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Across the Pond

Welcome to Across the Pond - Marketing Transformed

We were discussing what we wanted to get out of this and it’s sharing some of the learnings and principles and war wounds that we have experienced to do transformation successfully.


Episode 001 TOPICS:


  • Intro: Chris and Samuel -40 years of Marketing Transformation experience

  • Our philosophy to succeed in digital transformation

  • Having the right mindset and process

  • Why marketing needs to take the lead in organisation transformation

  • Lessons from Absolute Radio and Tassimo

Across the Pond- Marketing Transformed.

  1. The first episode!



This has been something we've been talking about for a while and it’s nice to just press the record button.

Yes it is indeed and hopefully this is a series and set of shows that folks will really get into and we can share our wisdom here for you the audience. Keep responding to questions that come in and points that you have and feedback that you give us, because we want to keep this going and make it valuable and interesting. So, this isn't just going to be another show out of thousands out there hopefully this is one that floats to the top of your minds and keeps us hungry, keeps us at it because we’re excited.

It All Started With…” Next Please!”

Yeah well said. So, brand new and what we wanted to explore in our podcast series Across the Pond is issues close to our heart. Around digital transformation, and marketing's role within it. We also want to explore the differences in approaches and experiences between America and the UK (hence the title). This is something that myself and Sam have experience in for many many years now, we've known each other for about 20 years, we met at a large grocery retailer in the UK called Safeway, now called Morrisons. That was back in the 90's I believe?

Yep, yep.

Safeway was ahead of the curve at the time in terms of some of their processes, some of the initiatives where it used loyalty cards, category management, personalisation. Really customer centric, ‘shop and go’ was an initiative that Safeway brought in as well. 


We learnt a lot. There were some brilliant minds there, a big set of alumni that come from Safeway and in our respective role ever since we've been driving transformation, and we wanted to share those learnings with you. Whether you're starting out on your career or you're a seasoned professional looking for inspiration or empathy (or sympathy) we've got a lot that we'd like to share, some of our most recent experiences that we’re both working on at the moment. And I think what unites us is that role that marketing and the transformation of organisations and the role technology has played at driving that change.


For example, a key part of my role after Safeway was at Telco, and then a Global Media publisher, then I launched Absolute Radio and then I was a Marketing Sales Director at Guardian and moved on to various private equity backed organisations after that, some in gaming, some in wine, but all of them were intent on driving change. And although some of my roles have been international, I stayed UK focused but you took the move to the states didn’t you?


Yeah and listening to your journey it's similar for me, In terms of the roles I'm in recently, I’m working in a marketing capability and digital transformation role. My career’s been driven by my mindset of being curious and saying yes when I could have said no. And standing up the growth of departments, creating capability and creating pathways for the new and often fighting the resistance of the status quo. So, I think of it as a mosaic, for me I'm putting pieces of the mosaic together, I started my career off in the UK and Ireland. Starting off in music retail, back in the day there was a company called HMV, I think it's still around in the UK and a few other places, when record stores hadn't been disrupted and transformed and now only a few of them survive, and then I joined Safeway, where we both met in a variety of roles, and I was privileged to be able see the evolution of retail, because consumers were becoming discerning and the assortments were changing things like organic, online and more international flavours.

Safeway for all you US based listeners is the same as a grocery retailer in the US and it went out to the UK about 50 years ago and has subsequently been acquired. But I did some time in retail then moved to the Consumer Goods side with Gillette and P&G and what excited me was being able to travel and live overseas, so I moved to Switzerland for a couple of years and then Germany for about 3 years in global branding roles. That's taken me to apparel, to food and technology and appliances. My wife and I even had our own entrepreneurial business for a while, it was an ecommerce store, a woman's apparel retailer Boutique Larrieux. All those inputs pulled together and synthesized has helped give me a set of philosophies. But constantly having to break and let go of the past and embrace new things as modern marketers should do. So, that's kind of the quick journey of how I got on this show with you Chris.

