Marketing superpowers and becoming a forward-facing brand

Maria Jennings, the marketing and brand director for PwC UK, has a clear sense of purpose for both her brand and her marketing team – and it means always looking ahead

Marketing superpowers and becoming a forward-facing brand

Most marketers don’t talk about modelling their team on Captain America, Black Widow, Iron Man, and company. Maria Jennings is different. The marketing and brand director for PwC UK feels strongly that everyone brings a unique superpower to the table, which is why she describes marketing as an assembly of Avengers.

“I don’t want to make decisions as a leader without input from the talented leaders and teams around me,” she says. “I can learn something from any one of them at any time. I know when I call upon each unique set of skills – from great creativity to powerful data insights and tech skills – we take what we do and how we drive growth to whole new levels.”

Many superheroes also complement their own powers with cutting edge technology, and it’s a combination Jennings believes is critical to marketing success. It’s an approach PwC refers to as being ‘human-led, tech-powered’ as part of its global strategy and brand position, The New Equation.

“We talk about this golden ratio of human expertise powered by technology being able to unlock potential and create opportunity and we apply it to everything we do, including our marketing,” says Jennings. “We’ve invested in tools that give us access to real-time data so that we can report back to stakeholders on what’s working and what needs to change.”

That data is increasingly focused on the task of building the PwC brand – a shift that’s taken place in recent years. Back in 2019, Jennings led the delivery of one of PwC UK’s first large-scale ad campaigns, which marked an important turning point for the organisation.

From a famous name to a famous brand

“Advertising wasn’t something we’d focused a lot on historically – we were more traditional in our marketing. But we’re not in that world anymore. Since developing one of our first ad campaigns back in 2019, our investment and board-level buy-in has grown. Our leadership teams understand that our brand needs to be where our clients are. Organisations of any size can no longer hope people will find them organically. We need to be front of mind when they’re ready to buy.”

Meeting audiences in the right context is a key part of Jennings’ vision for the PwC brand. Yes, it could happen through a TV ad, in the pages of the Sunday Times, through digital display or content partnerships, but the role of people is as important in brand advocacy as any campaign. Every interaction with the brand is important. Being able to talk credibly to the issues that matter most – to both clients and audiences more broadly – is at the heart of any integrated marketing activity.

“It’s important to be visible,” she says. “Buyers are moving so much further through the buying journey on their own, making decisions about who they think can solve their problems. To be considered, you need to be visible in that journey.

“Being very clear on whether you need to drive awareness, consideration or first choice is essential in knowing how you go to market. Where you know you have a significant brand challenge, it’s important to know when to invest and how.”

The evolution imperative

Connecting the PwC brand to the issues that matter has been a clear marketing focus; it also means that the type of marketing needs to evolve constantly. For Jennings, such evolution is a continuous process, one that marketers need to feel comfortable with.

“You always have to have an eye on the future. To compete in a crowded market, you need to be thinking about how you can be innovative and have impact. That means always assessing what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. However, as a leader it’s important that our teams don’t feel like it’s something that’s being done to them. They need to feel that they are part of the journey and contributors to the story. They need to understand that their superpowers are known, valued and used.”

A sense of shared purpose plays a central role in equipping a team to deal with change. Jennings describes it as a key component of the PwC brand. She’s convinced that every PwC employee can recite the company’s purpose to build trust in society and solve important problems – and she discusses this level of engagement in terms of a crucial marketing KPI.

Making purpose count through consistency

“I truly believe we’re a purpose-led organisation – but the more important measure of that is whether people feel that when they work with us and when they encounter our brand in the market,” she says. “It can’t just be a strapline or something you add to your website. It’s how you show up that’s important. If your clients aren’t feeling it when they’re with you, then it’s not working.”

As any PwC consultant could tell you, making things work comes down to choosing the right investments. Jennings is part of a leadership team that’s empowered – superpowered even – to make those investments by an organisation increasingly engaged in tracking brand performance.

“We use a lot of data and insight to assess our brand and understand its value. And that insight plays a major role in the conversations we have. Our board members recognise our brand is an asset that needs investment. We regularly discuss the role that brand plays in driving commercial growth. But that means you need to keep investing in it, both from a skills perspective – to protect and manage it – but also in promoting it. You can’t expect a brand to retain its value without investment.

“Treating your brand as the invaluable asset it is and holding onto your people and their superpowers, allows you to evolve and grow as an organisation. That has to be the focus of any good strategy.”