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CMO50 #26-50: Col Kennedy, Cotton On

  • Name Col Kennedy
  • Title Global head of marketing and ecommerce, Cotton On
  • Company Cotton On Group
  • Commenced role June 2014
  • Reporting Line GM Cotton On brand
  • Member of the Executive Team No
  • Marketing Function 50 globally, 5 direct and 3 dotted line reports
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    Col Kennedy has been the global head of marketing and ecommerce at fashion retailer, Cotton On Group, for the past 18 months. Prior to this, he was with Target Australia, holding several marketing and business development roles for the retailer. His resume also includes marketing positions back in the UK with the Walt Disney Company, Sony PlayStation and Thomson TUI Travel.

    Over the next 1-2 years, Kennedy expects marketing will continue to become more commercial, playing one of the key roles in delivering EBIT targets.

    “However, marketing true leadership role must always be focused on a company’s communities, including the internal customer,” he says.

    “Customers live in ever more crowded lives, so establishing and staying true to your ‘Brand Why’ is crucial to both cutting through and build true engaging relationships. Customers also don’t value channels, they value experiences, therefore building a one-channel strategy is vital.

    “At Cotton On, we are laser focused on our Brand Why of ‘Making a difference in people's lives, now’ and delivering one engaging experience.”

    From the CMO50 submission

    Business contribution and innovation

    Last Christmas, Kennedy and his team developed the #igiveabrick campaign to raise $1 million dollars in eight weeks for the Cotton On Foundation, the retailer’s philanthropic arm, and its work in Southern Uganda. This saw a dramatic increase in sales of Cotton On Foundation products including water, mints and bracelets.

    The campaign created huge momentum, but once the $1m target was achieved, sales of Foundation products dropped off dramatically. Kennedy said he learned that ‘loud’ Bob Geldof style campaigns would not deliver the medium term and real change. Therefore, he pulled together a team to create a platform that would continuously build, rather than continuously develop, different campaigns for Cotton On Foundation product sales.

    This resulted in the ‘Not Just’ Platform. Rather than just a bottle of water, the initiative links water bottle products to providing five text books, for example.

    It’s ‘Not Just’ a store member, either, but an aid worker, and ‘Not Just’ a store, but a way of changing lives. In test stores where Cotton On launched ‘Not Just’, the ratio of Foundation product sales went from 1 in 7 to 1 in 3.

    Cotton On has since rolled out the ‘Not Just’ platform globally, across 16 countries and all of its stores.

    Modern marketing and customer engagement thinking and effectiveness

    Kennedy has employed the Golden Circle model developed by Simon Sinek to develop Cotton On’s Brand ‘Why’, moving the brand beyond transactions to become truly engaged with its communities.

    Cotton On’s Brand Why, ‘people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it’ is aimed at making a difference in people’s lives, now. This has now become the filter by which all departments work to whether, they are a buyer creating the next best seller that will make someone feel great at the weekend, or a store team member going the extra mile to help a customer, Kennedy said.

    This has become the centre piece of the company’s strategy, is at the heart of the brand, and has generated a cultural shift in the organisation.

    Data and/or technology driven approach

    As part of development of store of the future, Kennedy and his team have been working on introducing a number of technology solutions to provide better experiences for communities. On the list are delivering free Wi-Fi, in-store charge stations, and augmented reality to provide more detail about products in-store, including videos on trends and inspiration, styling.

    Kennedy said all of these aim to deliver a better experience both online and instore. The approach is also about moving beyond omni-channel to ‘One Cotton On’.


    Creatively is a crucial part of how Cotton-On approaches its work every day, from creative problem solving to the ongoing elevation of the brands look and feel. For example, social media has shifted from purely polished campaign images to a wider mix of content, including real images, behind the scenes and re-grams.

    “These have better engaged our communities’ interest and seen triple-digit sales growth in s-commerce,” Kennedy said.

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