Let’s shut up about long-term brand building vs short-term sales, says British Gas marketer Jill Dougan

British Gas' latest campaign, 'Here to Solve'

British Gas marketing director, Jill Dougan, says that marketers need to shut up about proving why long-term brand building wins out over a short-term sales focus.

Ahead of The Drum Marketing Awards 2020, of which she is the chair of the jury, Dougan talks to The Drum about the prevailing themes in marketing, what transformation looks like, and the conversations that marketers should be having to excite and motivate about the power of brands.

What are the prevailing themes in marketing?

For me, there are three big issues. First, data and trust. Consumers still don’t trust how large companies are using their data. And rightly so, in my view. We need to much more transparent with how we use data and prove that we deserve their trust. Then there’s the tug-of-war between creativity and businesses’ understandable short-termism, which I’ll cover more below. And, finally, there’s diversity and inclusion.

I think there are a lot of people in marketing who don’t recognise that being liberal and open-minded isn’t the same as running a diverse business. There’s still so much to be done in every area of inclusion from gender and ethnicity to sexuality and socio-economic diversity. There’s a wealth of talent and perspectives that still find their path in our industry blocked, and that directly affects our ability to do great creative work that represents our customers properly and talks to their lived experiences.

Some of the most powerful feedback that we’ve had about our most recent campaign has been about our attempt not just to show diversity, but to normalise diversity. To talk about real people’s lives rather than just trading in stereotypes.

What should everyone in marketing shut up about already?

I’d love us to be able to shut up about proving why long-term brand building wins out over a short-term sales focus. But it’s the argument that never goes away. Especially if, as now, it’s tough times for many companies. As marketers, we have to recognise that some of this is on us. We need to be better at making the argument that investing in creativity is the mainspring of long-term effectiveness. We need to be able to sell the longer-term vision in a way that speaks to the more commercial parts of our businesses – and to excite and motivate everyone about the power of our brands to drive consideration, not just conversion.

In the next few years, we’re going to see a lot of companies storing up problems for themselves as they cut budgets and redirect spending towards hitting quarterly numbers. As marketers, how we handle those conversations is where we really show our worth.

As a business, British Gas is going through a huge amount of transformation in the business. What does transformation look like?

For us, the transformation is all about how we organise around the customer. We’re bringing together multi-disciplinary teams with a remit to make the changes we need to deliver brilliant customer experiences across our key journeys. And we need to start every decision from the customer’s perspective and truly consider the impact the decisions we make will have on them. At a basic level, we want to move from selling the products we have to create the solutions that our customers need and want. You can see that in our new campaign – Here to solve – where we’re literally seeing things from our customer’s perspective and positioning ourselves as enablers.

But that’s just part of a bigger programme which encompasses changing how we direct and measure our work (see above) and breaking down the siloes in the company.

You have called the new British Gas campaign as a “seismic shift”, what does a good creative campaign look like to you?

I think we all know it when we see it; something that’s bold and truthful. It’s got to be original, exciting, inspiring, moving, funny – all of those things. But to really change people’s perceptions of a brand, it has to be authentic.

By nature, I think we’re all pretty cynical about most marketing – most of it is disposable nonsense, half an idea badly done, probably without the time or money it really needed. Sometimes you can see what the brand was trying to do, but haven’t quite pulled it off. Other times, the execution is impressive or artful, but you think to yourself, “that’s a bit of a stretch, you don’t really have a right to say that.” And, occasionally you see a campaign that gets it all right and there's the recognition you get when something is so spot on that, the second time you see it, it seems utterly obvious in hindsight.

British Gas has its own econometrics team, what constitutes effectiveness for you?

We use all the standard sales-focused metrics you’d expect to show that we’re driving the most effective use of our budgets – sales, ROI, margin etc. We balance that with brand metrics, like awareness, consideration, NPS and Journey NPS.

For me, the challenge is to find metrics that focus the business in the right way and that measure what truly matters to the customer. In many large organisations, you’ll often find hundreds of different metrics in use, which can misdirect activity, distort priorities and, frequently, leave different parts of the business pulling in different directions.

We’re coming to the end of a business-wide metrics review, with the aim of reducing the number of metrics to produce a handful of measures aimed at directing everyone toward the same customer-focused outcomes.

The deadline for the awards has now passed and judging will take place soon. Nominations will be announced at 3pm on Thursday 12 March.

Partners of these awards are Modo25 and The Financial Times.

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