Brands must think like VCs and play with startups

Start-ups: Unilever partnered with start-up NewAer for its Magnum experiment.
Start-ups: Unilever partnered with start-up NewAer for its Magnum experiment.

Lessons from the tech world can help with marketing efforts

LONDON — Brands must be open to partnering with technology startups to make sense of an increasingly complex, data-driven world.

That means senior level marketers must reprogram their organizations around a culture of risk and encourage brand managers to get talking to startups, even if there is no solid outcome.

In a panel hosted by marketing and advertising startup accelerator Collider at Advertising Week Europe, Havas Media CEO Paul Frampton said: "There’s a lot of friction in the advertising system, whether it’s how you measure, or how data and creative come together."

"[Startups] are helping to remove that friction and doing really smart things that only tech minds can solve."

Collider is the first startup accelerator of its kind in the UK, finding early-stage businesses that specialize in marketing and advertising technology, and matching them up with brands.

It is funded by its partner agencies and private investors (including  Havas' Frampton) and counts Unilever and Diageo among its brand partners.

Despite general acceptance that technology and startups will be a major source of future economic growth in the UK, marketing has been slow in giving its stamp of approval.

Other startup categories are seeing huge growth, even in famously staid sectors such as finance, but Collider founder Rose Lewis said she initially struggled for industry support.

She said: "For a long time, the big ad agency groups have been siloed and tried to be exclusive. Look at [the] variety of ad tech — each ad group has got one bit of it, so there’s never been a good dominant player.

"I think that’s beginning to change; agencies are beginning to collaborate a bit more. But I believe we should be leading the charge, and in order to do that, we need more investment.  Agencies need to get up and start playing with startups."

Think like VCs
Brands too must be willing to take risks and accept that neither they nor their agencies can tackle all their problems internally.

Unilever’s global media director, Alper Eroglu, led the company’s first marketing experiments with a start-up, which involved using beacon technology to lead consumers to their nearest Magnum ice-cream stockist.

He said: "It’s about top-level management encouraging risk, allocating resources and also finding juniors who are ready to do it for their passion.

"It’s not just about targets, but [being] passionate about business problems they could solve."

He added that brands should take a cue from famous venture capitalists, such as PayPal founder Peter Thiel and learn to spread their risk.

He said: "It’s to an extent costly also. If you go back to startup language, Peter Thiel talks about how many companies you need to invest in to then find that one that gives you the return that compensates for the losses that you make.

"The question is, are you ready to embrace that?"

This article first appeared on

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