“Marketing hasn't changed that much since ‘Don Draper’. Our goal is to build brands that are providing value to people - as marketers we should spend more time talking about what that value is.” 

Sorin Patilinet, Senior Director Marketing Effectiveness, Mars, walks us through his career, champions the value careful recruitment and then building great relationships with his team and explains how younger marketers should get as much real life marketing experience as possible before everything is automated.

Little Grey Cells: I see you've worked at British American Tobacco going from marketing leadership trainee to brand manager, you've been chairman of the World Federation of Advertisers. You're a board member of the Attention Council. Alongside these roles, you've also progressed at Mars, moving from Global Head of Advertising Analytics, to Director of Marketing sciences, to Senior Director of Global Marketing Effectiveness. When did you get into marketing - and how did you end up where you are now?

Sorin Patilinet: I was born in Romania and went to university at Technical University in Bucharest. I studied telecommunication engineering. At university there was an event that I enjoyed participating in. The event was called ‘The Night of Add Eaters’. It's a French concept. You go into a cinema theatre with 100 or so people at 7pm and you watch advertising for the entire night. I went to several - and I fell in love with with advertising and marketing.

After graduating, I realised that if I don't want to commit myself to a career in Engineering, (I knew I could always come back to engineering) I needed to change lane - and I wanted to move into business or marketing.

British American Tobacco took a shot with me. I entered into a development programme which I always recommend for any graduate. It gave me the option to rotate through different business functions - from sales to insights; from key account management to marketing.

It was a two year programme that exposed me to a lot of new thinking and gave me a better understanding of business.

I continued with British American Tobacco working in the UK, the Netherlands and in Belgium, experiencing different kinds of markets. It was a very structured company, and all the systems worked very well. I realised I had a passion for marketing in a large organisation - one that has big brands - and then mixing in my analytical experience and my ‘engineering way of thinking’.

And that's how I ended up at Mars in a global research team: our mission was to evolve the way Mars does advertising effectiveness. My first task was to scale up a method of measurement in France and Germany - and then ‘globalise it’. That way of measuring the sales impact of TV advertising,is still the way we do it today, 15 years later.

My role and responsibilities have grown, and the team has grown. We took over advertisement testing. We have done a deep dive into neurosciences. We've learned a lot about atten tion and emotion. We’ve also built our our proprietary advertising testing solution called ACE, which 'm very open about and I am often invited to events to speak about it.

I think guiding the strategy and decisions of marketeers in Mars has kept me engaged: I am permanently exposed to the continuous developments in technology - and then my team and I set about understanding how we can use that to help us make better decisions in marketing communications.

M&M campaigns continue to bring together humour, emotion and memorability.

LGC: When I'm looking at your LinkedIn profile, you describe your role as being responsible for discovering, building and deploying global marketing effectiveness solutions to accelerate Mars’ growth. You lead the global marketing sales sciences team, you manage a $4 million budget to sustain your excellence in marketing culture. Your areas of expertise include creative testing, media, ROI, content, best practices, growth strategies, packaging in store activations. You’re also an ambassador for Mars doing keynote speaking at numerous marketing events, and you're a guest lecturer. What are the core components when ensuring marketing effectiveness for Mars across the globe?

SP: We subscribe to a behavioural philosophy: we believe very much in observing consumers reactions: their behaviour in response to marketing stimuli or marketing activities. We completely dismiss any kind of declarative or less qualitative metrics to assess advertising effectiveness.

Building on that principle, all of our tools are built around behavioural measures. We were not very happy with what was available, so we built our own working with partners that are, in our view, best in class.

Because we are behavioural first, the way we assess advertising effectiveness is via a sales impact lens - one that is both short term and long term. When we talk about ‘the long term’, we're talking about ‘the long term sales impact of marketing’. We know that there is an equity element. There's also a brand value element that's measured in different kinds of ways.

We prioritise sales decisions. That's why in every kind of marketing conversation at Mars, a typical question would be: ‘what proof do you have that drives sales?’; ’How did you measure the the impact?’; ‘How did you measure the incremental sales that that campaign has delivered?’. We only make decisions based on robust sales results.

