Take Risks, or Don't Compete at All

Marketing, December 7, 2011 | Go to article overview

Take Risks, or Don't Compete at All


Delegates who gathered at The Marketing Society's annual conference were left in no doubt whatsoever about the competition UK brands face from a wave of emerging markets.

Britain boasts some of the best brands in the world, but unless the brand owners address some fundamental issues, they will fall by the wayside in the face of emerging markets, which are bursting with creativity and confidence. That was the call to arms issued to the creme de la creme of the marketing industry at The Marketing Society's annual conference.

The shadow of George Osborne's gloomy Autumn Statement cast a pall over proceedings as the speakers attempted to ignite passion among the delegates, with Diageo marketing director Andy Fennell raging against the no-risk culture pervading the domestic marketing industry.

Fennell's sentiments were backed up by his co-speakers, who argued that it is not too late for Britain to take the fight to upstart emerging markets.

'We are allowing our global status as a country and economy to wither,' warned International Airlines Group (IAG) chief executive Willie Walsh.

The bad news didn't end there, as Rita Clifton, chairman of Interbrand, pointed out that only four UK names featured in Interbrand's top 100 brands. In comparison, France had seven on the list, despite having an economy of a similar size.

With Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed revealing that the next 1000 marketers the company employs will be in Asia, you could be forgiven for thinking it was a day of dwelling on economic woes.

However, the theme of global leadership was embedded as the main take-out for the day. This country might be on the brink of another, harsher recession, but UK companies must search out opportunities at home and overseas to maintain their positions as global leaders.

Celebrity chef Heston Blumenthal provided some inspiration as he closed the conference. The ex-photocopier salesman-turned-internationally acclaimed restaurateur is living proof that Britain can lead the way in truly creative innovation.

Here, we distil some of the key messages from the conference, delivered by an eclectic mix of speakers.

ANDY FENNELL 'NO GOLDEN ERA OF ADVERTISING FOR THE UK'

Andy Fennell, chief marketing officer at Diageo, issued a rallying cry to British marketers, calling on them to cast off the shackles of conservatism - brought about by the dire economic times - and embrace creativity and risk.

In a candid interview with the BBC's Nick Higham, Fennell revealed his annoyance that the UK's showing in the Gunn Report had worsened over the years, and reiterated his belief that the 'golden era' for advertising may happen in the emerging markets, but not here.

'There is a drift of creativity toward the emerging markets. As a global CMO I am agnostic, but as a Brit it really pisses me off,' he said.

'It is human nature that when times are tough people become more cautious, but we must try to overcome that and find courage to be bold and take risks,' he added.

Procurement departments, he opined, following a question from the floor, had to understand the value of genius. 'Genius delivers disproportionate economic returns,' he contended.

Asked by Higham to name a mistake he had made, Fennell recalled the launch of the now obsolete alcoholic fermented fruit drink Quinn's, which launched on the back of a pounds 6m marketing budget in 2006, but was pulled a year later after poor sales.

He summed up his philosophy on the failure by saying: 'The money lost won't break us, but the experience we gain might make us.'

KEITH WEED 'FOCUS ON FORESIGHT, NOT INSIGHT'

Unilever chief marketing officer Keith Weed unveiled five key points that marketers must grasp to succeed in challenging times, reaffirming his sustainability commitment.

1. The traditional tools of marketing do not help in developing sustainable messaging 'We need to focus on foresight rather than insight,' said Weed, who pointed to the example of Steve Jobs.

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