CMO interview: What AGL’s marketing chief is doing to embrace ambiguity

GM of product and marketing talks about the soft skills, brand strategy, technology and personalisation plans helping fuelling the energy company's customer transformation plans

Alison Wild
Alison Wild


Brand power

Alongside the personalisation play – and arguably because of it –  Wild’s other priority has been extending the brand proposition across the AGL business. AGL relaunched its brand 12 months ago, setting out a core positioning statement aimed at showcasing the group as a strong market leader.

“It’s interesting times in the energy sector, and many people have a view on what we should do and when we should do it,” she says. “I’ve elevated brand outside of marketing… That’s with the consideration of creating a single brand experience and narrative across the organisation.”  

As a values-based organisation, Wild is keen to better bring these values to life.

“On my arrival, I was thrilled to see we had our logo in full rainbow to support the ‘yes’ vote. We are a very inclusive organisation. I’m looking forward to integrating those values into the brand expression, particularly internally, and considering the role it plays in our external communication as well,” she says.  

Another part of the marketing function Wild is extending into the wider business is insights and performance. Historically, insights wasn’t really accepted beyond marketing and communications, she says.

“It’s making sure that as a total business, we’re being driven by commercial and customer insight, rather than just allowing that to guide the communications element,” she says.  

Customer ownership

What’s helping AGL better realise these customer ambitions is that transformation is a highly integrated approach, Wild claims.

“No one function owns it, it’s working collectively to deliver for the customer,” she says.  “The expectation on us is to work collectively to align component parts. Structure is supporting strategy strongly, which you don’t always see. And we’ve found a great structure to naturally support the strategy.”  

At the same time, Wild’s wider remit helps. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a narrowing and fragmentation of marketing,” she comments.  

She puts part of the blame on technology revolutionising the marketing function. “I’ve done two or three CRM/personalisation projects over that time, and all were distinctly different,” Wild says. “The impact of technology on marketing has been enormous, it’s really changed the game.

“Six or seven years ago, CRM projects were all about the big system, and making choices there. These days, the technology is more ecosystem focused. There has been strong maturity and specialisation, with technologies that do very specific things, and that fit nicely with other pieces doing something different. The conversations we’re having have been so different in recent years. And there’s also a more natural partnership with IT and marketing.”

For Wild, this has created two groups of marketers. “Some marketers really understand it, leverage it, have been curious to learn about it. The other set can generically talk about digital, but don’t understand all the opportunities available,” she says.  

The people equation

Whatever the technology, however, focusing on people capability is the key element for Wild. Having done a lot of bottom-up build of soft skills at Bupa, particularly around dealing with ambiguity, Wild says she often jokes with recruitment people about wanting a quick, simple test you could give people to understand how they’ll respond in certain situations.

“Over time, I’ve built skillsets that allowed me to find these people and when you get them in the team, they’re amazing and capability of bringing others with them,” she says.  

Wild has started that work at AGL, across her team of 200 employees encompassing journeys, product and marketing.

“The cultural component is really important,” she says of her approach. “The other piece is higher levels of trust, and that’s about being in a team where you can challenge and ask the hard questions. You need to be so safe you can come up with ideas that will be received in the nicest possible way, and built on by your peers. That’s something I’ll always try to create in teams I lead.

“It’s important to step away from me-too ideas and ideas being executed in other organisations. It’s about people being allowed to do big thinking in safe environment; to do the right thing for the organisation and customers at the time you’re executing, rather than ideas you’re executing a year ago. Timing is very important for that sort of change.” 

Wild knows she needs to live and breathe that style of leadership. “People will trust you when they see it every day, and have conversations, and when you facilitate the right outcomes for them from a career perspective as well,” she says.

“It’s also definitely about leveraging those AGL values. It’s a very progressive and positive place to come to. As marketing, it sets the best possible foundation for getting the right culture in place.”  

Other attributes vital to being a CMO are curiosity and the ability to create opportunities for people to learn constantly, Wild says. “It isn’t black and white anymore, so leaning into the grey and making people comfortable in matrix environments and ways of working is also vital,” she says.  

Finally, you need a fantastic imagination. “The ability for people to think big, not to just copy what other do, and create amazing execution and strategy, is something that’s underestimated at times,” Wild adds.

“I’m a big fan of ‘M’ marketing including the strategy work.”

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu     

 

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