CMO Momentum: What it takes to build the marketing team of tomorrow

Executive-level marketing and customer leaders from Mercer, Cover-More Group and Westfield weigh up the need for executional versus strategic thinking, the new skillsets coming into the marketing function, and take it takes to lead change

From left: CMO's Nadia Cameron, Cover-More Group's Cameron Pearson, Mercer's Cambell Holt and former Westfield marketing chief, John Batistich
From left: CMO's Nadia Cameron, Cover-More Group's Cameron Pearson, Mercer's Cambell Holt and former Westfield marketing chief, John Batistich

A burning curiosity, the ability to ask great questions and experiment, systems thinking and cross-functional engagement are all vital attributes to the modern marketing team.

That was the consensus of Australian executive-level marketing leaders speaking at the recent CMO Momentum conference on what it takes to build the marketing team of the future, and how to balance today’s demands and culture with the skills required for tomorrow.

When asked about new marketing skills coming into their teams to cope with increased marketing complexity, customer centricity and digital disruption, panellists all highlighted digital strategy, technology prowess, data and analytics, content strategy and customer experience excellence as critical to the mix. But it was the balance between strategic and executional expertise, soft skills and experience, and the need for marketing to be an influencer across business lines that shone through the discussion most.  

Cover-More Group chief strategy and innovation officer, Cameron Pearson, said ‘digital strategist’ was a more prevalent role than in previous years. But equally, executional capability to take that strategy into the business was crucial.

“That’s everything from optimisation managers to content managers, to types of roles focused on being able to execute in a way that is more aligned to the experience you’re trying to accelerate through mobile or omni-channel,” he told attendees. “We don’t like the world digital – what business doesn’t have a digital experience – it’s more about how I facilitate what we might see in a customer experience into execution. Both these strategy and execution roles have evolved further away from what a traditional marketing function once had.”

For Mercer’s chief customer officer for Pacific, Cambell Holt, two themes are emerging: Marketer as technology, and marketer as systems thinker. “Today, it’s interesting how little the acquisition phase represents in terms of the value you deliver to customers. A marketer has to think about a customer’s journey throughout the enterprise,” he said.

“This is almost exclusively delivered by some kind of technology and automation. Any of those technologies emerging in channels as the way to scale corner store experiences for customers across millions of customers.

“Marketing is CX and CX is marketing.”

Former Scentre Group (Westfield) marketing director, John Batistich, looks at skills firstly in terms of behaviours and values that define how teams work, then secondly, through functional skills and what teams do. Across the top, he stressed the importance of curiosity.

“With so much change, the ability to ask great questions is more important than ever before,” he said. “The second point I’d make is around insight, and the ability to take what is occurring, distill it, make sense of it, and move to ‘so what’  and ‘now what’. The third component is around great engagement-  the ability to communicate, align and take others with you. Fourthly, it’s around resilience and tenacity. Given the amount of change and complexity, the ability to align people across the organisation as partners is increasing.”

How marketers are tackling skills development

During his earlier career at PepsiCo and Mars, Batistich said teams built functional skill models around proficiencies. More recently at Westfield, the focus was on market knowledge and customer insight, data analytics, measurement and optimisation, and experience design and execution.

“Connecting the how and the what and creating models that fuel coaching and development have never been more important,”  he continued. “You start by building and owning, based upon how much you can afford to control. Anything that’s important to your customer and that experience and engagement, you need to own if you can afford it. That’s why we’re seeing so many organisations bring in-house critical components of SEO and SEM, programmatic, experience design.

“At Westfield, I had my own engineering team, plus a user design team and product management. We said these critical digital touchpoints couldn’t be owned by anyone else, they had to be developed by ourselves. We were building and buying those resources.”

Westfield also removed six agencies as a means of simplifying its go-to-market strategy. “But there will be times where you need to innovate because you can’t have that on your own and you need to build partnerships with incubators, startups, accelerators and universities,” Batistich said.

Holt pointed out a number of specialist skills, such as marketing automation, either don’t exist in market or are too expensive to acquire. Mercer’s response has been to hire graduates and build them up as marketing technologists. He also noted the rise of a new ecosystem of technology vendor partners being created.

Pearson’s concern, however, is that building specialist skills tends to create more silos within an organisation.

“What we’ve seen in our business is the more competency we build in data, or digital, the more they tend to get ahead of themselves as being technically superior to other people in the business,” he commented. “The natural tendency then becomes to do it all themselves and not deal with other marketers or departments.”

What needs to be fostered is the ability to develop deep networks for influencing connections across the organisation, Pearson said.

