Shirin Kemp – Director of Strategy 

The Festival of Marketing is a two-day event that brings together leading brand marketers from across the globe. And I was lucky enough to attend for the second year running.

Here’s a snap-shot of who I caught talks from, what they were talking about and what I’ve taken away to help my team and of course, our clients.


A key insight that drove one of the most awarded and inspiring campaigns of 2017

I started off by seeing Head of Brand and Digital Strategy at Sport England, Kate Dale, talk about how their annual survey identified one crucial barrier preventing women from getting active: fear of judgment.

ThisGirlCan survey findings image

The survey highlighted the many drivers behind that fear; whether it was appearance (you know, the fear of those jiggly bits dancing ahead of the rest of your body in the gym), ability to do the intended activity in comparison to the super-modelesque women featuring in ads, or priorities around family or work.

This insight led to a beautiful collaboration between client and agency and therein the #ThisGirlCan campaign was born. But it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

For a Government/lottery-funded organisation, moving into such risky territory was going to take some convincing. But as Kate put it, that’s where insight becomes your most powerful asset. The data was screaming at them as to why their current tactics just weren’t cutting through.

The risk paid off. ThisGirlCan not only achieved phenomenal campaign success, it actually met the objective and shifted attitudes.

A couple of lessons Kate learned along the way:

  • Use insight not assumptions (yes!)
  • Write a focused brief (hey clients, remember this one)
  • Work with clever people (yes, and this one)
  • Give honest feedback
  • Collaborate and celebrate (we are all for that!)


Do it like Virgin

Once again, the Virgin brand trumped all at this years’ event for me. Listening to Saul Lopes, Head of CRM at Virgin Holidays, talk about how the business increased revenue by 33% through effective communications and innovative brand experience (rather than product differentiation), gave me that warm fuzzy feeling inside.

Simply put, they decided that in order to compete in a saturated, trade-heavy market, they needed to “win” by differentiating on the customer experience.


Out went the execs and in came the analysts who together developed a data-led strategy to totally transform the customer journey.

The first step was re-focusing comms with zero impact on IT infrastructure. Using key data points like the weather in the customers hometown vs a potential destination (genius!) led to customers sharing their marketing on Twitter, and seeing the new emails getting such mass reach, Virgin Holidays was able to quickly demonstrate upwards the impact on ROI.

Working with Phrasee (an AI vendor partner), they began testing email copy and subject lines for each segment and each touchpoint. Fascinatingly, the least sales-driven subject lines performed the best, contributing to a 2% increase in open rates and a 33% increase in revenue.

The next phase involved consolidating the complex and confusing communications into one seamless journey. Working with Adobe Campaign, the team migrated 44 data tables with 2,000 variables to 7 tables and 200 variables.

The company also learned that the biggest cause of customer anxiety about their holiday began at the pre-departure stage, so the team and their agency partners re-designed the whole email marketing journey with this in mind. Virgin used reassuring copy embedded with key data, and of course a sprinkling of the Virgin brand flair, and found it massively improved the customer communications, resulting in X% upsell and repeat business.

So, the takeaway from this one?

I love Virgin’s approach to tackling one challenge at a time to get internal buy-in and present value back into the business in small chunks.

Recognising that consumers are connecting with brands that make their lives easier – not necessarily the ones that give it to them cheaper – and driving strategy around that mentality is refreshing. Virgin is a huge, complex organisation with massive infrastructure to work around, but when they do something they bloody well do it right. Pass me the red lippy.

Captain Birdseye gets a (sexy) makeover

Raise your hand if you think of the Captain when you think of fish fingers? That’s everyone then. But how do you modernise a traditional brand in the era of content?

That’s exactly what Birdseye is doing right now.

Birdseye has been a profitable business for decades, but, not a growth business. In fact, not long after the brand was acquired by Nomad Holdings in 2015, revenues plummeted.

The company had neglected its core business of fresh frozen food and attempted to grow by focussing on a master-brand, global strategy. It failed.

So, the business decided to reflect on what worked well at its peak, and realised that in recent years, they’d ‘intellectualised themselves’ into not using their iconic Captain Birdseye character – which even after 10 years of not being used, had a massive 85% recall among its audience. Now that’s an asset you don’t put aside easily.

Through rigorous testing with consumers to see what they needed to keep and what they could lose, they rolled out a new, more contemporary and relevant Captain.


The new Captain drew unexpected attention – with fans concluding that he was a bit of a hottie.

What’s really interesting though is how the brand now divides its budget to allow it to innovate and reach new audiences. Retaining around 80% for their core activity, the marketing teams now allocate 15% for reframing activity helping them to create partnerships to tap into untouched audiences (like this one with Buzzfeed), and 5% for what they call ‘moonshots’ – reactive event-driven activity responding to cultural events or news.

A great example of this is in the #Solidaritea campaign, in which Birdseye jumped onto a viral story after the Daily Fail wrote an article around “slummy mummy” bloggers feeding their kids fish fingers. We’ll let the campaign video do the talking on this one.

The point here is that this formerly traditional brand is evolving and using content at the heart of its strategy to ensure that’s it’s relevant in the hearts and minds of its consumers for years to come. Aye aye captain!


My key takeaways from this year’s #FoM18

  • The role of the marketer is evolving, and this is something marketing departments have to get a hold of. For me, the opportunity lies in creating hybrid power-houses of brand, marketing and experience specialists to really own the customer. No longer can the marketer be a “jack of all trades” – it’s essential to have specialists in your teams and to not be afraid to silo people into what they’re good at. Removing the overlap creates real ownership and empowerment. A prediction: in 10 years (or even less) the role “marketing executive” won’t exist, instead replaced with “customer executive” or even better “experience executive”.
  • Some brands are embracing digital transformation while others are still figuring out what this means for them. It’s our job as strategic agency partners to guide our clients from the inside out, without trying to win it all at once. Break the challenges down into bite-sized chunks and tackle them one oil tanker at a time.
  • The client-agency partnership is more important than ever. There has been lots of debate around brands “in-housing” and having spent most of my career client-side, I know from personal experience how important the client-agency relationship is. It’s obvious that I’m going to say that of course I believe agencies will always play a vital role in a brands success, but, in all honesty, I really do believe, no matter which side of the fence I happen to be on, that in-house teams need that external point of view. Whether you’re a local business or a global player, having a strategic partner who can offer you specialist expertise without the internal politics brings real value. My ask to clients? Get us involved! We are the extension to your team, not a supplier. A client-agency relationship will only truly work when there is partnership at the heart of it.


Want some more insights? Read my round-up of last year’s Festival of Marketing.

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