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Gareth Helm

Sideminds was set up by Gareth Helm in 2023. The idea was simple. How do you make marketing leaders more effective, more quickly?

Gareth has spent over 30 years in marketing, which included CMO roles in McDonalds, HomeServe, Checkatrade, Zoopla and uSwitch. As Gareth likes to say he’s marketed burgers to boilers and broadband to buildings in the UK and overseas.

As he went from one C-suite leadership role to another he recognised how complex the role was becoming, not just because technology was opening up new opportunities, but because this made marketing increasingly misunderstood within the C-suite. This led to more demand and expectation, and he wished he had had an expert sage alongside to support him. An experienced marketer who could coach, but also give direct advice and could be a reliable pair of hands to deliver on key projects, so momentum could be maintained.

This concept became the backbone of the book, The Marketing Leader’s CODE. This brings Gareth’s and many other C-suite leaders experiences into framework for success. At its heart is a profiling tool to access marketing leadership capability and help build new skills.

The marketing consultancy Sideminds started shortly afterwards. This helps marketing leaders excel as they ride the rollercoaster of marketing: helping them as they start new jobs, giving objective perspective when they have been established for a few years in a role, and supporting them if, as commonly happens, they exit prematurely from a business.

Gareth is the lead consultant, and he brings in other experts as needed. This includes ex-CMOs, but also marketing leaders who are between roles. These ‘inbetweeners’ are experts who normally wouldn’t be available for assignments, but can give critical skills you normally couldn’t find.

Gareth has been recognised as one of the top 100 most effective marketers, is a Fellow of the Marketing Academy and is trained in executive coaching at Ashridge-Hult Business School.

ANCHOR Factors

INTERNALAUDIENCE

EXTERNALAUDIENCE

Change

Change

Embraces the CEO change agenda, finds ways to rapidly test new approaches and evolves the way of working. Encourages entrepreneurial thinking and break up siloed thinking. Adapts quickly, responds to change easily and copes with obscurity. Sensitive to the external market.

Consistency

Consistency

Establishes effective working practices, ensuring stakeholders and informed and individuals understands their operational freedom. Follows the business plan, monitoring progress and ruthlessly prioritises activity. Innovation is controlled and purposeful.

Ambition

Understands the natural homeostasis and works with the CEO to bring their business ambition to life and push the business forward. Tests new ideas and helps change areas which are sub-optimal and reinforces areas which need consistency.

Challenge

Challenge

Drives debate and discussion across the Leadership Team. Strong advocate for the customer and prepared to stick their neck out for what they believe. High resilience and persistence. Uses data smartly and in an unbiased way to make a point.

Unity

Unity

Builds trust and influence, establishing key relationship and alliances with the Leadership Team, so critical jobs get done. Constructively drives project prioritisation. Ensures discussions are brought to a conclusion, so clear unified messages are delivered to the wider business.

Network

Navigates the Leadership Team effectively and ensures the right discussions are held and the right activity gets done. Skilful at knowing when to challenge and when to create unity for the wider business benefit.

Assertive

Assertive

Sets exacting standards, builds a high performing team and holds people and agencies to account. Confidently makes organisational changes to deliver strategy. Clears the way in the wider business for the marketing team deliver their goals.

Supportive

Supportive

Builds team capability and creates a strong team culture with everyone having a clear role and responsibility. A good listener and role model. Creates a safe environment that encourages learning and growth. An authentic leader, with a clear sense of purpose for the team.

Capability

Creates and maintains a high performing marketing team. Makes assertive decisions about the team and agencies and is a skilful situational leader, who is supportive and helps talent feel valued and grow.

Creative

Creative

Turns business issues into creative opportunities. Uses data as a springboard for insight discovery, creativity and vision. Makes customer touchpoints high-quality customer experiences. Inquisitive and curious, interested in customers, the wider market and the headline opportunities new technology can bring.

Conversion

Analytical

Rigorously uses data and logic to inform decision making. Ensures marketing metrics are tied to business metrics everyone understands. Finds ways to enrich data and scenario test. Detailed interest in the performance or revenue benefits new technology can bring.

Headspace

Moves comfortably from using their left brain, full of data and detail, to their right, full of images, concepts and connections. Combines analytical skills with creative aptitude and flair.

Connection

Connection

Creates long-term customer demand by developing a brand with a clear value proposition which is memorable, relevant and distinctive. Goes beyond the rational to build affinity and emotional connection. Develops compelling retention programmes for different audiences.

