4 Growth lessons from a recovering FMCG marketer

By Douglas Cook

Douglas Cook on his career journey to Growth

It’s nearly four years since I left behind 7 years in FMCG marketing to enter a brave new world in a digital business, and two years since that business, Skyscanner, pivoted from a traditional digital marketing model to a more lean and agile marketing approach. Over the last few months I’ve found myself spending quite a bit of time with ex-colleagues, giving me a chance to reflect on this move, the differences in my career now and then and what I’ve learnt along the way. Here are some of those lessons that might help you, if you are thinking about making a similar jump in the future.

1. As a marketer, you are no longer king of the world

In a business where you truly own the 4Ps, you are quite literally the king of your brand. Nothing happens either without your say so or at very least input. Product innovation and ad development might be done by someone else, but only to your exacting brief, for example. You have some element of control over everything.

In a tech business you have much less control over the product. The rockstars tend to be the software engineers who are constantly pushing the boundaries in what is possible when it comes to product innovation, not marketers driving the ideas based on endless rounds of research.

There’s a couple of quotes I love in this regard, the first is from Steve Jobs, which I think takes this point a little to the extreme but I agree with the sentiment.

The second is from the beer writer Pete Brown with a quote that I think epitomises the tech approach to product innovation, applied to my old role in beer.

Someone working for a marketing consultancy once asked me if a big global brewer could create craft beer.

“Of course,” I answered. “They’ve got the brewing expertise and access to the ingredients.”

“So how would they do it? What would they have to do for it to be craft beer?”

“Simple: they just have to put the brewer in charge of the process and let him or her brew what they want, without interference from the marketing department or the accountants. Then they need to skip their usual process of innovation funnels, workshops, endless rounds of research and approval ‘gates’ and just get it on to a bar as soon as possible and see if people like it. If they do, just scale it up from there.”

“Oh, they’d never do that.”

“Well, they can’t make craft beer then.”

This transition can be hard at first. Giving up influence over your brand can feel like a dilution of your importance as a marketing professional, but it can be massively exciting. From a personal perspective, something never quite sat right with the idea that a group of marketers sat in an office coming up with ideas for a new drink and putting it through endless rounds of research, was somehow better than putting it in the hands of the brewers with the expertise to make the stuff. I LOVE working on stuff that is genuinely pushing the boundaries in a category and truly believe that can only happen if that product creation is put in the hands of those who know it best; those that make it!

2.The speed won’t shock you, but the immediacy might.

When I first joined Skyscanner I was repeatedly asked whether I was shocked by the speed we moved at. I was not. Yes, when you break it down to how particular projects move, or the speed at which the market changes it can be infinitely faster than a more traditional business. Yet in terms of the speed at which you need to work on a day to day basis it will be little different. What is different in your day to day work is the immediacy with which your projects go live. While in a traditional business you might be finishing your input to an ad campaign or product development that will be handed to another team and won’t see the light of day for another six months, in a digital business today’s work might see the light of day. at the end of that same day.

3. Agile Marketing is not ‘agile marketing’

When I first started I remember being struck at how much people talked about ‘waterfalls’ and ‘Agile’. I didn’t know much about waterfalls but did know a thing or two about Agile Marketing, in particular that Oreo were really good at it. I’d taken some good steps in my old role to empower our social agency to respond quickly to our social fans rather than every tweet having to go through some laborious sign off process. However, having spent some time understanding Agile in a tech business I realised that in reality when FMCG brands talk about Agile they tend to mean real-time marketing, whereas Agile Marketing is about a lot more than simply removing a few levels of sign-off from your process to speed things up.

4. Your consumers and product development will catch you in a pincer movement of change

The speed at which consumer media consumption is changing is of no surprise to anyone in the industry and all marketers are going to have to adapt. However, the speed of change in tech, and in a business with a Growth curve like Skyscanner, means that your product is arguably changing more than the media landscape in which you are trying to promote it.

Skyscanner Growth seen in gorwth of number of monthly visitors in this graph

This means that changing process and structure to a more Lean and Agile approach is not just something that can help you adapt, it’s a matter of survival. I truly believe there is no way that traditional marketing process can effectively work in a tech business.

I’d love to hear from others who have made a similar shift in their career; what did you learn? Comment below.

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About the author

My name is Douglas Cook and I am Product Owner for the EMEA Growth Factory Squad here at Skyscanner. Our squad helps to develop and implement the processes, tools and techniques that are helping take us from a more traditional Marketing to Growth orientated business. Having started life as a ‘traditional’ marketer, I’ve loved being part of the Growth transformation, not just because of the impact on the business but also the development of my own skills and expertise over this time, which epitomises what makes Skyscanner such a great place to grow and learn.

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Tales from the marketing team at the company changing how the world travels. Visit https://www.skyscanner.net and share the passion.

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