This week I attended the second annual CIM Northern Conference in Manchester. Hosted at The Hive in the thriving Northern Quarter of the city, the general vibe was friendly, positive and insightful. Credit to the organisers as the comments throughout the day indicated that the conference had found its feet this year, with more interactive sessions and more time for discussions and debate. Also, thanks to the Chair of the whole event (and my fellow CIM NW Board member) – Han-Son Lee from The Co-operative Group.
Down to business
So. to the conference itself – for me, the underlining theme running through the day’s presentations and workshops was knowing your customer. I was pleased to see so many case studies had used data to inform and work through first marketing principles. Catherine Howard from Fujitsu showed off their impressive, and highly mathematical, tools that allowed much more precise segmentation, targeting and positioning of their fragmented and mis-perceived brand. The resulting ‘fit to change’ campaign got great results, but Catherine was quick to caution that analytical methods are ‘only as good as the data you put in’. Wise words.
Other key note speakers were Professor Michael J Baker of the University of Strathclyde, who noted that despite the bad press marketers often get, its principles and processes are essentially neutral – it’s how they are applied that leads to them becoming either a force for good or ‘evil’. The final key note speaker was Professor Roy Sandbach, a research fellow at Proctor & Gamble. Roy’s presentation focussed on the power of brand building – and again a key theme was ‘getting out there’ to talk to people, whether they be customers, innovation collaborators, or mutually beneficial commercial partnerships. A key point came in creating a point of difference from your competitors – ‘You do not merely want to be considered just the best of the best. You want to be considered the only ones who do what you do’, (Jerry Garcia, Grateful Dead). Interesting questions from the floor included the threat of own brands, and on the fundamental culture shift from being an internally focussed organisation to being externally focussed.
Interactive wins the day
For me though, it was the 3 workshops that held the most favour. Michael Benson of Lathams of Broughton (fine cake and dessert makers) ran the ‘food, drink and agriculture’ session. Lively debate ensued around Waitrose’s strategy to get into the North of England market – including the North’s expectations, store locations, customer demographics, the shopping ‘experience’ and its growth and product strategy. The conclusion – opinion remained divided and Waitrose has a tough job ahead to find its way in the market and establish itself in the North.
The second workshop session, run by Nicky Unsworth and Jane Hazelhurst from Manchester advertising agency BJL, gave really interesting insights into running advertising campaigns in regulated industries. Taking the case study of cosmetic surgery, the interactive session took us through the data-lead planning process regarding segmentation targeting and positioning of the client’s brand within the regulations. We also looked into the communication tools and channels at each stage of the consumers’ ‘journey’, and treading the ‘fine line’ when advertising within this type of industry.
Finally, the third workshop I attended was on PR. While the content wasn’t anything new to me after nearly 4 and a half years in PR, the discussions that followed about our ‘strongest angle’ and ‘biggest challenge’ were great.
As always, it was really interesting to hear the opinions and market feedback from many diverse marketing sectors – from b2c and in-house, to public and private sector. Each marketing area shouldn’t be mutually exclusive; as this conference showed, there’s a lot to learn from each other and our collective experiences.