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Interview with Ben Smart, Global Marketing Director at ZF Aftermarket

Rhythm Singhal By Rhythm Singhal in Interviews on

Ben is an experienced leader, he has headed multi-disciplined global teams from start-up to corporate. He is skilled in digital transformation, business strategy, brand elevation, and multi-brand portfolios. Ben is currently the Global Marketing Director at ZF Aftermarket, a global technology company that supplies systems for passenger cars, commercial vehicles, and industrial technology; enabling the next generation of mobility.

Your Journey as a Marketing Professional.

I am fortunate that my journey in Marketing has not only crossed between agency and client side but also continents, industries, start-ups and corporates.

I started my career by setting up a small Spanish property company, working between Cadiz and London; essentially finding local Spanish agents with properties for sale and then marketing them to potential buyers back in the UK. Learning and understanding what goes into setting up and running a small business. My office consisted of a few desks I was renting from a London ad agency and I found myself becoming involved in some of the projects there. This lead to a stint at several ad agencies, mainly focusing on creative and new business; walking the hard yards of pitching ideas to brands and expanding minds into a new world called ‘digital’.

5 years into my career I took a leap of faith across the world to join a FinTech mobile payment solutions startup, running marketing and operations for the Asia Pacific region. The great thing about working in a start-up environment is that you get an opportunity to involve yourself in all aspects of the business; attitude is one of the key success factors for startups and being surrounded by people with the belief that they can succeed in any area they set their mind to was intoxicating.

After 4 years in Malaysia, I found myself making a short hop down to Singapore to join the Aftermarket division of TRW, an American automotive parts manufacturer. I took on the responsibility for sales and marketing for the Asia Pacific region. This was a great time traveling throughout Asia Pacific; it’s a wonderful region with so many different cultures all of which need a different approach, strategy, and respect, plus the mix of different culinary delights which is something I miss very much!

In 2014 I made the move back to Europe to take on the Global Marketing Manager role for TRW and lead the digital transformation project for the business. In 2015 I took a position on the board of Aftermarket division. This was an interesting step as the focus becomes more strategic and one of driving a business forward; it was certainly sometimes difficult not being involved in the creative campaign projects that I enjoy so much.

In 2016 TRW was purchased by the auto tech company ZF Friedrichshafen and for the Aftermarket division this created additional challenges of managing a brand portfolio comprising brands that were was in previous times competitors; this made the creation of a workable brand strategy an urgent priority!

This brings us to the present day where I am Global Marketing Director of ZF Aftermarket, our division has a portfolio of 14 brands with over 3 billion Euros of sales, which is a slight difference when I look back at my Spanish property company!

What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?

B2B and retail have been my most recent focus points.

My advice on the B2B area of marketing is that expectations have changed dramatically in terms of content, user experience, and information – B2C and B2B methodology have now become entwined; whereas previously the strategy of best impact was quite different. Digital has played the most important role in this disruption as a consumer expects no difference between their experience whether it is within personal time or business time. For example, a mechanic that is now used to an ‘Amazon’ shopping experience expects the same level of service when purchasing parts and tools for their business. This is the same for all forms of marketing and content quality, people won’t give your brands their time for free, either make sure you are educating, entertaining or making the audiences life easier. There must be a value add to have a credible impact and return on investment from your activity.

My other piece of advice is to look at how audience trust has changed over the last 10 years, and plan how to evolve with this. There has been much derision and criticism of influencer marketing, but I would give a different opinion here. Trust in brands and companies has been degrading at a fast rate in the last 10 years and can arguably find its source from the 2008 economic crisis where peoples trust in banks crumbled. These were institutions that everyone trusted without question, now to find some had been playing fast and loose with customers money. This was swiftly followed up by the BP disaster in 2011 and then in 2015, the VW diesel scandal broke. Each a building block in a wall of consumer suspicions against previously infallible brands. If we combine this timeline with the rise of how social media plays a role in influencing purchase decisions and the fact people now have access to real people that they respect and trust; it’s no wonder that brands are turning to these influencers to gain credibility in a crowded marketplace. Adapt or die!

What are some of the important marketing software that you have used and found to be really useful for your company?

  • Marketing resource management software is really important to us, we have 13 brands and sell in over 98 different countries, the challenge is making all material available in the right language, have it flexible enough that the local teams can adapt for relevance but also solid enough that brand standards are maintained and consistent globally. We also need clear visibility of budgets around the world and the ability to analyze forecasts. BrandMaker does a really good job for us in this area.
  • Email software continues to be key for us to see the trackable impact, we currently use dotmailer.
  • We are also beginning to rely more heavily on CRM software and analysis, we currently use Microsoft dynamics.
  • Online and social media monitoring – vital to react to any negative topics but also does the job of sweeping huge amounts of data and showing you what’s relevant, this can often lead us to a targeted campaign where we would not have originally seen the opportunity – we use radio sphere.

Would you like to share a few words about any marketing software that you use?

I started to use an interactive survey tool a few years ago called mentimeter, it’s very flexible, I have used it when having roundtables in front of audiences of 500 and similarly use it in meetings of 5. It’s a really good user-friendly survey tool and gives immediate feedback, it can all be run off your phone.

The other indispensable app I use is a tiny scanner, scanning and uploading documentation from mobile. A simple but useful tool.

Your 2 line advice to people entering in the marketing domain.

Embrace change, people generally see change as a negative, take advantage by opening your mind to the opportunities that change will inevitably provide.