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The moments that made me sit up and listen. My Festival of Marketing 2023 key takeaways

It was a full and worthy agenda, but I've picked my top 3 sessions and those key a-ha moments from Marketing Week's Festival of Marketing 2023.

Session #1: Mark Ritson absolutely fries Segmentation. I'm not sure I agree with him on this one.

The Festival of Marketing kicked off with a bang when Mark Ritson claimed segmentation is pointless because there is so much homogeneity in the market.

Wait, what? Isn't there an entire module in his Mini MBA on this exact topic? Mark said that looking for differences in consumers is useless as the most effective messages will often perform across most audiences, regardless of their segmentation. He used an example from Money Dashboard, where tracking found the most simple, generic communication message was the most effective across all consumer segments.

I'm not sure I agree with him on this one. He is correct if you are using segmentation to look for differences to target. However, I use segmentation differently.

I use segmentation to identify consistent needs, motivations and tensions across as large a segment of consumers as possible. Then, I choose to target those segments with needs, motivations and tensions that my brand can solve for. I think Mark's example just happened to find a universal tension that appealed to most segments - when you have money, you can buy nicer things.

So, I'll have to disagree with Mark on this one. Segmentation is still helpful in my eyes. Done correctly, it helps you build brand relevancy and meaning with a specific group of consumers. It ensures you identify common consumer needs to create a brand promise and offer that will solve them. Segmentation also helps you size that group of consumers to determine the commercial results you will likely achieve from targeting them.

Ritson also ratted out positioning in this session. I agree with Mark that we have completely overcomplicated positioning with too many frameworks and words, and we should seek the top 3 associations we want to be known for. And leave it at that!

Mark closed out his session with the hot debate on differentiation vs distinction. I won't rehash his POV as it is widely published alongside Ehrenberg Bass's alternate view. I'm on Mark's side with this one. However, having just landed the above point on overcomplicating positioning, I sat there wondering if we are heading in the same direction with the differentiation vs distinctiveness debate. Are we just marketers talking to ourselves? Would consumers distinguish the difference between the two? Or do they just want a brand that stands out and meets their needs when needed?

Session # 2: The key to best practice creativity is the process rather than the idea itself.

This statement came from the former Head of Marketing for John Lewis, Craig Inglis. The man was responsible for some of the most significant & creative Christmas campaigns of all time. And boy, did this statement make me sit up in my seat.

The session was facilitated by Laurence Green, the Director of Effectiveness from the IPA, who has just published a paper called Going from Good to Great: Improving the Odds. Raising the standard of advertising creative: barriers, best practice and actions. It's worth a read.

But let us get back to Craig's first-hand experiences. Craig shared his belief that the two most important drivers of strong creativity are:

1. A shared mission between the client and agency about what you want to achieve.

2. Conviction and buy-in across the entire internal organization. Craig has learned from many years of creating brilliant creative work that you must recognize the importance of the internal stakeholders as much as the external customers and take them on the creative journey.

Craig used the famous John Lewis ad from 2011, The Gift You Can't Wait to Give, to demonstrate his POV. It was enlightening to hear the journey behind making such an iconic piece of work and to know the journey wasn't easy.

Craig admitted, with great honesty, that he thought the initial idea was going to be sad and had some very uncomfortable discussions in order to make the work stronger. He believed the successful execution of the idea was due to the strong trust and a shared belief between his team and the agency, which allowed these conversations to be brutally honest, making the work better.

The other battle he had was an internal one. The idea needed Craig to achieve buy-in with no product placement in the work and only a John Lewis logo at the end. He said the key to achieving this was to identify his key stakeholders (in this case, the buyers) and involve them early so they could voice and address their concerns and feel ownership of the final product.

Craig knew his role was to balance commercial returns during such a critical trading period. Still, he also knew that he had to use the period to build stronger emotional brand connections to drive frequency throughout the year.

So, alongside taking the commercial team on the big brand journey, he also ensured each Christmas campaign was supported by a strong product layer underneath so he could build emotional brand connections and drive commercial results simultaneously.

A fine example of balancing long-term brand building with short-term, seasonal results.

3. How Guinness has used their distinctive brand assets to balance heritage and iconicity with the need to remain relevant

Hot off the heels of Cadbury's success in turning their functional DBA "A Glass and a Half" into a highly successful emotional brand platform, I loved listening to another brand case study that achieved the same success.

Managing an iconic brand like Guinness can be challenging. How do you hold onto all that has built the brand into what it is today but remain relevant in tomorrow's ever-changing world? What worked yesterday won't necessarily work tomorrow.

Neil Shah, the Head of Guinness for Great Britain, explained how he had taken the Diageo approach of "standing on the shoulder of giants" and 'looked back to look forward" to find elements of consistency over time and determine how to apply them in today's world.

Again, like Cadbury, the Guinness team landed on long-term functional distinctive assets such as the ¼ white, ¾ black pint product and the tagline Good Things Come To Those Who Wait as they reignited post-covid brand communications and strengthened emotional connections in their Welcome Back Campaign.

Neil summed up his approach nicely. It's about balancing the brand's iconicity with the willingness to take risks and try new things. I think this is a superb mantra for the lucky custodians of iconic brands to live by and another excellent example of how Distinctive Brand Assets can be the key to unlocking that balance between iconicity and future relevance.

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