In the second episode of season 3 of The Next Round, AAR’s marketing inspiration podcast, practice lead Robin Charney spoke to Craig Inglis, whose CV boasts some of the coolest jobs in Marketing. After spending the earlier stages of his career at Thomson Holidays and Virgin Trains (launching Trainline.com), Inglis spent 12 years at one of the nation’s most beloved brands, John Lewis and Partners, before moving on to his own personal Next Round late last year. He spoke to Robin about his journey
Throughout his time at John Lewis, Craig oversaw seismic shifts in retail and marketing, with the digital acceleration forcing legacy brands to redefine their entire DNA. In the episode, Craig discusses how building emotional as well as rational affinity, putting staff at the heart of the customer proposition, and rebranding for a tech-facing future has placed John Lewis in a position of strength for its next challenge.
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As it undergoes transformation, what are some of the biggest challenges facing retail?
Craig noted that the change underway in retail can only be acknowledged as a structural one. It’s not cyclical, it’s a deep, structural change that’s been taking place over the last decade as consumers switch from in-person to online shopping. That impacts on marketing, of course, but more importantly it touches on every part of the business.
It requires a complete top-to-bottom re-engineering, in everything from your product proposition and your supply chain to your fulfillment and customer service; everything changes, if you really want to embrace digital properly.
For John Lewis, and many other legacy brands, this means changing the DNA of the business, and adding complexity that didn’t exist before, and losing some of what you did have, all of which causes profitability to become a challenge.
The number one challenge is actually no different to what Craig would have pointed to ten or twenty years ago, however - and that’s the need to develop customer propositions that are truly differentiated, and valuable in the eyes of your target market.
What makes a marketer a great Customer Director?
Having moved into the role of Customer Director, Craig and Robin discussed what makes these two roles harmonious, and why marketers can make great customer directors - interestingly, Craig touched on the fact that to some extent, these kinds of titles are interchangeable.
Craig acknowledged that to some extent, the phrase ‘what’s in a name?’ applies. Craig “happened to be called Customer Director, and it’s interesting that you say it supersedes [the role of marketing director], I think that’s kind of how it’s perceived, but it is perception more than reality to be honest. I could easily have been called Marketing Director and the job would still be relevant”
What did the evolution of creativity at John Lewis look like?
Craig is a believer in creativity, in all its forms. It’s the thing that elevates a brand in the eyes of its customers, it captures their imaginations, brings the brand to life, and engages its audience. But this comes in all forms - it could be innovation of the customer experience, in the creation of desirable products, and of course in content and communications.
The point for Craig is that creativity is about engaging and inspiring customers across the different parts of your proposition, and creating a culture that allows that kind of creativity to thrive is key. Two brands can tell the same story, but in such different ways, and it’s that creativity that defines one from the other. It’s also the thing that makes the job really fun!
What is Craig Inglis’s favourite John Lewis Christmas Ad?
For Craig, who led the development of what have become some of the most lauded and highly-regarded Christmas Ads of all time, choosing a favourite is a bit like choosing your favourite child. But his personal pick is ‘The Long Wait’, the 2011 Christmas ad that was the first to really get traction. Craig noted they thought they’d done something good, but they had no idea what was coming in terms of reaction, which makes it feel particularly special.
What makes a great relationship between a brand and a creative agency?
If there’s a secret, it’s a pretty simple one - it’s about the strength of human relationships that we create, which are rooted in an implicit trust in each other. That trust only comes from honesty, and the ability to be sometimes - if not often - brutally honest and open with each other.
That’s what great human relationships are based on, and it means having the ability to say absolutely anything to each other, but always with positive intent. Craig noted that he was never more proud than when he would see a couple of people from the same agency arguing amongst themselves in front of the client.
Inglis never wanted to be presented to, and didn’t want things wrapped up in a bow, he wanted to talk about the work, warts and all, because that’s where the magic happens; it stops you believing the hype, and it allows you to set a high bar for yourselves.