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Visualise’s 360-degree service key to shopper marketing firm’s success

Inside Track: Joint MD Stephen Rust believes firm’s future is ‘extremely promising’

Stephen Rust, joint managing director of shopper marketing and media group Visualise, says mistakes are a necessary part of progress

Stephen Rust is joint managing director of shopper marketing and media group Visualise. It employs 21 people and clients include companies such as PepsiCo, Kerryfoods, Unilever, Molson Coors, Beiersdorf, Pladis and Flahavan’s.

What sets your business apart from the competition? 
We’ve invested heavily in the past two years to provide a multidisciplinary offering to clients. We’ve brought in experts in research, strategy and marketing and creative design – we call it 360-degree expertise.

After 15 years in the sector, we have a real retail media understanding. We also have understanding of shoppers and can come back to our clients with this information. Thousands of decisions are made in the space of time someone visits a supermarket; we help our clients build better solutions around those decisions.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received? 
A colleague in the Kerry Group many years ago said: “You can’t beat a team that never gives up.” Those words have always stuck with me.

What is the biggest mistake you’ve made in business? 
Looking back, I didn’t realise the value of a more integrated 360-degree service early enough and was quite blinkered into just offering one part of the service. However, bringing together various disciplines I was not as familiar with, actually strengthens our offering. In hindsight this was something I could have pushed on much faster and that probably would have helped to grow the company quicker, but, as we see it, mistakes are a necessary part of progress.

What has been your major success to date? 
I won the Chartered Institute of Marketing marketing consultant of the year award which was a big success for me personally, but also for the business. You are nominated by a client and I turned up on the night to realise my name was being called out.

It was also a success to help the client who nominated me in the turnaround of their business, and to achieve significant growth through a deeper insight into their shoppers. Being nominated by them and winning the award was the cherry on the cake really.

And your major success to date? 
How we turned around that particular business was a terrific success. We were able to understand the shopper, work with the retailers to bring the brand to life, work with their internal sales team to train them up and we’ve seen great results from that in terms of client satisfaction and the fact that they’ve recommended us a lot for more business. It was a big project for us and for our client and that fact that they’ve grown so much has been very satisfying.

Who do you most admire in business and why? 
Vernon Hill II, the founder chairman of Metro Bank, who built a really successful business model in the US and in Britain. He built a customer-centric business. It didn’t have the cheapest rates but he did things like opening at lunchtime and the weekends, allowing dogs into the bank, having play areas to keep kids occupied in the banks while their parents were doing their business.

He had phenomenal results. His book Fans! not Customers – How to Create Growth Companies in a No Growth World is all based around greater customer experience in banking.

Based on your experience, are the banks in Ireland open for business to SMEs? 
We’ve been very fortunate to have good working relationships with our bank. We had a very clear business plan in terms of what we wanted to do.

What one piece of advice would you give the Government to help stimulate the economy? 
Outside of capital and funding, I think the Government could do more around helping SMEs obtain support to help develop, export, expand and get access to strategy support.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve had to face in business? 
Establishing a plan that would reignite growth in a category that had been in decline was a big challenge. The category was packaged lunches. They had declined in sales value during the recession as consumers brought their lunch in to work from home more often. When they did buy lunch, it was from other sources. Through rigorous understanding of consumers’ needs for lunch, their shopping decision-making and working with key stakeholders in the industry, we were able to establish a plan to re-grow the category and make it relevant again to Irish consumers.

How do you see the short-term future for your business? 
Extremely promising. V360°, which carries out shopper marketing, category development and research into shopper experience for clients before developing solutions, already has a number of key projects both with global companies and smaller fast-moving consumer goods companies. We are continuing to drive more awareness of the brand to show what we can do.

Our Vmedia shopper media agency also continues to develop both its grocery and pharmacy formats, with an emphasis on introducing new digital formats that enable retailers and suppliers to communicate more effectively to shoppers.

http://visualise.ie/