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Blue Chip vs SME: What’s best to progress your career

As a sales and marketing manager with experience working with both blue-chip businesses and SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), I’ve seen the best (and worst!) of both worlds.

While blue chips are historically able to weather recessions and withstand market shifts — crucial in this unstable, post-Brexit moment! — SMEs tend to offer job seekers a breadth of experience that blue chips can’t rival.

In fact, we’re currently seeing a real swell of later-career candidates moving towards SMEs, as opposed to the traditional blue chips that traditionally tempt the best talent.

Why do most people make the move to SMEs?

In my experience, there are typically three factors at the core of a decision to throw in the corporate towel at a Blue Chip and shift over to an SME:

  1. Agility: the perceived ability of an SME to react quicker to market conditions.
  2. Autonomy: the perceived lack of red tape and freedom to take true ownership of decisions.
  3. Impact: the desire to be, shall we say, a big fish in a small pond.

But that doesn’t mean you should write-off blue chips entirely! While many blue chips can actually offer jobseekers all of the above — as well as the opportunity for career progression, international moves, and cross-discipline training — some SMEs struggle to do just that. Let’s just say I’ve heard some real horror stories! (But let’s save those for another day…)

In short, it’s often not about the company size, it’s about the company.

So, as a job seeker, what do I need to take into consideration before deciding between a blue-chip or an SME?

First of all, don’t assume anything about the company based on its status. SMEs don’t guarantee autonomy, nor do blue chips automatically turn you into a mere corporate cog!

Instead, test your assumptions at interview. For example, many SMEs will have their founders heavily involved in the day-to-day running of the company, which can go one of two ways:

  1. They want people with experience, who can take the metaphorical ball and run with it, or…
  2. They’re so attached to their ‘baby’ that they can’t relinquish control! (And they might be suffering from the dreaded ‘ugly baby syndrome’, rendering them absolutely immune to criticism.)

Neither one is better or worse than the other, but it’s crucial to consider which approach will suit you. As always, asking incisive questions at interview will be your biggest asset when it comes to figuring this out.

Similarly, remember that SMEs can often be risk-averse, reluctant to rush to market and fail. Meanwhile, blue chips can typically swallow such failures and bounce back. Depending on your preferences, the security of a blue-chip could definitely play in your favour.

It’s also key to remember that you can make just as much of an impact at a blue-chip business as you can with an SME.

Plus, if you’re impatient, the time it takes to land large clients at an SME can be frustrating; meanwhile, at a blue-chip, often you can hit the ground running. I recently moved to an SME having spent 7 years in a blue-chip, and this is definitely something which impacted me! I’d expected my previous clients to bring me all their recruiting needs, but that just wasn’t the case and it took time to re-establish my client base and sort trading terms etc.

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Is Crabtree & Evelyn ahead of the curve by closing all stores and going digital?

Late last year, Crabtree & Evelyn—known for luxury body, fragrance, and home care products — announced they were shuttering their bricks-and-mortar stores around the world. Moving forward, they’ll be operating as an (almost) digital-only company, serving customers in just one lonely London ‘concept’ branch, according to reports.

But while some outlets have questioned “what went wrong” for Crabtree & Evelyn, is it possible that this is actually a savvy business move? (We hesitate to call it a ‘business decision’, given that industry insiders had been chalking up Crabtree & Evelyn’s bankruptcies and store closures for months.)

After all, we are living in the digital age, when beauty brands are able to hold their own online, and Crabtree & Evelyn is a big-name brand with an internationally recognised concept.

But can Crabtree & Evelyn thrive (almost) online-only?
It’s key to consider that Crabtree & Evelyn’s customers mainly consist of Gen X and Baby Boomer consumers. Can they rely on their name-brand, luxury legacy alone, if they abruptly shift focus from the high street?

It’s possible, but considering their target markets skews older and more affluent, they may find their profits taking a hit. After all, while some studies show that Baby Boomers spend more online than Millennials, it’s generally understood that online shopping is a young person’s game.

However, from my experience in this market, it can be done, especially in a world where direct-to-consumer sales are dominating, and other companies have successfully made the move online. Take Lego — a brand selling an ostensibly physical, tangible product—which suffered a steady decline through the 90s, before reinventing itself in the early 2000s via films, games, and applications.

Even so, looking at the FMCG sphere, in particular, we must recognise that many newer companies launch with eCommerce factored into their business plans from Day 1. This makes it particularly hard for established retailers (like Crabtree & Evelyn) to shift their focus to eCommerce and thrive–there’s just too much-established competition. Not only is a huge investment needed, but there’s also a ton of risk involved too. It’s not just as simple as adding an online shopping option to your current set-up.

Debenhams and House of Fraser know this only too well. Despite both being big-name department stores, their lack of eCommerce strategy has proved to be a real Achilles Heel. The result? Store closures left, right, and centre across the country.

On the other hand, Ugly Drink is an especially good example of a company that hit the ground running with eCommerce built-in and they’re now branching out into subscription services which is great for offices. However, imagine if Coke tried to make such a move! They might have (metaphorical) money to burn, but even so, it would be a risky decision to suddenly shift focus to eCommerce.

