CMO profile: Why we need to better understand the emotions behind decision making

Ex-Myer and Officeworks marketer, Karl Winther, talks to CMO about what is next both personally and for the marketing professional

Karl Winthers
Karl Winthers

Binary debates or sticking to a ‘speciality’ in marketing is doing the industry a disservice, marketing stalwart, Karl Winther, told CMO.

The ex-Myer and Officeworks marketer, who recently resigned from Australia Post, told CMO marketing is heading towards the ‘why’ behind the trailblazing of Peter Field and Les Binet, to better understand the emotion behind human decision making.

“This is something I’m really interested in – the ‘why’ behind their findings, and what it is about building the brand and communicating with more emotion that makes marketing more effective,” he said.

“I don’t mean neuroscience, but rather the way consumers think and behave. Consumers give two tenths of a second’s thought to your brand unless they are in market for it. So for marketers now, it’s really understanding why the work of Field and Binet is effective from the emotion sense. And that comes down to behavioural economics and the decision-making process of humans."

Winther agreed marketers can tap a lot more data around understanding these motivations. "But humans don’t make entirely rational decisions, so we can’t rely on rationality only for marketing," he continued.

"Emotions lead decisions, which comes down to how people feel, and you can’t argue a feeling. As marketers, if we can start to understand what we want people to feel, and therefore put in place tactics to make people feel a certain way, then complement that through helping them with rational information, that is the key. If you just do one or the other, it’s not going to be effective.”

Winther started his marketing career at Myer, almost by accident as a buyer, after discovering a passion for marketing in a post-graduate environment. He ended up staying at the department store for 13 years, working his way up to national manager of marketing operations, before deciding a change of scene was in order and accepting a role at Officeworks, where he remained for more than six years. While Australia Post was not the right fit, Winther said he’s excited for new opportunities.

“I’m trying to find the right fit for me, but I’m doing some consulting in the meantime,” he said. “It’s been really interesting to think about my experiences, and what I know theoretically about marketing, and applying it to different scenarios. It helps to cement the core fundamentals of marketing as true no matter what industry or category you’re in. It’s been reaffirming for me.”

Building marketing foundations

Winther started doing toy catalogues for Myer back in 1999 before he was promoted twice and ended up a planner, a role he admitted wasn’t of interest to him. He followed this up with a post grad and masters of marketing at RMIT while moving across electrical, DVDs, and then manchester departments.

“It was good to understand customer demand and price point," he said. "I hated it, but I look back with fondness now, because it gave me skills I’m appreciative of, in terms of financial and commercial acumen, how to read a P&L statement, and an understanding of product lifecycles.”

Winther resigned to became a head of planning at another business, but Myer came back with an offer for him to work in Myer One, the then brand new Myer loyalty program. 

"I found myself in marketing operations, strategy, channel planning, financial, digital marketing, SEO, social media, basically I looked after everything but the creative,” he said. “I learnt a lot, went through the IPO, then felt like a change. I wanted to go out and head up a marketing department of my own, and I was fortunate enough to be offered the role at Officeworks.

By the time he arrived in 2012, the retailer had been bought by Wesfarmers, sound fundamentals were in place and it was time to pursue growth. Winther said he's proud of the role marketing played in the overarching strategy of the business.

"It is an example of an advertising idea, that became a brand strategy, that then became a business purpose. So it was in reverse to how you usually undertake marketing, but it doesn’t matter what way you get there, so long as you can make it work," he said. 

“The business evolved from something concentrating on selling core commodities, to understanding customer needs, what customers want, and developing a brand personality. I had the full gamut of marketing in my role, everything from internal communications, to PR, while making sure all customer touchpoints were singing from same hymn sheet."

Winther defined a go-to-market plan based on finding ways to make Officeworks relevant 365 days a year. This culminated in commercial success from 6 per cent return on capital (ROC) to 16 per cent, or from $60m in EBIT to $160m in EBIT. 

"This was not just through new stores, but also existing store growth and online growth. It was also an acknowledgment of how marketing assisted the success of the business,” he said. 

Now, stepping out of the full-time role to consult, Winther is helping SMEs address marketing challenges, something he is finding highly rewarding. These challenges are the same marketing challenges faced by most organisations: Developing a concise brand strategy, setting marketing KPIs that matter, and tackling effective digital marketing.

“A brand strategy is vital to ensure as businesses grow and expand in to other categories, locations or advertising mediums, the brand is true and consistent across all its customer touchpoints," he said. “Setting marketing KPIs that matter is also important. Not just marketing KPIs that can be measured, but first really defining the marketing problems that need to be solved in holistic way for both short and long-term goals, branding and commercial, and ensuring they relate to business KPIs before putting in place any tactics. 

“Digital marketing is also a challenge, but I believe in marketing of which digital is part of. However, if the business is not a native digital product or service, there is a perceived knowledge gap in how to tactically execute best in digital channels and ensuring executions are integrated across all channels."

On the activation side, data is the fuel to help with personalisation and predictive analytics, which can make retail-based marketing more effective and efficient, and more useful, Winther said. But it’s got to be done at scale.

"You can put in all the time and effort into data, but you need to be able to scale to get ROI - just being able to do it is not enough,” he said.  

Open-minded thinking

Moving forward, Winther said marketers need to be open to all tactics and marketing strategies to get the best from their efforts, rather than pigeonhole their skills or follow trends for the sake of it.

“When I see marketing going into some of these debates, essentially binary debates or separation into camps of specialists, marketers are doing themselves a disservice. We need to be open to all tactics and avenues to solve the business problem, get customers to feel things, and then behave in certain ways,” he said.

“We need to be open to all of these aspects. It must always come down to what problem the business is trying to solve, and who the customer is, and proper marketing and execution using all the tools available, based on what is best practice.

"As marketers, we need to be open to all aspects and not just get caught up with latest trends. If the latest trend solves a business problem, and it is in the strategy, go for it. Likewise, don’t sacrifice activations for only brand building. It has to be holistic.”   

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