An Innovative Relationship: Digitisation, Marketing and Supply Chain

At Walter James we are a Global Executive Search business which was originally founded on expertise in Supply Chain placing multiple roles for blue chip FMCG businesses around the world.

That foundation was 7 years ago, and a lot has changed since then. Both in the Walter James Executive Search breadth of capability and in the scope of senior executive leadership roles in marketing and supply chain.

In more recent times Walter James Executive Search established strong expertise across multiple functional areas including Finance, HR, Sales and Marketing, Senior Commercial Executive roles and CEOs. We support a strong breadth of clients from multinationals (e.g., GSK, Unilever and RB) through to smaller, PE backed and family-owned businesses.

As a Client Partner in the Walter James Group with a commercial FMCG background, I have lately been considering the increasingly inter-dependent relationship between Marketing and Supply Chain.

At the very simplest level Supply Chain involves people, products and information – planning and tracking how component parts and goods move through the system. In summary, putting resources in the right place, at the right time and in the right quantity for every step of the production process.

In turn, the central element of Marketing lies in communication. Historically the marketing mix focused on the component parts of price, product, promotion, and place, but the shift towards total digitisation has put data, insights, and analytics at the heart of all marketing strategic plans. To drive customer experience and profitable growth businesses must integrate data and systems to create actionable insights.

Fundamentally if we get the marketing right, we drive demand creation and thus we directly impact the supply chain strategy. There is no doubt that consumer habits have evolved and have been accelerated by the global pandemic. This is not simply about the channels which we all buy from, but also cyclical buying habits that link with optimisation of inventory and distribution.

The interaction between marketing and supply chain is one of efficiency improvements at every stage. As we have witnessed the digitisation of marketing, we are also witnessing the digitisation of supply chains. Our clients are migrating to a digital supply chain strategy. This approach improves integration of digital marketing activities and taps into the available data to share between functions. Data is translated into insights in seconds and decision-making timescales continue to reduce thus driving supply chain efficiencies. What emerges is a completely data-driven ecosystem.

An example of this in action lies in FMCG organisations, who are increasingly moving towards an asset lite model across manufacturing and logistics to account for the speed of change in consumer demand provided by the digital consumer environment, which is now faster than the time taken to get payback on heavy capex investment.

In the current climate many businesses are focused not just on the ‘what’, but the ‘how’. If we design and build an effective customer experience strategy, we create positive customer journeys in every step of a transaction. As we do this, we drive increased demand… and we impact supply chains and the need for optimisation.

The continued growth of ecommerce marketing strategies also directly impacts the planning decisions made with manufacturers for peaks and troughs in demand, inventory management and working in partnership with buyers to ensure products remain available and shelves stocked and products available – a challenge only exacerbated by the ongoing pandemic backdrop. Historically we would have had 3 functional experts working in silos here – Sales Account Directors dealing with the buyers, the Supply Chain Director and the Marketing Director. Without a doubt the functional delineation of these strategic roles has been broken down as organisations move to a more agile and integrated strategic approach. New combined Executive Leadership roles are emerging and combined skill sets becoming increasing in demand.

The need to hire multi-functionally experienced talent who understand the detail of these independent relationships is key. With the challenges of the pandemic still very much ahead of us, we must effectively collate & aggregate the data ensure optimization in both marketing and supply chain.

As we shift into 2021 with all the challenges ahead of us, the underlying trends continue – that modern marketeers must have digitisation at the front and centre of all strategic marketing plans. Data & insights will drive the continuing evolution of both the marketing and supply chain functions as they become ever more intrinsically linked and we look for candidates who are able to add value in both areas to drive profitable growth.

By Annabel Weeden

Partner - Commercial Practice Co-Chair D&I Board

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