Yet Unilever is (sort of) doing just that, aiming to double their direct-to-consumer sales which currently account for just 5% of revenue. And they’re taking inspiration from existing, established subscription models to do so. Time will tell whether their move pays off, but it certainly has for both Dove and Maille, two big companies that have successfully segued into the eCommerce market. Maille, in particular, has taken the whole ‘sell the experience’ aspect of eCommerce to heart, leading with gifting ideas and recipe suggestions for the curious consumer.

But for a flagging Crabtree & Evelyn to survive and thrive in the digital sphere, specialising may be the way to go. Some have suggested they should follow the L’Occitane business model, hyping up product provenance, while data indicates they might need to hone in on beauty or skincare, rather than trying to do it all (who buys fragrance online, anyway?). Most of all, they’ll need to shift focus onto Millennials and Gen Z consumers, who tend to shop online more than their older counterparts.

They’ll also have to ensure their logistics are seamless. In a world where Amazon dominates, uh, pretty much every market, Prime delivery and next-day postage options which cost almost nothing, customers are no longer willing to wait 3-5 working days for their deliveries. (Customers have already complained about Crabtree & Evelyn’s poor online delivery logistics.)

In short: Crabtree & Evelyn need to rebrand and reposition themselves as a brand for Generation Z and Millennial consumers alike, steering away from their Baby Boomer past.

Could concept stores help bridge the physical-digital gap?
Crabtree & Evelyn’s decision to forge ahead with a concept store in Islington, London could be the silver lining of this entire debacle though.

And they’re not the only ones to go big or go home about the concept of, well… concept stores in recent months. Big-name British drugstore Boots has also announced plans for a London concept store, which will include Instagram zones and YouTube studios.

By allowing customers to interact with products in person, in a new and revitalised way, concept stores could prove the gap-bridger that retailers, especially a brand like Crabtree & Evelyn, need as they migrate their business online-only. The saviours of bricks-and-mortar retail?

So is digital-only retail the future?
Signs point to possibly, but only if you’re selling something customers have bought before and are familiar with (a.k.a. repeat purchases). However, hooking the customer with your brand still depends on a high street presence. So, for companies looking to rid themselves of high street overheads, a combination of physical concept stores and a strong online presence may be the way forward. Only time will tell.

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7 Red Flags to Look Out For When Hiring A Brand Manager

Brand Managers are essential for companies nowadays.

If they do their job right, they help your business (and brand) stand out.

They develop a unique concept for the company, which then drives the marketing and promotion efforts.

They liaise with both media and clients, keeping everyone happy simultaneously.

They must be, on some levels, extroverted, keen to work both independently and as part of a team.

And yet, at the same time as having a creative vision, a good brand manager must also be an excellent analyst, capable of consuming and applying data to their designs.

In short, it’s no mean feat. And neither is hiring a good one.

So, the next time you’re interviewing for your latest multitasking, multitalented Brand Manager, here are some atypical red flags to watch out for.


1. They can’t explain their ROI
Anyone who’s hired a Brand Manager before will tell you that they love to talk about their impressive ROI figures.

“Oh, you increased sales of your last brand by 10%? Nice.”

However, don’t just skirt past the fact and take it for granted. Ask them exactly how they did it.

If they’re a competent Brand Manager (who’s not fudging the numbers, that is) they should be able to tell you.

However, if they’re bluffing, getting them to explain exactly how they managed to bump those sales by 10% will leave them flustered.


2. They’re safer than a Trojan condom
The last thing you want is a Brand Manager who plays by the rules. Of course, you want someone who can follow the rules. But you still want them to toe the line every once in a while when it comes to innovative campaigns and ideas.

If you interview a potential candidate who’s worked for big-name brands but hasn’t done a single thing to innovate their strategy or make a difference at the company, then they might not bring too much to your team either.


3. They rely too much on their team
Teamwork is a CV staple and with good reason.

However, when you’re looking to hire a Brand Manager, you want someone who can take initiative, not someone who relies on their team to do all the heavy lifting.

Similarly, if they seem afraid to take charge or work autonomously, that’s a huge red flag.

Your Brand Manager isn’t there to be babied.

(Related: See what exciting Brand Manager roles we have at Vertical Advantage now)


4. They’re trapped ‘inside the box’
When you hire a Brand Manager, you’re looking for a person with a demonstrable ability to do more than just sail along and manage a brand. They need to surpass their title and develop and build.

When taking a brand to the next level, innovation is essential in a world where it can sometimes look like your branding strategy was created by a cookie cutter.

Rather than just copying trends, thinking outside the box and starting their own movement is truly what makes a fantastic Brand Manager.


5. Lacking collaboration
For most positions, longevity is a virtue. It shows loyalty and probable talent (hey, they didn’t get fired!).

But for a Brand Manager, such an illustrious (but steady) career can be a sign that they lack a certain je ne sais quoi.

Maybe they’re not quite as collaborative as they need to be, or perhaps they only look out for number one.

Maybe they simply play it safe or are more focused on preserving and protecting their own career than considering the needs of the business and the team.

While loyalty to a role isn’t a bad thing, then, you should be wary of the why.


6. They’re blacklisted by agencies
I mean…this one speaks for itself but let me elaborate. If your Brand Manager is blacklisted from other agencies, it tells you several things:

a) They’re probably not that good at their job.
b) They’ve pushed their luck one too many times… and not in a cute way.
c) Associating yourself with them probably won’t be a good look for your company.