Analytical

Conversion

Uses direct response and optimisation techniques across multiple media channels to covert active audiences. Understands different customers’ buying journey and uses media throughout the funnel to enhance sales conversion. Carefully manages acquisition costs and maximises short-term return.

Output

Focuses on priority audiences and effectively manages the marketing activity throughout the marketing funnel. From building brand connection higher up the funnel, through to the conversion and retention lower down the funnel.

Long-Term

Long-term

Engages and aligns the Leadership Team in the development of a long-term plan with clearly defined goals and growth opportunities. Defines long-term ways to build value (innovation, M&A). Creates a compelling clarion call and storytelling for the business and investors.

Short-Term

Short-term

Gets to the root cause of performance and responds quickly. Accelerates activity to gap fill. Street fighter attitude who finds tactical growth opportunities. Focuses effort on highest returning activity to deliver the annual plan. Tests new channels and rapidly adjusts activity depending on performance.

result

Vigilantly monitors performance in year and responds with short term initiatives to boost performance. Looks for future revenue opportunities and develops the long-term plan with key stakeholders.

Case Studies

Change

Consistency

As a marketing leader Gareth worked with many great entrepreneurial leaders. From Richard Reed, Adam Balon and Jon Wright at Innocent Drinks to Graham Bosher and James Davidson at Tails.com, or Richard Harpin at HomeServe. One of the most memorable on the Approach ANCHOR Factor was Alex Chesterman OBE, the founder of LoveFilm, Zoopla and Cazoo.

He had a clear vision, operated at pace and had a strong view on the approach he wanted to be adopted. He had a pragmatic approach to M&A and in Gareth’s tenure with him he bought 15 different companies before the entire business was acquired by Silver Lake in 2018. This steady stream of deals shifted the marketing emphasis from carefully building one brand with one audience to multiple brands, with multiple audiences and importantly driving synergy and productivity.

As he pressed his approach on the business, the Leadership Team needed to adjust their strategies and activities to reflect the present state and plan for the future. Keeping essential everyday business activity running but being flexible and adaptable with plans and resources, and regularly communicating with the teams, so whilst there was turbulence everyone understood the bigger plan. The team aligned with the CEO and lived comfortably managing change and consistency.

ANCHOR Factors are consistent across companies but the emphasis on each ANCHOR Factor can differ from company to company. This can be shown by the difference of working at Innocent Drinks, compared to Mars Food. Gareth was brought in by the CEO of Mars as a change agent and he could well have landed on Mars.

He was given the brief to make ‘Mars more Innocent’, challenging because Innocent based heavily towards the Change ANCHOR Factor and there were over 40,000 colleagues in Mars following a tight system based upon the Consistency ANCHOR Factor. The CEO wanted to retain the consistency that had made Mars so successful, but needed to also bring in a new, faster and more nimble approach that challenged these systems.

With the support of the CEO and wider Leadership Team Gareth started to understand the current approaches that made the organisation successful and looked for opportunities to deliver change. The opportunity came when they looked at price tiering in the dog food category and proposed the introduction of a price fighter brand.

The marketing team launched the challenger brand in an agile way. The normal ‘lock and load’ European innovation cycle usually required careful alignment and buy-in from multiple countries and would have taken over 2 years from concept to launch. Misfits was launched within 6 months and over a dozen years on the brand still exists and is doing well. The historic procedures and process were respected and the CEO was able to start to impact his change agenda. It was a small project that built trust and alignment with the CEO and Leadership Team and enabled a wide shift in project development in the future.

Challenge

Unity

Marketplace businesses like Zoopla on properties, MoneySuperMarket on insurance products, or Checkatrade on tradespeople, match customer demand to vendor supply and if they do this well can become hugely successful. The flywheel spins as supply and demand dovetail together.

In reality these businesses aren’t so simple. Demand can be out of step with supply causing a poor customer experience. Faced with this situation Gareth wanted to get back to basics and understand what the barrier was, why was supply slowing and was this a macro market effect or something we had self-inflicted. He was lucky to have a strong CFO to partner with and between them they were able to start asking questions and interrogating research assumptions.

This revealed a high level of unconscious bias affecting decisionmaking, which clouded the interpretation of data. There were multiple factors at play, HIPPO or highest paid person opinion, sunk cost bias and confirmation bias, which distorted data interpretation and the Leadership Team had stopped challenging the facts and instead begun to follow the path of least resistance.

