The Festival of Marketing 2017 was everything I expected and more. It was my first time at the two-day conference, and certainly up there with one of the best marketing conferences I’ve been to in recent years.

Hosted in London’s Tobacco Dock (which is a beautiful venue by the way), the FoM17 brought together a great line up of speakers, insightful panel discussions and frankly an array of great useful content, each contributing to both an enjoyable and insightful two days.

If I could summarise the key themes in three words, it would be; customer-centricity, personalisation and authenticity. I’ll come back to that…

Having two days out of the office to ‘learn’ and network with like-minded folk isn’t a luxury we’re privy too that often, so I tried to make sure that my two-days were well spent. My schedule was packed with talks about a range of topics from creativity, humanising the digital experience, customer experience management, the role of social in the strategy, building brands, content, digital advertising and the “death” of programmatic, to making it as a mum in marketing.


I went to see Penny Wilson, CMO at Hootsuite, who declared her job title should in fact be Chief Customer Officer (I liked that), who talked about the influence of tech and social media on today’s society. She shared some interesting facts:

• By 2020, 80% of the population will have a SmartPhone
• 60% of Twitter “complainers” expect a response from the targeted brand within 60 minutes
• By 2026, everyone entering the workforce will have been born in the Facebook era

Penny Wilson presenting at Festival of Marketing

Penny talked about how companies need to adopt a human-first approach, inside and outside the organisation. Switching to a customer-centric strategy, by using social to listen and personalise content will, she believes, deliver bottom-line growth. Internally this also means empowering people across the organisation to embrace and adopt social. Employers need to bridge the skills-gap and give their people the tools to meet the needs of the customer in a relevant, authentic and timely way.

A great example of this is Accor Hotel Group. With 4,000 hotels across 92 countries, the idea of using social media as a customer service channel feels almost out of reach. But the brief was clear. They wanted to build engagement with their audiences not just during the stay, but before and after it. So, they gave their hotels the autonomy to manage local social channels through the Accor Social Desk. It means their front-line staff are able to listen and react quickly to their customers’ needs. The result? In one year their audience grew from 4m to 10m.

Penny’s ending words summed this up. Let customers lead you.


Moving from social (although, not too far away), my favourite seminar of the two-days was delivered by Head of Customer Experience at Virgin Trains, Claire Cardosi.

It goes back to the point I alluded to earlier from Penny that her job title should be Chief Customer Officer. Modern marketers need to be the voice of the customer. And this is a truth delivered so coherently at Virgin, which also happens to be one of my favourite brands.

Ironically, Claire shared the journey of Virgin’s acquisition of East Coast trains. Ironic because as I type this, I am in fact on a Virgin East Coast train. She explained the immediate aftermath of the acquisition as their net advocacy score plummeted. Why? Because customers travelling on the line expected the Virgin experience, immediately. They had massive expectations and rightly so.

To deliver Virgin’s brand promise of “taking every journey to amazing”, they had to look at a total transformation of their digital experience to meet the ever-growing needs of their audiences. The challenge? Knowing who the hell those audiences are was key.

The issue is, anyone can arrive at a rail station and hop onto a train. Rail travel is so fluid, which stop will they get off at and what is their true destination point? No-one ever ‘travels’ to a rail station.

So fast-forward some mega-bucks investment and a two-year transformation programme with multiple tech partners, Virgin launched its new Customer Experience Management system which stores 840 segments along with hundreds of content pods to generate nine possible email journeys, each personalised entirely to the customer.

Presentation at Festival of Marketing

On top of this hugely personalised, customer-centric email communications programme, like Accor, Virgin is also empowering its front-line staff to deliver truly integrated brand experiences.

An employee app called Spotlight provides rail staff with access to a surprise and delight feature, which enables them to do just that. It uses data aggregated from the CEM system to present “gifts” for their customers on-board related to measures right across the brand experience:

• Lifetime value
• Tenure
• Customer satisfaction
• Loyalty and retention

Interestingly, it also allows each employee to submit what they’ve done and given away and to whom, feeding data straight back to the CEM. Sounds so simple, yet so clever. I could write more and more about what Virgin is doing, so I’ll think I’ll save that for another blog!


Last but by no means least (it literally was the last thing I did before I left for the journey back to Hull), I thoroughly enjoyed a panel discussion with Mumsnet co-founder, Carrie Longton, TV and radio presenter/writer/blogger, Katy Hill, founder of Southwood Stores, Hayley Southwood, and founder of A & Co, Alice Judge, on what they wish they’d have known in their earlier years and the stumbles to success.

Women talk at Festival of Marketing

As a fellow mummy, this was a personal indulgence I allowed myself over the two-days. Well, that, and Deliveroo in my PJs and an early night while enjoying a stay away from home.

I’ll start with the marketing side of things. A common theme from all these wonderful women was authenticity. Yes, that buzzword again.

They each firmly believe that their success comes down to giving their audiences a piece of them in a true and honest way.

Hayley decided, after the death of her mum at 53, that life was too short to be in a career that wasn’t fulfilling, and through sharing her experiences online, she built a community of people that liked and trusted her. She now owns a successful Instagram store which makes her a living doing what she loves.

Carrie and her business partner, Justine Roberts, came up with the idea for an online platform after Justine had experienced a disastrous first holiday with her one-year-old twins. The idea was simple. They wanted to give parents a platform to share and read advice during the lonely darker times of early parenthood. Carrie explained that she believes the success behind Mumsnet is down to the simple reason that they found a problem for people and solved it. Believe it or not, the site was born way before Facebook landed on our desktop browsers, and now boasts over 5,000 registered bloggers and works with 180 local partner sites.

From a more general point of view, it was reassuring to hear four super successful women in business talk about letting go, making time for family time and the hard graft that goes into being both a mum and a business person. Any working mum will recognise these two “syndromes”.

Mum guilt. It’s a real thing.
Work guilt. It’s an equally real thing.

I’m not going to add any ground-breaking marketing insight here, but a little advice for my fellow working mums having seen that these ladies have been there, done that and got the t-shirt.

1) Be resilient and don’t take anything too personally. If being a mum does anything to you, it’s that it toughens you up. I firmly believe I’m a better person, employee and leader for being a parent.
2) Find balance. Sometimes you’ll miss the school play and that’s OK, just make sure you make time for some of them.
3) Be honest and true to yourself. If something doesn’t fit ‘you’, change it. Be your authentic self and be happy. You’ll be a better mum for it.

And so, to conclude my two days…

It goes without saying that I would recommend the Festival of Marketing to anyone thinking about conferences next year. You really can fill your schedule, from the start to the end of the day, with content to inspire and educate you.

I said at the beginning that there was three obvious themes. And what I learnt is that no matter what industry you’re in, size of business, or who your audiences are, consumers want authentic, honest and personal experiences. We need to respect their time and solve their problems with relevant communications.

As marketers, we need to be driving our organisations to put the heart of the consumer at the centre of what we do. Listen. Learn. Personalise. And guess what, they might just invite you in.

If you’d like help with your marketing and communications strategy or just fancy a chat about your own experiences, get in touch with

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