Real Life Lessons

Yeah that's good, between the two of us we have 40 years of experience but this isn't a nostalgia trip there's plenty of fresh ideas on the subject that we’re hugely passionate about and were making sure were keeping this very real and relevant.


We were discussing what we wanted to get out of this and its sharing some of learnings and principles and war wounds we have experienced in order to do transformation successfully. If we start from the beginning when we both met at Safeway, although it was function led, it was organised around the traditional format as most marketing companies were in those days. You had the Direct Marketing Team the above Marketing Team, but Safeway transformed itself to focus on the customer. I think it was a bold move at the time but was something very early on that captured my imagination; this need to be customer focused and it's stuck with me ever since and it is much about a mindset as it is strategy, and when the majority of the marketing world was seeing it through a different lens. It taught me an important lesson about the power of conviction and then the team of the Safeway Marketing Department and the Commercial Department have all gone on to have some very successful careers.


I think that striving ahead, being the forerunner for change quite often when you’re doing that on your own it is a powerful thing.

Interestingly, all the brilliant minds you think in the world can’t stop the company from failing if you don’t fix your basics first. Safeway in the end suffered from a few problems around range, and product and ended up being taken over. I think that's an important point that what we want to make sure is that we’re not just preaching an ideal version here, this is very much about practical steps- how do you roll your sleeves up as well as strategise to make sure that we are covering how we fix the basics as well as how we dream about the future as well.

So Sam, what's your biggest learning do you think around transformation in your current role?
Where can you see those learnings or mistakes in play?


I think one of the things I spend a lot of time on is injecting the humanity to actually drive the transformation and generate growth. Advancing capabilities in the most critical areas is what I see as critical to this modern marketing mindset and succeeding in transformation, my philosophy is creating remarkable growth around experiences because that changes our behaviour and the culture of the organisation transforming performance for abundant attainment. So, those words of abundant and transformation and behaviour change is all critical to being successful in this space so it's the ability to sustain it over a longer period of time and not just this one-and-done aspect and how digital transformation fits in. It's a challenge of wrestling with the performance marketing it's the brand building debate that's been going on for quite a while now I think it's just a flawed approach because you need to do both there’s a lot of solid effort that proves doing both is critical.

Marketers are definitely being threatened by budgets becoming tighter and you've got to prove that you drive value and sales but ultimately you have to let go of the ‘set it and forget it mindset’. That's one of the things I spend a lot of time inspiring and trying to embed in the business: you need to be able to do the test and run approach and that's means you can’t write a brief and roll out a campaign for 10 weeks and just let it go, you've got to invest in real time decision making and if it's not working, then you need a plan A,B,C and a D and keep going so you just can’t set it and forget it.

Yes, you've got to have a vision of what's it's going to be but you have to use those data points coming in to actually take action. No longer is it about spending 2 weeks building the ‘powerpoint deck’ to present you've got to be using that data to optimise and improve. Marketers really have to let go and rewire their brains from how they used to think about marketing and think about it in a new way. 


Here's a tip for those listening in right now to implement right now: the person closest to the data gets to make the decision and not the most important person i.e. the VP or CMO or even the president who could actually be a bit clueless about marketing or what's going on, the person closest to the data should get the call and have that decision making authority and that's a huge behavioural shift in organisations and marketing as I see it today.

Yeah and we will come back to that in future episodes, talking about that culture and mindset change and also which organisations are doing that well.

 I think the important point is that we want to affect this change for both new entrants coming into the marketing sphere as well as the C suite as well. One of the things I think drives both of us is practitioner role. Understanding what it’s really like in the trenches, we've both worked our way up to the roles that we’re in now and I think an important part of that is that acceleration; the unlocking talent and it’s about serving a greater and more informed and curious customer.

Sometimes we underestimate how far ahead our customers actually are from us, the marketing professionals, and we have to be there at the forefront using the best knowledge in the organisation, which quite often can be the lower rank to help inform us about how our users are driving their usage via the media or whatever other manner.


How do we leverage data and insight in the customer journey and how do we communicate with customers as their marketing channels evolve? You have to find your own transformation journey as well; different industries or scale up enterprises that are at different points will have their own different understanding of what they need to achieve and what that transformation is and it is our role to think about how do we make the biggest impact within that.

