Mary Say

Please describe your job: What do you do?

I’m the CEO and co-founder of Brand Potential. We are in the business of transforming brands for the future and our services include insight, innovation, brand development and design, and uniquely, we also support private equity houses when they are investing in consumer brands.

With my two business partners, I lead the business, the team, the offer to our clients, set the direction and also do lots of quick action decision making, particularly this year!

Talk us through a typical day…

Like most agency leaders, my day is varied and can range from the very high-level, to being down in the detail.

Let me take today as a good example. I’ve interviewed the CEO of a client business as part of a brand positioning we are doing for them and I’ve joined our COO for a recruitment conversation. I’ve participated in a team brainstorming to tackle a thorny client branding problem, and I’ve had a few sideline conversations with various members of the team to answer questions or provide advice. And now I’m answering this which I guess counts as profile building. So, I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical day!

How do you maintain an effective work/life balance?

I think most founders will tell you that you never really “switch off” – although a hard spinning class normally helps! And now that we are working from home the majority of the time, the boundaries are definitely more blurred.

Having said that, we have been a flexible organisation since we first started 10 years ago. I think that when you are a smaller business, one of the ways you can recruit and retain great talent is by working very hard on your company culture. So, since day one, we’ve taken a very grown-up, trusting approach to how we work.

For me, it’s all life – work/life implies you have to choose one or the other; I don’t think it has to be like that.

This year, I joined WACL and they are running a great campaign called FlexibleFirst which showcases the benefits, both commercial and cultural, of having a flexible working policy, not just for parents, but for everyone. I find it strange that it’s taken something like Covid to really bring it to the fore.

How has strategy changed at your company in the past 18 months?

Strategy has to be a fluid concept for us. Of course, we have a growth roadmap and a vision for where we want to take our business; but as a service business, we have to be nimble and respond to our clients needs.

I think of it as a motorway; we know the direction we’re going in; but sometimes we have to change lanes and speed. But we’ve been fortunate; a lot of our work is in food and drink, personal care, healthcare, pharma and tech; all relatively resilient sectors. So actually, we are approaching our year end feeling cautiously confident about our long term plans; the strength of our team and the relevance of our offer.

There’s always more to do, but last year was the ultimate test, and helped to sharpen our priorities.

How has customer behaviour (or your clients’ customer behaviour) changed during the pandemic?

In broad terms, brands follow the same pattern in line with economic upturns and downturns. In good times, innovation quickly comes up the agenda and brands are looking to stretch into new audiences, sectors, markets. In tough times, the focus tends to quickly shift to portfolio strategy, optimising what’s there, sweating the assets and working out a strategy for portfolio outliers.

We’ve seen the same patterns this past year but with a particular focus on brand transformation programmes. As clients are having to shift their operating model, so too they need to shift their brand to reflect the new. And do it quickly.

What do you predict for the future?

Oh, I’m not sure about making predictions; surely that’s a guessing game right now?

What I can tell you is that most of the brands we are working with are all focused on one common thread; that consumers had reached “peak stuff” and now are looking to simplify their lives. Whether that’s through product personalisation, digital platforms, user experience or something else.

What advice would you give a marketer right now?

Prioritise! If you’ve got less budget, less resource and less time, you’ve got to work out where the big bets are. So, the classic rules of brand building still apply; segment your audience, identify the prize; position your brand accordingly, and tell a great story.