The CFO and Gareth had a strong hypothesis on what needed to change and both of us were prepared to bet our jobs on it. We created a hypothesis and progressively carried out a series of research tests which showed this misinterpretation of data. This led to a watershed moment, when supply (or sales) was falling well behind budget projections.

We needed to either stick with our plans or reset them. Backed with the new research and two of us prepared to bet our jobs on the information, we managed to get the leadership team to shift in favour of the new strategy. This led to a number of costly projects being stopped and instead an emphasis on adding back value. This not just had an impact on the business performance, but a positive shift in team engagement, as the wider business saw the executive team unify and refocus.

Betting your job isn't for everyone, but marketers need to be brave and at Sideminds we don't know any marketer who has been fired for analysing the data and being brave.

Many people criticise McDonald’s for all sorts of reasons. It could be the perceived health credentials of the food, or the impact of such a large company on the environment or animal welfare. Having led the UK and Ireland marketing and food team, Gareth has got behind the scenes and has enormous respect for what they are trying to do, how they are responding to change and are leading the wider industry.

During his tenure the issue of single use plastic was increasingly becoming headline news. McDonald’s already leads in many sustainability areas and had switched from plastic to paper straws, but still predominately used ‘single use’ plastic toys in the Happy Meal product. Changing this seemed like an impossible task. McDonald’s was after all the world's largest manufacturer of toys and Happy Meal toy commitments were made years into the future.

The marketing team had concerns and were spurred on by the protest lead by two sisters Ella and Caitlin. They were two school girls, who protested about plastic at the UK head office. This encouraged the marketing team to bring a series of proposals to the Leadership Team which involved switching from plastic to paper toys, introducing a toy recycling amnesty and letting customers switch toys for fruit bags. Old toys were even recycled into new playground equipment for charities.

This required a new supply chain, new instore procedures and major toy stock write offs. The Leadership Team agreed to all the changes and the UK and Ireland were the first country in McDonald’s to go plastic free in Happy Meal. It is possible to change the direction of a super tanker using Challenge and Unity.

Assertive

Supportive

One of the most impressive organisations who were on top of the Capability ANCHOR Factor were Money.co.uk, which Gareth got to know in 2014 through ZPG acquisition. They were an online financial services comparison site which had approximately 2.5m visits a month and were highly profitable. The team was very small but highly effective. When we met them, we imagined they would be burnt out, but far from it, they consistently ranked highly as one of the best places to work.

What made them so impressive on Capability was their fluid organisational structure. They relentlessly followed the Objectives and Key Results (OKR) goal-setting framework for running projects and their approach was aligned with a quarterly review process, where projects and resources were reset. Key projects which were stalling had resource reallocated to help them accelerate and although they were a small team they could uniquely do this because the team had become multitalented. The PR Lead, for instance, might also be a Project Manager and was being supported to learn programming code. Resource could be moved to where it was needed most and everyone had ownership of specific goal outcomes.

This approach would not work everywhere, but the team at Money.co.uk had adapted to the organisational challenges. This has made us recognise how important it is to have some flexible generalist resources in the marketing team, so resource can pivot to where it is needed.

Checkatrade is the UK’s largest online marketplace to find reputable tradespeople to carry out home repairs and maintenance. Gareth was asked to be CMO and unify three distinct marketing teams.

There was the customer acquisition team, the tradespeople acquisition team and the tradespeople retention team. Each was effective in their own right, focusing on their own distinct objectives but had increasingly grown apart. KPIs weren't always aligned between the three areas, the brand had a subtly different look and feel, and roles had started to morph, stretch and overlap.

There was an opportunity to reorganise the team to make it more efficient and effective, but as the new CMO Gareth needed to understand the issues from the grassroots. He needed to get to know everyone personally in the marketing team, so quickly set up informal, agenda-less 121s with everyone. He wanted to get behind the potentially biased opinions, understand what everyone did and get to hear what they saw as opportunities and risks.

Gareth was in listening mode, hearing everyone’s history, understanding what was and was not working and appreciating their points of view. This started to show who the star players were, they created value time and again and also pointed out the problem areas. Gareth’s task was to translate what he heard against the business strategy, identifying the critical roles, filling them with the star players, remove fringe or duplicating areas and give everyone a clear role down the marketing funnel.

This started to create a high performing team with a ‘one team’ attitude. The previously siloed system rewarded performance within one area, but meant the implications elsewhere in the marketing funnel were ignored. As one team everyone needed to understand their personal responsibility but care about the impact they had on others, so personal KPIs became not just about acquisition but retention too. Good team performance was rewarded, and siloed performance wasn’t.