The Hurdles of Transformation

I think there’s some simple ways to overcome those challenges to put into practice that shows that transformation journey you talked about. 


One key one is you need to have a marketing process with a single score card. So, you must move from having multiple or inconsistent processes and have one common score card within a brand business planning approach. Still nimble and align efforts, I'll be controversial here and say there is a need to push back in the tendency for the CFO to actually drive the marketing plan, marketers need to speak out and frame the process. So, it’s packed with the customer journey and customer experience not just a margin and  profit-centred discussion where all you have is a bunch of spread sheets and P&L's filled in but no real understanding of the consumer or customer and no real benefit or service being provided for them that actually adds value. So, I think that's one of the key things, single score cards. 


The second one is having the right skills in the right place at the right time so you've got to move from this disperate training and capabilities in different places and things varied as roles change or demands of the business change. You've got to close those gaps you have to have capability development that's easy and applicable to apply to the day job, so not 3-day classroom training, you've got to design things to be on the job and practical that can be coached and developed. 


The third thing is to keep it simple. With all this change, all the demands and all the ambiguity you've got to make it simple to link the competencies and development of the individuals or the organisation to a behavioural change that drives growth. So its  simplicity, having the right skills in the right place, the single score card which is not purely a CFO driven agenda, are the three ways to make transformation successful for the organisation


I always say that transformation is about moving the organisation from point A to point B and that's where I do my best work. It’s transformation at that early stage activity and whether that's working as a CMO at the Guardian or Virgin I've always been attracted by the new the different but it has to have a view that creates something better, I think sometimes you can be attracted by the shiny that doesn’t necessarily create something better.

Interestingly, some of the organisations I've worked with very early on in my career have relatively stayed and they didn’t really respond quickly to market forces. Sometimes they didn’t do that because they didn’t necessarily have to because they were in a strong leadership position, they thought they were better ‘defenders’ than they were. But some of those organisations, where they were constantly striving, constantly looking ahead, constantly looking at how they could optimize performance, constantly thinking a little about how to get further along the curve, they're the ones who have actually gone on to do much more and that have been incredibly successful and that's also what's really appealed to me as well, working out how you drive that change and it's a sustainable level of change as well not just a peak of activity.

So, if you had to pick three words Sam to define transformation, what would they be?


Three words I would pick? Progress, change and optimism. I'd love to take credit for that however I did blatantly steal that from Seth Godin, which is something I think he came up with in his most recent book.


If you're gonna steal, he's a pretty good person to steal from.


Hopefully he won’t sue me for plagiarism, I did give him credit here! 

Making progress by leaning in and looking how to let go of the things you've done in the past, is embracing the new technology. What's the role of that plan, how many people are adopting it? There’s a stat out there that says 60% of people aren't using 70% of the stuff. You've got to close that gap, I don’t mean on that stat, but there is a truth behind most marketing technology not being used and leveraged. You've got to make that progress, close that gap, get people adopting and embracing it and working it into their processes. 


So, the optimism piece is something that right now, especially if you're in a packaged goods area, is perhaps a bit pessimistic. To think of your markets’ being eroded by competitors and new entrants, resources influx, market-place influx, legislation coming in, GDPR is impacting how you do things, being optimistic isn’t being deluded, it's really seeing what the benefits are from these changes and how to champion and accelerate and be part of that change. Change is the only constant in life so you can no longer in my opinion be a general manager and be removed from the marketing.  You have to be in it. You can’t be above the technology or be behind the technology or just be orchestrating from the sidelines- I really believe you have to be in it striving to master some of that stuff. 

You don’t have credibility as a leader giving performance reviews for people who would run rings around you with the actual Search Engine Skills, Digital Marketing Skills, Innovation Skills or the Insight Capabilities or Mastering and Analysing the data. All of that stuff you have to know and be able to do yourself so that change applies to the inside world but also internally how you digest that and how you apply that to work you do on a regular basis. Chris, what would you say are some of the biggest marketing changes you have been responsible for?

