Whose baby is it anyway?

Small business owners developing new and exciting Brands to bring to market, have an ownership which comes from being present not only at the launch of a brand and execution of a strategy, but at its very conception.  “It’s our baby”

Phot of Pickle Jars © ShutterstockAs marketers, it is very easy for us to assume that we know what’s best for our clients.

I met an interesting gentleman from New York this week who is proposing to launch a range of artisan craft pickles into the UK, made using the finest carefully sourced ingredients and traditional salt-brining fermentation methods without the addition of vinegars associated with mass produced pickles.

These particular pickles are jewels to adorn any platter, or to be held aloft and admired before crunching through their delicious flesh, delivering a burst of salty joy alongside a refreshing craft ale.
And yes, of course, they can be used to invigorate the simplest of sandwiches.

Mr. Pickles then showed me some of his original home grown design ideas for his new brand – Quirky and authentic, the design draws cues from the traditional provenance and features a tongue-in-cheek black-&-white picture of the man himself holding up a large jar of his first ever production.

So, a great product with a charismatic brand owner and light-hearted, entertaining and engaging positioning, this could be a marketer’s dream brand to work with.

And then for the first time in our conversation, I saw his face fall.  “Could you take a look at this for me?” he asked, It was a brand activation proposal from a marketing company he had been talking to.

Of course, I wasn’t present at the original briefing, and so much can be lost in translation, but it is quite clear that the presentation completely missed the point.  Falling into the trap of rehashing a variety of PowerPoint slides, (and clearly from different presentations), I had lost interest within the first two pages.  More fundamentally, the presentation focused completely on sandwiches in every shape and form and barely mentioned the hero of the piece, the beautiful pickle.

As marketers, it’s very easy for us to assume that we know what’s best for our clients.  But it is essential that we recognise that our role as consultants is to help the business owners realise their dreams and passions for their brands.  These individuals have an ownership which comes from being present not only at the launch of the brand and in the execution of the strategy, but a at its very conception.  In very real terms “it’s their baby”.

Of course, it can be very useful to help identify a key usage occasion, and to focus on how the pickle can bring extra flavour to a boring sandwich occasion, but to fail to extol the virtues of said pickle, to fail to recognise that this is the hero that needs to be stood upon a pedestal, is completely underwhelming.

It’s no wonder that many businesses fail to recognise the benefits of employing experienced marketer to help them realise their dream, when the brand owners feel “they simply don’t get my brand”.

As marketers, we are passionate about the Brands that we work on,-it’s in our nature; but in the final analysis, we have to recognise that for our clients, it’s their baby and not ours.

Chris Collis is Managing Director of Marketing Walk Ltd,  and proud parent of Elfie Drinks Co












A Fresh Confidence

stock image of workshop participants ©ShutterstockI ran a workshop recently for a client who wanted to Reboot their business and create sustainable growth.  Some of the output led to a new forward-looking internal “theme”  for the business: –  “Fresh Confidence”, –  which could be used to focus their efforts in product development, in trade relationships and in consumer communications, (but not as a tag-line on advertising). Most importantly it was a call to action to influence the culture, – the “ways of working”, and behaviour of its management and teams.

We spent some time identifying what Confidence actually means, and I think some of the output is worth sharing here:-

We are confident people

  • Confident but not arrogant
  • Proud of our achievements but not boastful
  • Confident enough to show respect for others
  • Accountable for our own actions
  • Professional at all times
  • Focused and committed
  • Confident to be part of a team, taking whichever role is necessary for the common good
  • Honest and Fair, but strong negotiators.

I believe these are behaviours we should all aspire to, whatever line of business we’re in.  By writing them down, and agreeing them as a team, we’re also able to hold other team members accountable for their behaviour, which allows everyone to focus on the growth of business itself.

Chris Collis is an award winning Marketer and Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.












Arresting, Relevant, Topical – The Art of great advertising

Timed to coincide with international women’s day, this quick-witted advertising has delivered its powerful message way beyond its original media budget, and is a credit to its marketing team.

Salvation Army advertisement against Domestic Violence  © Ireland Davenport 2015
Relevant and Timely, Salvation Army advertisement against Domestic Violence
© Ireland Davenport 2015

It’s no surprise that this new advertisement for Salvation Army in South Africa has attracted media coverage across the world this weekend.

Subverting imagery from the very recent global internet phenomenon #thedress(*¹), the release of this hard hitting image was timed to coincide with international women’s day.  The body copy reads:- ‘The only illusion is if you think it was her choice. One in 6 women are victims of abuse. Stop abuse against women.’

