Growth isn't a by-product, it is the end game
A view from Andy Brent

Growth isn't a by-product, it is the end game

Coca-Cola and Mondelez's growth directors will prove the value to businesses of their roles, but they must focus on their core objective.

The role of the chief marketing officer has not evolved to keep pace with rapidly changing consumer habits. Flat-lining growth of big brands is clear evidence that what worked in the 90s is not fit for purpose in the digital era of selfie-junkie millennials.

Although many executive teams are still scratching their heads wondering why they can’t move the needle on growth, companies like Coca-Cola and Mondelez, which both announced earnings in the last week, are tackling their growth woes with radical fervour.

While Coca-Cola will undoubtedly still be reflecting on its recent product missteps, it has appointed Francisco Crespo as its chief growth officer.

Less than 5% of businesses have a CGO, a position which, if empowered effectively, could finally establish the long overdue executive accountability for growth that has allowed senior managers to shrug off bad numbers as products plateau.

In Mr Crespo’s case, he is tasked with creating a more seamless approach to marketing and operations and driving the company’s vision to become a "total beverage company".

It is a massive undertaking for Crespo, who needs to refocus Coca-Cola on its core offerings and re-establish discipline in market segmentation. The company continuously overcrowds its own categories with innovations like Coca-Cola Life and Coca-Cola Lime/Lemon/Vanilla etc – anyone remember, let alone drink those?

If Coca-Cola is truly serious about creating a seamless proposition that spans the increasing integration of online and conventional retail environments, its CGO needs to cut down on the wasted efforts in research labs and focus groups that ask consumers to rationalise their purchasing choices.

It doesn’t work. Coca-Cola, like many, many others, needs to wake up to the whole body of behavioural science that shows people aren’t logically engaged by brands for the most part. What they need are propositions which speak to them with emotional intelligence at moments they really care about.

Coca-Cola doesn’t expect to see the benefits of its new approach for at least a year to come, but it looks like the company may be an early adopter in the new trend for growth directors.

Coca-Cola, like many, many others, needs to wake up to the whole body of behavioural science that shows people aren’t logically engaged by brands for the most part.

The other early adopter and corporate innovator in the news this week is Mondelez – a company just starting to realise the benefits of its new growth director structure.

The company just reported a respectable 2.5% growth in "power brands" for the quarter, following a torturous financial year that saw revenues plummet a whopping 13% in 2016.

Mondelez appointed Tim Cofer in the final quarter of 2016 and the turnaround has been spectacular. The company has a clear and simple growth plan – prioritise investment in power brands, expand product ranges into "white spaces" and expand sales and distribution capabilities.

But just as Tim Cofer’s appointment is starting to bear fruit, Mondelez has fallen back into the trap of de-prioritising growth in its organisational structure. Not only will Mr Cofer be responsible for growth worldwide, he has now been tasked with running Mondelez’s problem North America market, albeit on an interim basis.

As if that were not enough for one man to tend to, Mondelez has also just parted company with its CMO, Dana Anderson, Cofer's key direct report as CGO, and has brought in a new head of insights – crucial positions that the CGO needs to get right if progress is to be maintained.

Growth is not the by-product of a flashy ad campaign or snazzy new accounting system – it is the result of a smart approach to marketing and sales which relentlessly drives its core offering and catches consumers who are keen to bite.

It feels as though Mondelez is slipping back into a "growth is a by-product of things going well" mode.

The company needs to fill its North American President role, and do it quickly, so Mr Cofer can get back to consolidating his progress and executing his growth strategy.

If Tim Cofer and Francesco Crespo can pull off the turnarounds their businesses desperately need, then the rest of the business world will have no choice but to start taking the need for growth directors seriously.

But, if Mr Cofer is too busy fighting for global sales and managing a problem market at Mondelez to be effective, then the whole exercise will have been futile, and ultimately it will be shareholders and consumers that pay the price.

Andy Brent is a former chief marketing director of Boots and Barclays, and author of The Growth Director's Secret