CMO50 #5: Vittoria Shortt, Commonwealth Bank

  • Name Vittoria Shortt
  • Title Group executive, marketing and strategy
  • Company Commonwealth Bank
  • Commenced role March 2015, CMO since September 2013
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 250 staff, 8 direct reports
  • Twitter @vittoriaajs
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    Building up the right marketing skillsets in data, technology and agility are so important to the Commonwealth Bank, it’s kicked off its own marketing academy to foster them.

    “We’ve identified what we think are the critical areas – from the base, generalist level of knowledge we expect everyone to have, through to advanced – and are standing up our own marketing academy to specifically work on skills we’d like to see our marketing teams,” says the bank’s marketing and strategy leader, Vittoria Shortt.

    She pointed to data and analytics, and how the skills of a generalist will be very different to a data scientist. “We have a framework that’s been established and we’re getting clear about these distinctions, supported by training and on-the-job programs,” she says. “For example, we’re thinking about rotations, getting people to sit alongside data teams, and also about how we use that framework with our partners, who are a very important part of the marketing process too.”

    Boasting of a less-than-traditional marketing career to many in the CMO50 list, Shortt spent the first eight years of her professional life in corporate finance, mergers and acquisitions, then moved into a number of different roles across HR, IT, strategy, sales, operations and marketing. These allowed her to build general business acumen through diverse functional experiences, predominantly in banking.

    Having run retail banking for Bankwest and owning brand and marketing, she came into the bigger Commonwealth Bank group as CMO two years ago. Earlier this year, Shortt joined the leadership team and added to strategy and M&A to the CMO function.

    “If you think about a lot of the strategic challenges for many companies, it’s around customer and the way you engage with customers,” Shortt says of the combination of marketing and strategy. “The trends that are shaping business include using technology for customers and in how we reach them, along with mobile, so it’s a nice fit with thinking about customers as core part of the way we shape our strategy.”

    Shortt sees data as one of the most fundamental shifts in marketing in recent years. The other big game-changer is the amount of technology available today.

    “It’s tremendous and includes everything from CRM to thinking about new ways of calculating attribution, and sites that aggregate data off social platforms and the like,” she comments. “What I’d add to that, though, is creativity is still a fundamental tenet of marketing, and that’s the thing we shouldn’t lose sight of. You can throw as much data at is as you can, you have not a creative message to grab people’s attention, then you won’t be as successful and vice versa.”

    True data-driven marketing

    Shortt describes CBA’s initial foray into being more data-driven with marketing as mostly on the supply side, or about building an analytical capability. More recently, it’s worked on ways to better democratise data not just across the marketing function, but also other business groups. This is aimed at not only improving the insights available to all teams, but also to speed up action around data insights.

    To do this, marketing recently led development of demand-side, self-service data and analytics tools to empower staff with needs-based information and improve the speed of data-driven decisions. It’s also invested in an in-house business intelligence function to develop a series of self-service and visualisation tools.

    “We’re thinking a lot more about being genuinely data led, which means data needs to be everyone’s role,” Shortt explains. “We’re adding to supply-side thinking with demand-side thinking.”

    To date, three services have been launched: Strategic insights to create customer engagement strategies; pre-campaign analysis to size up campaign opportunities; and campaign effectiveness, including ongoing behavioural performance. In addition, CBA has introduced the first productionised insight service, using big data models, to provide frontline teams with aggregated, longitudinal insights on customer satisfaction.

    “Everyone understands the importance of data, and wants to use and use it well, but it’s much harder to do than to say,” Shortt says. “Another observation is everything is changing so quickly, speed and agility are important.

    “If you only focus on the supply side of providing data, you’ll have a group of people who are not necessary talking the same language. That makes it slower and harder to get great insights out of data. And it’s also going to be naturally slower if treat your group of data analysts and scientists as a silo, and throw work to them over the fence.

    “These recent initiatives are specifically designed to help us understand and use data in a better way.”

    Getting to this point has required significant group investment into attaining a single customer view, work that included investing in various technology and big data platforms. CBA has also become the first major Australian bank to bring programmatic digital buying in-house across paid digital and social media, another step in its quest to become more relevant and personalised.

    There’s also been a mindset shift around how to think about asking questions of the data at hand. “Historically, we had bad habits of thinking we knew the answers, so we’d be asking the team to do particular things and being quite prescriptive,” Shortt says. “Now we lay out more clearly the problem we are trying to solve.

    “We’re continuing to do a better job all the time and have a way to go. But just that simple shift in focusing on the question is very useful. It allows all team to explore greater territory to resolve a question, rather than just coming back with what has been asked for.”