Well one that comes to mind is a great story; its Absolute Radio. This all launched in about 2007, I think. It was striving to be different- to cut itself some differentiation, away from the middle of the road stations that were in the UK. It was all about real guitar music and strong writing as well. I took the role- it was myself and 3 other directors and they bought me on board and said ‘we have one hundred days to make this transformation’, it was Virgin Radio at the time and I took it when it was funded by the Times of India and the brief was a challenging one it was really exciting how did transform this to a brand new station with a brand new playlist, brand new ethos and everything else it contained in one hundred days.


The vision was creating a multi channelled media company with audio at the heart. The real interesting point was that there was a hundred strong employees who were quite happy being Virgin Radio and it was a fantastic brand it was a great role and we realised very early on that to have any hope of achieving this in one hundred days,  this was a hearts and minds mission, we needed every single person in that organisation to be absolutely passionate about this and that was an important part for me, that so much of this was about mindset, creating a vision, a shared sense of purpose, collaboration, creating something everyone could believe in and really identifying what that was and really doing for it with both feet. It was an amazing time, was so exciting and interesting for us to see that progress as we did. But all those three points you talked about earlier are absolutely on the money there.

That one hundred day challenge is definitely a forcing factor, I probably don’t have something as time constrained, but in a similar way to thinking about simplicity; progress and change when there isn’t a playbook, there’s an example that stands out to me. 


I was working for Gillette at the time owned by P&G and we were partnering with big companies Kraft and a company that is subsequently acquired by Phillips’ an appliances organisation. You have to imagine three big companies that are working with different organisation cultures, different needs, different geographies and consumer needs so that was the complexity I was dealing with. It was for the Tassimo coffee product. 


I was standing up a joint venture very early on in my career, progress was really about compiling and collaborating with all of these different interests, different P&L's, different goals and KPIs and creating the score card and common approach,  and managing that complexity and what we meant by different things. When we'd say distribution in one company it may mean a shipment, it may mean a sale,  or what's in the warehouse so we had to find a common language and common approach and manage that complexity that was happening. We had French, Italian, Germany and UK coffee tastes and these consumers are all very different. So driving to action and corralling the resources without a playbook was the key challenge and the change was driving that focus on the scorecard and how we were making progress, we were able to ultimately nail that and have that common goal so we launched in 5 countries and with number one market share in three months in the UK.


So this was all about transforming in a joint venture when there wasn’t a playbook, one of the toughest tests I've had in my career but a lot of those principles you have shared were common to that example as well and having the fortitude to stand up and lead and not shirt that responsibility was critical and was key there.


Yeah and you know we will reflect on this in the series as we go along because so many of these themes absolutely paramount that leadership. Leadership can come from anywhere again Absolute Radio that leadership came from all areas of the organisation from the DJs, the Producers, the Production Team, Marketing Team, Digital Team and so on. And another thing reflecting on what you were saying there is that simplicity sometimes it's not clear what the playbook is, it's not clear in terms of what's been done before but it's being really focused on what this task is and believing you can achieve it counts for so much.
So, Sam, first episode but I think it's been a great intro, there’s been a lot of themes we want to carry in exploring and we hope you enjoyed it.



Three Keys Themes

Three key things from today’s show for me:


  1. Transformation I'd as much about the leadership philosophies, the mindset the resilience and sense of urgency needed. Its leading that change, leading that change is the key contributor.

  2. Mindset is not just a buzz word it's a wat it working that is future focused and innovation set and trick and we will talk more about mindset in the future.

  3. Finding common ground and a common message, articulating a vision to unlock talent and the people and ideas is a growth driver. Creating that culture is so critical that when you’re reporting your financial results a lot of companies are talking about the culture of their organization and how that’s driving success and momentum. Gone are the days where you can simply focus on the top talent and expect to succeed or win, you've got to engage all of your employees, all your resources and finding that common ground and common approach is a key driver of that. Those are the three things that I think people can take away from listening to this first episode.






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