Data doesn't tell you everything, warns Harrods’ Amanda Hill, who spoke to WARC as part of a series of interviews with CMOs from around the world for the Toolkit 2019 report.  

What are you proudest of in 2018? And what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year?

I think that what we're going through right now is just an incredible amount of change, and I think marketing in its own right has changed more in the last five years than the last 20. And actually, it's helping to take a team with you on that change and to not only take them with you but give them the courage and confidence to embrace it rather than constantly bat against it.  I think that what's going to be required more of leaders going into the future is how do you really encourage and nurture a team and how you make sure that you can keep guiding them through something that's really far more turbulent.

This biggest lesson is probably about the application of data – though I think that all of us need to get more data – but it doesn't tell you everything. And it's actually been more about the leaps that one can make with not enough data. The leaps people can make by not over allaying a human sensibility to the data.

Toolkit 2019

This interview is part of WARC’s Toolkit 2019 series

Find the full report here

I've seen a few things go wrong where it's been data-led only and not asked our thoughts about why do human beings do something? What's the rationale behind that? What's making them tell you? If you don't connect that back with human emotion, and trends, and how people feel about themselves, data won't tell you everything.

How do you expect your category to develop in 2019?

One thing we really wanted to do was to join what our CEO called the race to the top. I think that he's believed for quite a long time that it's very easy to get stuck in the middle in retail, which means you don't really have a differentiating proposition, or you don't have something that's really, really experiential enough to leverage the retail space.

Across the category, do you think that retailers are having to rethink what their physical stores are?

Yes. What makes a product offering here distinctive from what you get online? What makes it a physical environment in which you're purchasing additive? If you can just get it online, why won't people just do it online? So it makes the physical experience distinctive from the online experience. They can't be replications of each other.

The store has traditionally been an activation channel. To what extent do you think it's becoming a brand building channel, if at all?

Oh God, completely. I mean, this is Harrods, right? So it's definitely a brand-building channel: in terms of actually how you manifest yourself, how you create that experience for customers; the extent to which you have the experience with you long after you've left; the colour, the design, the way that you engage with the customers, the remembering of the details of perfect packages. You remember all those things because I think that's how you build loyalty, that's how you build those relationships and long-term engagement. It's interesting because a lot of marketing is actually about people and one to one which is quite different from a post or an ad.

What's the biggest challenge your brand faces in 2019?

Well, I don't think there's anything that particularly worries me beyond how much I can do. I think I do a lot more to stand still nowadays. In marketing, you just used to have to put out an ad; the amount you have to do to reach the same number of people now is a lot more complex, a lot more involved in terms of things like budget and team size. So I think one concern would be just the complexity of the business and how much more we have to do to get to the same place. Alongside that would be the new skills that are needed to be brought in alongside the current skills to make sure that we're really setting ourselves up for where we need to go.

What skills will you need to hire into your team?

I really believe that you need to have people who are just smart, driven, and passionate, and they challenge you, and they push you, but it's all done within an environment of trust. I've brought some great people on board who've joined our editorial team. I need people who write, but not journalists who can spot trends. These are more people who really immerse in that world and who have the ability to shape and create content that people want to receive and hear.

What tech are you in investing in or scaling up?

A lot of what we're doing is thinking about how do I use Instagram to make sure I get the imagery of the products I have in store when they call - and then they feel that they get the first call. Or how do I use WhatsApp to make sure that the conversation keeps going year-round, whenever they need something? There's more thinking about the role digital plays to help continue the customer engagement and relationship, not about digital per se: digital can be a facilitator of the relationship.