Creative

Analytical

MoneySuperMarket was the number 2 online price comparison site in the UK. The business was performing well but the brand lacked traction with customers. It was well known but was not the first brand customers would think of when it came to switching car insurance. There needed to be a creative leap. Gareth needed to win the CEO’s and CFO’s support to try something new and give them both confidence in the commercial return this would deliver.

This creative leap started with hard facts. The work of Les Binet and Peter Field, Byron Sharp and John Phillip Jones needed to build the investment case, alongside real-life econometric case studies by the likes of Gracie Kite. This methodical approach focused on tangible case studies and results, established trust with the CEO and CFO and lead to the creation of the Epic Strut ad in 2015.

The final creative was risqué but as a marketing team we were confident it would work. The brand’s awareness and reputation soared, and the advert became the UK’s favourite ad of the year. The campaign went viral and on UK Budget Day, the front page of The Sun, the leading British Newspaper, even had the then Chancellor George Osbourne doing a pastiche of the Epic Strut.

This was flattery for the marketing team, but the campaign still needed to show it delivered leads and revenue to the CEO and CFO. Marketing metrics around brand searches and hurdle rates on advertising were turned into hard numbers, so creativity and analytics were delivered to the CEO and CFO.

In the humdrum of daily work we all get caught up in routine. The daily meetings, the regular reporting, the endless correspondence and stakeholder management to get things done. There is hardly enough time to manage all of this, let alone have an abstract hunch which might be valuable long-term. But these hunches are important. Marketing is about finding future revenue streams and this means staying curious.

Gareth worked in the past on the breakfast cereal category. The market was pretty static and the major innovation was around kid’s cereals and new guidelines around healthy eating. This was hardly the environment for a 100-year-old brand called Shredded Wheat. The primary audience was over fifties, who bought into the brand because it was natural and wholesome. It was after all 100% wheat and no added sugar and salt.

The brand was slowly declining and something needed to be done and a top-down decision was made to launch a kid’s version called Sporties. This leveraged the brand’s health credentials to target kids. The brand even had an iconic sports star at the time, Michael Owen, as the brand spokesperson and a uniquely designed ‘power zone’ inside each biscuit.

It was a disaster. Sporties was quickly redesigned and relaunched but it kept failing. Shredded Wheat was a substantial eat and, whilst the idea worked on paper with parents, it did not fly with kids. The common playground expression ‘Never Eat Shredded Wheat' to teach kids the points of the compass (N-E-S-W) probably also did not help.

Around the same time the brand team were looking at how they could be more effective with their core audience, the over fifties. This audience were more health aware and bought Shredded Wheat because it was simple, honest goodness. The trouble was most of the benefits of the cereal were linked to the absence of ingredients. No added salt and sugar were important, but it is a little like saying no added cholesterol. The team therefore looked for alternative ways to promote the brand. Initially we started a partnership with the British Heart Foundation, donating over £250k per year. It was a natural partnership for the brand, but also ended up getting the company in court with Shropshire Trading Standards for misleading the customer on the brand’s health benefits. This was not intentional, and energised the team to find a way to talk about the positive messages in a more constructive way.

By coincidence, epidemiological data and clinical studies were taking place in the US on whole grain. This was starting to show strong association between whole grain intake and a reduction in risk of coronary heart disease by up to 20–30%. The team’s hunch had some substance and the studies were followed up. Cutting a long story short, Shredded Wheat was repositioned to heart health and in its first year grew 17%. All of Nestlé cereals and General Mills cereal globally were subsequently positioned around their whole grain content, and whole grain became a new health benefit.

Connection

Conversion

One of our most rewarding marketing journeys was with Tails.com, an online home delivery subscription service for personalised pet food where Gareth was NED.

Like all start-ups, customer demand started by building sound foundation, through SEO partnering with the tech and product team and subsequently introducing performance media and PR. The team then tested, learnt and rolled out new activity like partnership, affiliates, inserts and find-a-friend. The approach was sequential, methodical, and all the time three things held true:

The brand had clear distinctive design assets that were consistently deployed across all touchpoints, The customer journey from each communication was thoroughly assessed before going live, to ensure conversion was optimised, Decisions were made with data and an objective view was made on every channel’s cost per acquisition.

