How diversity is driving marketing innovation

We look at the common competency CMOs are looking to bring into their teams in order to foster more digitally led, innovative thinking

What is the competency female CMOs from all walks of life increasingly have in common, and are promoting in order to embrace digital and secure customer advocacy?

Most size it up in one word: Diversity. They don’t just mean diversity in terms of female versus male leadership – although that is certainly one of ways of achieving it – it’s all about diversity in thinking, experience and industry in order to fuel creativity and innovation.

In a host of recent interviews, leading Australian CMOs - and notably, all female ones - shared with CMO why diversity is so important to how they drive inventive, transformative thinking within the marketing function, as well as why it’s helping to improve the role of marketing across the wider business.

Behaving like your customer

According to Citibank MD of marketing, digital banking and customer experience, Linda Duncombe, diversity in experience, thought and industry background helps her brand better identify and empathise with the needs of a broad, digitally savvy customer base.

“You need your team to reflect your customer base in terms of age, usage, demographics and more,” she said. “You have to have that diversity in your team.

“The demands around marketing means we need to be able to think differently about what marketing looks like from just 12 months ago. How our target market is consuming information and how they make assessments has completely changed.”

Duncombe said the make-up of the Citi marketing team and her own staff recruitment process has changed in line with this push for diversity.

“Previously, marketing was about having a competency across marketing channels, and then people who had an understanding of what banking as a service proposition means,” she said. “That has changed. Today, some of my best recruits are people who have never worked in banking, and are ‘digital natives’.

“Getting that mindset in to challenge and balance that traditional banking background has brought what I call a ‘positive friction’ into the team. These employees are constantly questioning and making sure that when we look to do something, the message is clear and simple. At the same time, we’re being driven by digital on how we say that better.”

Thanks to the Australian consumer’s thirst for technology and mobile experience, Duncombe said it’s become an imperative for marketers to constantly try and think outside the box.

“People are benchmarking us for communications and engagement not just to other banks but other experiences they have had that are incredibly positive, such as Uber,” she said. That’s what we’re up against. We have to be relevant and ensure our message is clear in those channels.”

Fostering innovation

Over at RAMS and St George, Martine Jager runs a ‘Lead Program’, bringing a group of employees under the age of 30 to work with the senior leadership team on new ideas, particularly around technology. The RAMS CEO and St George general manager also, incidentally, has a 50 per cent female leadership quota at RAMS.

“These [under-30s] individuals come from a different mindset to the senior leadership, who start from a different place and think about technology in a different way, and we want to hear their voice and thoughts,” she said. “We bring them into our leadership meetings, get them working on pieces of work in the business, but we also invite them to listen and actively participate in leadership forums, and find funding to let them do different things.

“We recently had a lunch with 20 lead participants and they came up with an extraordinary idea they wanted to work on, and that we want to give a go. They use technology differently, their lives are different, so we wanted to start that up.”

Jager said it’s important to surround herself with young people to try to understand what they are doing and why.

“It comes back to that diversity of thought – if you don’t have people around you, challenging you who have a different point of view, and who are pushing you and better than you, you’re going to lose,” she said. “We have to stay ahead of the innovation curve, the mobility curve, what the new processes are and how we make it easier for customers.

The other thing Jager is doing at RAMS is encouraging a startup culture from within. The primary objective is to get staff to think outside their job function.

“Startups just get in and try things, and they have a go, fail, have some fun and succeed,” she said. “There’s a positivity, passion and energy and that’s the culture we’re building in RAMS. We launched a new product off the back of that last year, and we try things all the time.

“We’re not always going to get it right, but we’ll get it right more times than we’ll get it wrong. But if we don’t try anything, we’ll never get it right.”

Finding alternative thinking elsewhere

Suzana Ristevski, the head of strategy and growth GE Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea, is getting lessons in new ways of thinking from both her role on the Monash Business School Advisory Board, as well as sitting on the board of the Melbourne Renegades, a T20 cricket team.

“Diversity of thinking to me is incredibly important,” she says. “Having access to the university and to the students, even having access to completely different leadership teams is great.

“The Renegades couldn’t be any more different to GE and to aviation and healthcare. But it's interesting to see how marketing can transcend across so many different industries, because the discipline is the same.”

Diversity of thought on where marketing plays a role in business is also Ristevski’s strength at GE. She agreed the perception her executive peers have of marketing has undergone a profound shift in recent years, as has the traditional face of marketing itself.

“There are sorts of phases of introducing marketing in business to business space or even consumer for that matter… but we’re still very much front and centre in terms of customer advocacy and aggregating all things customer,” she says. “It’s continually our job to uncover customer needs and wants, and find ways of influencing the business to deliver to those needs and wants.

“The difference though is that it’s far more complex these days than it was when I started some time ago, in that there’s a proliferation of acquisition channels, local and global competitors, and a convergence of competitors. You can’t assume that just because they’re not in your product set today, they won’t be tomorrow.

“The data and technology you can now use to access to uncover and execute on these customer needs is increased. There’s also a lot of noise from trying to get your messages across. The other thing that’s really changed is the speed that’s required of us. Customers’ expectations have increased and they’re changing quickly. You have to be agile to be able to keep up.”

According to Ristevski, it’s particularly important for a marketer to have the responsibility for strategy at GE because the nature of achieving growth has changed from stealing marketshare, to making it.

“You need to be able to drive business strategy alongside marketing strategy. And you have to understand all the growth and cost leaders in your business in order to deliver beneficial outcomes for both your customers and the company,” she said.

“I see it as my responsibility to shape markets and find new pockets of growth. It’s about anticipating what the needs of new markets and segments are long before they’re even asking for specific solutions.”

To do this, Ristevksi is surrounding herself with even more diversity in the team. “The kinds of things that are really interesting now are data skills and analytics, customer data management, and people who can construct and tell a story succinctly,” she says.

“If you think about it, I’m competing with 150 countries for resources. I need to be able to articulate a story up the line with data and insight that is far more inspirational and helps me attract funding so I can get my programs across the line. Being a clear thinker and telling a story succinctly is very important. And this data skillset around modelling and analytics is another key skillset I’m after.”

Diversity in experience and industry

ANZ head of marketing, Carolyn Bendall, also believes the top skillset and approach required by CMOs today is diversity.

“That’s not just gender, but looking at where we can pull people in who’ve had different experiences and disciplines to what they’ve done in previously careers,” she explained. “A good example is that I have a relatively new head of analytical marketing function who has a PHD in neuroscience and has never worked in marketing. But he’s surrounded by marketers who can help him with the practitioner aspects of below-the-line marketing aspects but he’s leading the way around rethinking the journeys and the science sitting around testing, learning and refining our analytical marketing.”

Whatever background you have as a CMO, you now need an appetite for leading disruption. To do that, it’s vital to ensure a diversity of skills and thinking continues to exist within your function, Bendall said.

“One way I chose to do that is to structure ourselves differently. We have strategic marketing teams in place, then I have centres of executional excellence and they are quite different in terms of make-up of teams. Many have come out of advertising and media backgrounds, and that’s great, but in the analytical marketing team, they’re coming from very different backgrounds including operations, science,” she said.

Keeping such a variety of ideas and strategies in harmony then comes down to good communication skills, Bendall said.

“You must take people on the journey with you. That’s not just your team, but other parts of the business,” she added.

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