Arresting, Relevant, and Topical, this quick-witted advertising has delivered its powerful message way beyond its original media budget, and is a credit to the marketing team at Salvation Army who gave a level of creative freedom to their agency, Ireland Davenport, rather than restrict them to some box-ticking corporate communications process.

It is proof that there is an Art to Advertising


Chris Collis is an award winning Chartered Marketer and Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.

(*¹) #thedress was an image of a black and blue dress by Roman Originals, which was lit in such a way that for about two thirds of viewers the dress appeared to be in gold and white. – a trick of the light and of natural variances in human perception. The image has been circulated many millions of times across the globe over the last few weeks. Roman Originals then chose to launch a limited edition gold and white version, a copy of which appears in this advertisement.

Why only “Commercial Marketing” makes it to the board-room.

The role of a commercial marketer is to join the dots …its the difference between being the support act or the leader.

Following Asda’s appointment of Barry Williams as Chief Customer Asda HQOfficer, the marketing press this week has been angsting about the rise of marketing leaders without “a traditional background in Marketing”.

Rather than see this as usurping some natural right of brand marketers to progress to global leadership, perhaps the “traditional Marketing” community should take a closer look at the key drivers of any business in which they wish to progress (-generally that’s profitable growth); and whether they are developing a skill-set to deliver those needs.

The real question here is “What is the role of the Marketer in a commercial business” ? The CIM definition  calls marketing a “management process… to satisfy customers’ requirements profitably”(*¹). This definition recognises marketing’s role as fundamentally “Commercial”.

The truth is that too many so called “traditional Marketers” have been brought up in a silo of marketing communications: developing creative advertising and other collateral, recently obsessed by the shiny new toys of digital media. While nowadays this comes with an expectation of a return on investment calculation, there remains a perceived disconnection from the commercial realities of the business.

Sales teams are famously suspicious of Marketers and a few weeks ago, the press was reporting that many CFOs see Marketers as weak and fluffy(*²). This comes as no surprise, when many marcomms specialists fail to demonstrate the success of their activities in commercial language and measures that are easily understood and accepted by the rest of the business.

So,  Perhaps it’s time to call time on “traditional marketing” and time to start thinking, “Commercial Marketing”.

The role of the marketing team is not simply to make stylish advertising and a face-book page, nor just to support sales with trade stands, leaflets and  POS ; but rather to take the lead in driving the business forward: –

  1.   to identify the consumer segments with the greatest potential for profitability  and do a proper need-states analysis.
  2.   to engage production, technical and supply chain, and take the lead in developing  relevant, viable, commercial propositions, which meet those consumers needs in the channel and occasion of their choice;
  3.  to engage internal sales teams and provide stories, rationales, and if necessary, resources they can use to drive Presence and Availability in those channels;
  4.  to develop relevant and engaging consumer positioning, tone of voice, advertising and promotional messages which remain consistent at every touch-point; and finally to choose the right media mix for that core consumer and those messages.
  5. to be meticulous in creating consumer measures which the CFO can buy into, and collecting evidence which demonstrates that your actions are effective and efficient, which can be used to support future proposals, and which you can prove to be drivers of value over time.

Fundamentally, the role of a commercial marketer is to join the dots between all parts of the business and the consumer you’re championing;  its the difference between strategy and tactics;  between working in a silo or being a team player;  between being the support act or the leader.

As far as non-marketers reaching leadership positions, this isn’t new. Marketers have reported to ex-sales “Sales and Marketing Directors” in many businesses since time immemorial. Indeed, the CIM name itself included “Sales Managers” for its first 60 years. Unless we take the lead, meet the needs of our internal customers and demonstrate our worth to the business in a language they understand, then as marketers, we are never destined to get “intergalactic president” onto our business card.

Finally, I don’t know Barry Williams personally , but his history in Asda (and Musgraves) gives him a clear view of the expectations of the business and its place within Walmart’s global business strategy. His lack of traditional Marketing skills have undoubtedly been compensated by bringing in Claire Harrison-Church as VP of Marketing from Premier Foods. Claire herself  has risen to leadership not just as a marketer, but as a woman too; so rather than snipe from the sidelines, perhaps the marketing press should be congratulating the new team, and asking the key question, “How will you bring profitable growth to Asda?”


Chris Collis Marketing Consultant UKChris Collis is an award winning Chartered Marketer and  Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.


(*¹) CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) Definition: “Marketing is the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably”.

