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Samsung Europe CMO on why it’s time for marketing to mature

In this extract from Facebook's Build Brilliant Brands book, published today, Samsung Europe's chief marketing officer Benjamin Braun explains why marketers need to adopt evidence-led thinking, and how there’s still room for meerkats and clowns amid the number crunching.

In the past couple of years, some of the big management consultancies — the KPMGs and McKinseys of the world — have started looking at other categories where they can apply their expertise (and charge a King’s ransom for it). They’ve decided to flex their muscles in media, digital and marketing.

Now, chief finance officers and chief executives have no interest in joining the meeting when a creative agency comes knocking — by and large, it’ll be the chief marketing officer who handles it. But trust me, when someone like McKinsey is at the door of a company to talk about marketing, it’s not the CMO who opens it.

Instead, they’ll sit down with the CFO, CEO or chairman of the board and say something like: “Your marketing department doesn’t have a clue. We’ve crunched the numbers and you can get far more from your investment. In fact, you’re over-investing. We can reduce the money you’re spending and get you better results.”

CFOs and CEOs are generally evidence-led people, so this is music to their ears. They’ve likely always been a bit suspicious of marketers, and now, thanks to this meeting, they finally have a bit of leverage to call them out on their inefficiencies. I’ve seen it happen before, and I expect it will happen more and more.

We must recognise that this is in part the marketer’s own fault, because we have failed to prove our worth. If you ask a marketing team how many products they sold after spending X amount on a campaign, the chances are they won’t be able to tell you. The majority of marketing teams at the moment would not be able to articulate their results in a way that would impress the Chairman, CEO or CFO.

If, as a big spender of company money, you cannot prove your value, you start to come across as reckless. As marketers, we have left ourselves open to exposure. So what do we do about it? How can marketing mature?

Adopt evidence-led thinking

One thing we can do is to start using econometrics: a proven regression model that allows you to scientifically demonstrate how many dollars of incremental sales you get back for every marketing dollar you spend.

We installed econometrics at Audi during my tenure as marketing director for the UK. We brought in an external company to do it, and I always felt like the most unintelligent person in the room as many of them had double PhDs. They could tell me how much money we’d need to sell X amount of Audi Q8 SUVs, and what kind of creative and which channels we’d need to use to do so.

Before that, the CFO would give me half the budget I would ask for and we would end up in a verbal wrangle about it. Econometrics made those conversations much easier. I had a scientific model to prove how much money I needed to reach company targets and why.

I could show him the Excel spreadsheet and say, “If you only give me half of what I’m asking, I can only sell this many cars.” It removed a lot of tension in the room.

Gather your evidence from multiple sources

We must still look beyond the spreadsheet when building up evidence to inform our decision-making. I think we’re at risk of sitting in beautiful offices looking at spreadsheets about our customers, but then forgetting to go out and meet them. There’s a big difference between looking at survey data and listening to real people, whether it is in person or on a phone call. You need to do both to make your evidence more robust.

And of course, if you want to know what customers are thinking, you do not always need to commission expensive research. You can jump on social media and see for yourself what people like and dislike.

It’s also important that you use your product and service yourself. It’s shocking how many marketers don’t do this. How are you going to have an opinion on your product if you don’t try it? Before joining Audi I’d never worked in the car industry before, and I’m certainly not a petrolhead. So I spent the first few weeks of my time there working in the dealerships and repair shops. It was amazing. I got to use and understand their systems and gain an appreciation for how complicated and messy it can be. Experiencing the product and service you’re offering first hand makes you a much stronger leader.

Let evidence inform your gut

At the macro level, econometrics can provide the evidence for the value of investing in marketing. And speaking generally, marketing departments do need to start relying on evidence more as opposed to gut feeling. But this isn’t to say there’s no room for instinct. In fact, the creativity required for transformational change will always require a leap of faith.

I became increasingly fed up at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last year. People were talking to me about optimisation the whole week, showing off about their A/B tests and multivariate testing platforms. My frustration was that this is what we should all be doing anyway, it’s just hygiene factors.

If you want to succeed, you can’t rely on small incremental gains. Teams can come in and do a brilliant job of optimising your marketing spend, but you still need that creative leap. For this we must rely on the creative agencies and the lateral thinkers: the people who come in late in the day, disappear for a long lunch, work all night and deliver a solution that could transform your business.

I’ll give you a couple of examples from my previous life. I worked at in the early era of the company.

At the time, we were indistinguishable from any of the other price comparison sites, whether it was MoneySuperMarket, GoCompare or

It was only when the marketing director, Mark Vile, and an agency called VCCP dared to be different that we ended up with the meerkats. It makes no rational sense to have a couple of Russian meerkats as the spokespeople of a switching site in the UK. But guess what? It worked. In the first year of the campaign, the site’s market share jumped by 76%.

Then when I was at Audi, we worked with creative agency BBH to produce a film where clowns were driving the cars. We knew we had to do something different to cut through. We doubled the return for every £1 we invested. You’re not going to get a return like that out of optimisation alone. You get it from working with courageous people who have that ability to clearly articulate what the business challenge is, write a brief, and then let creative people crack on with it.

Sometimes you have to take the plunge. Sometimes your gut is filled with enough data and insights and you can take that leap.

I call it “gut knowledge”. We’ve all heard the Henry Ford quote: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” He went off and created the Model T. Sometimes people say one thing, but mean something else. Sometimes you have to take that leap for them.

This means that, as marketers, we need to drive brand affiliation to give customers a reason to buy our products that are not rational. Somehow, I need to motivate the customer to buy a Samsung TV or washing machine, when the need that they fulfil is offered by other products on the market. We need to invest in the brand so that it has enough equity and purpose that people say, “Yes. That’s why I’m going to buy a Samsung!”

Find the right combination

We must build that brand strength while being evidence-led. Good marketers use a combination of “harder” measures to demonstrate what they’ll deliver (incremental sales) and the “softer” ones help to determine how they’ll do it, encompassing the irrational side of human behaviour and creativity.

The risk is that we spend all our time painting pretty pictures. As marketers, we need to keep on doing that, but we also need to elevate ourselves by proving our campaigns are impacting sales. We need to think about ourselves as not just a creative team, but as one that generates three things: excitement for a brand; consideration for the product; and finally, the conversion of that brand love into sales. Only then will we gain credibility in the boardroom.

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