How can you know what you’re capable of if you don’t embrace the unknown?”

Esmeralda Santiago

Marketing practitioners are facing a big problem. Change is happening at an increasingly rapid rate — and it’s not getting any easier to keep up.

It’s become apparent that marketing departments aren’t addressing this need to adapt and, as a result, they’re quickly becoming unfit for the future. Part of this issue stems from the fact that they’re not placed in a particularly strong position or empowered to enact meaningful change in their surrounding environments.

There’s a real need to shift marketing, particularly in traditional organisations, from a support function to a more strategic department; a team who’s given the responsibility for owning the customer relationship — along with their data — and for championing customer-centricity from within.

In order to make this shift, teams need to consider where they want to be and then traverse the (often challenging, difficult and sensitive) road to get there. Change is hard, no question. However, it’s also an opportunity to innovate and lay the path for continued success by embracing and adapting to the unknown.

There are a number of best practices for managing this journey, experienced first-hand by several leading brands.

Speaking to Andy Freeman, former Marketing Lead at Santander, it’s clear that his experience in defining the company’s ambition relied on a few key tactics. Looking to make the brand’s marketing team become the best through being more agile, more collaborative, and better at meeting customer demands, he defined his North Star from the outset.

Being clear from the start and staying true to that goal is essential; while the journey to it won’t be linear, your teams will respect the decisions and changes along the way. Even when decisions are difficult, people will understand why they’re necessary to achieve your overall ambition.


Change isn’t easy. While it can be empowering and exciting, genuinely changing the hearts, minds and habits of your people — at all levels — comes with its ups and downs. Be brave. Remember why you committed to your vision, celebrate the successes and keep going.”

Andy Freeman, Santander

This need for buy-in also extends beyond your immediate team. Getting and keeping senior sponsorship is crucial, helped by maintaining a regular drumbeat with the powers that be. CMOs must get on board and demonstrate that transformation is a long-term commitment.

This is best helped by delivering meaningful wins, quickly. Sure, this sounds easier said than done — but finding tactical victories is your best tool for building support and supercharging momentum. It’s particularly helpful when these are things the team identified as a priority, as it shows you’re listening. Change should mean tangible improvements: things that make their lives easier or allow them to develop.
Scott Somerville, E.ON’s Head of Advertising, PR and Campaigns, also experienced the transformation challenge when championing the brand’s journey to develop a more strategic and nimble marketing function. Sharing further suggestions for surviving change while maintaining sanity, he emphasises the need to return to the real questions at hand. While a large flashing sign warning “DANGER LIES HERE!!!” would be a big help, in lieu of that try to be careful about getting tied up in knots designing solutions that seem perfect — because that tends to mean they’re a mirage at best.


Always take time not only to get back to the original vision — the catalyst for change — but also to spend time getting to the heart of the fundamental issue. The real problem is rarely the first one we say out loud.”

Scott Somerville, E.ON


The temptation, when you’re fundamentally looking at everything you do, is to think that by being so deep in the detail everything is being questioned properly; whereas it can often become a case of not seeing the wood for the trees. Take some time to get out of the detail, get some fresh perspectives, and give yourself a break.

This sense of distance is particularly necessary for not taking things personally. When jobs are at risk, this is easier said than done. You may well have concerns about the strength of your team — but the truth is, there’s not an organisation or group on the planet that couldn’t improve. It’s the people that don’t realise that who are the ones to be wary of. An ounce of humility goes a long way.

These are just a few of the insights experienced by marketers in the field. Some of them may well sound familiar to you if you’ve gone through a similar step-change in your marketing programme. I think one of the most significant underlying threads to these stories is the commitment to embracing change — and the unknown — to unlock potential. It’s only through doing this that teams can be confident to thrive into the future.

In the next part of this series, I’ll look at what common elements connect brands that have been successful in their transformation ambitions — and why they’re so important. In the meantime, if you have any questions or experiences of your own that you’d like to share, please feel free to reach out at

Share on linkedin
Share on twitter


Start typing and press Enter to search