    Digital and customer innovation

    Digital is another area of exploration and change, and Shortt says CBA’s marketing function works “extraordinarily closely” with the teams accountable for running digital platforms and ongoing development on a number of levels. One is around digital capabilities developed that CBA is trying to release into market.

    “That’s been very interesting when you try and message capability that’s available in the market for the first time,” she comments. “We have learnt a lot about standing up demos, good content so customers understand how to use new features of the app, and how we integrate all in our other messages so it’s an integrated approach.”

    A recent activity was to launch a new digital capability, called ‘lock, block and limit’, giving customers real-time control over card security. As well as the initiative’s development, group marketing drove awareness and customer adopter through deployment of a fully integrated strategy over 15 months via a series of campaigns, which leveraged contextually relevant locations such as cafes, airports and shopping centres.

    One thing that has helped all of these activities is Agile development, which Shortt says has been a propeller for change at CBA.

    “The ability to get all of the relevant people together and remove roadblocks has been a much better way of going about it than our traditional ways of working,” she says. “We have shifted most of marketing to Agile as business-as-usual. By end of the year, we should have every marketing team using agile methods for ways of working.

    “It’s not just IT either, you have everyone in - it’s across frontline, product, marketing, legal. It’s a very inclusive way of working.”

    To demonstrate the quest for innovation and new ways of engaging with customers, Shortt says marketers also gets in to CBA’s innovation lab and solves for customer journeys, partnering with other people across the group and using methodologies such as design thinking to achieve results.

    “I like to think about innovation as a spectrum; it’s not the big, obvious things, it’s about trying to do things differently,” Shortt says.

    To further innovation in marketing, Shortt introduced KPIs this year around innovation in order to encourage people to actively try different things. The initiative is called ‘give it a go’ and encourages marketers to find something in their portfolio they can develop and improve on.

    “It’s about worrying less about getting things perfectly right. We have certain parameters and no-go zones, but within that, we’re trying to encourage new things and more innovative thinking,” she says. “Rather than have KPIs focused on hitting all your outcomes, we wanted to provide that extra push for people to get comfortable with this. As a collective, this was one of the issues identified by the team as something that could be holding us back, so we’re looking to change that.”

    Keeping up with the future

    Shortt’s key priorities over the next year are technology, data and insight and creativity. “Sometimes we run the risk of losing creativity while focusing too much on data so we need to keep our eye on that, as well as keeping building capability of the team,” she says.

    Another major focus is pace. “The big question for me is have we got the right pace of change so we’re not breaking anything, but learning as much as we can? It’s a balancing act.”

    To be a CMO today, you have to love change, be agile and be resilient, Shortt says. “These are all the attributes that help you deal with, assess and work out how to respond to a fast-changing environment,” she says.

    “Technology and data are not going away, and there is a lot of work for all marketers still on those. As marketers, it’s not about duplicating skills, and I don’t need to have the same level of understanding as the CIO, but I also don’t believe you can be effective if you don’t understand the technology and data and then help translate both for what we are trying to achieve.

    “That means understanding reference architecture, how it comes together, what it means, and then when you have an operational model, how does that support the architecture. You have to think it through as an integral part of your business. It’s the same with data - how it’s collected, stored, how you organise it and getting insights out of it.”

    Shortt’s team spends a lot of time thinking about data privacy as it’s so important for customers and the business environment CBA operates in. “You need to know how it’s being attributed, how we are using it, how you’re using first-party data, who’s supplying it, where you’re buying your data from and if it’s being used in a responsible way,” she adds.

    “We will actively not do things that we know others are, because we don’t think it’s right for us.”

    Creativity and customer advocacy

    Shortt is one of many CMOs now looking at how to turn the dial from customer acquisition and demand generation to a wider customer engagement approach. And to do this, she’s applying creative and broader thinking around the activities marketing runs.

    One way this is being undertaken is by thinking about CBA’s role in Australia and what messages and things the organisation wants to focus on and highlight, Shortt says. One such investment is in education.

    “We have a belief that Australia is making a big transition and economically, and education is a big part of that,” she says. “We’re Investing in the Teaching Awards, and partnering with other people for the benefit of education. It’s a really important topic, and we haven’t historically put a lot of the marketing effort behind that topic, but we realise it’s so important to so many people – so we’re trying to highlight what is happening in education, how to support it and things that can be done.”

    Another example she pointed to in her CMO50 submission was CBA’s partnership with Clown Doctors, an initiative of The Humour Foundation that treats children in hospital with dosses of fun and laughter. Over a two-week period, CBA invited its social communities to post silly selfies on social channels and donated $5 for each effort. The campaign generated 32 million impressions in total and raised nearly $250,000 for the charity.

    Shortt said the objective was to elevate its fundraising efforts and engage a new audience through deeper social interactions.

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