Marketers have an image problem, says former Asda exec
A view from Claire Harrison-Church

Marketers have an image problem, says former Asda exec

Rightly or wrongly, marketers have an image problem, writes the former vice-president, customer proposition, at Asda.

Always start with the problem

Consider the perception, habit or belief you want to change and work from there. I’ve seen too many advertising briefs that start with stating "we need to grow sales by X%" and "we want to communicate some new news" – but the really good initiatives start with solving a problem.

When I worked on KFC, the problem seemed to be poor perception – this was addressed by the "Soul food" campaign from Bartle Bogle Hegarty. But, equally, habit was a challenge, so new menu items were developed along with a store redesign – all of which helped to drive frequency of visits.

What’s the role of advertising within your brand business model?

I’m always surprised by how often we don’t stop to ponder this question. To quote professor of marketing science Byron Sharp, "its purpose is to affect the buying behaviour of consumers" – ie drive sales. But we should be clear what other actions within our business can achieve this and specifically how our advertising will affect behaviour either today, next month or over the next three years.

Planners in our media agencies are the perfect partners to help figure this out. There is likely to be a difference in communications strategy between attracting people to a big-ticket item bought once every five years and retaining grocery customers in their weekly shop. 

Rename marketers as growth managers

I had a discussion recently with a business with no marketers – instead, it had growth leaders. I thought: how brilliant. Because, rightly or wrongly, marketers have an image problem – often seen within businesses as a cost line to be challenged or, equally bad, as magic that can cure all ills.

But marketers are simply problem-solvers looking to grow their brand and business by being better than the competition, usually through initiatives that help their customers a little more.

Put customers first

Yes, it’s that old chestnut, but the challenge is what someone once described to me as "the magic of the ‘and’".

In most businesses, we want to put customers first but not at the expense of profit. So what’s essential for customer insight functions is to work out what matters most to customers and then recommend where savings can be made to make it happen.

Analyse the gap between loyals and non-loyals

You’ve probably sat in a focus group of brand loyalists and wished you could just put the video of them enthusing about your brand on YouTube – job done.

To get cut-through and build brand love, it is harder than that – understanding the biggest gap in perception between loyalists and non-loyalists is invaluable and should be your starting point for a great communications brief. 

Balance the big picture with subject matter experts

With such pace of change within digital marketing, we need specialists so we can test new channels to keep refining our marketing. But even more importantly, we need to make sure we have an overall communications strategy, a process for learning fast and an iterative communications model.

Build strong client/agency relationships

I think we all know that to deliver brilliant creative work that even at idea stage makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, you need to trust each other. You can research, of course, but at some point you will need to take a leap of faith and you can only do that if you have a solid foundation.

As a client, it’s all too easy to not communicate and to somehow expect your partner agencies to know what’s going on inside your business. But the old adage is true for all of us: "The more you know, the more you care."

Having a discipline of regular calls, meetings and time out to reflect is essential to building trust between clients and agencies.

Claire Harrison-Church is the former vice-president, customer proposition, at Asda. Her career spans FMCG (including 15 years with Unilever), fast food and retail, with senior roles at Boots, Sainsbury's and KFC.