CMO50 2016 #24: Barni Evans

  • Name Barni Evans
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Sportsbet
  • Commenced role September 2011
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 100 staff, 4 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Online wagering
  • 2015 ranking 7
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Sportsbet’s Barni Evans claims there is no single metric that can demonstrate the effectiveness of marketing. But there is a single attribute: Honesty.

    “When things don’t work as well as planned – we’re proactively honest about that,” he says.

    It’s this very approach that’s helping him and his marketing team continue to innovate in the face of change industry regulation, increased international competition, the growing dominance of Internet-based gambling, and more.

    One big customer-led innovation launched in 2016 was the Punters Club. “Most Aussie blokes will tell you that punting with their mates is one of their favourite things, whether as a one-off on a bucks weekend, over a few weekends during Spring Carnival, or for the whole footy season,” Evans says.

    “The only problem is this: While the Punters Club is fun for most people in the group, it’s a complete headache for the one poor sucker who has to organise it.”

    Sportsbet sought to fix that with its new app, which removes all the pain factors in setting up a punters club. Using the app, the organiser enters his mates’ names and phone numbers, and sets the basic rules of the club.After that, the app organises everything else.For example, it alerts users when they need to deposit, who’s turn it is to bet, and pays out winnings fairly to all members.

    As with most technology applications that make things simple for the consumer, the genius is keeping complexity hidden, Evans says. Punters club is a shared account, requiring multiple logins and secure data sources. It’s critical everyone can transact easily but that data is accessible only by the individual.

    “From Sportsbet’s perspective, the real genius is the network effect,” Evans says. “Within every group of mates, we now have a couple of advocates who become Sportsbet advocates. This is the holy grail: Attracting more customers by delivering a product that turns your customers into your sales force.”

    From the CMO50 submission

    Data- and technology-led approach

    Wagering in Australia is heavily regulated by multiple legislative bodies and quite often, regulations vary on a state-by-state basis. When the NSW government restricted the promotion of certain products in 2016, Sportsbet needed a solution that enabled the business to comply with NSW law without hindering its ability to communicate with customers elsewhere.

    In a matter of weeks, Evans and his team created a geo-targeting capability delivered across desktop, mobile internet and IOS platforms.

    “Without this level of targeting we would have been forced to remove some core facets of our product, and weaken our consumer appeal,” he says. “The geo-targeting allowed us to continue offering these products to customers outside of NSW. Furthermore, the targeting differentiated whether people were logged in or out, enabling us to target communications by State and by customer status.

    “It’s a great example of turning adversity into competitive advantage.”

    Empowered business thinking

    Evans says it’s also vital the organisation can respond in an agile way to the ever-changing world of sport, to new legislation, and to competitor activity. In such an environment, staying customer centric is a challenge because traditional forms of customer research are slow and unwieldy, he comments.

    In response to this challenge, Sportsbet’s research team have developed the facilities to conduct in-house focus groups at virtually zero notice. Trained moderators in the team have access to customer lists and viewing facilities so they can spin up a focus group within 24 hours. This enables them to give instantaneous feedback on changing issues, Evans says.

    “The resource has become so popular, its created a real culture of customer centricity around the business,” he says. “People from technology, product, operations, media and various other teams around the organisation will typically sit in on focus groups to get a firsthand understanding of customer thinking. In turn, this speeds up decision making as people develop a more instinctive feel for what will resonate with customers.”

    That’s fine for qualitative insight, but in a highly data-driven organisation, teams frequently need robust samples to be confident that they understand customers sufficiently to make decisions - and at pace. To that end, the research teams have developed several consumer panels, and immediate feedback loops using email, SMS and social media to capture customer sentiment in near real time.

    Evans also points to utilisation of Sportsbet’s best source of customer intelligence: Customer operations. The team has developed powerful tools of codifying customer feedback into actionable daily reporting so decision makers around the business can fix customer issues quickly.

    Fostering team capability

    Personal development has been a significant focus within the marketing function. Evans says the biggest bet taken was switching Sportsbet’s GM of media and GM of marketing for 12 months, putting both fully outside their comfort zone.