Even if the candidate you’re considering hasn’t quite been blacklisted, but still has a bad relationship with other agencies, consider why that is. Maybe make some phone calls if you’re still interested in hiring them.

Basically, get to the bottom of the story, because you certainly won’t be hearing the full version from just one of the parties involved.

(Related: See what exiting Brand Manager roles we have at Vertical Advantage)


7. They always go with their gut
Having an opinionated Brand Manager can be a good thing. You want someone who will take initiative and risks in order to push your brand and company forward. But you want those risks to be very carefully calculated and well thought through.

What you don’t want is someone incapable of looking at things logically and taking the data into account. Being a good Brand Manager means using consumer-driven insight when and where possible.

So, make sure you hire someone who knows how to strike the right balance between Don Draper-esque genius and Iron Man analysis.

Have you hired a Brand Manager before? Are there any red flags we missed? If you want to discuss further get in contact via siobhan@vertical-advantage.com

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6 ways to beat Amazon at its own game

The way we shop is constantly evolving.

And, as it happens, Amazon is the original influencer.

When it comes to commerce, no company has had quite the seismic impact as the Bezos-owned behemoth.

For shoppers and retailers alike, it can sometimes feel like it’s Amazon’s world and we’re just living in it especially when it accounts for 43% of all US online retail sales.

Amazon has impacted our shopping habits at seemingly every turn. Here’s why… and, more importantly, this is how you can join them instead of failing miserably at trying to beat them.

1. Step up your logistics game

Obviously, the bigger Amazon gets, the more they can capitalise on economies of scale.

This means making excellent profit margins on every item you sell isn’t such a big deal when you’re selling a bucket load of stuff at the speed Amazon does.

It’s driven by a phenomenally efficient operations and logistics process that other businesses have struggled to keep up with, although Ocado is an exception to the rule.

Ocado is one company managing to go toe-to-toe with Amazon where logistics are concerned. According to Peel Hunt analysts, Ocado’s warehouse robots perform far more efficiently than those at Amazon.

So how long before Amazon tries to buy Ocado?

 

2. Follow Amazon’s shipping time lead

In the face of Amazon’s impressive market dominance and scale of infrastructure, any and all efforts to compete can quickly seem futile. No one can match their sheer size and scale.

And yet, competing, at least on some level, is necessary.

Look at the arrival of Aldi on British high streets. It was their unassuming and limited range of products sparked a slow-burn doom for profit margins at Tesco and Sainsburys in the early-aughts.

The easiest place to start is on shipping. Thanks to the Amazon influence, customers want faster shipping. And by faster shipping, 96% reportedly means ‘same day delivery’.

So, if you’re still offering 3-5 day shipping for £4.99, customers probably won’t be flocking to your online store.

In short, follow Amazon’s lead and speed up your shipping.

 

3. Offer an experience

This may well be one of the key advantages of operating as a bricks-and-mortar, independent retailer in an Amazon world. Shopping isn’t just about the price anymore, it’s about the experience (especially if Millennials are your target market).

Why? Because Amazon’s abundance of online products has made some shoppers more discerning. When we can buy practically anything we want online, at the swipe of a thumb or click of a mouse, the experience of shopping in-store becomes something of a luxury.

But what about online retailers? Do they stand a cat’s chance in hell of competing against Amazon?

Long story short: yes.

Amazon’s infrastructure may be impressive, and its ease of use is undeniable, but it remains a faceless, corporate entity. If you want to beat Amazon at its own game in the online-only sphere, you have to go above and beyond when it comes to service. Give consumers that experiential vibe they crave from bricks-and-mortar stores.

Simple things like personalised (but not pushy) emails, handwritten notes sent along with orders, speedy customer service, and a willingness to own up to and correct mistakes will go a long way.

And, I cannot stress this enough, make sure your website is as seamless and slick as possible. Invest in excellent copywriters to jazz up your product descriptions (an Amazon weak point) and link between products pages and informative blog posts.

Basically, make sure the buyer has everything they need at their fingertips.

(Related: See what exciting eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales opportunities we have at Vertical Advantage now)

 

4. Build an actually useful brand

As Instagram influencers can attest to, brand is everything. And brands-as-a-culture is also a major trend for 2019.

So, while Amazon’s brand is, uh… everything, make your brand ‘one thing’. In short, do one thing well–while offering high quality and a cohesive brand strategy–instead of many things poorly.

Take a look at Baudoin and Lange. This niche loafer company has successfully tapped into the premium side of the market and they’ve done so without the tangible presence of a bricks-and-mortar retail space.

Follow in the footsteps (ha!) of Baudoin and Lange, then.

Invest in clever advertising and marketing, you can build your brand authentically, and watch your business flourish.

And remember: you’re a business, not an everything bagel.

 

5. Tap into Big (and Small) Data

Amazon is all about that Big Data. And you can be too.

As Jeremy Goldman at Inc. writes, “at this point, all brands need a strong data strategy.”

But tapping into data and making it work for your business doesn’t mean you need to invest in costly AI software. Even something as commonplace as Google Analytics can be of use.

Once you’ve decided what kind of data will be of most use to your business, you should start setting Google Analytics goals.

For example, do you want to know about newsletter signups or are you more interested in seeing who’s visiting what page and for how long?

The information generated by doing so can then inform your long-term decisions. What did you find out about the people signing up for your newsletters? Tailor your copy to them or diversify and personalise your newsletter delivery system based on which page they signed up from. The options are limitless.