(*²) I won’t enter here what many marketers think of CFOs, because it’s probably unprintable – I’ve been fortunate enough to work with some exceptional finance directors over the years, but I’ve also seen my share of grey-uninspiring-unimaginative-bean-counters along the way. It’s always tough when you’re in a room with five other people, where all six think they can “do marketing”.


Marketing Walk – an independent marketing strategy and out-sourcing house

1_300NamePlateMarketing Walk is an independent marketing strategy and out-sourcing house formed in 2009 by Chris Collis.
Chris is a successful professional Chartered Marketer with heaps of experience in UK and international business, from giants like Diageo,  Whitbread, and Friesland Campina; through CSER led businesses such as Alpro Soya; to quirkier more entrepreneurial outfits such as Pwani Kenya and Gü Puds. We hope you find this blog and comments relevant, interesting and occasionally insightful.

Please note that while Chris undertakes contracts for various clients and employers, these thoughts are his own and do not necessarily reflect the views of those businesses.

Maverick Clarkson to depart BBC.

Even his close friend James May describes Jeremy Clarkson as “a complete knob”. However by trying to follow protocol, the BBC risks being painted as the bad guys.

Jeremy Clarkson Loser ©BBC Top Gear
In the ever escalating row over whether Jeremy Clarkson did or didn’t punch his producer this week: the lack of any clear decision about where to go next, means the facts are quickly getting lost in an emotional media frenzy.

Whichever direction the BBC chooses, it is essential that they
– TAKE THE HEAT OUT of the situation.
– BE CONSIDERATE that Clarkson has a level of Top Gear concept ownership and is well loved by a large audience.
– BE CONSIDERATE of the needs of their overseas broadcast customers.

As I see it, the BBC has three choices – none of them ideal…

1. Sack Clarkson as you would any other employee found bullying in the workplace, especially given he’s on a very public “final warning”
2. Back down to pressure from a section of the public, and reinstate him.
3. Come to an agreement where this series of Top Gear is finished amicably, allowing Clarkson to go his own way when his contract ends this spring.

    1. Sack Clarkson

The first option would in some ways be the easiest, and the BBC could demonstrate that it is an upright employer following best-practice employment policies. To do anything else would open up the BBC to legal challenges of double standards from anyone else it has ever sacked or sacks in the future. Not to follow this option would also be a humiliating loss of face given their previous statements. While there is a very vociferous public call to #BackClarkson, a recent poll by YouGov shows that 45% of the British public would support his sacking.
The BBC has already sold this series of Top Gear across the world, and stands to lose millions of pounds by not delivering on this commitment. However, it would likely have a case to claim against Jeremy Clarkson’s business, so this will not be the deciding factor.

    2. Back Down

The second option would be the worst choice as I see it. Apart from losing face and looking weak, the fact is that, even if they did back down; and even if they don’t feel they’ve reached the end of the road with Clarkson; it is probable that trust has broken down to the point that he will leave anyway this summer. He’d certainly be snapped up quickly by competitors such as ITV or Sky.

    3. Find a compromise

The third option – or middle way – appears to be the most sane. (as is often the case in these situations). It’s very difficult for a public body like BBC, bound by bureaucracy, to accommodate a maverick personality like Jeremy Clarkson. However, they can’t afford to sacrifice their star programme Top Gear on the alter of public policy and regulations.

Which leaves them with a very clear course of action:

A)- Agree with Mr Clarkson that the two parties have reached a point where they are no longer compatible and must part ways.
B)- Work together to ensure their mutual commitment to deliver the current series of Top Gear to the British public and to foreign broadcasters is completed.
C)- Let it be known publicly that an agreement has been reached and that Jeremy has chosen to leave Top Gear at the end of this series.
D)- Work hard to keep James May and Richard Hammond on board for at least the next season.
E)- Very Quickly declare a solution to finding a replacement presenter, possibly a series of “guest presenters”, as happened when Angus Deayton got sacked from “Have I got news for you”; or choosing a presenter who  could bring a new dimension to the show without losing some of the irreverence of the current format.  A strong female presenter could be a good solution.

Petrol Head Jodie Kidd copyright unknown/ Telegraph
Petrol Head Jodie Kidd

So, whichever option they choose, Jeremy Clarkson is set to depart the BBC.

If they get this right, then the  BBC will be recognised as making a regrettable but responsible decision, will retain the goodwill of the general public for Top Gear, and the confidence of its overseas broadcast customers.  In the meantime, Jeremy Clarkson may discover that the BBC and Top Gear institutions are much more loved than any individual presenter.