LGC: I see we’ve both done Mark Ritson’s mini MBA in Marketing. How did you find it?

I've only known marketing through a communication lens. Because that's what I do. Ritson provides a good framework. Marketers often think very briefly about market orientation and about distribution, and then jump to "what's the ad that we need to develop?” I think Mark is very good at busting this myth that ‘marketing is only about advertising’.

Now, if you look at how marketing organisations are structured, it's true that the majority of the work is around communication. Pricing often sits elsewhere. Other elements sit in Research and Development. But good marketers know that your chosen communication is only a fraction of the tools available to them.

LGC: What's your focus at Mars for 2024 to 25 and beyond?

SP: My focus at Mars is on embedding more AI into our ad testing solutions. We launched our own ad testing solution four years ago, and it's been going very well. We’re testing over 800 pieces of creative work per year. A company like Mars produces close to 15,000 pieces of creative. In fact the actual number is almost impossible to estimate - but we are assuming there are 1000s and 1000s of further developed creative or variants.

We know that we need to monitor consumer response to the long tail of content. We are working with various industry partners, to build predictive models for attention and emotional response linked to sales. The aim is to assess the the effectiveness of advertising using our historical data. I’m still convinced that whenever we have to test the next next Superbowl ad, we will not rely only on AI - we will be nervous and want to get some confirmation from real consumers.

So today, we only have consumer research fuelled by some AI models. In the future, there will be a lot more predictive modelling using AI.

Campaigns for pet food like Dreamies are a considerable part of Mars’ marketing output.

LGC: Could you could you tell us about your team? How is it organised and structured?

SP: I'm very lucky to be part of a team that's sitting across all divisions in all regions of Mars. It's a capability building organisation, our goal is to build solutions. We are very compact and we are a little bit sheltered from the storms that are happening in day to day business - this allows us to apply longer term thinking.

The team is looking at advertising effectiveness and in store capabilities. We have a programme called ‘Perfect Store Analytics’. The team is also setting standards in terms of packaging research, and also running our internal brand evaluation framework that looks across all the levers levers that effect mental availability, physical availability and also distribution.

LGC: And how many people are in your team?

We're 14 people.

LGC: What have you learned in your career journey that enables you to get the best out of your team?

SP: I've been very lucky to work with amazing people, but I don't think it's only luck. One of the most important things for me is recruitment. I spent a large amount of time on recruitment - engaging with my network and finding the right people, interviewing them then helping them succeed.

I would rather wait another week or another month to hire the best talent possible, rather than just fill a gap. Recruitment is super important, and then having a personal relationship with each team member is also extremely important.

My team is spread out across Chicago, London, Nashville, and a little bit in here in Brussels. I ensure that my travels take me to places where my team are based so that I can meet them in person.

I don't believe in zoom, I believe in the power of human interactions and, and building relationships like that. I was just in New York last week, and I met my one of my my team members who flew in, I think we had a two hour session in which we talked about kids for like one hour. And then we talked about something else for like, half an hour, and then 10 minutes towards the end of the session, we're like, "Okay, right. Let’s talk about business”. Someone one said: people don't remember what you say. People remember how you made them feel. Building personal relationships is very important to me.

Sorin addressing the Neuromarketing World Forum.

LGC: How important in your opinion, is storytelling when maximising customers engagement with a campaign?

SP: At Mars, we believe that the best way to engage consumers is through emotional content. Our product categories are such that we don't need to tell them: ‘this is what a chocolate is’ - for example.

We are constantly building brands with the power of emotions. We know that emotions are helping brands build memory structures, which is the role of advertising. The role of marketing is to order the marketing communications needed to build memory structures into the minds of consumers.

We have done tonnes of research to understand how emotions work and what role various emotions play. We've landed on the fact that, for us we want to trigger positive emotions. We want to make people feel a little bit happier after they were exposed to our communication versus how they felt before.

If we achieve that, then it is deemed a success. That's actually embedded in our tools.

