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Brexit, GDPR and the future of marketing: Roundtable discussion
The marketing landscape changes at an ever-quickening pace, meaning that the challenges facing leaders in this sector are also forever evolving. While some of these issues, such as Brexit, are affecting everyone at the C-suite table, others are firmly in the court of marketing leaders – such as incoming data protection legislation and the growth and efficacy of digital channels. To delve deeper into these issues, this year Page Executive has partnered with the Chartered Institute of Marketing to run a series of events centred around the findings of the CIM’s latest report, The Challenges and Opportunities Facing Marketers in 2017.
Following our breakfast seminar in Manchester in April – footage of which you can view above – we recently held a roundtable discussion in London to find out how marketing professionals are tackling a range of pertinent issues - from skills gaps and recruitment to data protection and ethics. Held on HMS Belfast on the River Thames – a perhaps fitting venue given the choppy political waters marketing leaders are having to navigate at the moment – the event saw some lively debate around a number of key topics.
Brexit: ‘The new weather’
The discussion was started by a CMO from the employee benefits sector who shared the feelings from many of his clients that Brexit had created a “sit-tight” mentality to decision making. Since the general election many of his clients feel even more uncertain about the future and were nervous Brexit could create a flight of human resources from the UK.
Another guest from the hotel sector, who has spent the past 15 years in Asia, sees Brexit through a very different lens. Since returning to the UK, he believes one of the biggest problems with the fixation on Brexit is what’s going on in Britain. He believed that business should open their eyes to the rest of the world. Businesses from Asia-Pac want to break into the Western hemisphere and vice-versa. If businesses are not multi-national or multi-market, they should be looking at what global trading opportunities are available. He raised the prospect that small scale businesses in the UK could really open themselves up in new marketplaces and take market share. For example China, where targeting a tiny slither of the market can equate to an audience the size of Germany.
This global view was echoed by a guest from the sports industry. She felt British brands inherently benefit from their provenance, which in turn creates greater opportunities to enter and expand into new markets. She also shared from an international perspective that Brexit is social currency, and while people might be concerned about it, they do have the same negativity as often seen in Britain. From an international business perspective, they see Brexit as less relevant.
A different guest from a global consulting group felt that Brexit is ‘the new weather’. For the first couple of minutes at all meetings and events, Brexit is discussed but then disappears as the reality of business takes over. He commented that their day-to-day consulting work hasn’t really been impacted by Brexit and shows businesses are working in a new normal.
A significant concern of the guests was the potential impact on people and talent. Our guest from the drinks industry explained her organisation had 26 different nationalities in the marketing function. Every week, she explained, they had a top candidate hesitate to stay, or join the business, due to concerns of Brexit. She supported this with an example of a Netherlands-based candidate they wished to hire. The uncertainty around Brexit led him to choose an offer to work in the US instead.
Marketing’s relevance to organisations
Ethics was also a hot topic. The CIM report highlights that 87% marketers believe there is more pressure for brands to act more ethically. Because of this, 95% of marketers surveyed felt marketing needed to have a stronger influence throughout organisations. Guests at the event were asked the question about how much importance their own organisations place on marketing and the level of acknowledgement around brand value.
Our guest from the international sports business revealed that her current employer puts marketing at the top of the agenda, to the point where it can be a struggle to bring the commercial performance of marketing plans to the table. However, this is in stark contrast to her experience at a large plc retailer, where it was a real challenge to get marketing to be seen as a revenue driver. In essence, it is the person at the top of the business that drives the direction; if they have the insight and experience of marketing, it is beneficial.
Gemma Butler from CIM explained the need to put customers at the front of organisations. She explained that as marketing has all the customer insight, they can lead the charge to join marketing, sales and operations together in order to create exceptional customer journeys. This can make the boardroom realise that marketing is not just about clicks and sales. If a customer is unhappy, the speed at which this negative experience can be transmitted through social media can be incredibly damaging. One guest gave the positive example of an online electronics retailer, which built a customer experience platform and then followed this with the marketing platform. They suggested this was a more reasoned and beneficial approach to putting the customer first.
Our guest from the hotel sector gave his view that it is essential organisations put the customer in the boardroom. This can be challenging, as organisations often have structures that are divorced from how businesses work with their customers. They therefore need to consider what their marketing strategy is from a customer perspective and then decide what sort of organisational structure they need to deliver it. Departmental names, he argued, should be forgotten. Leaders should look at who does what in the business to manage the customer experience and fit this together, he concluded.
