Marketing - a force for good (possibly) - By Joe Ward

I’ve been lucky enough to attend marketing and retail conferences all over the world and last week I had the pleasure of spending 2 days at the Festival of Marketing in London.

It was without doubt THE best one I’ve attended so for anyone who didn’t manage to make it, here are my 3 takeaways from the event:

To be good at marketing, learn how to do it

The value of marketing to any organisation, the value of a CMO and even the trend to remove Marketing from marketers’ job titles all together were hot topics across the 2 days.

Marketing is obviously not treated as a profession in the same way as say being an accountant or solicitor is and it’s fair to say that people fall in to marketing or are attracted by the allure of creativity, variation and let’s face it – the odd good night out or two. That means very few people study it and learn how to do it properly – in fact in Marketing Week’s 2019 Salary Survey just over 25% of respondents had a marketing under graduate degree. Is it any surprise that in some organisations it can be viewed as the colouring in department – particularly when the marketing function becomes more of the marketing communications function known for creative output only?

So how to combat it – simple really. Learn how to do it properly. There is theory in marketing. There are rules. There is best practice and there is evidence on what works and what doesn’t. That doesn’t mean everything in marketing is formulaic, but it should stop you making mistakes. As Mark Ritson, adjunct professor of marketing at Melbourne Business School, discussed when looking at brand health measures, there is no one size fits all approach – anyone who says there is or sells you an off the shelf product, doesn’t understand brand and definitely doesn’t understand your business.

If you don’t know how to do marketing, the chances are you’ll fall foul of some basics.

It doesn't mean you need a degree - but at least do some studying!

To make things better, sometimes you have to make things worse first

I love this insight. It came from a few sources and resonated immediately. Roger Whiteside, the CEO of Greggs discussed the turnaround of the baker alongside Hannah Squirrel, their Customer & Marketing Director. They realised that to be competitive, they had to change and that meant actually removing some of their product lines and in effect, losing some of their customers. Once they had sorted out the basics and got themselves in to a place where they could use their vertical integration effectively, then it was time to start with the recruitment drive – and what a job both Roger and Hannah have done there.

Helen Edwards, a brand consultant, Marketing Week columnist (and brilliant presenter!), used the example of CVS Health (who rebranded from CVS Caremark) who, when they changed their purpose to “Helping people on their path to better health”, made the decision to stop selling tobacco products. This could have looked like commercial suicide, they took the bold move as a proof point they were genuine, but the authenticity has paid off.

As a football coach of young kids for several years, I found that teaching them that to go forward, you sometimes have to pass back, takes a lot of persuasion. Making some very brave calls on how to change your business to build a stronger foundation, will also test your organisation’s desire (desperation?) for route one success.

You want insight – get street smart

As a retail marketer and someone who passionately believes that the role of marketing is to change behaviour, I have often extolled the virtues of getting in to stores, watching shoppers, talking to them and as importantly, talking to the store teams. This was raised again as a way of getting real insight – or street smarts, away from the focus groups, the agency strategists and, if I might be so bold – out of London or the capital city bubble you most likely sit in. Ritson again, “You are not your consumer, you know nothing. Everything you think is almost certainly wrong.”

It was no surprise to hear Dave Lewis, Tesco’s outgoing CEO, talking about the importance of getting to understand the 10’s of millions of transactions and the customers behind them in more detail. It would have been easy for Tesco’s to think their tumbling sales were due to people leaving their stores in droves. In fact penetration was the least of their challenges. Great diagnostics and brutal objectivity of what was really going on, were key in their turnaround – but so was time in stores actually talking to shoppers and staff in shops.


Twice over the 2 days we heard of lazy demographic segmentation being confined to marketing landfill – never again would anyone target millennials or want to communicate specifically to Gen Z’s – they don’t exist as a homogenous group. Get yourself into the real world and experience what real people are experiencing.

There was so much more in the two days, more than I could cram in to be fair, from understanding how to close the human experience gap to lessons learnt from the inspirational Rose McGowan on her journey from growing up in an Italian cult to becoming a best-selling author.

One final take out though, affirmation that marketing, when done correctly, with creative flair and the right level of insight, can be a force for good and add great value to your business.

 Once you learn how to do it properly that is.


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