CMO50 #3: Andy Lark, Xero
Andy Lark is one of Australia’s most high-profile CMOs thanks to his social personality, world-class experience, strong views and innovation focus. And when he says CMOs must throw out all the rules they operated with up until now in favour of technology, data and customer insight, you know he must be on to something.
Lark is a walking, talking example of the creative technologist, earning his marketing stripes first at Nortel Networks then Sun Microsystems, before joining various startups in Silicon Valley. He then led global marketing for Dell’s enterprise and public group, before joining Commonwealth Bank in July 2011. During his two years there, he relaunched the CommBank brand through the ‘Can’ campaign, and spearheaded the group’s social, digital and mobile strategies.
In October 2014, Lark became chief marketing officer for Xero, a fast-growing SMB accounting software vendor. The business has added 250,000 customers in the past year to reach more than 600,000 customers globally.
Lark has been focused on three strategies. The first is data-driven digital decisions, and to do this, Xero has rebuilt its core analytics engine, establishing automated buying rules. These have been complemented several new platforms.
Xero is now completing the migration of its digital site to an Adobe platform, which will provide significant back-end efficiencies through standardised templates, embedded analytics and AB testing, as well as the ability for local teams to publish quickly. Adobe is one of six core technology platforms being introduced to support data-driven and automated marketing, alongside Google, DoubleClick, SimpleHQ, Marketo and various data tools.
“These have positioned us well to automate key points of customer engagement based on behaviour and to use data to drive our campaigns and programs,” Lark explains. “We have a parallel focus on accelerating content into these tools, which will provide us with a simpler way of managing key marketing workflows.”
Xero has also hired and trained new teams in each region to localise the strategy, with the result that online sales are up globally by more than 50 per cent, he says. Product and channel integration has been another focus, and Lark highlights Xero’s Partner Directory, which marries the front-end of its digital portal with the product, as an example.
Lark firmly believes the CMO’s first and primary duty is to help their team embrace what’s next.
“There are lots of opportunities today for brands to do great things. As a CMO, you need to set the cultural tone and change agenda,” he says. “I think CMOs underestimate the power and ability they have to build the business in their image. Brave CMOs seek to challenge the structure of the business; you have to set the tone and the pace.”
Key to such change is encouraging innovation down in the teams and making it visible when it happens, Lark says. He also advises CMOs to make innovation outcomes part of staff KPIs. “I’d invest time in mapping the innovation territories that matter to the business and ensuring you are providing insights and data around them,” he says.
Demonstrating a data and technology driven approach
Alongside data-driven and automated marketing, Lark has been working to harness the power of customer data for strategic insights, and recently undertook research that he claims is the first of its kind anywhere. The ambition is to harness Xero’s big data to understand and benchmark small businesses.
“Aggregating data allows us to better understand business behaviours, trends, influences of success, and economic environment in order to develop insights, or ‘Xero Signals’, we can share to empower small businesses and their financial advisors to make better decisions and thrive,” Lark says.
Research has commenced in A/NZ with results to be released shortly. Xero then plans on delivering regular insights.
In his CMO50 submission, Lark outlined several customer engagement efforts across the marketing team that have been focused on engaging and capturing businesses at scale.
One way of achieving this is by developing the Xero brand platform to focus on customers and celebrate small business heroes. The key objective was to connect with the hearts, minds and lives of our customers and to share their stories. To help, Lark has realigned all creative and digital production resources into an internal studio of more than 50 people called ‘The Hub’.
“The Hub enables us to foster much more direct collaboration with teams and to own the brand from concept to in-market treatment,” Lark explains.
As a whole, Xero’s marketing turns the “flywheel” between the small business owner, financial services institutions and the partners they need, Lark adds.