As part of the WARC x Ogilvy Image to Impact report, Martha Velando, former CMO at De Beers, spoke about the science of creativity, making an impact across the value chain, and why transparency is the foundation of brand trust.

Martha Velando

Martha Velando, former CMO, De Beers

If we look at how marketing has changed over the past 10 years, what are the biggest shifts that you have seen personally in that time?

I've been in marketing for over 25 years, and it's been fascinating to see the change. When I first started, it was all about the creative, making sure that marketing was storytelling and creating the dream. And it was a little bit of guessing in terms of what worked and what didn't. And today, we have so many tools to understand what actually works that that's the more interesting change in marketing.

We have gone from purely creative to scientific and applying a lot of tools to understand our consumers. Consumers have seen what we are doing but are they understanding the story and then attributing that story to our brand? Is it moving the needle on growth, brand building and more commercial KPIs? So, for me, that's the biggest change that I have seen in marketing. And, obviously, the angle on sustainability and the relevance and purpose of the brand is a key factor when consumers choose which brands to relate themselves to today.

We've been using the terms impact and purpose interchangeably, but we're talking about impact because that has a slightly different meaning in today's conversation. What's the De Beers philosophy in the debate between impact and purpose?

For us, it all goes back to our purpose. Our purpose is to make life brilliant. And not only for our end consumers – with beautiful diamond jewellery – but also to grow the communities that we touch across the value chain. We recover diamonds in Africa, Botswana, Namibia, South Africa, etc. and then through that value chain is how we, as a company, make life brilliant for all the communities that we interact with. And that is at the core of everything that we do. We are in marketing, of course, and creating the storytelling of the beautiful and maintaining the desire for natural diamonds, but it's really important for us that we do that for the benefit of everybody that we talk to.

In terms of measuring the impact of that and the effectiveness of living up to a brand philosophy, is it something you just have as an internal benchmark or is it a cross-industry benchmark? How do you measure it and how well has it gone?

This is where I have seen more development in the sophistication of how we can really show our board and stakeholders the power of marketing. When I started, it used to be a cost, it was just filming beautiful films. Today, we really need to show how that investment yields a positive result.

We go back to having very clear KPIs, both upper funnel and lower funnel, in terms of brand health, awareness, saliency, and we have several instruments that our insights and research team handle, all the way to commercial KPIs: sales; profit; traffic, Facebook clicks, etc.

We are keeping a very good eye on the impact of marketing on the three availabilities. Mental availability is building this brand awareness, making sure that we reach as many consumers as possible. Physical availability, so making sure that our brand is portrayed in the best way physically and then portfolio availability. We have KPIs that we track on upper and lower funnel across all those availabilities. That's another change – the sophistication and investment that we have on dashboards, that help the management team see, almost on a daily basis, what the effect of the marketing investment is, so then we can be bold and increase their overall effectiveness.

How has it been going with measuring in terms of actual brand purpose, as well as the impact down the value chain. How easy is that to measure?

That's one of the best points to measure the stickiness of the brand. It's about telling a story, but it's making sure that we understand if consumers understand the story and they believe in our story. And when it comes to that we have, again, a few instruments to understand if consumers are favouring some brands over others because of purpose.

It's one thing to talk about it but the other is to show very tangible ways in which the brand is operating. For example, we launched a partnership with National Geographic earlier this year in which we are partnering with our communities in southern Africa to preserve the Okavango Delta, which is one of the largest sources of freshwater in southern Africa.

We haven't done that obviously, for marketing purposes – it's part of our purpose – but it has been great to see the overwhelming, positive reaction that we have had from consumers. When we have consumers coming into the store or going online asking to learn a little bit more about it, that's when we start seeing how the power of living purpose has a big impact on how consumers relate to our brand.

So, when you actually communicate this sort of impact to customers, has the way you communicate to them changed as your brand strategy has evolved over time?

Definitely. As I said earlier, it used to be all about creating a beautiful ad and portraying our product in the best possible light. Obviously, it's an honour to work on diamond jewellery, which is perhaps one of the most glamorous categories and one that consumers choose to buy to signify big moments in their lives, such as anniversaries, weddings, having kids, etc. So, I think our category enjoys a unique role in consumers' lives.

But for today's consumers it is not enough to have beautiful products, to have beautiful designs in beautiful stores. It's about what the brand does across the value chain and I think that's where going back to purpose and telling consumers genuinely how the brand is interacting with communities around the world can have a powerful role.

We have to be very careful because there's a lot of non-genuine, let's say, storytelling that cannot 'cure' several industries and consumers today are super-savvy. They know who is living [their] values and who is not. So, today it's not only about creating that beautiful asset, that beautiful storytelling, but also the central role that purpose, sustainability, and working with communities have in creating the brand story.

How much work do you think there is for brands to do to become really authentic in how they create the impact in the world that they do, from boardroom to customer interaction?

Fostering this genuine connection with consumers is probably at the top of every CEO's agenda. It's all about building trust and to build trust, it's all about transparency – for consumers to understand the good and the impact that the brand, or the organisation, does across all the steps in the value chain. And it's just being super clear on sustainability goals and traceability, etc., making sure that that is not a 'nice to have', but is at the core of the brand offering.

I think there's a lot of work to be done in terms of how we report back to society in terms of scorecards and the progress that we have made. From our goals on being carbon-neutral to smart mining, and tangibly realising the lift that we can give to communities around the world.

There are a lot of big cultural shifts going on, how do you see the next 10 years playing out when it comes to creating impact?

I think impact on society will become even more important, more critical. Today, consumers are speaking with their wallets, and choosing to prefer one brand over the other based on values and based on tangible impact. So, from my humble point of view, I think this is here to stay and this will only become more relevant.

As a mining company, the beauty of De Beers is that we go all the way back to the source so we have a unique position to really work and create value for the communities we recover diamonds from, which is different from the role of other brands that are retailers.

We go all the way from working with communities in southern Africa to working with communities in India, working with communities in our consumer markets around the world in the US, China, India, etc. We are privileged in the position that we have, but that comes with greater responsibility. So, making sure that the impact of mining is positive to society and is positive to the environment. We choose to work with communities and give back wherever we can, so that is a genuine power of the storytelling – a piece of diamond jewellery that has been a billion years in the making.

When you talk about how you impact communities and how you might communicate some of that to customers, how important do you think differentiation is going to be?

I think there's a subtle distinction between being different and being distinctive. We are aiming to be distinctive, and to be genuine. And because of our position in the industry and in the marketplace, I don't see any other player that has a more genuine way of bringing in the story behind the product.

We have several players on upstream, midstream or downstream but I think because of our full horizontal integration, we are uniquely positioned to create a genuine story that is distinctive in the marketplace. I think being unique and distinctive will become much more important. Consumers can today discern whether a story is genuine or not and I think because of the way we operate and the several communities and countries that we partner with, that comes to life naturally. So, there's definitely an increasing role for being distinctive within the industry in the marketplace.

The important word seems to be genuine. The more genuine you can be, the more likely you are to stand out and be remembered. Is that how you see it?

Definitely. I think we're blessed that we hear everyday stories from the communities where we operate around the world. These are not stories that we hear from a creative agency to weave into our positioning but rather organic stories straight from the different markets, communities, centres where we operate. It is really great to come to work and be able to see tangibly how we make life brilliant for our end consumers, but also for the communities that we touch across the value chain.