My fear for the BBC is that they will analyse and agonise, trying to take a decision through several layers of committee meetings and legal reviews; by which time any chance to save the current series will be passed. Clarkson will have abandoned them anyway; and they will have a competitor to Top Gear featuring Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May setting up in an ITV studio just down the road.


Chris Collis is an award winning Chartered Marketer and Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.


Election 2015 to be won by Style over Substance

Image. Manifesto launches 2015, Cameron (©Evening Standard) , Clegg (©Getty) and Ed Miliband (© Andalou agency via Getty)

 A poll today predicts 278 seats each for Labour and Conservative in the UK general election. The only certainty  is that it will be style, and not substance, which will swing the needle on 7th May.

The various Parties have been working hard on their “Positioning” this week with the release of their Manifestos for the UK election.

This post does not debate the merits of their various policies, and sadly, the vast majority of UK voters will make their decisions not by considering the substance of the Manifestos, but by which leader they trust the most. So, it is interesting to see the efforts which have gone into “Presentation style” of the major party launches.

David Cameron (Conservative)  was clearly making efforts to look “Presidential”,  speaking very seriously from his Union Flag adorned stage. Camera angles had clearly been considered carefully, so that he’s looking down on his audience… symbolising authority and leadership. – the very claim he is making.

Ed Miliband (Labour) similarly chose the security of a podium on a business-like stage, and was not averse to the odd Union Flag. However, he was noticeably more at ease with himself and his audience than of late.  Ed is known to be working with American Advisor David Axelrod, and there is a definite American style in some of his recent presentation. (eg “Hell, Yes…”, and  speaking directly to camera). Allowing himself to relax, smile and laugh with his audience a little is a positive strategy if you want people to trust you.

The most interesting presentation though was from Nick Clegg (Liberal Democrats). Claiming  a very clear position… “More heart than the Tories, More Brain than Labour”, their staging and style was consistent with this positioning:-
Eschewing a high stage for a low platform in a warehouse setting, with children’s hand-prints on the backdrop. Nick is a very personable speaker, speaking off-the-cuff  using every-day language, and he has removed the barrier that a podium represents. Positioning themselves as the “friendly” “human” centrist party to protect the country against the evil extremes of the other players is a good ploy to achieve tactical votes in marginal seats.


Of course, the presentation styles have been carefully thought through by each party, and when looking at them, we should consider also the key audience each party is targeting.

Conservatives are  openly targeting Pensioners, who are more prone to vote than younger audiences, and generally more (small ‘c’) conservative. They are hoped to be more comfortable with traditional authoritarian styles, and the need for leadership, which will be why this style was chosen. The risk for David is that this could be perceived as pompous and aloof, reinforcing the perception that his party is elitist and “out of touch”.

Labour is targeting a broader working age audience.  It needs to present itself as “Business-like” in its approach, to overcome suspicions that it was the guilty party behind the global recession for deregulating the banks (normally a Tory policy).  While the inevitable comparisons with Wallace and Grommet persist,the more Ed comes across as “business-like, but human too” the more likely he is to gain the trust of the electorate.

As part of the current coalition, the LibDems can present themselves as economically-literate,  – part of the solution to the global economic crisis rather than the cause. This allows them to present a more relaxed style – “Business Casual”, and focus on a very human positioning. Their target is unashamedly middle-ground, appealing to educated middle-class voters who recognise the importance of a balance between fiscal responsibility and a caring society.
– Able to work with other parties to create a better government which avoids the spectre of  “[a Tory Party taken hostage by Nigel Farage or Labour by Alex Salmond]”.
However, so close to the election,  The LibDems may have left it too late to reverse the self-inflicted  dent in trust from too-closely aligning themselves with the Tories and abandoning some key pledges, notably on University fees, since 2010.

Cameron’s decision not to take part in the forthcoming TV debates may come back to haunt him as he will certainly be mocked for being “too self-important” .  Miliband’s performance as the only other Prime-Ministerial hopeful  will also be closely watched in tonight’s debate where he is likely to be pressed hard  and potentially ambushed by other party representatives.

A Sky poll of polls today predicts 278 seats each for Labour and Conservative, with LibDems pushed to 4th place by SNP, so there’s all to play for.  The only certainty, sadly,  is that it will be style, and not substance, which will swing the needle on 7th May.

Other parties are available.


The author is not associated with any political party in the forthcoming election, but is available for discussion on strategic positioning and how best to present your business to consumers, to customers, and to stake-holders.


Chris Collis is an award winning Chartered Marketer and Director of independent consultancy Marketing Walk.


