Inspiration from Sir Terry Leahy – marketers, the customer, and sustainability

Another great evening with the Marketing Society last night; this time an audience with Sir Terry Leahy, the maestro of Tesco’s phenomenal success, who started out as a Tesco marketer and worked his way up to the top. It’s so easy to take Tesco for granted, but in the 14 years of his reign as CEO, he took it from £750m profit to £3.5bn, with a £62bn turnover. Amazing. Sir Terry was a great speaker, softly spoken but every phrase a gem.

He talked about the role of marketers within organisations, and laid down two key thoughts as his opener – firstly that businesses would benefit from more CEOs being from a marketing background, and secondly that marketers need to do more to tell the world the vital role they play within commercial enterprise.

From a hypothesis that too many marketers let themselves be straightjacketed by structure, targets, frames of reference and day to day goals, he said that in tough times like now it is the vital role of marketing to step back and think again, blank sheet of paper, about what needs doing. There were 8 tips for this:

  1. Find the truth – and usually your customers are your best truth advisor, but get at the reality not a version of, so use research well and with caution.
  2. Think big – make no little plans, and make sure the world notices
  3. Take risks – but don’t bet the company
  4. Create – turn the whole organisation into a marketing resource to innovate to make the customer happier
  5. Communicate – take the organisation with you. Lead with customer voice, “no-one outranks the customer”
  6. Teach – pass on skills, identify young grads etc who are the lifeblood of the business
  7. Lead – “a leader will take you further than you will go on your own”
  8. Act – many marketers forget you need a great process to turn vision and plans into reality for the customer. Match up with great operators, don’t assume you have to have all talents yourself.

As if that wasn’t enough food for thought, Sir Terry then gave us the 8 drivers for growth he thinks we need to tap into in the coming years for success – trust, information, health, convenience, simplicity, technology, loyalty and sustainability.

And on this last one, music to my ears and many others, he left us his final thoughts on the future of marketing:

Its not just about the constant buffeting from regulation, its now also about the customer, who trusts us to make choices on their behalf. Business can’t really grow in the long term without decoupling from fossil fuels and resource depletion, we need to rethink consumption. Marketers need to make being green desirable, affordable and easy. If you do that, and play a role being part of the green revolution, that would be an admirable role for the marketing profession. Thank you’