Tap into social media too with software like Twilert which helps track mentions of your brand or search terms related to your business. From there, you can boost engagement, nip any emerging problems in the bud, and use the comments you’re generating to inform further business decisions.

Just remember that the data game can be heavily dependent on trial and error though, especially for smaller businesses with limited resources.

While making a data generation and utilisation strategy can be incredibly useful to begin with, be prepared to deviate from the plan if things aren’t working out.

 

6. If you really can’t beat Amazon… join them.

That’s what mega-brand Nike decided to do, despite initially thinking Amazon would devalue their carefully crafted brand. However, they quickly realised they were missing out on massive sales, and, in the process, being undercut by not-so-reputable third-party sellers.

Besides, Amazon is currently pushing for vendors to sign up with Brand Registry. As Digiday reports, this is “a program that lets brand owners and licensees submit proof that they are authorized sellers of a brand’s products”. So, it seems the time is ripe to take control over your company’s Amazon presence.

In reality, beating Amazon would be a long and impressive journey. If you’re there already don’t need to worry about this blog! (And cheers to you!)

But if you’re not quite there yet, my advice is to learn from Amazon’s journey and use their powerful reach to your advantage. After all, if it’s good enough for Nike, then why shouldn’t it be good enough for you?

And remember, I’m always keen to talk to people about this stuff, especially as a lot of you know far more than I do! So, give me a shout on LinkedIn or on andy@vertical-advantage.com if you want to chat.

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Your ultimate guide to CV writing

If you’re looking for a job, you’ll most definitely need a winning CV. Whether you’re writing your first ever CV, or you’re a seasoned professional; it can make or break your chances of securing that ideal job. Therefore, it’s important that you get it right.

A CV is essentially a document that outlines who you are, what relevant experience you have and what you can bring to your next role. It’s most definitely not an autobiography of your life and employers will often spend under 30 seconds skimming through it.

With this in mind, there’s a number of factors to consider when writing your CV. From framing the content in the right way, to including the correct information and tailoring it to the job you’re applying for. If you’re hoping to secure that exciting role then read on for our advice.

Stick to a clear CV structure
Firstly, ensure that you stick to a clear structure. There are plenty of kicking about online; so have a search and decide which is best for you. For example, if you’re straight out of education and have little experience, your focus is going to be more on your studies and skills.

Alternatively, if you’ve been working in your industry for some time, you’ll likely stick to a more traditional format; starting with your personal profile, before moving on to your experience and then your education.

Either way, the top of your CV should always include your name, contact number and email address. You don’t have to state your full address on your CV if you don’t want to, though do try to include the town you live in, especially if it’s close to where the company is based. Also, you may wish to include your professional title, if appropriate.

Perfect your personal profile
The first main section of your CV is your personal profile. Keep this short, no more than three sentences long and provide a brief summary of who you are and what you can bring to the role you’re applying for. Alongside this, if you have any career goals, be sure to include these.

Just remember that the reader wants to know why you’re the best person for the job. So, if you fail to impress them at the top of your CV, they’re unlikely to carry on reading.

Shout about your experience
Next up is your experience section: possibly the most important part! Here, you can highlight any relevant experience you have; whether that’s work experience, an internship or full/part-time employment.

You should state your experience in reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent position first. For each section, be sure to include the job title, the dates in which you worked there (month and year is fine) and a short overview of any key skills and achievements. To make it easier for the reader to digest, it’s also best to use bullet points.

Alongside the above, when shouting about your achievements in each role, try using numbers to quantify them. For instance, rather than stating ‘I consistently hit target every month’, try ‘I consistent exceeded my target by 20% each month’. It helps to bring your example to life.

Touch on your education
The next part to focus on when writing your CV is the education section. Again, list your education out in reverse chronological order and include any relevant qualifications. If you’ve only just left education, this section will be your main focus and you can go into detail on any key modules studied at University or grades achieved in school/college.

As you progress throughout your career, employers tend to focus less on your education and more on your experience. So, if you have over 10 years’ experience in the industry, you probably don’t need to include details about school or college.

What else should you include?
Aside from the above, there are a few other sections that some people opt to include in their CV. For example, some wish to shout about their hobbies and interests. Again, if you’re just starting out in your career, this section can be useful to include. However, only do so if you actually have something interesting to say and better still: don’t lie!

At the end of your CV, you may also want to include a reference section. Note that you don’t need to actually include references on your CV; simply stating ‘References available upon request’ will suffice.

Tailor your CV to every role
Hopefully, you’ve got to grips with the basic structure of a CV. It’s definitely worth putting together a ‘skeleton’ document that you can work off of every time you apply to a job. However, it’s very important that you tailor your CV to every different role you apply for.

After all, a generic CV that isn’t relevant to the job won’t impress recruiters. They want to know what you can bring to the business and why you’re interested in the role. So be sure to set aside some time to do this.

Keep it concise
Finally, be sure to keep your CV concise. It’s recommended that you stick to two pages – any longer than this and it definitely won’t get read. Use a clear and easy to read font, such as Arial or Calibri in size 11 or 12. Alongside this, ensure that it’s in a format that’s easy to read. Graphics don’t tend to work well on CVs, especially if the company is using an Applicant Tracking System.

