CMO interview: How Koala’s new global CMO balances opportunity with sensitivity

Recently installed global marketing chief talks to us about how the online mattress and furniture retailer is pivoting to deal with the current crisis

Peter Sloterdyk
Peter Sloterdyk


It was during his time as consumer marketing leader at Netflix that Koala’s global CMO, Peter Sloterdyk, got a taste of the sensitivities marketing faces during a time of crisis.

“Due to the amount of content we had at Netflix, once in a while there would be sensitive content that connected to something happening in the world. That’s where we started to evaluate and ask the difficult questions,” the recently installed marketing chief told CMO.

“For example, is it more important for us to pause and take a beat, and not release content or engage in marketing around that content, because it’ll cause the wrong kind of conversations for the brand? Or does it help facilitate a conversation around that moment of crisis or difficult issue? The privilege of content is it can do one or both. It’s all about perspective.

“I’ve had those occasions to be part of that evaluation and to think crucially about these things. It’s nothing on the scale of COVID-19. But in those circumstances, you have to be cognisant of context.”

It’s for this reason Sloterdyk agrees that while there’s nothing wrong with being opportunistic if the brand moment is genuine and authentic, if there isn’t such an opportunity available to you as a business in the COVID-19 environment, it might be time to take a pause.

“Continue seeking those opportunities, but don’t force it when it might not work. That’s where marketers can get in trouble -we lean in too hard to a crisis or opportunity and try to make it about our brand,” he advised.  

Sloterdyk joined the Australian online mattress and furniture retailer in March as its first global marketing chief. While he will eventually be based in Australia, the CMO is currently having to lead the team from his home in Los Angeles.

As well as Netflix, his resume includes marketing leadership at social networking app, Grindr, as well as marketing, digital and social roles with agencies such as Meredith Xcelerated Marketing, Trailer Park and Digitas. 

“In the grand scheme, marketing is marketing, and I believe I have a fair amount of skill I can apply to this new role, but I don’t know everything and I’m excited to learn,” he said of the new role, noting he’s never worked in the hard furnishings industry.  

“The opportunity to scale globally was also appealing. Koala has done a remarkable job of taking over the Australian market, and we’re enjoying our experience in Japan thus far, and there’s more on the horizon. To come into this position as the company goes from startup to growth mode and all those opportunities in front of us as a business, from new products and markets to team building, is exciting.”  

Sloterdyk cited two lessons from his career to date being particularly useful to Koala. The first is a commitment to culture.

“It’s about a culture of innovation, driving teamwork, collaboration, removing ego from contacts and thinking more about what’s best for the business and what opportunities are in front of you. That is crucial to any marketing organisation,” he said.  

“The second learning is experimentation, testing and learning. This sector is so ripe for innovation. We have a great opportunity to reinvent in this space. The opportunity to connect with consumer emotionally is there – decorating your personal space is a personal experience and our tone of voice, products and content as a brand will help us moving forward.”

Read more: 7 ways to run your marketing department like a software startup

Being a direct-to-consumer digital brand, Sloterdyk also saw Koala in a strong position as society leans into more digital engagement and interaction in the COVID-19 climate.

“Digital is now an expected piece now in the mix. But what we are battling for is to take advantage of digital marketing in a unique, interesting new ways,” he said of his strategic marketing plan. “As consumers move through their lives, where are the various touchpoints that make sense along the way and how do we join them where they are?”  

In redistributing dollars from channels such as out-of-home, which Koala has had great success in but isn’t pursuing in the current environment, Sloterdyk said the team has kept a firm eye on figuring out what opportunities to take advantage of to keep connected to customers.

“People are still living, engaging and operating, they’re just doing things a bit differently. For example, TV and radio as people are still tuning in and engaging,” he said. “It’s about re-evaluating your customer journey and thinking about where are you playing in awareness versus considerations opportunities. And it’s taking advantage of some of the lower rungs of the funnel, and being more omnipresent. Because we are missing some above-the-line in a COVID-19 world.

“It’s about how we get deeper into those digital roots. Koala is comfortable in this space, so we’re not reinventing the wheel, we are doubling down on our roots.”

As a young brand, Sloterdyk also saw Koala with the unique privilege of having some fun doing it. “You can take a bit more risk, lean in harder and I look forward to doing more of that in the future,” he said.   

Through all of this, the golden rule for Sloterdyk in this time of crisis is putting the brand in the consumer’s shoes and paying attention to how they receive, engage and participate in marketing initiatives right now.

“It’s difficult to nail the terms and get it right, be respectful of what people are experiencing and acknowledging the hardships people are experiencing while promoting your brand. What is key is being empathetic,” Sloterdyk continued.

As an example, he noted Koala’s emphasis on community and local in recent weeks through its partnership with Deliveroo supplying local cafes and restaurants.

“We want community to survive and do well. It’s a good example of being able to lean in to genuine message that resonates as a business,” he said.  

Koala also partnered with A Current Affair on the great Australian giveaway, donating 100 sofas among a crew of brands giving back.

“It’s ok to take advantage of an opportunity in front of you, as long as the intention is pure and about the right thing,” Sloterdyk said. “This was a great opportunity to engage in a larger, mass opportunities to give back to the community. There will be a few of these more coming up, such as Mother’s Day, for example.”

Remote team connection

While all the external activity continues, Sloterdyk as a newly installed CMO is facing the very real challenge of onboarding with a team remotely. He noted two way he’s striving to achieve this. The first is spending a lot of time in one-to-ones, and with my team.

“I’ll spend 20 minutes on business, and the other 40 minutes on their lives, family, support, asking if they need more tools or time. It’s about how we support the team. We’re all struggling, but many of us struggle to put that into words,” he commented.  

“Why it’s challenging is the balance of being at home versus working harder. It’s trying to set expectations and making sure we take care of what’s important in our lives, which is mental and physical health. Want a team that’s engaged, feels supported and has that support available to them.”  

The second must for Sloterdyk is to “find the happy moments”, whether it’s an online challenge, happy hour or other virtual connection.

“Marketing is fun; it’s a grand old parade and blast of an experience. I don’t ever want to lose that whether we’re remote or working in the same office,” he added.  

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, follow our regular updates via CMO Australia's Linkedin company page, or join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia.

 

 

 

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