Ed Pilkington, Diageo: Your marketing epitaph should be ‘highly effective’, not ‘creative genius’

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Ed Pilkington

Effectiveness may not be a word that stirs the blood. However, when you think that being effective means “being successful in producing a desired or intended result”, and we all work in the results business, then there is no escaping that effective marketing should lead to success. The question therefore is how to be effective.

In a world where data is talked about and exchanged all the time, surely any marketing department can measure anything that moves and understand whether it is effective or not. So, shouldn’t it be easy?

The explosion of big data and the potential for a more granular understanding of the effectiveness of activities is great, but if you are not careful, you can get lost in the data. We need to be selective. As many articles before have said, “you get what you measure”, so our first job is to define what we measure, setting out the success criteria for any initiative. Ultimately all roads lead to profit and loss (P&L), growing sales and profit while managing cost. Our role is to help to deliver a healthy P&L by thinking of the consumer and the behavioural shifts we want that will lead to brand growth. For many of us, driving penetration is the accepted route to brand growth, therefore we need to be very clear on the numbers of consumers we need to recruit or re-recruit to our brands and set that as our target. That’s the start point.

Job number two is to agree the way to achieve the penetration growth and measure it. This is where we need our return on investment (ROI) lens. We need to focus on activities and deconstruct them to evaluate their effectiveness. On most of our big brands, we deliver a few core activities; namely content, consumer experience, innovation and how they are presented in retail outlets. Each of these activities will have measures in place that should ladder back to the penetration goal. By deconstructing each of these elements of the mix, we can determine which are punching above their weight, which need improving and which should be removed. On a brand like Guinness, a ruthless eye on ROI enables us to keep improving our content (creative can be hugely effective), making experiences at the rugby events we sponsor better and understanding the impact of our presence in outlets. This is helping is to grow the brand again.

Back to the P&L. As I mentioned earlier, we want sales growth while managing the cost lines. So we need to squeeze our funds hard. In a portfolio business like the one I work in, we have to make investment choices across brands and countries. At its most extreme, it can be quite Darwinian – the fittest brands benefit, as knowledge that they have effective growth drivers will attract more funding. Simple grids that chart effectiveness across brands and activities have an important role to play in portfolio management. If a brand is not performing, then it is a case of back to basics while new programmes are developed, tested and, once effective, rolled out. Simply put, an effectiveness culture leads to better portfolio choices.

So, clear targets and measures are key, aided by the world of data around us, but let’s not forget people – individuals and the collective. Behind the best brands are effective individuals and, even more importantly, effective teams. We can track what makes an effective team by applying simple and basic measures and having a target and vision for success. In big matrix organisations, ‘organisational effectiveness’ becomes more than just a buzzword; it is key to getting things done brilliantly.

So, when you think of what you want your marketing epitaph to be, words like ‘creative genius’ may feature highly, but being remembered as a highly effective marketing leader isn’t such a bad thing, as it will mean that you nailed your targets, delivered success and undoubtedly learned a lot along the way.

Ed Pilkington is a member of Marketing Week’s Vision 100, in partnership with Adobe. The Vision 100 is an exclusive club of the brightest and best marketers, all worthy of the moniker “visionary”. Click here to see the full Vision 100.

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