Ready to start writing your CV?
So there you have it; your ultimate guide to CV writing. Hopefully, the above information should be useful to you when you’re looking for work. Remember, stick to a clear format and include only the most relevant information. That way, your CV has a better chance of making it to the ‘yes’ pile; once you’re ready to go, why not register it online and see how you get on – good luck!

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In 5 Minutes, I’ll Give You the Truth About Hiring Someone From An Agency Background

There’s an age-old debate in the marketing world, one which has been pro-ed and con-ed to death in recent years. It goes a little like this:

“Should we bring onboard an experienced in-house marketer or try something new and hire someone with an agency background?”

There are obvious advantages and disadvantages to each, of course. The former will be familiar with traditional in-house business model strategies, while the latter may be able to bring a fresh perspective.

Yet for all the potential advantages that hiring someone with an agency background brings, many clients remain reluctant to consider them for in-house positions.

But…why?

As an advocate of hiring marketing execs with an agency background, let me dispel some of the most persistent myths and, while I’m at it, explain why people with agency experience might be exactly what your company and clients need.

They’re often talented multitaskers
One of the biggest misconceptions about former-agency hires is that they’ll shrivel up with boredom after two days on the job in-house.

I mean, why wouldn’t they? Aren’t they used to working on a variety of projects at once?

Of course, they are.

But that doesn’t mean that working on one project will automatically equal boredom.

They might, like most people, just want a change of pace. Or maybe they prefer the idea of focusing on and dedicating themselves to one brand after honing their talents in a fast-paced agency.

Besides, working in-house doesn’t mean your job narrows its focus that much. From experience, you still have to handle lots of things at once, so it’s not like former-agency hires are going from all to nothing by working in-house.

In fact, their fingers-in-many-pies, multi-tasking past will work in your company’s favour, as they’ll likely be highly efficient and capable of tackling all those things at once!

This is especially valuable if your marketing team is on the smaller side, you can only afford to bring onboard one member of marketing staff for the time being, or you’re trying to get a fledgeling company off the ground.

(Just remember that making one marketing person do everything is not a sustainable model in the long run, though!)

They’re adaptable
Many companies think that one-time marketing agency employees won’t be able to adapt to that in-house marketing life.

But, remember, these are people used to dealing with totally different campaigns from two completely contrasting industries. So if you can handle an 8am meeting with P&G and a 2pm conference call with Shell in just one day, you’ll certainly have the flexibility for in-house marketing.

On the other hand, marketers used to working in-house have likely been moulded and shaped in their former roles.

So, hiring someone from a marketing agency background allows you the chance to shape them to your in-house way of doing things, precisely because they’re not another stuck-in-their-ways marketer used to working in-house.

They’re malleable and, as a result, adaptable, meaning they’ll slot into your marketing team in no time.

They have specialised knowledge and skills
Hiring a marketing exec with years of in-house experience is all well and good. What people assume is they’ve probably got used to the way things work (sometimes a little too used to the way things work–see above!) and they likely have deep and specialised knowledge of their particular industry.

On the flip side, people assume exactly the opposite of former-agency marketers. They assume that they don’t have deeply specialised knowledge.

However, if they come from an agency which focused on, for example, SEO or PR or even data, they absolutely do have more in-depth knowledge and insight into that particular industry. Why? Because they’ll have worked with a range of clients to give detailed business strategies backed up by data.

Furthermore, people with agency backgrounds have to find solutions to business problems that don’t necessarily arise all the time in-house.

This talent for working well under pressure can (obviously) be a huge asset to a business because former-agency marketers will probably approach problems in a distinct way and generally just introduce fresh ideas.

They’ll be an asset when you start working with agencies
A good marketing department should eventually aim to have in-house marketers who can outsource some of the more specialised tasks to an agency. It streamlines the whole process and frees up the in-housers to focus on bigger picture stuff.

So, hiring a former agency marketer can pay dividends when your company starts working with agencies. After all, they can help smooth and improve communication, because they know and understand how agencies work.

This is unlike those used to working only in-house, who typically don’t get truly understand the complexity of the challenges that agencies face.

So, having someone with this background can bridge the gap, improve the relationship and ultimately enhance the quality of work with external agencies, providing better transparency and communication. Basically, a former-agency hire can help make the whole process more efficient.

They’ll relish the chance to see projects through to the end
Something that plagues former agency employees in the marketing sphere–specifically those who previously worked at market research agencies–is the assumption that they can’t see a job through.

In short, clients believe that they lack end-to-end ownership.

For example, if you’re working with a data agency they provide lots of information and insight but, ultimately, it’s the company that decides exactly how to run with it. Which is true.

But, if you were given the chance to see a project you’d put in motion through to the end, in a more hands-on way, wouldn’t you leap at the opportunity?

So would many former market research agency hires.

 

Have you hired a one-time agency marketer?

How did it go?

Or, are you still on the fence about doing so?

Let me know via email at alex@vertical-advantage.com or add me on LinkedIn and we can chat!

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What our clients say about us when we’re not in the room

We think we’re pretty great… but don’t just take our word for it!

