Sainsbury's and Unilever marketing leaders: don't over-rely on data or obsess about channels

Marketing leaders from Sainsbury's, Unilever, Santander and Travelex told an audience at Advertising Week yesterday (20 April) what they saw as the 'elephant in the room' - the uncomfortable truth facing the marketing industry, which people aren't talking about.

Mark Given, Sainsbury's, and Keith Moor, Santander
Mark Given, Sainsbury's, and Keith Moor, Santander

Their comments covered the full spectrum of issues, from over-reliance on data to the difficulty of attracting the right talent, via agencies that won’t work together, and social-media users who won't watch branded content.

The most damning comments came from Dominic Grounsell, global digital marketing director at Travelex, who said that marketing faced a crisis of talent because it was failing to attract enough STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) graduates able to deal with the technical roles found in the industry today.

Marketing pulled out the highlights of what each speaker had to say.

We must not develop people who can’t take decisions without data

Patricia Corsi, vice-president, foods and beverages, UK and Ireland, Unilever

When I started my career in Latin America, I had a very love-hate relationship with data. We wanted data so much, but didn’t have it – you couldn’t even get market share, basic stuff that we take for granted [now].

I dread the day when we go into an agency to hear their creative ideas and they say: 'Well, let's see what the algorithms tell us.'

Fast-forward: I moved to Europe 10 years ago and thought: "This is it, you have all the data you want", and I was really excited about that. But in the past year, I’ve become more and more concerned about how this is becoming something larger than life.

I’m hearing people talking about bigger and better, more and more – but to me, it’s always a means to an end. At the end of the day, we have to be true to ourselves. I can’t leave aside the feeling when you sit with an agency, they present to you a fantastic, creative idea, and you can see the possibilities, how it moves forwards… I dread the day when we go into the same situation and they say: "Well, let’s see what the algorithms tell us."

The other thing that concerns me is the impact on the generation of marketers that we are creating. It would be a bad place if we are developing people to not be able to take risky decisions without data.

There is video everywhere, but no one is watching

Keith Moor, chief marketing officer, Santander

Sixty per cent of branded content on Facebook last year was video. When you look at the numbers, there are 8bn daily video views, adding up to 760 years of video-viewing time each day. We have massively effective media-targeting strategies for getting eyeballs, and autoplay helps us with that.There’s eyeballs everywhere – but nobody is really watching.

It's not the last five to 10 seconds of any bit of content that's the most important; it's actually the first five, which could tell people the reason to watch it.

We launched a video this month on the Personal Savings Allowance, and I was guaranteed 1.7m placements of the video on people’s timelines; 600,000 people watched that video – but only 5% viewed it all the way through. And I was told by my agency that this figure was good.

How do we get our heads out of the sand? The answer may lie in the teachings of the direct-marketing grandfather, Drayton Bird. We have to potentially throw away all our principles about storytelling and perhaps learn from direct marketing.

I contend that it’s not the last five to 10 seconds of any bit of content that’s most important – the payoff we traditionally build toward; it’s actually the first five. Our video was probably too long – but more importantly, what’s not at the front that could tell people the reason to watch it? If the start of that video [said] "You’ve now got £1000 tax-free and we can tell you how to make the most of it", maybe people would have watched it.

To attract talent, marketing needs to be more than just "colouring in"

Dominic Grounsell, global digital marketing director, Travelex

Who are the people that are going to drive our industry forward? As we’ve become increasingly digitally-oriented, data-oriented, tech-oriented, they are generally hard-skilled people, with backgrounds like engineering, computer science, maths and physics. And they are bloody hard to hire.

We all know marketing is a broad, diverse and interesting topic, but all we ever trumpet is TV ads and creative, and it pisses me off.

We have a brand-awareness problem among young people doing those subjects. When I talk to them about marketing, they say: when I’m considering my career path, I’m being courted by consultancies, engineering firms, accountancy firms – nobody came to talk to me about marketing. For a lot of those guys, marketing is not even on their radar.

The second is a problem of brand perception, and this is one we’ve caused ourselves. We all know marketing is a broad, diverse and interesting topic, but what do we talk about every day? TV ads and creative. That’s all we ever trumpet, and it pisses me off.

I spend about 5% of my time thinking about creative, and the rest of the time it’s the things that lead up to a great ad. We celebrate winning a Cannes Lion – we don’t worry about having a strategy that gets us into the Harvard Business Review. It’s like celebrating only the last mile of the marathon we’ve just run. When I speak to people outside our industry, trying to explain to them that we’re not the just the "colouring-in team" of the business is really hard – because, too often, we are.

Agencies should stop obsessing about channels and put the customer first

Mark Given, director of communications, Sainsbury’s

My first job in marketing was assistant brand manager for Pringles. It had just launched in the UK, and the job was pretty straightforward: I needed listings in the grocers, I needed to make a 30-second ad, I needed to put it on telly, I did a little bit of PR – that was pretty much it.

I don't think anyone believes you can have one full-service agency taht can do everything, but neither can clients in my position manage 10 or 15 different specialists.

Today, the buzzword in my position is to deliver an omnichannel customer experience. And joining everything up, it’s hard work. Our industry and business are full of silos that are not organised around putting the customer at the heart of decision-making.

That includes silos around organisational structure, where we hold our data, the systems and technology we use. But the one I want to focus on is the silos that are created in an ever-fragmented agency relationship.

I don’t think anyone believes you can have one full-service agency that can do everything, but neither can clients in my position manage 10 or 15 different specialists. What we need is for them to work together. But the reality of their commercial models is that, while they’ll tell us they’re happy to work in a number of different structures, they fundamentally don’t want to.

My plea is: stop obsessing about specialism and channels. I don’t care if it’s digital- or mobile-first, I want it to be customer-first. What are the most critical customer problems that the business has, and as a client or agency, what are you doing to solve them?