Aviva boss slams lack of ‘real marketing’ in the UK

Written by: Lucy Tesseras
Published on: 17 Nov 2016

Aviva’s CEO Mark Wilson believes many marketers have forgotten the fundamentals of marketing and what it takes to successfully grow a business.


Aviva CEO Mark Wilson believes marketers are overcomplicating the discipline

Marketers have become over-complicated in their execution and forgotten the fundamentals of what marketing should be, according to Mark Wilson, CEO of insurance provider Aviva.

Talking this morning (17 November) at The Marketing Society’s annual conference, he said: “I could stand here today and say the marketing garden is rosy but I don’t think that is the case. The skills that we need in the different stages of global economic development of marketing have changed.”

As a former marketer himself, Wilson believes there is not a lot of what he considers “real marketing” taking place in UK businesses, particularly financial services.

“My biggest frustration with marketers – and it’s something I find a lot, particularly in the western world and Europe – is that they have [moved] away from being able to articulate why they are winning, what their competitive advantage is, what’s important to the consumer, and why they are different,” he said.

As a result he has introduced what he calls the ‘proposition tweet’ to encourage marketers at Aviva to be more succinct and have greater clarification of ideas when pitching.

“If they can’t explain in 140 characters or less why they will win and what their proposition is for their customer I will kill their product. Because if you can’t [sell it in that time] why would we invest?”

He believes this simplicity is something disruptive tech companies do particularly well and which more traditional brands like Aviva should learn from.

But while digital has changed the business landscape Wilson believes it has also impacted the way companies do business, causing some to forget the fundamentals.

 I could stand here today and say the marketing garden is rosy but I don’t think that is the case.

Mark Wilson, Aviva

“My favourite thing in the world is to take big broken companies that have big brands and fix them and transform them. That’s my passion in life,” he said. “I’ve been at Aviva for four years and we’ve made some progress.

“Aviva has been around [since 1696] but had totally forgotten some of the fundamental laws of business. Despite the fact digital has changed the way we do business and the way we think about business the fundamental laws for successful business have not changed.”

He admits that Aviva had become a company that focused on the distributor and not the consumer. A company that “thought marketing was about the fluffy stuff, about advertising and sponsorship, and clearly it’s not”.

He said: “Marketing is about customer proposition, it is about financial analysis, it’s is about fundamental strategy, it’s about data, it’s about pricing – that’s what marketing is about at its very core.

“I believe business is a very simple thing; often we make it too complex. It’s only about strategy, execution and values. Nothing else really matters.”

Aviva now has a clear strategy, he said, which is understood throughout the entire business and is critical to the future long-term growth of the business.