Here’s what our happy clients say about us:

 

“The Vertical Advantage team have proven to be a value-adding talent acquisition partner for us. In a fast-moving, candidate-driven market, we need partners who act with pace and really understand their candidate network. Trust and transparency is crucial to the success of the partnership and we have faith that the Vertical Advantage team will deliver whenever we ask for their support.”
Talent Acquisition Manager at 

 

“I have worked with Vertical Advantage for a number of years and highly recommend them. They understand my needs and business constraints, tailoring their search accordingly. This is combined with the right level and style of communication to suit my needs, enabling an efficient, yet personable approach and (most importantly for me) the right result… a great Category team. They have a refreshing, clear and straightforward approach to the recruitment process.”
Head of Category at 

 

“Spot on and professional! I have been working with Vertical Advantage since 2015. Their coverage of the FMCG/Retail sector is excellent and the calibre of candidates recommended by the team has been extremely high. I like the no-nonsense approach, their ability to quickly understand our needs and the importance of fit when hiring for Land Securities. It is so comforting to know that one quick phone call gets the ball rolling!”
HR Manager – Retail and Learning & Development – 

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In 5 Minutes, I’ll Give You The Truth About THE 10,000 HOUR RULE

Practice makes perfect.

It’s a phrase we’ve all heard before. I’d go as far as to say it’s a phrase we’ve all said before, whether to ourselves or a frustrated friend in need of a somewhat superficial boost.

However, I doubt that any of us have made quite as much money from the idea as the Canadian writer Malcolm Gladwell.

It was his book, Outliers, which originally helped popularise a snazzier sounding version of ‘practice makes perfect’ back in the dark days of the recession: The 10,000 Hour Rule.

It certainly has a certain buzzword-y ring to it.

The idea behind the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ is that deliberate, sustained practice in one specific field plays a crucial role in becoming an expert in that discipline. And since the book was published in 2008, it’s been used as a go-to theory on the sacrifice it takes to be successful.

But it’s not quite that simple.

K. Anders Ericsson, the Swedish psychologist behind the original study which coined the ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ believes Gladwell vastly oversimplified the theory, something Gladwell himself now recognises.

Quite simply, practice alone just isn’t enough nor does it exist in a vacuum. (A.k.a. There are other factors at play.)

Ask anyone who spent thousands of hours kicking a football about as a kid, yet failed to become the next Beckham.

Yet Gladwell’s thesis is actually much more nuanced than the fairly broad-strokes ‘10,000 Hour Rule’ implies.

He actually spends a large portion of the book highlighting an array of other factors which play a part in the development of what Liam Neeson might call ‘a very particular set of skills’.

Factors like access, privilege, cultural upbringing, and race, to name but a few.

Cool.

So, if practice doesn’t make perfect…what does?

As recruiters and talent developers, figuring out an answer to that certainly wouldn’t hurt.

Environment might be more important than racking up the hours
Nurturing talent is about much more than simply giving someone a ton of responsibility and letting them crack on. Practice (alone) doesn’t make perfect, nor does it exist in a vacuum, remember?

A lot of the time the first port of call is to tag ‘Digital’ on to someone’s job title and hope that suddenly makes them an expert. Unfortunately, without the relevant budget, training, technology & measurement of performance, the development or true specialists who understand an ever-changing landscape is going to be severely limited.

That’s not to say that giving a new recruit time to get to grips with a role and allowing the natural learning curve to play out is necessarily a bad thing. (Although, do keep in mind that racking up 10,000 hours will take about five working years.) In fact, it’s crucial. But it’s also not the only thing.

Expertise cannot develop without passion
Think back to your maths lessons at school (delete as appropriate, leaving behind the one you hated the most).

You might have put in plenty of hours in those lessons–although maybe not quite 10,000–but do you remember Pythagoras’ Theorem? Shakespeare’s soliloquies? The Spanish for anything beyond ‘dos cervezas, por favor’?

In short, without passion for a topic, no amount of practice time is going to turn you into an expert.

The same logic is equally applicable to employers trying to find talent to be nurtured.

In an ever-changing landscape, previous experience (even 10,000 hours of it) quickly becomes redundant if the desire to continue learning disappeared 8,596 hours ago.

So, when searching for digital & eCommerce talent for FMCG businesses, the intersection of experience between skills and sector is still relatively small, so taking a broader view than square pegs for square holes is crucial.

Without these traits, all that practice may amount to nothing than more than banging your head against a digital brick wall.

Think of it this way: 10,000 hours + passion x environment = someone on their way to success. All you have to do is find them.

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How to navigate a career in the fast-changing world of eCommerce

eCommerce is a continually growing and changing sector.

If eCom is your passion, now is a perfect time to push forward in this market.

In today’s world, eCommerce is a strategic focus for even the most antiquated of FMCG organisations and how to get most out of it is the question on everyone’s lips.

The projections vary (wildly at times) but what is not in doubt is that online sales are only going one way, and as such the demand for talent able to drive that growth is substantial.

In the early days of eCommerce, only responsibility was just tagged to the job descriptions of the likes of Online NAM’s, Category Managers & Shopper Marketing Managers. This was because it only covered about 5% of the sales in comparison shop floor sales so didn’t warrant a specialist position.

As time has passed, businesses have continued to underestimate the impact of eCom and hence underinvested in developing the talent of future leaders.

What does this mean for you?

This short-sightedness should have you licking your lips if you want to pursue a career in it.

A lot is changing.

Even in the last 12 months, there’s been a proliferation of restructures and newly created roles.

The appetite from companies is most definitely there, but the talent to feed it is not.

Why?

Because there’s a lack of competition and a wealth of opportunity for candidates.

