Search giant Google has snatched the top slot from Virgin in the league table of companies where marketers most aspire to work. This is the stunning result of Marketing Week’s latest inquiry into marketers’ ideal career paths, the MW Top Employers’ Survey. For three years, our research has shown Sir Richard Branson’s empire exerted an unyielding attraction on the employment ambitions of marketers. Virgin has topped the league as the one brand where marketers most want to work since we launched the survey in 2005.
But search operator Google has bounded up the table during that time and this year becomes sales’ and marketing’s most-wanted employer.
The unstoppable rise of the big G as a global internet brand is reputedly down to the outstanding quality of its staff. Its turnover of $2.5bn (£1.6bn) over the past year in the UK and its top positions in search marketing and internet advertising are down to neither luck nor market dominance, say its supporters. This is a brand which employs the best minds to improve the mathematical equations that drive its search engine. It’s the algorithms, stupid. On the commercial side, Google’s Adwords and Adsense products have given brand owners a route by which to transfer their business onto the web. It has created a pathway to splendid riches for many internet pioneers, not just its own shareholders.
Google has arguably created search marketing as a medium off its own back. So its employees may be considered the new masters of the universe since the previous holders of this title – the bankers, more of whom later – slipped in their own ordure.
That said, working at Google seems a strange dream job for marketers. In reality, the search engine company offers few outlets for those in the business of brands. It does not spend much time or money promoting itself: why bother when you are simply the best? Its fame has been extended through word-of-mouth recommendation, so its offline advertising has been all but non-existent.
However, where Google could do with the aid of some solid marketing advice is in its new product and brand extension strategy. All too often, its efforts in these areas fall wide of the mark. For instance, Froogle, its shopping comparison brand, was axed last year, although a similar shopping service still operates. For all its brilliance in web search, the Google brand could do with a fillip in extending itself into new, related areas of marketing beyond search. So perhaps it should open the doors to its enchanted citadel to allow more marketing brains inside.
A Google spokesman says it does just that, employing a number of people in roles from business to business and product marketing roles, to account management and strategy roles.
“Working at Google means tackling the toughest problems in information technology and developing and marketing innovative products that make a positive difference to tens of millions of lives every day,” he says. “There are several reasons that such qualified and impressive candidates are attracted to work at Google. Many employees are intrigued by the founders and the culture they have fostered at Google. In addition to the office environment, working at Google provides a chance to tackle some of the most interesting, fun, and challenging problems out there.”
The spokesman adds: “Back in our early start-up days, we found that great things happen more frequently within the right culture and environment. Therefore, we offer Googlers a generous host of benefits to keep Google a motivating, healthy, and productive place.” Perks in the UK offices include free meals, free yoga, pilates and dance classes, free on-site massages, bringing dogs to work as well as more traditional benefits such as subsidised gym membership, health cover and travel subsidy.
Among all this Google fever, let us still give Virgin the credit it deserves. For the fourth year in a row, the brand with the elegantly scrawled logo tops the ranking of popular companies to work for in terms of total votes cast. In other words, when marketers were asked to name a selection of companies where they desire employment, the Virgin name garnered more mentions than any other. When Virgin’s various branches – everything from Virgin Atlantic to Virgin Active – are all taken together, Virgin tops the list overall. Perhaps the brand has an advantage in that it has so many outlets. This year, votes for all its various arms totalled 221, far outstripping its closest rival, Google, with 162.
But on what is perhaps the more pertinent measure, where marketers are asked to name just one company where they want to work, Google outstrips all comers with 48 votes against 43 for Apple, 34 for Innocent Drinks and 25 for Virgin. Consider the way Google has leapt up the most popular companies table: in 2005 it started off at number 20, sailing up to 11 in 2006 and crashing into the top ten at number three last year. This shows a dynamic brand, a company that has altered and improved perceptions as times have changed.
Indeed, the timing of this year’s survey could explain many of the shifts in perception that have thrown previous years’ results into the air. Just over 1,000 respondents completed our survey between mid-September and October 10, so the world had already changed irrevocably following the collapse of Lehman Brothers on September 15, the event which triggered the global financial crisis.
Much can be read into this, though let’s not make the mistake of reading too much. Certainly the falling stature of bank brands in our survey could be related to the banking crisis. Who wants to work at a brand that by next year may be reduced to a junior branch of the civil service? RBS plummets 17 places to 42 this year, perhaps reflecting its deep troubles and the imminent government buyout. Meanwhile HSBC, which has long exercised a hypnotic fascination on marketers’ aspirations, has fallen out of the top ten altogether, and languishes in 14th position. But HSBC has so far escaped the need for a state bailout. Barclays has slipped out of the top 20 to number 24. Against this trend, Lloyds TSB has rocketed up the rankings, taking joint 35th position this year (alongside hunger relief charity Oxfam) compared with 47 last year, when it first showed up in the survey. Surely this must be largely due to its sponsorship of the London 2012 Olympics and the great potential for marketing creativity that this permits?
