From uncooperative agencies to data dependency – Unilever, Sainsbury’s, Santander and Travelex marketers let loose on their marketing bugbears

Top marketers from global brands have opened up about the biggest issues they're facing, each taking a turn on the Advertising Week Europe stage to reveal exactly what's annoying them and slowing them down from overcoming these challenges.

For Unilever it's a deep concern that marketers today, and those rising up the ranks, are becoming too dependent on data to make decisions that should come instinctively while Sainsbury's is fed up of an unwillingness among agencies to properly collaborate. Elsewhere, Santander's chief marketer said advertisers need to get their heads out of the sand when it comes to online video and rethink the storytelling principles they are so vehemently tied to. And finally, Travelex's digital boss fears of what will happen to the industry as a whole if it doesn't get its act together and market itself to graduates in areas such as maths and engineering.

You can read their partially edited speeches below.

Patricia Corsi, vice president foods & beverages UK & Ireland at Unilever

I started my career in a love/hate relationship with data. I wanted it so much but didn’t have it, so I had to develop other tricks. Fast forward 10 years and we have all the data we want. But I’m getting more concerned about how this is becoming larger than us. For me [data] is a means to an end, and I don’t think by over testing things we’re going to over deliver things.

I love the feeling when you go into an agency and get presented with an amazing idea based on insight. But if we're going in and getting told, “well let’s see what the algorithm tells us” we’ll miss something. There is something in the art and I don’t like this group that’s all about the logic and data.

Another thing that concerns me is the impact on the generation of marketers we’re developing. We’ll be worse off by training people to take risks based only on what the data tells them. They need to be able to know when to try something, and not feel trapped or paralysed because they don’t have the data to back up a decision.

It’s a collection of experiences, our risks and failures, that help us learn as marketers. Not data. I don’t know anyone with a successful career that hasn’t had a failure.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big fan of data that helps to maximise and makes great ideas fantastic. But not this obsession.

Mark Given, director of marketing communications at Sainsbury's

Our job today is to deliver an omnichannel customer experience. And what that means is that no matter where a customer interacts with us, the experience is the same. It’s hard work to join that up. Why? Because of silos. Our industry is full of them. That could be silos in terms of organisation structure or in terms of data but the one thing that annoys me is the silos that are increasingly created in agency relationships.

We don’t believe one full-service agency can do everything, but equally we can’t managed 10,12, or 15 specialist agencies. What we need is for agencies to work together, but you don’t want to.

While you are happy to tell us you can work in different structures and play nice, the reality of competition within agencies and commercial set up is that you fundamentally don’t want to.

So stop focusing on individual specialisms and channels and look at what my critical customer problems are and what can you do to solve them.

Keith Moor, chief marketing officer at Santander

Some 60 per cent of branded content on Facebook isn't viewed. [It's not surprising] when you look at the numbers – there’s eight billion daily video views from 500 million users which on Facebook alone equals 760 years of video viewing time is happening each day. How the hell to we cut through? There’s eyeballs, but no one is really watching. That’s my contention. If mobile is the preferred vehicle for consuming content, people are moving from search mentality to discover mentality. And we’ve got massively effective strategies for getting eyeballs, but it doesn’t get people to watch it.

[For example], Santander is a low interest category. We launched a video this month (it was over two minutes long). I was guaranteed 1.7 million placements of the video on Facebook timelines. There were around 603,000 views but only five per cent were all the way though. And I was told by my agency that was good! It’s not – is it?

What can we do to get our heads out of the sand? We could throw away all our story telling principles and perhaps learn from direct marketing. I contend that it’s not the last five seconds that are important, it’s the first. We’re entering a world where by 2018 some eight out of 10 Facebook posts will be video. [That means] it’s the first five seconds that count.

Dominic Grounsell, global digital marketing director at Travelex

My elephant in the room is about talent and the question of bringing the right people in who’ll help us drive forward in a world that's really changing. As we’re becoming more digitally orientated the people I’m trying to hire are different from when I started in my career. We need people who can analyse and handle large amounts of data and they tend to come from backgrounds like engineering, maths and physics. But those people are bloody hard to hire for marketing jobs. There’s three reasons for that.

The first issue is brand awareness amongst those people doing hard subjects. The marketing industry isn’t even on their radar when they're thinking about where they want to take their career. That’s a problem.

The second is brand perception – while we know it’s a broad and important area what do we talk about every day? TV ads. I spend about five per cent of my time thinking about creative and the rest about propositions and strategy. We worry about Cannes Lions and not getting into the Harvard Business review. What’s wrong with us? It’s like celebrating the last mile of the marathon we’ve just run.

The third problem is one of fundamental salience. In my business, the cool, shit hot talent I want doesn’t want to be in marketing they want to be in product development and building apps and new digital services. And they want to work for Uber, Google, Facebook – the kind of brands that don’t do marketing.

We’ve got a fundamental problem.

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