Right now, there’s a huge opportunity for eCommerce enthusiasts to fast-track their career.

The pace of development means that the scope to learn new skills and be exposed to new technology is far ahead of the more established areas we typically recruit for.

In a nutshell:

It’s an area tailor-made for curious, inquisitive folk with a thirst for knowledge.

So where do these eCommerce roles sit under?!

Sales? Marketing? Neither? Both?

Increasingly, there is no clear answer.

Whilst that structure is still reasonably common, the creation of dedicated eCommerce & Digital teams has led to a more matrix-led approach.

It now sits somewhere between Sales & Marketing with employees acting as ‘internal consultants’ across the business.

Now, as an eCommerce Manager, you might need to be just as comfortable negotiating trading terms with Online Buyers as you are understanding the role PPC plays in improving the path to purchase.

The days of simply being an ‘Amazon NAM’ are numbered and expecting to transfer ‘bricks & mortar’ experience into ‘bricks & clicks’ is unrealistic.

What does this actually mean for you when you’re trying to navigate a career in eCommerce?

As recruiters were often speaking to people who aren’t eCommerce specialist in FMCG but would like to be. Broadly speaking there are 3 different types of people and here’s the advice we give them:

(Related: See what exiting eCommerce roles we have at Vertical Advantage)

 

Working in FMCG with zero eCom experience?

Know about Cambridge Universities work on Hero Imagery?

Got some thoughts on the INS Ecosystem?

I advise you to:

Learn as much as you can from multiple areas. Soak it all up and start to form a picture of what you enjoy the most.

You might want to remain in a broad role and there’ll continue to be no shortage of demand for that, but equally, if you find an area you love then specialising will pay dividends.

Lack of experience can be made up for by giving your 2 cents/bitcoin on the latest developments in the market.

This is where it’s down to your willingness to learn.

If your company doesn’t have the structure in place to give you the experience you want then start developing it elsewhere – go to events, be on top of the latest developments, get to know the online buyers at the retailers you work with or eCom teams at competitors.


Working in FMCG with some previous eCom exposure but not a specialist?

I advise you to:

Think about moving into a broad, generalist position.

If the structure exists internally to facilitate it, or externally.

 

Are you eCommerce specialist no FMCG experience?

Your best bet here may well be to play to your niche skill set.

Figure out what you know that most people in FMCG don’t and find a company who, if not already there, are moving towards specialisation.

If you’re keen to broaden your experience, then once inside make this clear and find out the best way to move internally further down the line.

In so many areas of FMCG the closed-mindedness when hiring outside of the industry means businesses shut themselves off to talent.

But, when it comes to eCommerce, skills can outweigh market or category-specific knowledge, meaning it can be a great way in for people wanting to break into FMCG.


(Related: See what exciting eCommerce roles we have at Vertical Advantage now)

 

To conclude, is it better to be a jack of all trades and master of none?

A generalist approach is perhaps best suited to SME’s / those with relatively new eCommerce functions.

But it’s unlikely to be the long-term solution.

Why?

Because as the nuances of what it takes to get people to buy online become better understood, the creation of more specialist positions will proliferate.

At the developed end of the market, you already see companies taking a more sophisticated, specialist approach.

Now, structuring their teams with the understanding that eCommerce is not just a commercial undertaking.

A sale online has resulted from the culmination of every touchpoint. I’m positive that the same approach is likely to filter down & become commonplace in the market as time progresses.

If you’re still not quite sure what you need to do in order to progress your career in eCommerce, don’t sweat it!

In a nutshell:

Become so knowledgeable that eventually, people see your talent as wasted anywhere else.

The outcome?

You’ll either impress so much at interview that your lack of experience won’t be an obstacle, or your knowledge and enthusiasm will be recognised internally and allow you to make the case for creating/shaping a role just for you.

Lastly, what does the future look like?

One example I’d expect to see, is more direct-to-consumer specific roles created over the next 12-24 months and businesses leading the way in areas such as this are already nurturing the best niche talent. (I’m looking at you, Unilever).

 

Andy Davies
Associate Director – eCommerce, Digital, Marketing & Sales
andy@vertical-advantage.com

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Loyalty – Is it all it is cracked up to be?

In my role as a Manager at marketing specialist recruitment firm, Vertical Advantage, I’m always on the look out for outstanding talent in CRM and loyalty for our blue chip client base.

But it’s not always easy.

This means I constantly need rich customer data which can be difficult with rapid ever-changing industry trends that are at the heart of daily discussions.

This got me thinking about how the industry has drastically evolved.

Today almost 46.5 million people, (92% of the adult population) are registered with at least one card-based loyalty programme, and the average shopper is signed up to at least three.

Acquiring new customers is way more expensive than retaining them, so loyalty is an area that should be well developed by companies interested in return business.

This all sounds inspiring, but in reality, is customer loyalty all it’s cracked up to be?

My answer … not right now – but with a little work, it could be!

Loyalty schemes have become the norm – There’s so much choice out there!

The loyalty card itself has become a commodity, younger consumers these days rarely stick with just a handful of providers.

Instead, they go towards the lowest prices, the best service, and the easiest ride – in that exact order.

It is easier than ever for consumers to be disloyal: price comparison sites, social media reviews, and higher levels of price competition thanks to online retailers, are all factors that challenge the concept of loyalty.

Why?

