“Your brand is your bedrock,” says Edwin Bessant, chief executive of Ceuta Group. “And the primary importance of thoroughly understanding and consistently communicating a set of clear messages is key to sustainable success.”
Ceuta are a global consumer brand services business working in the health, personal care and the food and drinks sectors, with clients including large multi-nationals.
Bessant co-founded the company in 1994. Today, Ceuta Group are at work in over 100 markets internationally, with offices in New York, Bangkok, Rotterdam, and Wexford, as well as five locations in the UK. Backed by US investors, with 2500 people on the payroll, Ceuta Group have access to more than 550,000 pharmacies and 120 major chain retailers globally.
While the group’s growth has been impressive, Bessant and his team don’t need to be told that they have to respond to the inevitable changes which are being brought about by digitalisation.
A high priority for Bessant is ensuring that the group maintains a cohesive brand, while the component companies retain their own individuality and their position in the marketplace. Yet with each business having its own identity and messages and using different marketing approaches, is there a risk of that bedrock he spoke of becoming fractured - simply because of the sheer diversity of digital communication and the proliferation of social media channels?
“Of course we have to be very careful that we are communicating the same messaging across the whole group,” he says. They’re not merely words.
In 2016 he appointed Clémence Watts as group communications manager to lead this work. “Her brief is about bringing unity, conformity and guidance to the whole group, drawing the roadmap of where we’re going to.”
Coming from a background in technology companies, Watts is well aware of the risks of going gung-ho for digital without proper consideration of what is being communicated. “B2B specifiers are interacting differently these days,” she says.
But there’s an essential ingredient which companies need to add to their marketing armoury, she believes. “We have to be able to understand our clients much better with the data and analytics we can get from digital communication, and it’s also a good way to respond to what they want from us.
“With all the analytics in place, we can see who clicked where, how many times, how many people have been to our website, and ultimately how people are engaging with our content.”
And that’s not just for score-keeping. “The data will enable us to choose the right channels and use the right kind of messages across each. Not every channel is suitable for every message or every audience.”
To help navigate this, Ceuta Group created a business called CollidaScope, which interprets and links together data from multiple different sources to unearth what really influences the buyer.
All of that said, Bessant is not about to give up on traditional marketing methods just because of the digital presence. “I would strongly disagree that life has moved on and made the printed brochure redundant because it’s a very effective tool,” he says. “If you go to Goldman Sachs or any other big city firm, they all still have printed brochures in their lobby areas.”
Other pre-digital tools that continue to work well for Ceuta’s clients include TV advertising which Bessant says often outperforms digital advertising, as well as field sales.
While some companies are switching their sales operations online, Ceuta still employ a large salesforce and plan to continue to do so. “We will always have reps calling on [retailers] because it’s about education, discussing promotional plans. But they have to be smarter – they have to understand EPOS stats, profitability, and they have to go in to the retailers well equipped.”
But that shouldn’t be interpreted as a reluctance to adopt digital communication. Quite the opposite. Ceuta Group acquired the brand and design agency 1HQ two years ago partly for that very purpose.
“Digital comms makes it easier to reach people than before but if it’s the wrong message to the wrong person, it’s a waste of time,” says their CEO Mark Artus. “Digital is a major part of future-proofing for a company. But because there’s a plethora of different digital channels, choosing the right ones is incredibly difficult.
“It used to be easier in the days of TV advertising when there was only one or two commercial channels.
You just had to work out which programmes your target audience was going to watch. And our world is just speeding up; nobody has the time they used to have five years ago, so we have to be more nimble.
“I think there’s a whole new age of millennials who view the world through a uniquely digital lens. They’ve forgotten about speaking on the phone. There’s still a role for analogue communications - sitting in front of someone and talking it through – but are we about to end the bell curve of analogue? Yes we are.”
Artus also cites the emerging importance of the ‘experience economy’. It’s appropriate for the digital age, although the term comes from an article published in 1998 by the American management advisers and authors B Joseph Pine II and James H Gilmore, which describes the experience economy as the next stage of progress following the agrarian, the industrial economy, and the most recent service economies.
Pine and Gilmore argued that rather than merely selling products, businesses must orchestrate memorable events for their customers, the memory of the experience being the product they are selling. They argue that to trounce rivals, companies must grasp, manage, and excel at rendering authenticity.
Which brings us back to the primacy of the brand. “In a world which you can’t control, the one thing you can be sure of is what your brand stands for,” says Ceuta CEO Edwin Bessant. “The very word ‘digital’ can cause more damage than good if you don’t understand your brand in the first place.”