As Osbourne attacks “charity” as anti-business, is he being anti-customer?

George Osbourne  - out of touch with business ?George Osborne has been facing criticism after he called on the Institute of Directors (IOD) to defend the free market economy against the “anti-business views” of “plenty of pressure groups…trade unions.. and charities”.

Many of those in the IOD will no doubt have dismissed Osbourne’s statements as naïve, and one of the issues with certain professional politicians is that they live in a theoretical world, with little experience or understanding of the nuances of business, nor of the importance of demonstrating a human face to our customers.

morrisons store front

This morning, an unfortunate store manager within the Morrisons estate experienced the social media backlash of exactly what happens when you put business-before-people, after he allegedly forced an 89 year old pensioner to stand outside in the cold to sell his poppies. Morrisons’ head office has been back-peddling fast but will not be thanking their store manager for this PR gaffe. (#Morrisons Taunton is currently trending).

It is no coincidence that most successful major businesses expend significant resource developing Corporate Social and Environmental Responsibility (CSER) policies and practices; building relationships with their work-force; partnering with a variety of Charities and NGOs; and listening hard to pressure groups.

Open any company report and you will find statements around caring for the environment;  championing the use of natural and sustainable ingredients, sourcing from fair-trade farms and factories where employees are not abused or enslaved;  using recycled and recyclable materials; reducing waste; choosing lower carbon transport solutions; and examples of how the  head office employees have got together to raise funds for charitable causes.

These policies and practices aren’t just about “doing the right thing” because it makes us feel good. These are hard nosed commercial businesses, who make these choices because it makes good business sense:-
–   Reducing waste reduces costs.
–   Avoiding potentially harmful ingredients reduces risk of future litigation.
–  Spending time getting the unions and work-force on board pays dividends as happy teams work harder, and less production is lost through dispute.
–   Making healthier, environmentally and socially sound choices and tying in with good causes makes customers trust our brands more than other brands which are less caring.

Recognising these facts demonstrates “Good Corporate Governance”, – one of the absolute keys to successful shareholder management

The world has changed. In this connected world, dodgy practices can no longer be swept under the carpet, and  businesses (and politicians) need to demonstrate they are in touch with the hopes, fears, wishes and needs of their customers.

It all boils down to one word:- TRUST

Get the right balance of “People, Planet and Profit” and your business will grow.

Follow Mr Osbourne’s mono-dimensional advice and,  in pursuit of Mammon, ride rough-shod over the global communities who you rely upon, then you will be found out and very publicly called out. Such poor governance risks a business being abandoned by its consumers and customers, its employees,  and ultimately its share-holders.

I’m not in the business of writing speeches for the leader of the opposition, but I imagine this could be held up as an example of Mr Osbourne not just being out of touch with the public, but out of touch with business too.

Chris Collis is an award winning  CIM Chartered Marketer and Director of Marketing Walk.

Drinking Aftershave

Haig Club
Diageo’s Haig Club Single Grain Whisky

I can completely understand the temptation for brand owners to borrow packaging architecture from another category, but I believe Diageo decanting whisky into an aftershave bottle – and licensing David Beckham branding to try to make Whisky “cool and trendy” for a new generation – betrays a triumph of opportunism over consideration, which can only destroy brand value.

Putting aside whether it’s a good idea for children to see their dad pouring out a drink from an aftershave bottle (while their mum dabs a bit of Dior “Poison” behind her ears), Haig is one of the oldest and best known Scotch whisky brands in the world with one of the most recognisable bottle shapes in its Haig Dimple.

Diageo owns an enormous portfolio of Whisky brands, and it is certainly tough to balance the need for innovation, consumer acquisition, and the responsibility to preserve its brands’ heritage and authenticity for the next generation. Haig has always been a very accessible, easy-to-drink whisky so this Single Grain variant makes a good choice to target new drinkers.

In this case however, the company appears to have abandoned hard earned brand equity in the hope of a quick win. This new bastard son of Haig goes far beyond “pricking the pomposity” of the old school and “having a bit of fun” by associating with those well known brand gurus David Beckham and Simon Fuller. Beckham of course is famous for being happy to put his name to brands – from underwear to phones to hair-gel – whether relevant or not.

The one bit of good news though is they may get some extra PR – as a new generation try to emulate England Rugby’s Colin Smart and his infamous 1982 after-shave-drinking episode.

Chris Collis is a CIM Chartered Marketer and Director of Marketing Walk Ltd

Marketing Strategy UK