• Linda Ellett, Partner |
6 min read

Faced with a weakened economy, evolving consumer demands and relentless innovation, marketing functions are under mounting pressure. How can they maintain brand efficiency and operational resilience while optimising digital opportunities and guiding the organisation into the future?

Toyota Motor Europe is working on it. In fact, under Karen Peeter’s 20 years of leadership and experience, it has built one of the leading digital marketing functions in the sector. From physical portfolios and printed storyboards to messaging services, the internet, social media, augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and artificial intelligence (AI), Karen’s unwavering principle remains: “Build a strong foundation. Because without the basics, there will be chaos.” 

“Build a strong foundation. Because without the basics, there will be chaos.”
Karen Peeters, Business Innovation and Omni-Channel Experience,
Toyota Motor Europe

Nat Gross, a partner in Consumer and Digital Consulting at KPMG, knows Karen’s mantra well. Having previously run a marketing agency and worked alongside Karen at Toyota for more than a decade, Nat witnessed first-hand the significance of a strong foundation backed by robust processes, standards, governance tools and collaboration frameworks. They unite the organisation around a common understanding and goals.

In today’s digital landscape, these same principles apply. As Nat explains: “Digital is not confined to one area; it permeates throughout the organisation. It enables cross-functional collaboration, which means a shift towards horizontal operational structures rather than vertical ones. But standards and frameworks give discipline and unity, reducing the need to rebuild.”

Key takeaway: Lay strong foundations for growth. Align the vision across the business and get the people, processes and frameworks in place to drive organisation-wide digital adoption.

How to work well with providers

As digital channels multiply, so does the pool of creative agencies and technical partners that collaborate with the marketing function. According to Karen, the right partner is more than a creator of trendy solutions. A partner genuinely considers what’s right for the business and how to deliver maximum value over the long term. Karen likens the challenge to navigating a container ship, loaded with ongoing digital activities, while simultaneously steering a speedboat carrying something completely new. “The ideal partner skilfully handles both tasks,” she explains.

In consumer businesses, Nat notes that marketeers often turn to technology partners to solve their challenges. However, there are multiple entry points into the business, and often no-one really knows which partner is doing what, where and with whom. Without proper governance and measurement, duplication happens. It leads to increased costs, compromised standards and reduced marketing effectiveness as there is no connected partnership network serving the entire business. “Investing in a partnership network culture can unlock remarkable possibilities,” says Nat.

“Investing in a partnership network culture can unlock remarkable possibilities.”
Nat Gross, Partner,
Consumer and Digital Consulting, KPMG

Karen agrees on the importance of getting multiple partners to work together. Overcoming initial suspicion when a new partner comes into the fold, and avoiding overlap and tension are crucial. It’s important to help partners to understand their role in, say, a product launch, and how they will each contribute to its success.

Ultimately, to unlock marketing efficiencies and release funds back into the organisation:

  • Standardise to avoid unnecessary reinvention

  • Consolidate contracts and licences

  • Establish robust governance over partnership arrangements and measure performance

  • Conduct regular costs reviews to identify and eliminate inefficiencies in supply chains

  • Minimise wastage and duplication

  • Pool resources and funds across functions to build capabilities that benefit the entire business

  • Optimise best practices to strengthen the marketing function’s foundations

  • Foster a culture where everyone takes responsibility for efficiency

Key takeaway: Create a culture of collaboration to unite partners around a project. Streamline multiple contracts to leverage buying power and create efficiencies.

Fast forward to the future

Marketing functions have adapted continuously to rapid waves of change, but how will they deal with what’s coming next?

The next major revolution poised to make a profound impact is AI, according to Karen. “Before our eyes, ChatGPT is reaching a tipping point.” While the impact on jobs remains uncertain, she firmly believes that machines cannot replicate human creativity, collaboration or the ability to interpret data. These skills will remain very much in the human domain.

Right now, the consumer focus is on AI, but Nat recognises that AR, VR and blockchain are already shaking things up in businesses. Marketing leaders must prepare the business for rapid adoption, understand the implications and consider how to handle potential risks.

Nat is excited about the potential for smarter data processing and value creation. “Our job, as marketeers, is to craft personalised, brilliant and creative experiences that drive business value. The combination of data, technology, innovation, and our own creative flair, promises to be very interesting.”

Key takeaway: Marketing functions must adapt to AI and emerging technologies, leveraging data and human creativity to deliver business value.

People strategies

Karen has now chosen to transition from her marketing role into a HR leadership position. “I realised that all the talk about digital transformation always starts with technology. I believe it should start with people,” she explains.

With her extensive Toyota experience spanning two decades, Karen hopes to bring a fresh perspective to HR. It will see her take a more structured approach, which has worked so well in marketing, and put greater focus on data. But she acknowledges the learning curve ahead. Under her guidance, the HR function will undoubtedly play a crucial role in building the skills and capabilities for Toyota’s digital transformation journey.

Of course, in the ever-evolving digital landscape, anticipating future shifts is vital. And building a top-notch marketing function hinges on finding and/or equipping individuals with the right skills. According to Karen, curiosity is key. She seeks team players who are eager to learn, and willing to scroll, read and absorb everything to do with digital advancements.

As importantly, Karen values enthusiastic people who can think creatively while recognising that innovation doesn’t always mean starting from scratch. She believes in finding creative solutions that work within existing frameworks and standards.

Key takeaway: In building the skills for the future, curiosity is vital but there is no need to reinvent the wheel. Embrace creativity within existing frameworks.

Insider tips

What are the big ideas that these seasoned marketing professionals can share?

Karen emphasises the importance of taking people along on the transformation journey. She echoes the words of American author Simon Sinek “‘You don’t hire for skills, you hire for attitude,’ because we need people with the right attitude and resilience to deal with all this newness that is coming our way.”

According to Nat, marketing should be adaptable and extend its influence right across the organisation. “Be that person to move the organisation on; step up as a digital champion.”