We believe in storytelling and but it's hard, and getting harder and harder because of consumer behaviour. People spend seconds with content and it’s hard to do storytelling in a second. We have to work with consumer behaviour - rather than just on what we want to communicate.

LGC: I'm aware of a return to more ‘marketing diligence’ - a return to a clearly structured process that starts with diagnosis and research, then moves through strategy before deciding on tactics - as opposed to simply rushing to tactics. What advice would you have for marketers tempted to leap-frog rigour and jump straight into tactical execution?

SP: I started writing a blog in 2020, under the title of The Marketing Engineer. I am an engineer who does marketing. Marketing is a domain where for years and years we've been employing extroverted people passionate about the design stages.

In the recent years, there's been a revival of the importance of data. I think there's definitely clearly a role for for engineers in marketing. Even if your marketing remit doesn’t include products, pricing or distribution - and instead there are other roles in the business doing that - I think you should try to influence them, because that's the only way you can basically own the brand.

You can't own a brand just by doing nice ads. Those ads will be probably created by AI soon. But AI will find it difficult to create brand strategy. How you market, where and how you promote, how you price - marketers are often so focused on which social platforms use or which, which duration of YouTube video they should use - we’re losing sight of the core components of marketing.

The Mars portfolio of brands.

LGC: how do you ensure clarity when you set about getting knowledge on competitor and customer knowledge?

SP: As a marketeer, you need to fix your own team before you think about the team you're going play with. We often spend too much time on assessing competitor reactions and then too little time assessing what we should do as an organisation. It is our responsibility to find the right channels to communicate with our target audience, irrespective of where the competitors are headed.

With the advent of digital with the depth of decline of TV, when it comes to media, it has become more and more difficult to assess competitor performance. There are no accurate ways of knowing what our competitors are spending on digital. It’s almost impossible to get that data.

Instead, we’re trying to innovate in other ways. Our first priority is growth, but our second priority is growth of market share.

LGC: I'm wondering what advice you might have felt younger marketers reading this interview? Imagine you're speaking to a younger Sorin, as you start your career in marketing, what advice might you give him? What should you do more of? And what should you avoid?

SP: I think younger marketers should get real life marketing experiences, as many as possible. And as soon as possible - because soon almost everything will be automated. When everything is automated, employers will value real physical marketing experiences - actually working on a brand rather than building a brand on Chat GPT. In my opinion, using an AI engine is not building a brand: you're just using a tool. So any experience younger marketers can get working on different brands in different categories before everything is automated would be my key recommendation.

LGC: How do you go about balancing the need for longer term brand building and more short term sales activation? With campaigns?

SP: We’ve consistently measured the long term impact of advertising on both sales and brand equity. If you only look at short term, only your big brands will benefit so there’s a need to balance long-term brand management with shorter-term sales activation campaigns.

The bigger question is which of your available levers are you pulling to get your desired results. We know for sure that communication is a lever that has a long term impact as well as the short term. Brand communications can be focused on longer-term awareness, and the messaging can be consistent and maintained over a longer period of time. Where as in store promotions, for example, have only a short term impact will need a faster changeover. We're using that insight to better allocate our investment.

LGC: If there's one thing you've learned about marketing It is?

SP: Marketing hasn't changed that much since ‘Don Draper’. Our goal is still to build brands that are providing value to people - or in our case pets too. As marketers we should spend more time talking about what that value is, rather than obsessing about ad tech innovations, media buying methods or format choices.

You might die tomorrow so make it worth your while. Worth Your While is an independent creative agency helping brands do spectacular stuff people like to talk about. wyw.agency.

Little Grey Cells is Tim Healey, founder and curator of Little Grey Cells Club, the UK’s premier Senior Marketer meet up. Through his Marketing and Brand Management agency Shoot 4 The Moon, Tim’s ‘white glove’ approach assesses what’s working and what isn’t, establishes business and marketing goals and then overlays the most appropriate current industry best practice to ensure that your marketing is super-efficient and measurably effective. Talk to Tim.