Roundtable in Association with Adobe

What is visionary marketing and what makes a visionary marketer?

John Bernard: This is about doing something that hasn’t been done before.

Anna Hill: You must be brave and be prepared to fail, and have the support of your organisation to be brave.

Richard Ingram: It is a willingness to push ideas and think about what could be good, and not just about what is good today.

Carol Cork: You need to be a good leader to be visionary. If you have strong managerial and organisational skills you can take people with you. You also need great insight and sales skills to sell your vision internally and demonstrate how your idea will work.

Adam Johnson: The culture of the business is important because you need supportive directors and managers who allow you to be visionary.

Martin Moll: You need to have a group of people who don’t become ‘yes’ men. You need a chaotic creative tension and to embrace it, and trust the people around you.

Richard Larcombe: There are incremental levels of being visionary. You can be a fast-follower in your market and create a new category or change something for the better.

Is there a culture and structure that makes it easier for marketers to be visionary?

Mark Phibbs: You must be brave enough to look at what is not working. Maybe your customer service is not up to scratch. This is not traditionally an area for marketers to be involved with but you need to go out of your comfort zone.

Anna Hill: It is difficult to be visionary in any organisation which is siloed. If people are nervous about stepping into other people’s territory and politics are at play, then it is hard for marketers to be brave.

Suzi Williams: Once you start talking about customers it becomes easier to break out of silos because everyone in the business is trying to do the right thing for those customers. Marketers understand better than anyone what the customer wants. To be truly visionary you know what consumers want before they have worked it out for themselves.

Richard Larcombe: You have to position vision as a business necessity and not a luxury. There is always a need to be innovative as an organisation.

Sara Holt: Your CEO must embrace vision and see what the future might be and not just spot barriers and obstacles. The CEO can make the whole organisation get behind that vision.

Do larger organisations need to encourage more start-up style thinking? We are already seeing this in companies such as Coca-Cola, Unilever and RyanAir.

Eva Appelbaum: The idea of an agile start-up approach is great but a silo culture can still prohibit visionary thinking. Or the innovators can become an elite group within the organisation wanting to own the ideas side of things. In our marketing team we ran a paper-thin pilot where we invited different people to come in and push innovation. They were not a separate team but were on call for anyone who wanted to kick-start some innovative thinking. We used a lot of contractors who were not looking to empire-build themselves.

Richard Larcombe: Two years ago Virgin Media decided to allocate 15% of its marketing budget to innovative thinking. This created a bit of tension, which is a good thing if managed properly. We paid out about 6% and got a few great bits of thinking that went to market and succeeded. Now we do not need to allocate 15% each year because, following this process, everyone approaches innovation differently.

Richard Ingram: In large organisations you must give everyone the space and confidence to do what they feel is right. We have a 70/20/10 philosophy. For 10% of ideas we have no hint if they will work or not – we could be throwing that part of the marketing budget away. But people need to have confidence that they can spend 10% of their budget in this way. The 20% is about spending more on what worked well from last year’s 10%. The 70% is the stuff you know works so you keep doing it. Don’t, for instance, take all your money out of traditional media.

Suzi Williams: Culture plays a big part. People should be encouraged to be innovative. With the Olympics and the launch of BT Sport we created small groups of people who were deliberately isolated from the organisation to begin with, to allow them to be innovative and drive change. For the Olympics we grew our own talent and what started as a tiny project team ended up driving a lot of cultural change. In the case of BT Sport we bought in the talent and kept it under wraps for a long time and allowed the project to be secret and special, and then unveiled something with a bit of magic. We took this pride and innovative thinking around both projects into the organisation.

Emma Chalwin: Adobe is making lots of acquisitions of small, niche businesses. Some of the greatest innovative ideas have come from these smaller teams with fire in their bellies because they have never had the boundaries of a large corporation before. The key is to keep the good talent and to listen to them.

Sara Holt: We do not acquire businesses but have a start-up incubator called BBC Worldwide Labs. The infectious enthusiasm we see as people hot-desk within our building permeates throughout the organisation, and I mentor too. One example is Foodity, [an online button] which adds ingredients to shopping lists and is now on the BBC Good Food website.

What about in organisations where there is a different international culture? How can visionary marketers flourish here?

Martin Moll: The question always has to be asked, who is the visionary within a large international organisation? Is it someone at the top who facilitates others to become visionary? In Asian culture there are three main steps: what is the process, what is the goal and how quickly can we achieve it? When things are buoyant every brand thinks it is invincible and pushes innovative ideas. When you are not so successful everything can retreat into a P&L [profit-and-loss] debate with marketers under pressure to justify every idea as things are played safe. So the person who was the innovator within the organisation is still there but is no longer being innovative.

Piers Drake: In a Korean business you frequently see local marketing teams reacting very swiftly and independently, iterating and optimising output for their audience. This gives much broader scope for innovation and vision across the organisation.

Anna Hill: We have had an interesting time acquiring businesses such as Pixar, Lucasfilm and Maker Studios. We buy the talent and really support it and let that talent exist as it did before. It can still be visionary within Walt Disney and we become inspired by what these creative people bring with them.

