of a “VUCA world” (volatile, uncertain, chaotic, ambiguous) and why the ability to cope in these conditions is less down to training and more about the human element of empowering teams to ask for help.

The fact that Diageo is such an “open organisation” means Saller is ready to counsel the marketers herself or connect them with someone else in the business who might be able to help. She references the marketing director for Turkey who a few years ago had the challenge of coping with the Turkish market going “dark” overnight.

“We went from being able to communicate with consumers to no advertising, no digital, no promotion, no signage. I mean it was dark and how the team coped with that and still found growth was nothing short of awe inspiring,” explained Saller.

“And who did I have at our next big marketing gathering as the keynote speaker? It was the marketing director for Turkey, because his story inspired people to really raise their game. I find harnessing that genius and bringing it together around common problems like VUCA really works.”

In a volatile world Diageo puts creativity on a pedestal. And while Saller insists that nothing can replace creativity, she believes it can still be measured. The company recently installed a tool on the desktops of its 1,200 global marketers to diagnose their return on brand by country and return by media type.

While she describes this tool as a “revolution” for Diageo, Saller believes any organisation can create the right conditions for measuring creativity, it is just about making a mindset shift.

READ MORE: Get ready for Cannes 2018 – Hot topics and what to see

Ethical implications

The ethics of marketing is a big area of interest for Samsung Electronics America CMO Marc Mathieu. Speaking on the same panel, Mathieu explained his interest in embedding ethics and responsibility into a product from the start of the invention process, arguing this is a crucial consideration given the way marketers put their “mark into people’s lives”.

The Samsung marketing boss believes that with the advent of smart technology brands have a greater responsibility to think carefully about how they spend their marketing dollars going forward.

“We bombard people with 10,000 messages a day on their digital networks and in reality I don’t think any of us saw that coming when the internet was created. We didn’t have the tools, we didn’t have the smartphones or the platforms, and we didn’t have the marketing and advertising that we have now created to invade their lives,” said Mathieu.

“I think we have an opportunity to think how we evolve the marketing we do, sell a bit less and serve a bit more that community of people. We need to think about not just invading people’s lives, but helping them hustle through life.”

Fellow panellist Godert van Dedem, vice-president and CMO for EMEA at eBay, is equally focused on creating what he described as a “very deep and visceral customer understanding” that enables the company to connect with consumers across every relevant touchpoint.

He explained that while the speed of experience and seamlessness of shipping is key, he is committed to ensuring the customer journey is still fun and entertaining.

“I’m trying to create an experience which is engaging. The shopping itself is a journey, it doesn’t have to be speedy and fast,” said van Dedem.

“Our stated mission is to be the place where the world shops first, so my hope is that the shopping experience is something people take their time on, but when you find a product then it has to be shipped fast.”

Read all  of Marketing Week’s Cannes Lions 2018 coverage, sponsored by MiQ, here.