    “Having now operated in each other’s functions for a year individually they’ve become fully rounded senior marketers,” he says. “Collectively though, they are now able to operate even more effectively as a team. They understand each other’s functions, so they, and importantly their teams, can collaborate to drive better, faster outcomes.”

    Elsewhere in the team, Sportsbet has joined the ranks of marketing teams strengthening in-house capabilities, and Evans says it’s consciously promoted from within rather than hire externally in key areas. For instance, brand management, video production, social engagement, PR, media, search marketing and creative development teams are all headed by people who did not start in those disciplines, but have been promoted through the ranks.

    Evans says it’s taking a 70:20:10 approach of on the job, coaching and mentoring, and external education that’s enabled these people to learn and apply new skills in a live environment.

    “Our culture of risk-taking enables us to place trust in these people as they hone their skills – far more effective than in a classroom environment,” he says.

    “But a quality marketing organisation doesn’t just have great people in the marketing team.Our marketing is only as powerful as the products we take to market, and the service we provide our customers.”

    A case in point is the Punters Club product, which was originally conceived by a cross-functional group including data analysts, customer service operators, business analysts and producers.

    Evans says Sportsbet has enshrined cross-functional collaboration through a series of working groups across the business. More than a dozen groups comprise specialists from all areas of the business to monitor performance in key sports, and key stages of customer lifecycle including customer acquisition, and turnover momentum.

    “By bringing all relevant specialists together we ask smarter questions and get to faster more actionable conclusions,” he continues.

    A useful byproduct of these teams is the development they provide for their members.People get to interact more closely with their colleagues, breaking down internal barriers, and encouraging cross skilling, Evans says.

    Another example of inter-departmental cross fertilisation of capabilities is the ‘Job Swingers’ program. This internal recruitment initiative asks people to take three- or six-month secondments into areas outside their core skillset. So far this year, 15 people have ‘swung’ into new roles for at least three months.

    Bringing all of this learning and development together, Sportsbet’s ‘Stadium of Learning’ provides a physical location within the building where people can spend time getting properly focused on their development. The suite of facilities includes a lecture theatre, a library, a learning bar, several online learning portals, and an in-house career navigator.

    Demonstrating agility

    Given sport does not take place during business hours, agility is not just a ‘nice-to-have’ for Sportsbet, it’s an essential driver of competitive performance. In turn, this requires people who are smart, empowered and who care about customers and the business, Evans says.

    An example of agility he points to comes in the form of its ‘Justice Refunds’. Evans says injustice is a fact of life in sport - a bad refereeing decision, an injury to a key player, a horse breaking down mid race happen all the time. Quite understandably, customers feel cheated when they do. So Sportsbet frequently issues Justice Refunds.

    “These don’t require senior managers to approve – that would slow us down and leave customers vexed,” Evans says. “Our customer-facing team members are encouraged to make real-time decisions in the customers’ favour.”

    A great example was when political pundit, Laurie Oakes, put one over the bookies on Federal election night. Sportsbet had offered odds on what colour tie Oakes would wear. Oakes responded by wearing several different ties, covering every selection in the betting book.

    The Sportsbet social media team covering the election late at night noticed this and contacted the trading team, who promptly paid out on all selections, which Sportsbet was not obliged to do. The social and PR teams then tweeted, texted and liaised with journalists, resulting in very happy customers being paid when they should not have been, and lots of great media coverage and goodwill for Sportsbet.


    Evans sees creativity in a competitive environment as the cornerstone of differentiation and a key driver of commercial performance.

    From a more traditional perspective, creativity is a core capability that has been developed in-house, and Sportsbet has sent several of its creative people from varying disciplines to Award School.

    But creativity has a much wider context than advertising, Evans points out. “Creative thinking can drive commercial performance in all areas of our business, not least in product development,” he says.

    “For that reason, we have an in-house innovation team embedded into the product management function. Their role is to ensure that we exploit evolving technologies and consumer trends, stay connected to the external innovation community, and importantly, foster innovative thinking in all areas of our business.”

    One such example are hack days, which take place over a continuous 27-hour period and see team members from every department in Sportsbet collaborate and compete to get their ideas on the product roadmap.

    “This not only fosters and rewards creativity – it’s a great driver of collaboration.”

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