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CMO50 2020 #26-50: Emily Dowling

  • Name Emily Dowling
  • Title Marketing director
  • Company Mars Pet Nutrition Australia
  • Commenced role April 2018 (joined January 2004)
  • Reporting Line General manager
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 17 staff, 5 direct reports
  • Industry Sector FMCG
  • 2019 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Marketers often talk about building a deep connection with their customers. But for marketers  in the pet care sector, they also need to take into account the deep connections that already exist between owners and their pets. At Mars, this relationship resides at the core of all decisions made by marketing director Emma Dowling and her team, and is reflected in the way her customers are referred to as ‘pet parents’.

    And it has remained front of mind through 2019 and 2020, as the key consideration that is driving innovation in the marketing function.

    “Building brands and driving value for a new generation of pet parents is critical for me in leading my team over the next few years,” Dowling says. “We have a unique category, where there is a deep relationship between pets and their pet parents.

    “This relationship hasn’t changed, but what has changed is the services, care and nutrition that we can provide. By constantly challenging myself with perspectives on new technologies and approaches, I aim to deliver mutual value for our business, our customers, and Australian pets.”

    Data-driven approach

    This approach is exemplified in the 2019 launch of Mars Petcare’s TEMPTATIONS cat treat range. Dowling says the category had been recognised as being underdeveloped in Australia, and hence an opportunity existed to create a connection with cat parents.

    “You have to start with a deep understanding of your consumer, and the market dynamics you are playing in,” Dowling says. “Once these are clearly understood, they provide the framework for creative and innovative solutions to be uncovered.

    “Refreshing capability in line with new channels, technologies and approaches is the other key ingredient. As a marketing leadership team we are always looking for a balance on internal and external perspective to ensure we remain competitive.”

    Dowling undertook an extensive process of consumer insight research, and in conjunction with support agencies developed the campaign ‘All It Takes Is A Shake’. The campaign proved to be Mars Petcare’s largest for 2019, with a significant media investment across TV and digital and a mass sampling campaign delivered to more than 2 million letterboxes.

    Mars Petcare subsequently became the first pet care brand to partner with Amazon’s newly launched Australian advertising platform. The campaign, which offered a gift with purchase, soon saw TEMPTATIONS take number one position for marketing share in cat treats on Amazon.

    “Marketing plays a clear leadership role in delivering portfolio management strategies that will establish sustainable growth and profit,” Dowling says.

    Another important step was the deployment of a program designed to re-engineer the dry pet food portfolio in line with pet parent expectations. Dowling established a quality council to give marketing, consumer insights, research and development, and commercial teams the opportunity to review products on a quarterly basis in line with pet parents’ needs and wants, and drive cost savings that were ultimately reinvested in innovation and advertising.

    Yet another example of innovation in action is Mars’ launch of a direct to breeder and consumer channel for its ADVANCE brand.

    “This new business model has required a change in approach across our entire enterprise, from digital marketing and sales development right through to our supply chain and has been an exciting transformation in our capabilities,” Dowling says.

    Cross-functional collaboration

    One of Dowling’s first actions on joining the business in 2018 has been to partner with the company’s CFO and external partners to develop and deliver a change agenda. This would focus on empowering employees as ‘Courageous Champions of Transformation’, with the intention of enabling resources to be pivoted towards the company’s purpose of ‘Making A Better World For Pets’.

    Dowling created a new marketing organisation to build out this capability and led the charge on building an efficient, engaged culture. This new team included dedicated strategy roles, which were split out from a team of executors, and who were responsible for in-market and post-launch deployment.

    “To inspire them, I developed a unifying vision of ‘Australia back on the map’, speaking to a proud history of developing winning brand models and global adoption,” Dowling says.

    Two years after deployment she is seeing clear evidence of success, and in mid-2020 Mars Australia was ranked fourth in the 2020 Best Places to Work Study by Great Place to Work Australia. Dowling says further evidence of the success of this approach is see in the organisation’s commercial performance, which is shifting to be in line with category growth performance.

    Dowling has also worked to identify challenges in Mars’ internal processes which were impacting its ability to support innovation deployment through to customers.

    Working across the sales, marketing, and supplier relationship management, she led the development and delivery of a new deployment process that clarified roles and responsibilities from marketing strategy and project development through to sales activation.

    The result was the launch of a new internal deployment forum in March 2020, sharing full sales toolkits for all launches for September Customer reviews.

    “While our ultimate measure will be the Trade Attitude Survey results available in late 2020, anecdotal evidence has indicated our retailers have observed a significant step-change in the way our business is partnering with them,” Dowling says.

    Business smarts

    Dowling’s approach is also reflected in her commitment to building the capabilities of the people within her team, and specifically their digital and innovation capabilities.

