A view from Jan Gooding

Aviva's brand director on how to earn trust

Marketers have a duty to make sure the brands entrusted to their care remain in robust health, explains the group brand director at Aviva.

Customers keep you grounded

My first job was as a management trainee at Selfridges and the reality of dealing with all sorts of customers was a total revelation. I had a character-building week in customer relations. By the time people got there, they were absolutely furious and always with good reason.

That is where I learnt that the customer always needs to be listened to and they have a reasonable expectation that anyone who represents the company should care and sort it out.

It’s easy to become remote from the day-to-day realities of the people we hope to gain or keep as customers. The more senior you are, the more easily that can happen, unless you work at it. At Aviva, we have a brilliant web application available to staff called Frame, which gives immediate access to what is happening with our customers, including recent recordings of their conversations with our people.

People before process

Customers aren’t interested in systems and ways of working, especially when it defies common sense. I’m a big believer in being real with people, from my team to our customers, and not letting process get in the way of doing the right thing.

One of my mantras is to give everyone the benefit of the doubt. That means trying to imagine others’ good intentions and desire to do the right thing and looking for flexibility to make things work for everyone. As marketers, we are often described as "the joining-up department" – and rightly so.

We have a unique overview of the customer and the commercial realities, and can help cut across bureaucracy to make big and little changes in the quest for a seamless experience. Customers are good at pointing out silly blind spots. And we have to keep trying to sort them out.

Resist always going back to the start

Strategy is really important. It requires hard work, challenge and a convincing logic as to why customers will buy more or stay longer. But making sure enough time is left to execute is vital. People only see what you actually take to market.

It’s hard to inherit someone else’s strategy or campaign idea, but far better to fine-tune and build on what has gone before than start all over again. I can’t stand it when new leadership means "a strategy review" and causes complete paralysis. I think an "executional review" should be the place to start.

Brands should earn trust

I often refer to brand equity as being like a bank account of goodwill, which requires constant deposits of emotional and functional benefits to create the opportunity to withdraw value in increased margin.

Brands definitely earn you forgiveness when things go wrong. But marketers have a duty to make sure the brands entrusted to their care remain in robust health. That means taking on the shortterm forces within a company that seek to harvest the cash available without returning the required investment for future years.

Speak your mind

There is a phrase that I find completely maddening as a reason not to speak up with a point of view: "career-limiting". I have learnt, as we all do, that you have to choose your moment. But honest dialogue is critical to successful marketing.

Diversity really matters – inside and out

As chair of trustees at LGBT-equality charity Stonewall, I have been outspoken about diversity and inclusion being a prerequisite to authentic brand communication and customer experience. The business case has been evidenced again and again across the world by numerous respected studies. Varied and balanced voices mean better creativity, productivity and profitability.

It is time we all take this seriously and create lasting change in the composition, remuneration and culture of our teams so our output benefits.

Embrace change but memory matters too

When I was nine years old, our home was struck by lightning, causing a fire, which meant my family lost pretty much everything. My father taught me the vital importance of insurance, which fortunately we had, and he also told me that change was an inevitable part of life, which I had to learn to embrace.

As marketers, we tend to love change, new trends and opportunities because they give an angle to refresh our thinking. But as I have grown older, I have also understood how the behaviour of people is repeated and deeply ingrained, for better or worse.

For instance, people seek to avoid advertising they find irritating or irrelevant and it’s hard to persuade people to change their shopping habits. So I have learned to respect brand and corporate memory and understand more deeply what is meant by stewardship. 

Jan Gooding is group brand director at Aviva. She started her career agency-side and has more than 30 years' experience in marketing and advertising.