It takes too long to reap real rewards

It’s not that loyalty schemes can’t work – it’ just that most provide so little value.

For example:

You’re loyal to a supermarket for a year, racking up the points.

The just before Christmas you’re rewarded with a voucher worth £6.45.

So, you’re undoubtedly going to ask yourself: is it worth the effort?

Of course not!

So next year you don’t bother, right?

You won’t be the only one!

Almost £6bn-worth of points have gone unclaimed from the top 10 mainstream loyalty schemes out there, with over 20% of loyalty programme users never having redeemed their rewards.

Poor targeting is a turn-off!

To be valuable, loyalty schemes need to be both better-targeted and worth something tangible to the consumer.

Points don’t cut it anymore. People want things, not points. But the thing has to be relevant and personalised.

Case-in-point: As a dog owner I have a Pets at Home loyalty card. I signed up as the owner of a small chihuahua, only to then receive on-going promotions targeting products aimed at larger breeds of dog.

The best loyalty schemes know their customers wants and needs and use this information to target them with relevant deals.

Is Mobile being ignored?

Loyalty schemes offered by your favourite high street retailers are likely to be card based.

How often have you forgotten your loyalty card and missed out on points when shopping in your favourite retailer?

You’re not alone – a third of customers do this.

And if you do want the points you’ll need to go through the hassle of keeping the receipt and then remembering to take it back to customer services (with your card) to get them added on at a later date!

Compare this with the number of times you’ve been shopping and forgotten your mobile phone.

Point taken?

So back to the original question, Is loyalty all it’s cracked up to be!!!

We’re humans, and our shopping habits cannot be analysed by algorithms alone! I believe people are at the heart of how we solve these challenges.

Loyalty schemes manipulate and analyse transactional data on shopping habits to reveal exciting insights into buying habits and motivations.

If, as a business, you really want to make this work, you’ll need professionals who can extrapolate this data to draw out qualitative research insights like customer motivation.

What kind of loyalty professionals does your business need?

If they want to attract the right talent who understand the nation’s loyalty behaviour, recruitment services have to aim for individuals with track records in driving change and innovation in loyalty programmes.

For me, that means professionals who can really dig deep into the data when shaping loyalty campaigns.

Find how where each candidate is within the cycle: how effective have they been? How do they measure that? What was their last great innovation, and why?

Most of all, ask how they believe we should approach the loyalty space because lateral, data-driven thinking is crucial to how well they will succeed in the current climate.

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Is a recruitment business more like a noodle bar than you think?

I’ll come clean. As an economics graduate working in recruitment, I really don’t spend much time mining the ‘intellectual resources’ gathered during my degree. But a great article by Mark Ritson in Marketing Week a few months back got me thinking about elasticity of demand and supply in recruitment.

According to Ritson, a noodle bar in Singapore received a Michelin star and hit a massive boom in demand – way beyond what it could supply. This gave it an unusual opportunity: to increase prices without affecting sales volume.

Did the owner do it?

No.

According to Ritson, he is ‘hopeless at pricing’.

See, inelasticity – where price increase does not lead to a significant drop in demand – is a dream situation for most businesses, and one that may sometimes never happen.

If you’ve earned it, use it!


Inelasticity and recruitment
So consider this: in recruitment, inelasticity is a reflection of client loyalty and agency quality.

The conditions for kindling inelastic demand, mean agencies need to adhere to a meaningful value proposition.

Pricing is too often used as a negotiating tool, but it’s a mistake to define the ‘value’ of your proposition in purely monetary terms.

You owe it to your brand – the promise you make to your customers and clients – to keep the price representative of the high value they get from the product.

So the question to consider, particularly in recruitment, is:

How far does your brand let you increase profitability without damaging customer and client trust?


Stretching your elasticity
There are many factors that affect your ability to be inelastic, however these are the key ones.

Supply of candidates

Good quality, reliable candidates, relatively scarce in a particular specialism make for a more inelastic situation. Their negotiated salaries and recruitment costs can be increased without damaging demand.

Quality of service

Make it easy for clients to get great candidates, and you’ll achieve overwhelmingly positive client experiences. Client loyalty is a strong sign of service inelasticity; you can set your own prices without damaging demand.

Brand representation

Where the client brand is not properly understood, the right hire can be hard to find. The better the understanding of that brand, the less likely high prices will affect demand. In addition, all the effort you put into marketing your great recruiter brand must be reflected the price you charge.


What can we learn from this?
Rapid competition at a micro level, and uncertain political events at the macro, mean in 2017, recruitment is going to hit that price-value conversation with employers more often.

The problem is, negotiation to a lower rate really leaves three choices for recruitment agencies:

  1. Suck it up and carry on.
  2. Walk away and risk future work with that client.
  3. Adjust your service proposition to match the fee you are being asked to charge. For example, let your clients know that they will be serviced by the more junior members of staff. Just like in a hair salon!

None of these options will be good for your brand you have spent so much time and money building. If you’re a specialist, providing candidates others can’t, offering a level of service unmatched by rivals, a pricing proposition that undermines this will damage your credibility and your inelasticity.

Walking away from business never sits well, but your company’s values can sometimes be more important than potential business. As a recruitment agency, we’re not afraid to walk away from clients and PSLs when the terms don’t reflect the value we bring to a company’s hiring solutions.

What are your thoughts on pricing in recruitment?

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