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From right to left brain:
The changing nature of marketing CMO roundtable discussion

PwC recently gathered some senior marketing leaders in a roundtable discussion, to explore how marketing is being reinvented. They discussed issues including the rise of owned media assets, the growing complexity of marketing in the digital era, the challenge of finding people with the right skills, the partnership between marketing and IT, privacy and the need to remain agile in today’s fast-moving marketing environment.

Attendees

Lewis Pullen
Head of Marketing, Digital and Content, National Rugby League

John Batistich
Director of Marketing, Westfield Group

Mark Crowe
Chief Executive Officer, Australian Marketing Institute

Kathy Hatzis
Head of Acquisition, Citi

Tara Lordsmith
Chief Executive Officer, Lordsmith & Co.

Iggy Pintado
General Manager of Member and Marketing Services, Australian Institute of Company Directors

Michelle Sherwood
Executive General Manager, Strategic Marketing, Sensis

Ben Allen
General Manager, Residential Marketing and Sales & Sustainable Communities, Stockland

Megan Brownlow
Editor, Australian Entertainment & Media Outlook, PwC Sydney

David Wiadrowski
Technology, Information, Communications & Entertainment Leader, PwC Sydney

“It’s the most exciting time ever to be a CMO,” according to Lewis Pullen, who is Head of Marketing, Content and Digital for the National Rugby League (NRL).

He was not the only roundtable participant to feel that way. Others agreed that today’s media landscape may be fragmented and complex but, for the first time, digital technologies were giving organisations a direct audience with consumers and unprecedented insights into their thoughts and behaviours.

“One-to-one marketing used to be a myth or an aspiration, whereas it’s a reality now,” said Ben Allen, who leads marketing for Stockland, Australia’s largest diversified property group. “Digital has totally changed the way you market. Content is cheaper to create, there is free media if your content is good enough. It is now technically possible to do the things you used to only dream about.”

Investing in the customer

The roundtable group agreed that the shift to digital marketing had renewed the focus on customers and their interests. If consumers felt patronised or manipulated by messaging in one channel, it was now very simple for them to tune out and move to the next.

According to the group, businesses needed to move on from campaigns designed to interrupt or simply push consumer purchasing. Instead, it was crucial to balance campaigns across channels and deliver content relevant to consumers.

“The data produced now feeds a direct relationship between customer and business, which is a first for many organisations,” said John Batistich of Westfield Group, which operates more than 100 shopping centres worldwide. “You ultimately now have to listen and become much more responsive to the customer voice.”

Marketers have also realised that progress lies in creating better end-to-end customer experiences. For a campaign to be successful, organisations need to consider what consumers need and expect of the business, and create content relevant to those priorities.

“Once we understand our market – our customers, our fans, whatever we call them – our duty is to deliver messages in a contextual way to make sure they’re relevant and easier to retain,” said Iggy Pintado, General Manager of Member and Marketing Services at the Australian Institute of Company Directors.

Grappling with fragmentation

The group also agreed that while digital marketing had extended marketers’ potential reach and made it possible to access new sources of data, it had also fragmented their avenues for impact and made aspects of marketing more challenging.

“We’re seeing profound changes in shopping behaviour driven by technology-enabled connectivity,” said Batistich. “With that comes a data explosion. We’ve now got more information on our customers than ever before, but I’m not sure we’re more insightful.”

“Gone were the days when marketers could reach two million consumers at once with major placements in national print and prime-time television,” he added. “Instead, many brands spoke to their customers across a broad range of channels and the rules for each of those platforms were constantly changing.”

Investing in content and databases

A number of the roundtable participants believed the key to successful engagement in this new environment now lay in producing their own content and other assets. This included increasing their capacity to generate creative material in house – especially items with the potential to go ‘viral’ and otherwise draw in traffic from social and conventional media platforms – and developing sophisticated databases. Brands were also running more niche content programs alongside their broad-spectrum campaigns.

“We’ve actually reduced a lot of our creative fees and have brought production in house,” said Michelle Sherwood from Sensis, the advertising and directories business which owns the Yellow and White Pages brands. “We have an editor/journalist and web designer on staff, and test all of our own pages. The leads we’ve brought in have tripled in the last year, they’re converting ten-fold more and we’re getting better yield. We’re using that data for the change in capability and investment we’re leading through the organisation.”

Pullen at the NRL added that he was focused on both making the most of the NRL’s inherent access to rich content – footage of games and information about the League’s players and fans – and building new CRM database assets to maximise the code’s effectiveness in reaching and serving those participants and supporters. His ideal was to move towards a “whole-of-game” view with a strong sense of the relationships between all key parties.

However, it was also noted that generating owned content can be risky, which was forcing marketing directors to make some difficult judgements. For instance, the group felt that businesses that didn’t invest in content on a sufficient scale ran the risk of failing to make an impact in the market. 

“If you’re buying traditional media, you basically know what you’re going to get,” said Stockland’s Ben Allen. “With tighter budgets and more fragmented channels, everything is more diluted, so you’ve got to make harder decisions when investing in content.” 

Using relationships to manage complexity

The group felt that the diversification of media and growth in digital channels was translating into greater internal complexity for marketing departments. Marketers could no longer be “all-rounders”, capable of doing everything autonomously. Further, CMOs were increasingly required to orchestrate collaboration between teams of specialists trained in emerging platforms.

“There’s an increasingly blurry line between IT’s budget and mine. The colleague I currently speak most to is the CIO. At the moment, I’m spending money on data services and have people in my team whose roles are closer to IT roles than marketing.”