    “I’m focused on building strong commercially minded marketers, who have the resilience and courage to lead through the dynamic changes happening all around them,” Dowling says.

    In partnership with Mars’ people and organisation director she developed a two-year talent agenda to nurture and support associates, and reorganised the team to ensure focus was placed on delivering business-critical priorities, with the goal of creating an agile team of commercially minded, high-performing marketers.

    “I collaborated with an external training partner to build digital marketing capability metrics into every team member’s objectives, and enlisted external agency support to accelerate our transition from low media investment to a sustainable omni-channel approach,” she says.

    Dowling also worked with Mars’ global marketing and innovation team to deploy a series of training sessions designed to upskill and inspire marketers in the area of innovation.

    “We drove exceptional levels of consumer-centricity by encouraging marketers to spend time in-home and in-store to get an intimate understanding of pets and pet parents,” she says.

    The results of these investments in her team are reflected in the slew innovative new product and campaign launches for OPTIMUM Super Foods, DINE Perfect Portions, MY DOG Naturally Crafted, and TEMPTATIONS Cat Treats, as well as the introduction REDcycle packaging across the portfolio.

    “Our step-change in digital marketing has resulted in several successful product and campaign deployments, among them the ‘Dogs Go Wacko for SCHMACKOS’ campaign,” Dowling says. “Previously experiencing year-on-year decline, the brand’s first media investment in eight years, and suite of creative content, sees Australia’s most iconic dog treats brand back in growth.”

    Innovative marketing

    But recognition of the strong relationship between pet parents and their animals is perhaps best exemplified in the purpose-led approach that Mars embodies in its brands, such as PEDIGREE.

    “PEDIGREE believes that dogs bring out the good in people, so it’s our responsibility to bring out the good in them,” Dowling says.

    However, after 50 years of success, and with the brand reaching more dog owners across the globe and in Australia than any other brand, Dowling says the PEDIGREE brand had started to lose relevance and share. So she set about reinstating it as the heartland brand for Australian dogs by finding ways for PEDIGREE to ‘do more good’.

    The result was the ground-breaking ‘PEDIGREE Donate with a Mate’ campaign, developed in partnership with the Australian Animal Blood Bank and led by Ambassador Dr. Katrina Warren. The campaign was based around the message that for every dog that donates blood, three other dogs’ lives can be saved.

    That campaign resulted in a 512 per cent increase in awareness of canine blood donation and 859 per cent increase in donor registrations, and received various industry award nominations, including making two shortlists at the 2019 Cannes International Festival of Creativity.

    Then in 2020 Mars Petcare announced PEDIGREE’s partnership with the Western Bulldogs AFL team. Like many campaigns launched earlier this year, it was soon impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, and the subsequent shutdown of competitive sport.

    However, Dowling says she was able to pivot the campaign from game-day activations into meaningful social content.

    “Through our local charity partners PetRescue, we continued to ‘do more good’ by supporting two Western Bulldog’s players with pet adoption, and building a content series designed to encourage potential pet parents to adopt,” Dowling says.

    PetRescue subsequently reported a 450 per cent increase in adoption and foster enquiries in April.


    It wasn’t just campaigns that were impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. With a marketing team split between Melbourne and Wodonga, Dowling needed to establish virtual connections to support the wellbeing of the team, to replace the regular face-to-face connections that had taken place previously. These virtual engagements came in the form of casual ‘coffee connects’, regular team huddles and ‘walk and talk’ meetings.

    “We’ve been able to respond to the most recent restrictions in a more planned manner, ensuring constant support is provided to the team,” Dowling says. “In collaboration with the sales director, we initiated afternoon core hours and re-prioritised the priorities for our team members to provide the support need to navigate the challenges of juggling work life and family life.”

    Dowling says COVID-19 has also presented opportunities to accelerate plans and take advantage of a stronger and more engaged audience.

    “In response to this, I made a key decision to pull forward and up-weight our 2020 investments, resulting in strong share growth across our portfolios,” she says.

    The desire to connect more closely with pet parents saw Mars working with Clemenger BBDO to deploy a social content series to support searching those for health and safety information in the early stages of the pandemic.

    “By leveraging an existing relationship with the Waltham Science institute, we delivered tips and guidance through PEDIGREE and WHISKAS channels to support responsible pet ownership and keep pets in loving homes,” Dowling says. “This activation was first to market across all Mars Petcare units.”

    Overall, she describes the last six months as an exercise in listening and adapting.

    “Each member of my team has faced unique personal circumstances, from juggling home school and work priorities to being isolated from their home country in lock down as a single person,” Dowling says. “It has been critical to flex our approach, to ensure each marketing associate is engaged and able to contribute in spite of the ambiguity and change around them.”


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