“It’s about influencing the way we should be thinking about the work, rather than who owns the skill, or if we have to outsource,” he explained. “Whether it’s an agency or inside capability, if you don’t solve the connected parts into the business that need to consume the thinking, then no matter what you do, you’ll still sit there as an island with siloed behaviour.”

Holt again came back to the marketer as systems thinker. “Where does that capability come from in an organisation? I think it comes from the people with the closest proximity to the customer,”  he said.

“It’s incumbent upon marketing leadership to be driving those assets and capabilities and thinking right through the systems so your stakeholders and colleagues in different parts of the business are benefitting from your ability to diffuse customer marketing thinking.”  

Changing the way teams work

The shake-up of marketing skills is also transforming the very way teams work. At Cover-More for example, things are becoming increasingly decentralised.

“It’s better for that skillset to reside inside business, driving to a conclusion that makes sense for them,” Pearson claimed. “If that’s an optimisation team, they should sit in a team selling products and services. Of course, it’s very interesting mindset to change. If I can’t control directly the staff, does it minimise the ability to upskills and drive learning like we would if we were centralised? I’d say the jury is out on whether it’s the wrong or right thing to do.”

Mercer’s CIO handed Holt 35 technology resources in order for the business to move faster  to address digital change and customer engagement, a move Cambell admits shocked many but has been highly successful.

Batistich agreed a more nimbler and agile team that can iterate is critical. This materialised at Westfield via the adoption of agile methodologies with daily scrums and a focus on productisation and iteration.

“We moved our language from launch to release, failure became much more acceptable, and one of our KPIs was systemised learnings that we could scale,” he said. “We became much more comfortable failing faster, cheaper and earlier. And it was the engineers and product managers that started to change the whole marketing organisation’s view.

“At the same time, we improved our real-time dashboarding to make sure we were measuring the right things. There was a stronger view to test and learn instead of launch and forget.”

Something as simple as the idea teams weren’t there ‘yet’ made a big difference, Batistich said.

“The word ‘yet’ became a critical pivot in our language. It might sound small, but we then could measure our learnings and improve our customer experience as a result of iteration,” he said.  

Holt suggested marketers don’t spend enough time in the shoes of their customers. “Marketers have a bad habit of consuming insights but in the four walls of the organisation,” he said. “You have to get involved in the actual customer communities you serve. All the other stuff quantifies and helps shape things.”

Westfield’s approach was to create rapid prototypes, which teams would take into the malls almost daily to test with customers. In Pearson’s view, it’s not about what customers are saying they want, it’s what’s happening with them.

“The job of a marketer should be to make inferences about what to do about that. That’s much more complex,” he said. “Marketers are trying to find an exacting answer in data and research that help you make a decision without reason. It’s nonsense – we should be taking more risks in the intuitive part of marketing. Data should help you make more intuitive decisions faster, but not make the decisions for you.”  

Holt’s answer is to give marketing teams the permission to act like customers when they come into work.

“That’s often lacking because of this construct of showing me the data, analytics, and what’s driving that action,” he claimed. “Have a conversation outside the organisation with five people at a bar about what you’re selling, and you’re going to get a much better outcome.”

Building the value proposition

Batistich added the companies he consults to now spend too much of their time on ‘what’ instead of the ‘so what’.

“That’s the most important stage of then moving into ‘now what’,” he said. “Amazon on its key platform does 200 tests per day – many organisations only do a few tests per year.”

Batistich also pointed to work recently done by Dr Peter Fuda that claimed organisations are completely misaligned to be customer focused and operate coherently. “For me, it’s how we better align conflicting agendas across organisations,” he said.

Relying on a burning platform to achieve this never works, Batistich claimed. “Rather, transform a burning platform into a burning ambition,” he advised.

“What does the future look like and how do we take people into that future in a safe, rewarding, learning, progressive state? It might sound like motherhood, but I spent a lot of time aligning my c-suite peers to enable my teams to run our programs through the organisation and ultimately deliver to customers.”

Pearson also believed too many marketers are struggling to facilitate around an organisation’s value proposition.

“If you can’t shape the way an organisation needs to change the way it delivers services, then the role of the marketer to market it is extremely difficult,” he pointed out. “It’s where our business is struggling –there’s this force of resistance from the business that says I’m not willing to give up my power to execute on the strategy because I don’t think it’s where we should be.

“As a skillset inside the marketing organisation, that means you need a greater focus on who’s bridging the gap between making the promise to the customer, and getting the business to execute differently to what it’s doing today.”

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