Senior marketers from Guinness, Three UK and Warner Music discuss their shared growth challenges, despite working in contrasting sectors.  This article was originally published on Marketing Week.

The UK’s tough economic climate is news to no one, and while green shoots are perhaps beginning to emerge, marketers are still tackling the problem of driving growth in a low-growth environment.  

Difficult times have impacted different sectors in a myriad of ways. However, some brands have successfully weathered the storm better than others – Guinness, Marketing Week’s 2023 Brand of the Year, being one of them.  

“Guinness is obviously a brand that is synonymous with the pub and the hospitality industry – that is thriving in some respects, but really challenged in others,” said Anna MacDonald, the brand’s marketing director, speaking at Oystercatchers’ quarterly Club event last night (23 May). 

Marketers are constantly trying to balance long-term gains with the short term, and as MacDonald points out: “When I step back from the day to day of the brand performance, there’s a narrative I find myself talking about a lot: what are we doing to continue to help the industry thrive?”  

It “can be quite difficult”, she said, “but maintaining that long-term mindset as well as the short term is a really important thing.”  

Operating in a different industry, but facing similar challenges, is Warner Music. Natasha Billing, the business’s new senior vice-president of commercial and data insights, detailed how the music industry has gone through a period of “what feels like endless flux”.  

However, right now there is a growth opportunity. “There’s an opportunity for transformation,” she said, urging major record labels to “reinvent themselves” in the current era of low barriers to entry for musicians. Billing’s role in the business is to help it build a roadmap for transformation, starting with putting the customer and fans at the heart of it.

With the best will in the world, marketers can’t often usher in growth for entire sectors. “The biggest challenge for us is that the category itself is pretty stagnant,” said Chris Gough, head of marketing and communications at Three UK. The mobile industry is a “mature category”, meaning there isn’t a “huge amount of growth in it”, he added.

“There are some really quite hard and immediate challenges in that category brought about by economic situation,” he explained, including the fact consumers are holding on to their mobiles for much longer than the typical two-year-long contract period. Plus, consumers looking to make their money go further are expressing less brand loyalty, so Gough is witnessing “a lot more churn in the market”.  

To combat this, Three UK is investing in its loyalty platform and customer experience, a strategy “that has changed our focus,” he said.  

Agency relationships for growth

Also speaking at the event was Jessica Tamsedge, CEO of Dentsu Creative, a role she’s held since 2023. Detailing the different growth challenges facing her clients, she explained that they fall into different buckets. “There is a brand one,” she said, “which is post-pandemic, post-inflation, what that has done to margins, cost defense, premiums that you’re trying to protect.” Meaning protecting brand spend is increasingly hard for businesses – one of marketing’s big challenges. 

Then there’s the data challenge. “Through this period of disruption, our clients have gone and acquired a load of marketing technology, all in the bid to pursue customer centricity – and that is both brilliant, but also really hard,” she said, because agencies are on the same “learning journey” as their clients.  

As brands assess their growth levers, agency relationships are under increased scrutiny. “The very best agency relationships that I have experienced are ones where they are in the trenches with you, working shoulder to shoulder with you, offering strategic counsel, guidance and support when you need it,” said Warner Music’s Billing.  

MacDonald thinks brands need to “get better at giving the business problem”, when working with younger team members both agency and brand-side. After briefs are completed with “several levels of slicing and dicing”, what brands give to agencies can be “quite narrow”.  

“They might only have one piece of the puzzle,” she said, “so we need to get better at elevating that,” to better convey the wider business problem, and crucially what the work is trying to solve.  

This article was originally published on Marketing Week.