CMO Momentum panel: How CMOs can retain creativity

Marketing leaders from Kraft Heinz, Sport Australia and Forever New share the ways they're striving for creativity both in terms of culture as well as creative execution

From left: Sport Australia's Louise Eyres, Forever New's Diane Belan, Kraft Heinz's Shalabh Atray and CMO's Nadia Cameron
From left: Sport Australia's Louise Eyres, Forever New's Diane Belan, Kraft Heinz's Shalabh Atray and CMO's Nadia Cameron


The onslaught of technology and automation, performance-driven digital advertising and data-led marketing decision making are raising considerable questions about how to ensure creativity continues to flourish in the marketing function.

Yet while there is definite agreement the industry must do more to strike a healthier balance between the science and the art of modern marketing, a panel of CMOs at the first annual CMO Momentum Melbourne conference last week see digital and data capability equally helping them achieve more creative campaigns and cultures.

Kraft Heinz CMO, Shalabh Atray linked creativity to the purpose of marketing, which is to create great brands that stand the test of time. He noted Nike and Unilever as examples of enduring brands.

To achieve this, brands must do three things really well, Atray said. Firstly, they understand consumers better than anyone else.

“That’s logic, and where data is becoming more and more important. Secondly, and something which has been true for the last 100 years and will be for the next 100 years, is irrespective of data, and that’s magic,” he told attendees. “Because you can have great data, but if you don’t also have great stories that make people feel something, you haven’t got magic. Data gives you knowledge and allows you build on it. Then you need emotion.

“The third thing is purpose. People like brands that stand for something bigger than themselves. We live in a world of digital and data, which are incredibly important, but emotion and making people feel something is equally key. We’re all human and we must appeal to people’s hearts.”

For Forever New global GM marketing and digital, Diane Belan, creativity comes from bridging the data and science and art gap.

“If you think about what creativity is, it’s generating ideas that solve problems. Without data, how can you know what you’re solving for? That data is fuelling our creativity,” she said.  

Belan cited three pieces within the marketing arsenal particularly key to driving creativity: Access to customer data, the fact no one knows our brand like a marketer does, and the fact marketers are used to driving commercial outcomes. In this context, Belan noted the fashion retailer’s focus on experiences.

“One would be a data insight we had that showed despite online growth, there are still people who want to try before they buy. But they’re short on time,” she explained. “Using this, we developed a new function online called ‘reserve in-store’, where customers have ability to reserve an item in store, then come in quickly during a lunch break, pick it up and try it on. It’s an example of how we’ve used data points and creative thinking to develop to build an experience that enhances the customer’s experience.”  

Over at Sport Australia, chief of marketing and insights, Louise Eyres, admitted creativity and government aren’t two things you’d often put together. “But the reason why the Federal Government set up Sport Australia is that we have to have creativity to drive behaviour change. We’re here as an adjunct of department of health to get Australians moving,” she explained.

To achieve this, Sport Australia is tapping partnerships, creative thinking and every platform at its disposal to overcome the country’s inertia around being active. “As a tax payer funded organisation, we don’t have the resources to tackle such a whole project without that creativity,” Eyres said.  

One unique thing element in the mix is the AIS site in Canberra, a 65-acre space previously seen as a campus facility. That’s until marketing came to the party.

“There are 500,000 people going to the AIS every year – school kids, athletes, pre-elite athletes. So we asked: How do we use that connection point? We’re looking at every place and space to tell our story, so every person that comes, or every child that visits and hops back on the bus, leaves with a Sport Australia narrative,” she said. “That’s about how we utilise those touch points in front of us creatively.”  

Data’s dominance

Yet Atray agreed the dominance of digital and data within the modern marketing context makes him “a little anxious” at times.

“With such data at your fingertips, it makes you feel comfortable you have evidence behind something,” he commented. “Evidence can be great when you’re looking at the short term, but it can be risky when you’re thinking long-term.

“The whole purpose and case to build great brands is to take risks. Sometimes you don’t have data because you haven’t done something. And if you haven’t done something, how do you know if it’ll succeed or fail?”

While data can helpfully inform marketing therefore, it’s also vital for marketers to recognise they still have to take risks.

“Data doesn’t give you all the inspiration; it gives you information. We need to be able to distinguish the two,” Atray said.  

In this vein, Eyres saw data helping her team be far more focused on where creativity is needed. An example would be driving participation in sport. She pointed out it’s only really via data that Sport Australia saw the tip-off point of teenage girls between 13 and 16 years old, stopping sport.

“We have these initiatives in place to deal with that, and it’s because data is telling us it’s a big issue,” she said. “Why are girls stopping organised sport? There are lots of reasons. Through data, we can pinpoint these and then get creative.

“So data is enhancing our ability to be far more precise with our investment, then enhancing our creativity to meet that challenge.”

Co-creation, both with the customer and partner, is another vital piece, CMOs agreed. In Kraft Heinz’s case, working to visualise the identity of its Fountain brand with one big retail buyer, for example, helped drive advocacy in the category and build growth. Eyres, meanwhile, said co-creation across the diverse group of skills sitting in her function – from an insights team running Sport Australia’s OzPlay survey, to digital strategy, government relations, media, communications and marketing – has a key role to play in building both creativity as a culture and creative campaigning.  

“You can end up with silos with all those different skills in the mix. While we’re certainly not Agile, we’ve been bringing in a few digital practices to help the creative process,” she said. For example, a monthly showcase presented by the partnerships team led insights sand digital teams to realise new product and development opportunities, giving sponsorship ways to commercial other assets.

Up next: how these CMOs are balancing creative-led versus performance marketing

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