'Company branding' may be the emerging marketing paradigm for the majority of non-packaged-goods companies, but what of marketing's former heartland where the crisis is perhaps deepest? Unilever subsidiary Elida Gibbs thinks it may have come up with an answer. It's certainly a radical change. Both 'marketing department' and 'marketing director' have disappeared, and the 'brand' and 'brand manager' are no longer the hub of the marketing wheel.
Elida Gibbs's organisational revolution began three years ago when chairman Helmut Ganser began a review of the company's structure to see 'what really happens in the business'. It was a sobering exercise. 'We found different departments in the same process reporting to different superiors in different hierarchies. Each department had different objectives. Managers' business perspective was increasingly determined by the interests of the department,' says Ganser.
Result? Conflict. Take buying, for example. The buyer, reporting to the commercial director was 'pre-occupied by achieving the best price', while the manufacturing director was worried about supply reliability, quality and service. 'In the end,' says Ganser, 'you must take the whole supply chain.' A similar perspective would bring upheaval to the old marketing department. 'Previously, we had a situation where the marketing director ran marketing. But what is marketing? It is partly operations, partly the development of new initiatives. The brand manager was looking at new brands. But at the same time he was supposed to run short-term practical promotions with trade customers, with a completely different time perspective. And if you have short-term pressures and long-term pressures, you know which one takes precedence.' So Ganser split the old marketing department into two: brand development focusing on consumers, and customer development focusing on retailers.
If anything, the new king of the castle is customer development. Before, says Tracy Rogers, former sales director now customer development director, 'mixes of brands were coming out of marketing that sales knew customers (retailers) would not take'. Now, through the invention of a totally new job, the category manager, 'the customer (retailer) voice is brought into manufacturing, because customers know their consumers as well as, if not better, than us.' Like retailers, the category manager's aim is not to boost sales of one brand at the expense of another's, but to boost total category sales. Says Shay Drohan, category trade manager for male toiletries: 'Elida Gibbs puts primary emphasis on the retailer's needs. We consider the retailer's perspective of ultimate importance when planning and developing new products.' He has an added role: developing relationships with key outlets such as Boots, Superdrug, Sainsbury and Tesco. Before, what used to happen was that each retailer would see their sales account manager, but if they wanted to talk about a particular brand, the brand manager would be wheeled in, says Rogers. 'They (the retailers) have no idea who these people are. They can't build a relationship with this person. And if the buyer asks him something about another brand, the brand manager can't usually answer him.' It's the job of the category manager to fill these gaps. And because he's also taken over all the brand manager's responsibility for promotions through the trade, that relationship is deepened.
So what of the brand manager? He (or she) has a much reduced role. Part of the job has gone to the category manager, working beside the account manager in the customer-development department. Another strategic part may have gone to Unilever's new innovation centres developing marketing plans for an entire region (see main text). What's left? Concentrating on 'doing what they are supposed to do, which is look after the consumer', says Rogers.
In fact, the brand manager's role has been further split. The drive to boost category sales is also a drive to accelerate and deepen innovation. Reflecting that, some brand managers are focusing more specifically on understanding, and communicating to, the final consumer. But some have been turned into another new breed, the 'innovation manager'. 'Historically, brand managers came into the business with a degree, probably in the arts. Most would not have any technical training given to them. Yet they are supposed to be developing a vision for the brand,' says Mike Thompson, formerly marketing director, now brand development director. 'That is flawed.' In future, he says, brand managers will be expected to have 'a complete understanding of the technology'. Only with that understanding will they be able to 'spark with R and D'. To help out, the technical department now reports to the marketing director.
Job title, job function, structure, even philosophical focus - from brand to category, from consumer to retailer and consumer - all have been transformed at Elida Gibbs. The experiment is now being closely watched by all sides of the industry. If it succeeds, the classic marketing model will not remain intact, except in a tiny handful of marketing colossi that still have the budgets to command the airwaves and the muscle to face the trade head on. For the rest, a new structure, which reflects the commercial environment of the '90s, rather than the '60s, may begin to revive marketing's fading fortunes.