Cathal Gillen – William Grant & Sons

Cathal Gillen – William Grant & Sons

Cathal Gillen is the Global Marketing Effectiveness Manager at William Grant & Sons (WGS), one of the main players in the spirits industry. The company distils and distributes brands such as Glenfiddich, Hendrick’s, Monkey Shoulder and the eponymous Grant’s. Cathal’s role covers the entire portfolio and he supports the business at global, regional and local levels. As well as using external sources to ensure he delivers best practice on how marketing works for the brands, he also consolidates what works at a local level to ensure it bubbles up to the rest of the business.

Brand growth KPIs

In terms of brand health, Cathal explains: “The aim is to evolve traditional KPIs to make them more relevant to the consumer mindset.” An example is ‘saliency’. Inspired by the work of Jenni Romaniuk at the Ehrenberg Bass Institute, Cathal wants to move the teams beyond conventional saliency metrics to thinking more along the lines of Category Entry Points. Cathal: “How do we get better at measuring against what’s in the consumers’ head at that point of purchase? At the bar, they weigh up options from their consideration set that can be made up of brands & serves across categories including beer & wine. The occasion context drives the choice.” Cathal also thinks this product defined category lens can hinder where the insight could come from, the creative messaging and ultimately the occasions we want to be associated with. Much better to put more thought into the choice context and measure the health of the brands against that. Cathal explains: “For ‘saliency’, it should be ‘tell me what brands come to mind when you think of high energy occasions in a bar’ and not ‘tell me what brands of this spirits category you can think of’.”

Effectiveness KPIs

As a further example of using external sources, ‘The Long and the Short of It’ work by Les Binet and Peter Field influences the effectiveness KPIs that are used at WGS. Cathal: “The biggest challenge for both brand health and evaluation of creative is to make sure the right metrics are being used and in the right context. The teams have improved effectiveness by using balanced scorecards and always evaluating the activity on the metrics that best reflect the objectives of the brief.” It is important to be clear on what the activity is meant to do. Cathal explains: “This should influence channel decisions as well as effectiveness KPIs and will avoid muddying the waters if the activity has brand building and sales activation jobs to do for example.” All of this means that the brand teams give themselves the best chance to understand if the activity really has moved the needle and done the job it was set out to do.

The role of creatives

WGS does not use a hard and fast definition of ‘creative’. Cathal explains why: “Ask me to describe a good song and I won’t know how to, but I can tell you when I listen to one. In the same way with creative, you know when you see it and it’s probably why people enjoy good creative so much.” According to Cathal, it’s also because the WGS brands show up to consumers in many different ways. Cathal: “The brands have the benefit of being able to connect with consumers across a multitude of touchpoints. Not only the mainstream ATL and BTL channels, but also within on-trade venues, at events, via experiential activations and through our commitment to advocacy programs. In-bar activations such as the Hendrick’s penguin pourer or putting a ‘Monkey Shoulder cement mixer’ on the road for experiential activity can have the same creative impact as a TV campaign.”

For Cathal, the ultimate objective for brand creative is to build towards a truly integrated, 360 campaign and to strive to, “hit it out of the park” in each touchpoint. One consistent facet of creative however are distinctive assets. Cathal: “These are hugely important for brands, because of their ability to connect the dots for consumers across touchpoints, creating synergy.”

Creative development & role of research

Regarding creative development, Cathal explains: “There is not a one size fits all approach to developing a creative for the brands. We have frameworks in place but not a strict process. The approach will be determined by the size and scope of the brief.” Cathal is keen to emphasise that the briefing is key and that the teams must spend time with it to make sure the objectives are clear. Cathal: “This is the groundwork for ‘effectiveness’ after all, and it also means that lead creative agencies and specialist agencies are all joined up.”

Research plays an important role, but Cathal makes the point that it should be given a balance. Cathal explains: “Research is used upstream to inform strategy development and to get to know consumers. Further downstream, it is important not to overdo research and to keep it focused on improving and optimising the creative.”

Throughout, Cathal’s role is to build a continuous cycle of learnings for all of his stakeholders. He will always take things on board to learn from what the brands are doing, pulling out the clues and hints of what works and why and feed that back. Cathal: “This is what makes it easier to build better briefs and better plans, it’s more important to learn and improve then focus purely on hitting KPIs.”