How can brands thrive in these straitened times? That was the question The Drum asked Jae Hopkins, head of communications at Butlin’s and Helen Normoyle, chief marketing officer at DFS, when we caught up with them at The Drum Marketing Awards judging which took place recently.
Given these are two senior marketing people, and this was The Drum Marketing Awards, there is perhaps no surprises in their view about the key role of marketing in making the difference between a company succeeding and failing.
"Brand values really do matter in these times, and whether it impacts on how they feel as does what consumers get in return from a brand," stated Hopkins whose own company has extolled the importance of brand values since the days of founder Sir Billy Butlin.
Normoyle agrees with Hopkins, stating: "It's a tough market out there for everybody" and highlighting the importance for a marketer to truly understand their customer.
She continues: "Great brands are companies that deliver consistent consumer experiences and wherever you go, you know as a consumer what the promise is and what you're going to get. That's what makes great brands great. It sounds really simple but to do that really effectively there has to be a shared vision of what 'great' is and what the vision is."
Normoyle joined DFS last February, from the BBC where she was director of audience. Since joining the furniture retailer, she has overseen a strategy to focus on the brand, as opposed to price alone. Hopkins, meanwhile is been working on the iconic holiday resort brand since 2010. The business has gone through a whole host of re-brands and changes since its launch back in 1936. But over the last few years, the business reverted back to its previous identity, and adopted a far more consistent positioning.
However, as well as its external communications, internal communication are just as key according to both marketers. "You've got to find the language of the organisation and find a way of expressing it so that the guy in the store, to the CEO, to the chairman, to the shareholders so that they all understand the journey that we, the brand, are on," says Normoyle who explains that "a proper marketing strategy" drives brand strategy which "should be synonymous" with a company's business strategy.
Hopkins relates to the issue of touch points within a company and how vital it is that they are all 'on message' and consistent. "Whether you're choosing to do it as a brand or not, people are talking about you on all kinds of different media," she warns.
As to the difficulty in maintaining consistent messaging across brand, Normoyle admits it is a challenge for every business: "Staff engagement is critical, whether it's called 'staff engagement' or 'internal communications' or whatever, the key thing is you need time to understand the keywords and the language you use within a company. Whatever the intellectual thoughts are around a strategy, you have to find a way to express it using the language that people use within the company. You've also got to win over hearts and minds."
Hopkins weighs in in agreement, stating that staff engagement is "critical because they are your brand ambassadors."
She continues: "Obviously you focus on your customers, but the ones you should really be engaging and being able to depend on as really believing that your company can bring something good to the world are the people who work for you."
Certainly winning the hearts and minds of the board of a company is another key element of every marketer's ambition, which seems to have become all the more difficult with budgets tightening and financial officers placing more scrutiny on spend. So how difficult is it for marketers to implement new strategies that have the backing at board level.
"It really depends on how customer focused your board or your management group is because people might not call it marketing, but if you're really customer focused then by default you’re doing something right, call it marketing or call it something else," responds Normoyle who extols the importance of research and measurement in order to highlight the effectiveness of a strategy to the decision makers.
"It's very hard to measure what you can't see," Normoyle explains. "Equally you don't want to over complicate it because most companies don't have the resources to put in the measurement systems. If there is a clarity around the customer journey and the touch points that really matter then it's about finding really simple and effective ways to measure those touch points and then not to confine them in isolation. Consumers don't separate their experience of going into a store, from the experience of seeing you on TV, from their experience of talking to a friend, they all tally together."
She says that companies have a tendency to silo touch points, when they should really aim for a seamless experience. "Marketing can really play a role in joining the dots, although it doesn't mean that marketing owns everything. That needs to be clear and communicated to colleagues."
The Drum Marketing Awards published their nominations last week in advance of its presentation dinner which will be held on Thursday 9 May at the Emirates Stadium.