7 ways the CMO50 are ensuring they remain future-fit

Just what does it take for chief marketing officers to remain great marketing leaders? We asked this year's CMO50 2020 alumni

There’s no doubt marketing leadership has undergone massive transformation over the last 5-10 years with the rise of marketing technology, data and digitally driven marketing tools and insights, a push to personalise and be more customer experience-led, and more.

Not only have CMOs and their marketing functions had to adjust, build up new skills and ways of working and embrace rapid innovation, they’ve also had to keep learning and adjusting as things continue to change and transform. Throw in a global pandemic and whole new approach to working and executing campaigns, and you have a perfect storm of factors contributing to the CMO’s rapidly evolving role.

So what does it take to ensure you remain a future-fit CMO?

As part of this year’s CMO50 program recognising Australia’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders, we asked our CMOs to share what they’re doing to ensure they remain relevant and at the top of their game as marketing chiefs over the next 1-2 years.

1. Be holistic about health

“This year has taught me holistic health,” our CMO50 #1 for 2020 and ABC director of audiences, Leisa Bacon, says. “My whole team is doing a walking challenge at the moment. We have to get outdoors, be fit and healthy. I’ve learnt if you stay healthy physically and mentally, you’ll do a better job.”  

Another important learning from the COVID-19 crisis Bacon sees ensuring her future fitness as a leader is focusing on ways to bring the team together. Given ABC’s marketing and audiences teams remain remote workers, mechanisms have included digital newsletters, virtual standups and a raft of fun online activities.

“For me, the future is that very holistic approach as leader. It can’t just be about the job – my job is to looks after everybody and their health and particularly mental health are key,” Bacon continues. “All of my leaders have done a mental health first aid course this year, which has helped us better understand what is going on and how to help each other.

“Your imperative as a leader increasingly is about high EQ and IQ and thinking more holistically about people.”

For Bacon, this also means embracing a constant learning mindset, and she notes the COVID-19 crisis has also been a good time to accelerate and encourage learning. Bacon herself has participated in more online courses around marketing and technology, and actively dived into the wealth of virtual content that’s become available through digitisation of local and international events.

2. Build the softer skills

In a similar vein, Samsung CMO, Josh Grace, is looking to build softer skills, such as empathy.

“As marketers, we can often spend a lot of time and resources trying to be at the forefront of technology - doing the latest coolest thing,” he commented. “Don’t get me wrong, this certainly has utility, for example in finding ways to enhance our customer experiences. But in reality, we need to continue to focus on the things that aren’t going to change.

“Despite the challenges posed by 2020, human behaviour will continue to be driven by emotion. How do we build our soft skills – our empathy in particular? How do we make sure we can really walk in our customer’s shoes and deliver value to them in a way that is meaningful? This doesn’t change in good times or bad. You want to win, stay focused on that.”

Carsales chief marketing officer, Kellie Cordner, highlighted the COVID-19 crisis lockdown left all of us grappling with new ways of working.

“This means the presence and impact you took for granted in an office becomes a heightened challenge in the remote,” she said. “I think my future is only as good as what I develop in my team, so finding the way to keep the energy, the momentum and the feeling of being part of something bigger is what I’m grappling with. Building new rituals, connections and the informal mortar key to high-functioning teams is my focus in this unknown way of working.”

3. Stay self-aware

Amaysim CMO and one of this year’s CMO50 Ones to Watch, Renee Garner, sees self-awareness as key not just for marketing leaders, but anyone trying to be a future-fit human. To do this, she’s engaging her curiosity about who and how she behaves to help deepen alignment between her environment and choices and what sparks and energises her.

In turn, it’s this focus that will help inspire the team and ensure they work more effectively with others, she says.

“It's all about the ‘what’ questions: What did I learn? What could I have done differently? What made me react that way? What do I need to do to improve this?” Garner asked. “‘What’ questions are my mirror; they are confronting, enlightening and also by their nature require feedback from others. I'm a legit feedback junkie and it's an addiction I don't plan on kicking until the day I die.”

Northern Territory Tourism executive director of marketing, Tony Quarmby, continually seeks advice and support wherever he can get it.

“We’re all in a new world and learning on our feet and everyone has different viewpoints, approaches and learnings that could assist me,” he said. “For example, I’ve been talking to new and existing partners about ways to do things differently that may have previously been considered heresy in the travel industry. But in this new world, all options now seem to be on the table.

“I’m lucky to know great leaders who I can lean on and learn from and I will continue to do so to maximise the scarce opportunities that will allow me to support Territory tourism businesses by driving demand to their doors.”

4. Keep learning

Learning as a mindset and pursuit is in fact a consistent theme across all of this year’s CMO50 leaders. Mimecast marketing director A/NZ, Daniel McDermott, pointed out innovation in martech and the use of data continues to evolve quickly.

