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“Building a compelling brand proposition for a successful £4bn turnover business from scratch”

by on September 21, 2017 in Events & Awards, Latest News, Lead Article, News you can use, Northern England, Nuggets, Retail

“Building a compelling brand proposition for a successful £4bn turnover business from scratch”

Exclusive Q&A with Heike O’ Leary, Lookers

As Marketing Director at national motor retailer @LookersGroup Lookers, Heike O’ Leary knows a thing or two about making a difference in what is traditionally a man’s world, as well as revolutionising a brand from the inside out.  We catch up with her following her nomination for a coveted Forward Ladies award.

While it’s fair to say that society has made great strides in the area of gender equality, recent high profile stories in the media have highlighted the fact that there is still much work to be done. It’s also fair to say that some industries have more ground to make up than others, with the motor sector in particular having to work harder to turn around its reputation as an industry that is male dominated.

One person that certainly bucks this prevailing trend is Heike O’Leary, Marketing Director for national motor retailer Lookers, whose opinion of the average Lookers customer is that there isn’t one.

It’s been two years since North East-based Benfield was acquired by Lookers. In that time Heike has worked tirelessly to turn around these presumed misconceptions as well as create a compelling brand proposition for Lookers.

Her work has been recognised by business support network Forward Ladies, with a number of Lookers’ business partners and suppliers nominating her for the Yorkshire, North East and Scotland round of the organisation’s annual awards.

The awards, which are sponsored by HSBC, itself a strong advocate of diversity in the workplace, represent the biggest search for successful women across the UK.

We caught up with Heike during a busy period for Lookers, one that currently includes a number of high profile national campaigns, as well as an all-important registration change. Still, these are the kind of challenges that get Heike up in the morning.

Hi Heike. Congratulations on your Forward Ladies awards nomination. What does the nomination mean to you after all the hard work you’ve put in since joining Benfield and then becoming Marketing Director at Lookers?

To be shortlisted for this award means a lot because I received several nominations for it from various business partners and suppliers. This demonstrates that success is based on team efforts within the wider business networks and it also reflects my preferred leadership style, which is based on collaboration. It’s not the most senior person, but the best idea that should prevail.

Can you name your biggest achievement as Lookers Marketing Director?

Building a compelling brand proposition for a successful £4bn turnover business from scratch was both a massive challenge and an incredible privilege. There are not many precedents in brand marketing history and I was immensely relieved and delighted when the universal feedback from colleagues was a sense of pride to work for Lookers, particularly when they saw our very first TV advert.

You’ve built up an impressive internal marketing team since joining Lookers. Briefly tell us how it works and why it is such an important resource?

There were many compelling business reasons to build a multi skilled team and to bring more marketing activities in-house; reduction of duplication of activities and resources across the business, pooling resources and skills to create better economies of scale, improving consistency and impact and fostering collaboration. The outcome is a highly skilled, diverse and forward-driving team with a fantastic team culture.

Our USBs include having Spotify on all day, Foodie Fridays, a Tyneside ‘Riviera’ location, a massive range of cool brands to promote, cake of your choice on your birthday, our own WhatsApp group and an ‘every day is different’ culture.

What unique challenges does the motor industry face when it comes to marketing and what measures have you introduced to meet these challenges?

The marketing landscape in motor retail is incredibly fast paced and the low margins leave very little room for errors. As a result the marketing mind set is often too tactical with a short term focus on sales rather than a medium term approach to building a retail brand.

I believe every retail business needs both; commercial drive and a more strategic ‘why buy from us’ proposition. So I have hired a team of talented, multi-skilled and multi-branded marketers to better balance our marketing activities. I also think that marketing in motor retail is often too technical. Consumers love to connect with a brand rationally AND emotionally, so content is king!

In the spirit of your Forward Ladies nomination, what changes have Lookers made to foster gender equality?

We can all make a difference in our own families and jobs. On a personal level, I do not try to raise my daughters like sons! They are both amazing little ladies. One is a single figure handicap golfer and the other loves netball and horses.

At work, Lookers actively fosters a diverse team culture with a focus on work/life balance. We have an apprenticeship scheme aimed at girls, offer above industry-standard holidays and a full year of maternity pay, something that was previously unheard of in the motor industry. Ernst & Young have recently worked out that it would take 170 years to reach gender parity organically. At Lookers we are committed to accelerate this process considerably and have pledged to fill 30% of managerial roles with women by 2030.

What unique perspectives do you feel being a woman at the head of such a key department gives you, at Lookers or anywhere else?

I am not the woman Marketing Director at Lookers. I am the Marketing Director.

What other companies do you most admire for their marketing and why?

I love brands that create engaging, fun and thought-provoking content to promote their commercial offer with a compelling emotional hook. So favourites are Apple, Lego, adidas, Air B’n’B, Anthropologie, Innocent, Coca-Cola, Four Seasons, Disney, Shutterstock and Tory Burch. While I have worked with many great brands in my career to date, I have learned that ideas, content and campaigns can’t be copied from one brand to another. Each brand or company, just like each person, has their own identity, persona, traits, needs and USPs and so the exciting task for us marketers is to be creative and to find a creative new solution that fits.

A little birdy tells us that there are some pretty skilled bakers in your team? Have you got any extracurricular talents that you’d like to share?

Yes, I am completely amazed about the quality of some of the cakes and treats that are brought into the office. Sadly I can’t bake but I am a good cook and like to experiment. I also have various qualifications in flower arranging (comes in handy now and then); love golf and horse riding and am a decent wine buff.

What are you watching on TV at the moment and what is your favourite show?

Ah, that is a bit schizophrenic really. While I absolutely hate office politics, gossip, sycophants, egocentrics, power lovers and negative mood hovers; I adore Game of Thrones. I am addicted to the rich story lines, intrigue, double-meaning dialogues and the single minded, relentless pursuit of gaining the upper hand.  


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