The approach evolved and started to include traditional broadcast, initially with Direct Response TV and other high dwell direct response mechanisms like tube car panels. SEO built momentum with increased focus on load speed, content and user experience. With success broadcast media expanded, shifting from rational Direct Response TV to more emotional brand messaging and widening the reach to light users. A journey of Conversion and Connection both being embraced and optimised. Tails.com was subsequently sold to Nestlé.

A memorable experience in optimising the customer’s experience with the brand was in developing Bear Snacks. Andrew and Hayley Gait- Golding were importing dried fruit into the UK and were keen to develop a healthy brand for kids. Gareth looked at the options available and honed in on Kellogg’s Winders, marketed as a playful brand for kids but there were 12 different ingredients and most of them incomprehensible. There had to be a healthier version, something that was as tasty as a chocolate bar and healthy as fruit.

Hayley was a fruitarian, knew everything about fruit and was sure she could create something as playful as a Winder, but with one ingredient. Fruit. Well to be honest two, fruit and sometimes veg.

The concept evolved and with the help of B&B Studio, a new design agency, Bear Snacks was created on a shoestring budget. With such a tight budget we needed to make sure everything communicated. From business cards to sales invoices and secret messages kids could discover on the packaging. Everything was a potential connection point with a new customer and we wanted to be memorable, distinctive and talked about.

Our best connection point was, however, created by mistake. The fruit snack comes as pairs of fruit rolls which were originally simply packed in a wrapper side by side. The rolls slight stickiness meant they kept falling out of line and this stopped production. We needed to introduce a backing card to hold them in place. Every card squeezed the already delicate margins but we had no choice and decided to make these into collector cards with fun animal and fruit facts for kids to collect.

We never anticipated the impact the cards would have. They became trading currency at schools and combined with a simple fruit message gave us permission to talk to adults and kids through social media. Slowly the brand fame grew and marketing activity advanced. Even now there are collector sites for the cards and eBay has sales of the cards taking place every day.

Long-term

Short-term

In most of the customer-centric businesses we have worked for, the long term plan has predominately been led by Marketing and been a combination of top-down objective setting and prioritisation from the Leadership Team, with bottom-up assessment and strategic recommendations from business teams.

Innocent Drinks had a particularly strong approach. The business was still privately owned and growing fast across Europe. Richard, Jon and Adam had one key principle above all others and that was to ‘create a business we can be proud of’. The so-called ‘Rocking Chair Test’.

This principle filtered into clear company values (which are still at Innocent today), a vision to be ‘Europe’s favourite little drinks company’ and a clear 5-year revenue goal. But as a team we were barely 100 people and there were so many things to do. We had to make choices and ruthlessly prioritise. Defining where we were today, where we wanted to be in the future and stack rank activity so we focused only on the areas which would make the biggest impact. This meant saying no to opportunity after opportunity. In the end we had 5 big initiatives which everyone’s personal objectives connected back to. Importantly it was only 5, the so-called rule of 5. This kept everything simple and clear.

This approach can be applied to every business. There is not necessarily a magic number 5, but every company can keep it simple. Even in large global companies like McDonald’s we managed to boil the whole plan down to under 10 initiatives.

McDonald’s are the masters of operations and meticulous with detail. Seconds matter so they try to ensure every store gets it right first time. Of course there can be odd mistakes, but the team are constantly looking for ways to make short term efficiency adjustments.

This eye for detail is drilled into everyone and as a new member of the executive team Gareth spent his first week in-store working every station and getting to know the crew.

The Chief Operations Officer was particular impressive. We had regular leadership safaris instore and on the street. This was to assess what we were doing well and badly, but also to see what could be optimised to attract customers in-store or into the driveway.

Detail mattered. How clear were the menu boards to read? Had we the optimum outdoor signage in proximity to store? Were helmeted Uber Eats or Just Eat delivery drivers intimidating customers? Was the right product being advertised at the right time of day? How competitive were our prices vs a new deal from a competitor? We needed to be constantly agile and responsive despite serving 3.5m customers every day. Simple questions that should be asked every day whatever the business size.

This led to some simple but effective activity which enhanced sales. From copying artisan coffee shops and introducing an A-frame menu board to disrupt the customer walking by, or in key high streets getting the team guerrilla couponing in the shoulder period between breakfast and lunch, and most importantly listening to customers. Why, for instance, should breakfast need to finish at 10.30 a.m.? This had always been the case for McDonald’s in the UK and Ireland, but the social media disappointment of arriving 5 minutes late was palpable. Changing this to 11 a.m. substantially improved sales whilst still proving enough time for the staff to change over and prepare for lunch.