“Being able to understand these new opportunities and translate them into how they align to achieving our vision and business goals will allow me to keep challenging the status quo and continue to propel business growth,” he said. “To do this, I stay connected to smarter people than me who are on the leading edge of what’s possible and I learn from them. The next step is to take these market innovations and turn them into new revenues streams.”  

Similarly, Brownes Dairy marketing and sales leader, Natalie Sarich-Dayton, recognises the constant need to build digital might. She pointed out it’s not just marketing pursuing this aim, either.

“Recognising digital transformation in our organisation can’t rest with the marketing department alone, I’ve recently completed the Instead Leading Digital Marketing Strategy Virtual Programme alongside our CEO,” she explained. “It’s a great leap together that ensures we are more holistic in our approach to customer centricity at Brownes Dairy and embracing agility when structuring our business.”

Sweat chief brand and marketing officer, Mike Scott, has embraced quarterly digital and data immersion via coursework/workshops that are proactively facilitated by strategic partners such as Google, Facebook, plus the fitness app’s creative and media agencies. LinkedIn learning has also been a rich resource for high quality curated learning. 

“Fortunately, doing the job within a digitally centric and data led business ensures that I and we continue to think and act horizontally to position the business for future success,” he added.

Westpac chief digital and marketing officer, Martine Jager, agreed a relentless focus on digital is critical to stay future fit. Complementing this is curiosity.

“I have always, and continue to, surround myself with experts both within my team and with the agencies and consultants we work with – this diversity of thinking helps keep us all future fit,” she continued.

“I also extremely committed to invest in the development of my team helping them keep pace with changes in the marketing arena, build their financial acumen and nurture and develop their emotional intelligence. Doing means I am always learning too. Making sure that both myself and my leaders are educated on the role of AI as it matures is important. We need to continue to be curious and focused on its potential role across our marketing activities as rapidly evolves.”

5. Actively listen

Hipages chief customer officer, Stuart Tucker, said curiosity must be complemented by an ability to listen. “I’m trying to do a lot of listening,” he said of his efforts to keep future fit. This includes listening to customers. As a leader sitting among the sales and service teams at hipages, Tucker does this through real-time customer research and feedback.

Another key group to listen to are colleagues and peers, Tucker said. “I’m always open to hearing from other brands and I keep a broad network of marketing people whom I respect,” he said.  

At hipages meanwhile, top of the list is CEO and co-founder, Roby Sharon-Zipster. “As a founder, he has a deep understanding of the local and global market,” Tucker said.  

It’s also vital to listen to the team. “They’re a young, vibrant team with deep skills and comfort with data. I learn as much from them as they learn from me,” Tucker said.  

6. Find a mentor

NAB executive, group marketing, Suzana Ristevski, is another CMO striving to remain curious as she observes, listens and reads all sorts of materials. She also pointed to the younger generation as a key cohort worth listening to and to do this, she’s going to pick a few reverse mentors in the next year.

“I’m always blown away at the smarts of our more junior team members. I learn a lot from them,” she said.  

Fitness First head of marketing, Matt Fletcher, also believes in having the support of mentors and is looking to build connections with experienced professionals he can learn from.

“The sheer volume of information can be overwhelming, so having people who can provide perspective and act as a sounding board on which to measure hypotheses and ideas is very important to me,” he said. 

7. Deepen commercial acumen

For REA Group chief audience and marketing officer, Melina Cruickshank, being a future-fit CMO means remaining tightly linked to the overarching business strategy.

“My ability to help drive business growth depends heavily on the strength of robust, collaborative partnerships I build across the organisation,” she said. “The modern CMO establishes mutual accountability and a shared vision with other executives and is a key link between the business and the customer.”

According to The a2 Milk Company chief growth officer, Susan Massasso, being a future-fit CMO has a lot to do with being a commercially fit business person.Working at The a2 Milk Company gives me significant on-the-job learning opportunities. It truly widens my horizons to such a broad array of commercial experiences that enhances my development as a growth and brand champion,” she said.  

“I’m now wanting to round that out further, in particular from a commercial perspective, and am going back to school for the first time in a long time. I’m commencing the company director’s course in 2021 and continuing to build linkages to interesting business people that I can further learn from, in particular outside the marketing fraternity, in order to strengthen my commercial acumen.  

“I’m such a passionate builder of brands, and ultimately believe if I can marry that with greater commercial acumen, it can only enhance my ability to strengthen our brand and build a more commercially sound business model.”  

Lion Dairy and Drinks marketing and innovation director, Darryn Wallace, has just completed his company’s director’s qualification with the Australian Institute of Company Directors and also sees that commercial acumen as a muscle CMOs must work harder to build.  

“I am looking to continue to build my business development leadership with effective commercial and organisational leadership to truly harness repeatable and sustainable organisational growth,” he said of his plans for progression as a CMO. “Fostering a strategic alignment and positive mindset will provide the best environment for the best execution.”

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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