Adam Johnson: It was a case of ‘innovate or die’ with Nokia [which was later acquired by Microsoft]. When you are on a burning platform you have to jump. Things were that dramatic. We made some phones in silly colours and put large cameras on them and forged partnerships, and we are now growing this part of the market. Microsoft needed mobile but it is harder for the Nokia team’s ideas to be heard if people are not in the US.

Can you learn to be more visionary?

Carol Cork: Everyone can be more visionary. You can be inspired by others and learn from others. You can also learn to spot visionaries. We all have different attitudes to risk. Confidence is crucial.

Eva Appelbaum: There is a balance between having the confidence to state where you think your business should go and not being so bloody-minded that this is the only way to go.

Suzi Williams: It is easier to be visionary if you have basic marketing skills. In BT we are making sure everyone has great basic communication and insight skills so they can be more visionary.

John Bernard: It does help if you have visionary people around you because this breeds enthusiasm. You cannot learn vision from a book but you can from people around you whose energy becomes infectious.

Richard Larcombe: You need to surround yourself with an eclectic group of people who will challenge you. Have a psychologist and a finance director and others around you, and then draw on those different talents. You need agitators inside your business so you can find solutions quicker rather than taking too long and sucking the life out of good ideas.

Anna Hill: If you were born creative, open-minded and inquisitive then you are more likely to be visionary. You also need to be practical and confident. That comes with experience. In some organisations it is the intern or the marketing assistants who have the best ideas and we want them to get those ideas out. You also need commercial skills, which you can learn. Is your visionary idea viable?

Piers Drake: I founded a start-up and am now part of a large corporation, and there are some inherent personality traits that make you visionary. I try to bring young, bright people into the organisation and give them the skills to articulate their ideas and how we sell those into the organisation. You can learn that, but you must have that curiosity and interest in how the business works. However the term ‘visionary’ can be distracting and make you appear as a ‘guru’, which can be uncomfortable.

Carol Cork: You need passion for your ideas, even if they are rubbish. No-one else will buy into your vision or care about it unless you are passionate.

Is being visionary simply about being creative or today about deeply understanding digital and new technology?

Richard Ingram: Vision does not only happen in the digital world, it happens in all businesses. Being a visionary is about having ideas that push a business forward and create a future. Beer is an industry not known for its innovation so perhaps it needs more visionaries.

Mark Phibbs: Visionaries can transform industries. Marketers have a better insight of customers than anyone. Ten years ago marketing was regarded as fluffy but today thanks to technology it can have the best data in the organisation if it get things right.

Richard Larcombe: Consumer behaviour has finally caught up with technological innovation. You need patience as a visionary because there is a distance between believing something will happen and it actually happening. You might think something will happen in future, but when?

Eva Appelbaum: In the early days of digital there were a lot of visionaries but now some digital people within organisations are the most change resistant. Often the digital team will say “no” because they tried an idea five years ago when the consumer wasn’t ready and they are not prepared to try it again today. The non-digital people are often more innovative, but digital experts can think they own innovation.

Has the speed of disruption in some industries made it more crucial than ever to be visionary?

Piers Drake: It is a business imperative to be ahead of the curve and to be an early adopter in any industry. Things can change very quickly.

Carol Cork: You must run your own race as a brand. Being disruptive does not mean having to do something right now; it is partly about building your brand and what it means over time. You have to shake things up but not be frightened by what others are doing.

Richard Ingram: One question that has to be asked is: ‘Do you want everyone in your organisation to be a visionary?’ If they are, your ability to deliver and get things done can be challenged. Yes, be disruptive, but you do not want everyone challenging the status quo.

Suzi Williams: You should empower people to be visionary within their own roles based on your organisation’s needs. What can people be empowered to change in finance, for instance, as well as in marketing?

Who are the visionary brands we should be looking to?

Adam Johnson: For me it would be Tesla, which designs and manufactures electric vehicles and has set up showrooms in shopping centres.

Suzi Williams: I think Jaguar Land Rover – a great British brand that, like BT, was not in a good place. It has done a tremendous amount of visionary work in recent years. You can have a vision but the dream is what engages people. I would also mention Twitter as a visionary brand.

Emma Chalwin: I would say Burberry. Here is another British brand that has transformed itself. People at the top of this organisation had the vision to transform it. It is a fashion brand that has embraced digital. It became uncool but is well respected again. It had to turn the ship around or it would have gone down.

Carol Cork: A lot of this comes down to storytelling. Look at the supermarkets and how Aldi and Lidl are disrupting the market by having a story that responds to consumer behaviour.

Anna Hill: When you look at retailers you have to mention Waitrose, which despite all the disruption in its market has stuck to its game. It could have tried to discount but it has stayed true to the brand. So there are some visionaries who realise there are times when this is the right thing to do.

Piers Drake: I look at what Chinese brand Xiaomi is doing in smartphones. You need enormous resources to make a dent in this market and it has managed to make an impact with direct sales, using social media and flash sales. It is a masterclass in how to leverage sales and disrupt a market using social media.

John Barnard: I would mention Oculus Rift, which has virtual reality headsets allowing players to step inside their favourite games. Oculus Rift is a visionary brand in the way it is pioneering technology, engaging with the end user and opening up a whole new segment of entertainment.

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