Peter Richards, director of marketing at GL Noble Denton, is fired up about communicating the oil and gas company’s new brand proposition. Victoria Clarke reports
GL Noble Denton’s (GLND) London HQ is tucked away in an unassuming side road just a stone’s throw away from the start-up Mecca of Old Street and its so-called Silicon Roundabout. It’s ironic that a traditional professional service provider to the oil and gas industry should find itself neighbours with a load of tech wiz-kids. Still, there’s a lot to be said for heritage and that’s one of the messages Peter Richards, GLND’s director of marketing, is championing in the organisation’s latest campaign. The ‘You are who we are’ campaign taps into the brand’s legacy of a people-based business, highlighting the expertise of its workforce and a deep-rooted global presence.
The campaign has pushed boundaries within the fairly conservative oil and gas industry, and for GLND, in particular, in a significant way. Richards explains that two years ago, due to the rapid growth of the business through acquisitions, it had no firm brand positioning. There was no alignment between sales and marketing and the latter was considered a reactive rather than proactive function. Prior to his appointment in 2010, marketing, it seems, was very much on the perimeters of the business. If the ‘You are who we are’ campaign demonstrates anything, it’s that Richards has positioned marketing at the epicentre of the brand.
“I’ve got my chief exec talking about the ad campaign, the brand and its awareness” Richards explains, “If I went back two years ago to when I first joined the company, that would never have happened. There’s been a corporate shift with regards to the perception of marketing and the proactive stance we take to drive business forward.”
A people’s person
Richards reveals that although he always set out to be a marketer, he spent 13 years at telecomms giant BT, four years of which were in a B2B sales role. He insists he found this experience hugely important in making him the marketer he is today. “For any individual in B2B marketing, you’ve got to have had an exposure to sales – not necessarily physically selling, but you have to have been in front of the customer to get an understanding of what they want and need,” he says.
It’s these kinds of comments that highlight Richards as a real ‘people’s person’. Little wonder then, that he and his team decided to base the ‘You are who we are’ campaign on his organisation’s most valuable assets – its employees.
The campaign came about as a result of both internal and external engagement. Both staff and clients were asked about their perception of the brand, the results of which then formed the key message behind the campaign. This was that GLND’s people are highly skilled individuals that are valued because of their expertise. The internal campaign – themed around superheroes and child-like triumphs – invited employees to nominate themselves or others who they felt deserved recognition for outstanding work. Selected individuals from across the organisation’s global offices then appeared on external marketing collateral across multichannels.
The fact the campaign was people-based proved challenging as Richards reveals. “We do a lot of work and have hundreds of case studies, but getting work signed off and approved is very hard so it was difficult to hear about people’s achievements,” he says. He adds that internal buy-in also varied depending on geographic territory, which added to his challenge. “We’re a very culturally diverse business and operate in 80 countries so there were challenges with the interpretation of the campaign.
Asia, the US, the UK and the Middle East all ‘got it’ but continental Europe – not so much. Doing something seemingly non-corporate in these countries was a huge leap for some of my colleagues.”
Breaking into social
Aside from cementing a solid brand proposition through the recent campaign, stepping into the social media realm is another milestone Richards has helped GLND achieve. Video, in particular, has proved effective in communicating the complex issues surrounding engineering in the oil and gas industry. One such video was shared with New Scientist, who then also tweeted about it to promote it further. Other social media activity has involved thought leadership research with the Economist Intelligence Unit, which was subsequently advertised on LinkedIn. Despite these examples, Richards explains social media at GLND is a relatively slow-growing seed, in part because of the business being regulated in a similar way to large financial institutions. He says, “Where you’ve got an industry that’s looking at reputation, you’ve got to be more measured about how you open up in social media. There’s very little margin for error – you have to control things in a regulated environment.”
Richards is realistic though. He questions whether this approach is sustainable in the long run and concludes it probably isn’t, but for now the risks outweigh the rewards. He does add, however, that he looks forward to a time when more freedom is given to social media – no doubt in part because it will mean GLND’s entire social media activity will no longer have to come through him and his team first. As ‘new blood’ emerges in traditional industries, Richards says he sees this shift well on the way.
Richards’ pragmatism about the challenges he faces is matched with a persistent enthusiasm to try new things. It ensures a healthy balance of realism, relevancy and risk at GLND – exactly what B2B brands need to thrive in the 21st century.
Richards’ top tips for brand repositioning
1. Dig deep to really understand what the client thinks of your organisation.
2. Ensure that marketing’s objectives support and contribute directly to the business objectives and strategy – seems obvious but without this any spend will, and should,be challenged.
3. Make sure you have a team that clearly understands what you are trying to achieve; communication is key.
4. Get clear buy-in from the business for your activity, in a people business it’s critical as without this any campaign will fail.
5. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo and ensure that you and your team can share laughter along the way.