Cannes Lions 2016: From turnaround to startup - helping brands thrive in the digital economy

June 2016

On Thursday afternoon, Nigel Morris, CEO of Dentsu Aegis, Americas & EMEA, and Megan Stooke, CMO of Maven, General Motors, took to the stage at the YouTube Beach in Cannes to discuss what it takes to inject startup values into a big brand.

At the start of Thursday’s discussion about bringing startup culture to established brands, Nigel Morris, CEO of Dentsu Aegis, Americas & EMEA, remarked that in just a year, “we’ve gone from the seven minute economy to the five minute economy.” For Nigel, the digital world is demand-led, with consumers expecting ever more speed and responsiveness from brands, and where businesses like Uber flourish because of their laser-focus on answering people’s needs as seamlessly as possible. While Cannes 2016 has been full of exciting technologies like virtual and augmented reality, it’s the challenge of helping brands ready themselves to win in this demand-led world that excites the team at Dentsu Aegis most.

When it comes to the agility with which they’re able to innovate, operate and even change direction, startups have several advantages over big businesses, who are often beholden to large infrastructures, long-standing best practice, and a culture that eschews risk. But according to Nigel, “if you’re not a startup, you’re a turnaround,” which begs the question: how do you bring startup culture to a turnaround?

Providing a real world example of this kind of transformation in action, Nigel invited Megan Stooke, CMO of Maven, General Motors, to share her experience. Bouncing back from bankruptcy in 2009, General Motors is now a thriving business once again. As part of their plan to prepare for the future, the brand has started looking beyond traditional vehicle sales, creating new business units such as Maven, a personalised urban mobility service. In Megan’s words, “we’re going to see more change in the next five years than we’ve seen in the last fifty,” and smaller, innovative business units like Maven are one way GM is planning to adapt to that change.

With a business model of ‘smart, simple and seamless,’ built around reducing friction for their user base - Maven customers don’t have to worry about car keys, fuel costs, insurance or membership fees - it was natural to align the brand’s marketing against similar values. Working alongside Dentsu Aegis, Megan wants Maven to gain a deep understanding of what customers need, and then form the brand around the challenge of answering those needs. As the brand develops and ambitious plans for international expansion are put in place, Maven will be able to take advantage of GM’s global status, aiming for a ‘glocal’ model, where big company reach is allied to local smarts.

Perhaps the biggest cultural change between startups and big businesses is in their attitude towards risk and failure. Without high-level leadership support, cultural change of this nature can be difficult, so Megan ended the session by sharing some tactical advice, suggesting that rigorous reporting, analysis and internal transparency can go a long way in soothing any nerves.

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