GDPR: Are businesses truly ready?
The discussion moved on to the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) that come into force in May 2018. Chris Daly outlined how GDPR firmly puts marketing in the spotlight, especially as opt out campaigns are probably classified as illegal after next May. He asked whether it should be IT, Legal or Marketing taking the lead in implementing GDPR. Who is the best person to protect the interests of the organisation?
Our guest from the global consultancy firm business stated they started looking at GDPR 18 months ago because an organisation can’t fall off a cliff when it comes – it has to be a journey. His concern is that people will panic in May when they realise a huge chunk of their database has to disappear. It is important now to understand how to collect data, what to do with the historical data and how you make it an opportunity.
One guest from the employee benefits sector stated that responsibility for GDPR firmly sits with marketing and compliance. He felt there is a moment of truth coming to marketing departments of not just getting their house in order in terms of data, but how to maximise the opportunity of their databases. There is a real urgency to get a programme of contacting the database moving and a contact strategy put in place before May. The risk is after May, the data is gone.
Our guest from the hotel sector believed GDPR is a huge opportunity for marketers to take a look at themselves and gain credibility. The smart people will be peeling back their databases to see what customers they are really engaged with and what they are buying. Understanding why these customers are engaged will help model the plane to acquire new customers.
The guest from the professional service sector highlighted one basic challenge is understanding where data comes from - internal databases, 3rd party hosts, and in the case of many professional firms, partners who keep contact details on their own database. Businesses need to analyse all of this and understand the complexities because there is a huge economic risk in getting it wrong.
Gemma Butler highlighted one survey where 50% of customers said they had no idea what was being done with their data. People just click and accept a business’ terms rather than read lengthy T&Cs, she explained. Our guest from the employee benefits sector felt the behavioural culture of clicking accept to T&Cs is really the one thing that could undermine GDPR.
The conversation moved to digital marketing. A recent CIM survey found 52% of marketers are looking to improve their digital channels, and around half of marketers are frustrated with the lack of investment available from their organisation. Gemma highlighted that 75% of digital projects fail as they do not deliver real value and this can arguably be due to business leaders being distracted by the latest technology.
The consensus was that Boards can become fascinated by digital and overlook the real returns it provides. Our guest from the professional services sector highlighted that certain work generations become obsessed with ‘clicks’, and are not asking enough about the outcomes – what does it mean to the business, what is the revenue generated etc.
Avoiding becoming distracted by and fixated on the latest technology - especially if it is not relevant to the customer journey - was a challenge raised by delegates. A fundamental need for digital to be measured effectively was highlighted around the table. As marketers can indulge themselves in the latest digital products which are perceptibly more exciting than the last, they have asked how their customers behave, their preferences and is it actually what the customer wants.
Attracting marketing talent
The discussion was turned to how marketing leaders and organisations attracted the required skills in today’s broader marketing functions. Gemma shared research where 93% of marketing leaders feel there is a skills gap. They also found that marketers are moving jobs every 18 months with staff turnover in digital being more. We are now in an environment where candidates are asking “what as organisations can you offer me to work for you?” versus “why would you as a candidate want to work for us?” Candidates are chasing work-life balance and for a company to invest in them over pure salary.
Our guest from the sports industry shared how she has been able to build a marketing team with amazing talent from leading blue chip sports and consumer businesses by promoting an authentic culture based on real work-life balance. This is beyond flexible working hours to promoting healthy eating, social events and activities.
This approach was similar to our guest from the drinks industry who shared her organisations actively promoted its social entrepreneurial programme. This enables employees to give something back and have a purpose. The quality of candidates they are able to attract because of this is great because they feel part of something that is beyond salary and being fast tracked through promotion.
Guests were in agreement that organisations need to take control of their own destinies rather wait to see what possible solutions and opportunities politicians provide from Brexit. Marketing has a fundamental role to play in shaping and leading organisations, and joining the dots between business functions to deliver customer centric services, products and solutions to drive sustainable growth. Employee engagement is a powerful tool when it comes to attracting high-calibre talent and the need to demonstrate what an organisation can give over receiving from an employee has never been so great.
Of course, when it comes to navigating the challenges and opportunities facing the marketing sector over the coming months and years, recruiting the right senior talent to provide strategy and leadership is going to be ever more crucial. To discuss how Page Executive can do this for your business - or if you are interested in attending one of our upcoming Executive events - please get in touch with Mark Lawson-Jones.