News & Views

What's in a name?

by Emily Hare

As any Prince fan will tell you, names are important. They give you a sense of identity and meaning. So when McDonald’s and P&G recently renamed their marketing departments, and all the associated roles, I wondered whether it signified a meaningful change for the companies, or a team away day solution that would ultimately have little discernible impact. 

There’s no need to tell anyone in marketing how dramatically their roles have evolved over recent years. But is that change and associated increased responsibility clear to the rest of the company? And how can people in marketing use their understanding of customers to influence the business? 

P&G and McDonald's are first out of the blocks with an answer to these questions, announcing recently that they would broaden the focus of their marketing departments to branding. This relatively subtle change is intended to reflect the increasing influence of marketing across the organisation – not just creating campaigns to sell products, but engaging with customers across social media and being responsible for how the brand is perceived in a far broader sense: in-store, online and through customer service, as well as in its marketing. 

Specifically, at P&G, branding will now encompass four business functions: Brand management (formerly marketing), consumer and marketing knowledge (formerly market research), communications (formerly public relations or external relations) and design. The global FMCG conglomerate explained in a statement that it intends the rename to: ‘Unify brand-building resources to focus on delivering better brand and business results, clarify roles and responsibilities to make faster decisions, and simplify our structure to free up time for creativity and better execution.’ Simplification, creativity and results… what’s not to love?

At last month's Cannes Lions Festival I spoke to Matt Beispiel, McDonald’s senior director of global brand development, about how this shift is playing out across the fast food business. He sees it as giving marketers licence to think about their influence in a broader sense and take responsibility for the evolution of the company. 

He said: ‘I report into Steve Easterbrook. Steve’s job used to be the global chief marketing officer, but his role is now chief brand officer. It’s broadening the influence and because of that broadening the responsibility of what used to be marketing. We’re now saying these are brand people looking after the brand overall. And it sounds like a simple change in your title but the change in influence can be very powerful.’

When I asked him about his response to the change at P&G and McDonald’s, Marc Mathieu, Unilever’s Global SVP of marketing, agreed that (the department formerly known as) marketing  bears a large amount of responsibility for pushing a company outside of its comfort zone, and bringing in new skills, people and ideas. 

He said: ‘What’s interesting about the shift is that we live in a world that is changing so fast – at Unilever we call it: volatile, uncertain, changing and ambiguous. Therefore, there is a constant need to re-evaluate the way we as a company, not just marketing-wise, but business-wise, adapt to this changing environment: to new technologies, to new partnerships, to new possibilities.’

Of course, action and results lead to influence far more than any job title, but long term, this shift should give the marketing department increased influence in the boardroom and over the future direction of the business. And for any smart, future-facing marketer, that challenge is a welcome one. Now we just have to prove that this shift is deserved and meaningful, rather than merely semantics.