Ben Allen, Stockland

Allen remarked that a 2007 job advertisement for a general marketing role he had seen recently was without key skills and experience that would be crucial in an equivalent role today, including experience with digital and search marketing, social media engagement strategies, complex online data analytics, content creation and developing digital customer experience strategies and measures.

“Each one of those functions requires a high degree of specialisation in a rapidly changing field,” he said. “The ability of a generalist to be across all those areas is fading, and therefore the complexity, I think, lies in relationships within the teams. To get something done, you’ve actually got to work with so many more people, with each person dealing with the massive rate of change in their own particular area – all to produce an outcome that’s integrated and will work from end to end.”

This has led marketing to work more closely with other areas, especially the information technology (IT) department, as marketers have become increasingly reliant on customer-related data and interested in building digital assets.

“There’s an increasingly blurry line between IT’s budget and mine,” added Allen. “The colleague I currently speak most to is the CIO. At the moment, I’m spending money on data services and have people in my team whose roles are closer to IT roles than marketing.”

“The way marketing is evolving to embrace digital means you’re thinking more creatively about your resources.”

Doing more with less

Since the global financial crisis and despite the proliferation of marketing channels, marketing teams have become accustomed to doing more with less. However, several participants said they were trying to find ways to be more focused – to “do more with less” – and to reserve time for creative thinking and longer-term strategy development.

Pullen from the NRL said, “Our challenge is to say ‘no’ more often because we have so much on.
Usually marketing has always said ‘yes’ but now we’re adopting a more rational response because we need to do so much with limited resources.”

“If you don’t have time to devote to creative problem-solving, you just keep doing the same tasks day in and day out and you’re not thinking about how you can grow the business or develop yourself.”

Tara Lordsmith, Lordsmith & Co.

“To perform well and help take the business to the next step, you need to have ‘slack’ in your role,” added Tara Lordsmith of Lordsmith & Co. and former General Manager of Marketing at Simplot.

“If you don’t have time to devote to creative problem-solving, you just keep doing the same tasks day in and day out and you’re not thinking about how you can grow the business or develop yourself,” she continued. “You need to give your team the time to stand back and gain perspective so they have that ability to grow the business for you.”

Some were also looking for a clearer view of the market and their own activities.

“Today’s marketers need to insist on and pursue absolute clarity,” said Stockland’s Allen. “There’s clarity in understanding the real cause and effect of activity, given the multiple, dynamic variables in play. Then there’s clarity of knowing why you are doing what you are doing right now. This enables you to see the difference between fads and trends, to see real shifts in consumer value or context. If you have that, you can respond to what’s relevant and not jump at every digital opportunity because someone else is.”

Seeking the right balance on privacy

Amid the rise of data, customer privacy presented the group with a delicate challenge. On one hand, the potential to yield rich, granular and highly relevant information about an organisation’s customers is appealing as it can be used to enhance both marketing productivity and customer service.

However, concerns remained among customers and others about how such information is used and secured. According to the group, the onus was on organisations to demonstrate how customers would benefit from the sharing of their information.

“It’s one of the most complex conversations we’re having with clients currently,” said Kathy Hatzis, Head of Acquisition at Citi. “They are concerned that the perception is they’re selling their customer data but, really, they’re adding value. Like Amazon, if we understand our customers better, we can be more relevant and more engaging.”

Looking globally for skills and insights

Finding employees and agencies with the requisite skills to help in today’s increasingly digital and customer-centric era was another obstacle facing CMOs. To address the issue, a number of roundtable participants had looked globally for solutions.

This included actively seeking to attract top talent from overseas with advanced skills in new areas such as digital marketing and analytics to work in Australia. Among Australia’s perceived selling points were its strong dollar and the quality of life on offer in its major cities.

Batistich explained that he now looked for particular technological competencies among marketing candidates in Australia or willing to move here, but noted that Westfield was also actively acquiring companies overseas to meet its skills and technical requirements.

“You have to have that curiosity. Without it, you won’t see the present, let alone the future, because everything is changing so fast.”

John Batistich, Westfield Group

“We’ve effectively made two acquisitions unrelated to our core business, but they have a competency that we need to scale,” he said. “We have invested in a 40-person data analytics lab in San Francisco. The lab has given us access to business processes that don’t exist here [in Australia] and what we’ve learnt is just transformational.”

He added that rather than investing in multi-million-dollar global campaigns, Westfield now used insights generated by the lab to run small, location-specific pilot campaigns around the world in collaboration with partners. The NRL was also receiving advice from a US-based agency on enhancing customer experiences, said Pullen.

Embracing constant change

One thing all the roundtable attendees agreed on was the importance of CMOs staying agile, in everything from the way they conceived campaigns to their management of partnerships and nurturing of staff.

Sherwood, for instance, said Sensis had traditionally formalised a year’s worth of campaigns in advance with quarterly reviews and kept its marketing operations distinct from sales. She said she was seeking to be more responsive to customers and enhance sales by shortening campaign cycles to daily, weekly and monthly plans and establishing closer relationships between marketing and sales.

“What we’ve been doing in marketing is really rolling our sleeves up, getting in and owning the revenue results along with the sales teams; testing sentiments and which packages work best,” she said. “We’ve managed to build some cred, which is allowing us the opportunity to be the voice of the customer, share real time data and partner with our sales and service teams a lot more than we used to.”

Batistich added, “We’re also encouraging our teams to be curious. I spend an hour and a half of my last waking hours scanning RSS feeds and sharing things with teams. You have to have that curiosity. Without it, you won’t see the present, let alone the future, because everything is changing so fast.”