However, Phil Redwood, director of Fusion Communications, which carries out the research for MW, cautions: “While some of the banks’ rankings fell, others’ rose, suggesting that marketers have not been hugely affected by the current media coverage.”
Redwood also points to Marks & Spencer as a company that has done well in this year’s survey, coming in at number ten on single company mentions and rising up the all-mentions ranking from ten to number seven. It is the highest placed retailer in our survey. Perhaps its glamorous advertising campaigns created under the direction of marketing director Steven Sharp are increasing its standing among marketers.
M&S executive director for marketing Steven Sharp says: “The M&S brand might be a household name, but that doesn’t mean we’re standing still. Every day we challenge ourselves to come up with new ways to move the brand forward, and entice our customers. It’s one of the reasons why M&S is such a dynamic and exciting place to work – and we’re thrilled that UK marketing professionals agree.”
Meanwhile, Tesco’s position has collapsed. The chain headed by former marketing director Sir Terry Leahy has dropped from four to ten on all mentions and has fallen out of the top ten when marketers were asked to name just one company where they wanted to work. Perhaps its charm is wearing off as the chain retrenches in hard times and reverts to its origins as a value retailer. Maybe marketers are no longer impressed by Tesco’s relentless drive into new areas. Recent examples include setting up a new bank – which is either completely daft or a stroke of genius during a banking crisis.
It is noteworthy that Apple has sailed up the chart this year to capture the number two position after Google. In previous years, the top two slots were taken by Virgin and Innocent Drinks, the smoothie maker which has been the marketing phenomenon of the past decade. But this year, two technology brands dominate the rankings, perhaps signalling a switch in marketers’ understanding of brand value. Maybe the froth of added-value branding that previously topped marketers’ concerns is no longer relevant in this tough climate, and marketers now look to the future from hardware that performs complex operations. There can be little doubt that the success of the Apple iPhone has propelled the brand to the top of marketers’ consciousness. The company’s ability to take clunky, unattractive technology and turn it into a product of sleek and exquisite design affirms everything marketers have been taught about appealing to consumers.
According to Grant Duncan, headhunter for media at Spencer Stuart and former chief executive of advertising agency Publicis, marketers are enticed by employers that offer fresh ways of working. “These are organisations that have unexpected and challenging roles and which do not operate on traditional business models. Organisations like Apple, Google, Virgin and the BBC are doing something different. The BBC iPlayer is a great example of how the BBC has used its investment to create something forward-thinking and popular.
“Marketers will look for a brand where they can make their mark quickly in companies that take risks and look to the future. That’s where marketing people thrive, because their skills in finding new ways to persuade consumers to buy come to the fore in such environments,” he says.
Meanwhile, online bookseller Amazon has crashed into the table for the first time. It comes 29th equal (with Disney), but what’s surprising is that it has never before appeared in our survey. Given that it is credited with revolutionising retail and pioneering the recommendation process, you might expect it to perform more strongly.
Other brands that have strongly increased their positions in the table include BMW, which has leapt to ninth place from 16 last year on general mentions – a welcome vote of confidence when car makers are reeling from the consumer downturn. Meanwhile 02 has jumped to 18th place from 27 last year, showing that its sponsorship of the former Millennium Dome may have boosted its reputation for imaginative brand development. Steep fallers include Waitrose and Channel 4.
A fascinating insight is provided by the survey’s question asking respondents to state which companies they would most like to work at in their own sector. Automotive marketers would most like to work for Audi and then BMW, followed by Porsche and Honda. In charities, Cancer Research is the most coveted brand followed by Oxfam, Macmillan and Unicef. HSBC then Barclays and First Direct top the league for financial services marketers. In packaged goods, Innocent and Coca-Cola are followed by Unilever then Diageo and Cadbury. Retail marketers would most like to work for Tesco, then John Lewis and then M&S. In leisure and hospitality, Virgin Atlantic ties with British Airways.
On the subject of which individual business people marketers would most like to work for, it’s little surprise Sir Richard Branson is hands down winner with 127 votes. Then comes “myself”, ie self-employment, with just 16 votes. Sir Alan Sugar and Dragon Den’s Peter Jones both get 15 votes, while Apple’s Steve Jobs gets 11.
The survey – in which 60% of respondents were women, and 38% were marketing managers or sales and marketing managers – was conducted during a period of turbulent conditions. The emerging economic crisis is likely to change the way marketers view their ideal jobs in times to come. This year there has been a shift towards brands focused on technology. It will be fascinating to see how marketers’ aspirations are transformed over the next 12 months.
The Marketing Week and Michael Page Top Employer Survey 2008 was prepared by Fusion Communications. It is a web-based survey conducted from mid-September to mid-October using confirmIT research software.
A personalised invitation to participate by email was sent to a data file of individual contacts supplied by Marketing Week publisher Centaur with a weblink to the questions. Participants were offered a chance to win one of three hampers in a prize draw.
A total of 1,006 surveys were completed. Some 38% of respondents were marketing or sales and marketing managers, while 10% were marketing or sales and marketing directors.
The highest response came from those in financial or professional services (25%), followed by marketers working in the packaged goods sector (10%).