Source and Credit - The Marketing Society

20 Years of Marketing Leaders

As we celebrate 20 years of The Marketing Leaders Programme, attendee Martin Deboo recalls a great alumni session we held recently.


To Accenture’s shiny gaff in Fenchurch Street for a breakfast event celebrating the twentieth anniversary of the Society’s flagship ‘Marketing Leaders’ Programme. (Can it really be that long?) In attendance was an eclectic mix of former delegates, former speakers like myself and Society staff and luminaries.

Following coffee and pastries, we adjourned to the conference room for a panel session led by Accenture Song’s Mark Curtis. But first Sophie Devonshire facilitated, with her customary energy, some recollections and reflections on the MLP. These pointed strongly to its vital role in building self-confidence, identifying one’s own style and growing into leadership: ‘a shot in the arm’ seemed to be the phrase that summed it up best.

Mark then took the floor and highlighted five crisis and challenge areas to marketers, each illustrated with some intriguing examples and anecdotes:

  • ‘Where is the love?’ Corporate cost cuts have shunted customer obsession down the priority list, evident in things like shrinkflation, skimpflation and subscription-isation of basic services. Mark urged sharper thinking on i.) the short and longer term trade-offs between cost and trust, conversion rates and loyalty and ii.) having the right tools in place to detect shifts in customer sentiment
  • ‘The Great interface shift’: Generative AI, far from being a disruptive threat, has the potential to evolve the online experience from the transactional to the personal/personalised. Mark was of the view that Generative AI is as likely to be used by consumers on companies as the other way round. Brands need to consider now what large language models might help them to achieve.
  • ‘Meh-diocrity’: Entertainment and brand content is starting to feel stale, evident for example in the cinema industry business model becoming increasingly dependent on reboots and franchises/sequels. Mark advocated building risk and creativity back into the process by reserving a ‘budget for lunacy and using Generative AI to break existing technology templates.
  • ‘Error 429: Human request limit reached’: The tech revolution runs the risk of creating the feeling that technology is happening to people rather than working for them. Change often feels too fast to manage. Mark argued for more critical appraisal around whether new tech is genuinely enhancing the experience or facilitating service or merely contributing to mental overload.
  • ‘Decade of de-construction’: Traditional life paths are being intruded on by the realities of declining affordability of housing and childcare, allied to more flexible careers. This threatens to subvert traditional demographic and lifestage segmentations, requiring marketers to be more innovative and agile in creating and tailoring their appeals.

These five principles then informed a panel session with Mark, Ellie Norman, CCO of Manchester United, Keith Weed, ex-CMO of Unilever & serial NED and Karen Wilkinson, Marketing Director UKI of Akzo Nobel (Dulux).  AI proved to be the recurring thread here, with Karen emphasising that it needs to be recognised as a proposition driver, not just an efficiency benefit and Keith making an impassioned plea for marketers to lean in to the new possibilities, possibilities that are inherently more complex and multi-dimensional than what has come before.

Sophie brought to a close what had been a stimulating morning and an appropriate celebration of the 604 delegates who have graduated from the programme since its inception.

Written By Martin Deboo, Senior advisor and author.

Published On 30 January 2024.


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