Brainfood: Speaking Out - John Clare, CEO, Dixons Group

In his shirtsleeves and nondescript red tie, you could imagine Clare handing out advice to a Dixons' customer. Clare's subject at an Economist conference was: 'How can marketers meet CEOs' demands for accountability?' He ignored the subject. Not that his fully scripted speech wasn't interesting.

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Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

His key message confirmed that Dixons and the others in the group sell on price. A bit of a disappointment to a roomful of marketers. Dixons tracks prices hourly, apparently. 'If we can make the price of our TVs just £5 keener in a particular hour, we can triple sales. Similarly, if we are £5 out, we'll see the sales drop to zero.' And all this in a UK market where 10,000 TVs are sold every hour.

Clare started his career with Mars and has bought into marketing concepts.

But you got the impression that, as a CEO under alpha male Sir Stanley Kalms, he had to grow out of all that. Clare had a grasp of where unbridled marketing could lead, citing the example of a Dixons training exercise where teams of aspiring marketers have to lay out, merchandise and price boxes of fruit. After 20 minutes, the facilitators threw in crises: a pear-related cancer scare; a world shortage of bananas. 'By the end of the hour, every team has reduced their margins to zero!' Clare has no truck with airy-fairy stuff. 'Retail is detail. Long-term strategy is all about predicting next Saturday's sales. Without them, you have no long term.'

Key moment: The disclosure that 40% of Dixons' customers seek support with new purchases within the first four weeks.

Key lesson: Even with a script that is wooden, a no-nonsense delivery with fact-filled anecdotes will carry you through.

Just.

Silver tongue

- Khalid Aziz, a visiting professor of business communications at Southampton University, chairs the Aziz Corporation - khalid@azizcorp.com.

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