Creativity, Innovation and pay rises: what CMOs expect in 2022

What bets are marketers making this year? Find out from Deliveroo, B&Q, TUI, Skoda, Co-op, Aviva, Costa Coffee, Direct Line, PwC and Cancer Research

By Sonoo Singh

It is traditional for the marketing and advertising industry to use this time of the year to make annual predictions and mostly to never look back. But 2021, filled with Covid-related scrambles and setbacks, has been a reminder for many businesses that when right bets are made they can strengthen, endure, and flourish their brands, no matter what the circumstances. These were the sentiments shared by some of the UK marketers in a session titled CMO to CMO, chaired by the veteran marketer David Wheldon OBE and facilitated by Pablo London chief executive Gareth Mercer.

“I’ve learned more about the real value of marketing in brand building and driving marketing share in 2021 than in any other time,” said Toby Horry, group brand and content director at TUI. The travel brand developed a set of new creative principles and put customer needs front and centre as a key part of its recovery strategy to grow and resonate in a post-Covid world.

A time to create. A time to innovate

One theme that echoed with all the marketers was this need to think long-term and keep building their brands by investing in creativity, protecting their staff, and cherishing their personal and brand purpose. And not just simply embracing tactical solutions of survival over big brand ideas for growth.

To kick-off the session, David Wheldon surveyed UK marketers on three key themes: demonstrating the value of marketing; making remote working work (in the long term); and meeting new consumer demand/value. While only 66 per cent agreed that marketing is better respected as a discipline because of the pandemic, the majority of the marketers (92 per cent) agreed that it has brought many new opportunities to marketing.

Kirsten Stagg, Skoda’s UK marketing director, gave the example of how, in the automotive sector, the biggest challenge currently is the worldwide semi-conductor shortage (where demand is exceeding supply) impacting car sales. “The traditional role of marketing is to generate as much demand as you can for your products. But we've actually had to really focus on cost control to make sure we're not generating too much demand, because we've got customers waiting until the middle of next year already for their cars, so it becomes a challenge about customer engagement.”

And that, she says, has meant making sure that she doubles down on creativity and innovation, “especially in a world where demand generation isn’t our top priority, but I need to make sure that the specialism of marketing is therefore not under-appreciated. And just when you think you have it figured out you have to keep pivoting. We’ve done a lot of pivoting.”

Philip Almond, the executive director marketing & fundraising at Cancer Research UK, added that the cancer charity has also been busy making big strategic changes to its marketing and fundraising functions to lobby for cancer services to be properly protected and prioritised.

If constraints breeds creativity and innovation, one sector that has proved to be resilient was retail, which successfully offered lockdown necessities online. But then it is not a sector that has been without its own challenges. As Ali Jones, the customer director at the Co-op, explained: “Inflation is the thing that is worrying us the most - from all angles. And struggling to see how or whether we can pass that on to the customers or not. How do we really deliver value for our customers when the value proposition is significantly more expensive to deliver?”

According to the latest reports, UK inflation tops five per cent - the fastest in a decade driven by increases in the price of clothing, fuel and second-hand cars. It is concerning that inflation is outpacing wages, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, and if this disparity continues to increase real household incomes will be squeezed further, dampening consumer spending, and weakening overall economic activity.

Ali Jones went on to add: “These are also the conditions that necessitate innovation, but some teams are knackered and because we are working remotely we’re missing the water-cooler moments where people from different disciplines bump into each other and bring diversity of thought to deal with the challenging questions. It is sometimes hard to be creative when looking at a screen.”

Remote working. Isolation. Fatigue

Yes there’s lots of opportunity out there, but with teams so fatigued the question is whether we have the energy to capitalise upon it? A question posed by Antonia Wade, the newly installed PwC global chief marketing officer. Antonia joined the professional services giant last summer from Capita.

“Some people are too tired to get over the hill. Right now is a time when we need to work harder, but there is evidence of slightly tired or lazy strategy documents. The troops are weeping or sleeping.” It was not a sentiment lost on most marketers, all of whom agreed that the never-ending rollercoaster that was 2021 required serious stamina and also that the last 18 months cannot be easily defined into a single experience.

Deb Caldow, the global brand and sustainability director at Costa Coffee added: “The first six to eight months were energising, but the slow realisation that you are having to train for the never-ending marathon has required serious physical and mental stamina.”

Mark Evans, the managing director for marketing and digital at the Direct Line Group, summed it up - “2020 was full of adrenaline, 2021 was the year of coping, and 2022 we are hoping to be the year of opportunity.”

So where does that leave that one question that is yet to be answered: how to balance what appears to be a lasting shift toward remote work with the value of the physical workplace? According to the survey, 85 per cent strongly agreed that remote working is here to stay, and the same percentage (85 per cent) also agreed that remote working has been one of the biggest challenges of the last 18 months. The marketers in the session all agreed that work (physical space) is an integral part of creating corporate culture, and identifying with it.

Emily Somers, the UKI marketing director at Deliveroo, said: "Troops are feeling of lack of interaction. Work is an important place to socialise, especially for the younger members of the team, and what happens outside of work is just as important. It makes us human. Plus, the lack of socialising means a lack of identification with the culture of Deliveroo. Even when we have gone back to the office, because it is hybrid working, you still end up spending lots of time on Zoom, which is an issue.”

The great resignation might just be a good story

The prevailing narrative around the world seems to be that we’re all leaving our jobs to seek new pastures and discover a new self. And several studies indicate that this ‘great attrition’ is not only real and but also widespread across industries. For the marketers, while some are finding the issue of talent acquisition - rather than mass exodus - a huge challenge, other see it as an opportunity to scoop up new and emerging talent.

Some marketers also recognised that they have been underpaying their employees for a sustained period of time, as many were leaving for larger pay rises. And during the session there was a collective desire to reset the salary bands to attract and retain the top talent.

But it’s not always about the money, according to Julie-Ann Douglas, group head of brand at Aviva. There is genuine hope for more balance, happiness, and more consideration of mental wellbeing that this hybrid working environment in the corporate world has provided to employees, she said.

Paddy Earnshaw, the customer and digital director of B&Q, a brand that has been tapping into the emotions of the nation through its emotive brand-building strategy, shared his reflections and said: “When it comes to the ‘great resignation’ the world is not burning around us. It’s about people trying to figure out what they stand for, and if businesses start evaluating that and ask that question of themselves then we can really start investing in our people. And these people are now coming back with great observations and finding ways on how they can fit in better within the organisation.”

The former global brand director & chief marketing officer of Hiscox, Annabel Venner added that there’s huge mind-shift for what people want from work. “Conversations are less about how I can get the senior job and more about what do I want from my job,” she said.

2022 - an opportunity for brands

While thousands might be handing in their notices in search of better remunerated or more rewarding work, the former Tesco brand director Michelle McEttrick noted that it might just have forced businesses and brands to adapt to the changing expectations of the workforce. And those that reshape themselves to this new dynamic will be rewarded with an unprecedented access to great talent and the competitive advantages that talent creates.

Roisin Donnelly, the former Procter & Gamble marketer, had this advice for marketers looking to amplify their value: “I think we all get sucked into doing lots of ‘what if’ scenarios and looking at things we can't control. But if we were to focus on what we can control we'll all do much better. One thing you can control is purpose - [it's] absolutely critical to your brand, will help the business to succeed, and will make your talent stay. In this time of the great evaluation, where people are just looking at ‘what do they need’ - purpose-centric brands will do much better.”


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