The skillsets the CMO50 are building across marketing functions right now

Ten of Australia's top chief marketing officers share the sought-after skills they're working to foster across their marketing teams


Growing emphasis on soft skills, empathy and team resiliency, along with better data and customer behavioural insight, are just some of the ways modern marketing leaders are looking to strengthen the commercial muscle of their functions right now.

As part of this year’s CMO50 program recognising Australia’s most innovative and effective marketing leaders, CMO asked our top 50 and Ones to Watch what sorts of skills were in the spotlight in 2020 and going into 2021. While the list includes plenty of capabilities you might expect to hear from marketers today – such as digital and technology prowess, a more sophisticated ability to interpret and use data, and commercial acumen – the rise of more people-oriented skillsets, such as resiliency, adaptability, willingness to learn and iterate and empathy for others have been heightened by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here, we share how 10 of our leading CMO50 alumni are working to build across their marketing functions in order to get through this most unprecedented of years and be prepared for the New Year.

Elevating empathy

Verizon Media director brand innovation and marketing A/NZ, Anny Havercroft, has seen the COVID-19 global pandemic elevate the importance of soft skills across her team, most notably empathy.

“Heightened empathy is the new superpower,” she claims. “There aren’t many moments in history where humanity is facing the same dilemma simultaneously, yet our personal situations are all so different.  My team comes from diverse backgrounds and a major learning from COVID-19 was navigating and recalibrating expectations of each other when we started remote working. 

“Without the structure of a typical working day in the office, the need to empathise with people’s various circumstances is necessary to build strong and productive relationships.  It’s also a skill that will enhance the way we connect to our customers and consumers.”

The right mindset

International Justice Mission Australia chief marketing and partnerships officer, Bianca Bryson, said mindset may not be traditionally considered a ‘skillset’, but she sees it as crucial to ensure the success of the team.

“A mindset that takes hold of new market opportunities and marketing innovations or platforms that move with market trends is key,” she said. “A team that sees the obstacle but builds a strategy to work through, over or around it. A team that thrives in challenges.

“This season has been an accelerated opportunity to do this. Industry standards /practices are no longer the benchmark, instead an innovative, creative and strategic team that adapts to the external environment is key for our future and the ear mark of a high performing marketing team. A group of people that both recognise and deploy what has made us successful in the past, while also being open minded to seize practices from across multiple industries to test their relevancy to their consumer.”

Regarding specific skillsets, the most immediate for Bryson is increasing data-driven insights for customer engagement, followed by further upgrading martech resources for automated journeys, to deepen IJLM’s customer relationships.

From EQ to AQ, or the adversity quotient

In a similar vein, RMIT chief customer experience officer, Chaminda Ranasinghe, highlighted building his team’s ‘adversity quotient’, or AQ, as a key priority this year.

“At the start of the year when we set out our agenda, we knew that it was going to be a year unlike any other. I knew from my previous experiences, that building my team and each individual’s resilience was going to be critical if we were to harness this adversity,” he explained.

“As such, we have been building up our team’s ability to turn obstacles into opportunities by utilising the Adversity Quotient methodology [Dr Paul Stoltz]. AQ is a widely adopted method for measuring and strengthening resilience. As a practitioner, I have personally led workshops and introduced tools and techniques to build our individual and combined AQ. As important as your IQ and EQ might be, I have found that AQ can be a more reliable predictor of success particularly given the challenges we face.

Embracing the unknown

It’s a similar story of the right kind of thinking for Tourism and Events Queensland executive director of global marketing and #13 on this year's CMO50, Michael Branagh. He nominated the ability to manage and deal with ambiguity as a specific area of focus for his team.

“At this time, we have had to accept that there may never be a clear-cut answer to the problems needing to be solved for,” he said of the 2020 year. “With uncertainty around border openings, activity budgets, messaging and timing of activity, learning to deal with so much uncertainty, yet still being able to act with confidence and keep things moving forward, is a requirement today.”

Linking brand and performance

For Catch Group CMO and #23 on this year’s CMO50 list, Ryan Gracie, an understanding of the cross-pollination of brand and performance marketing, and how they are both interlinked is critical for his marketing function.

“We are in an age where brand building, on traditional channels can be viewed as 'old fashioned' by new marketers, there can be a view that 'if you can't explicitly measure it, then how can it be beneficial',” he said. “Our team is made up of scientists and artists, performance and brand marketers, and I want them to fully comprehend the intersection of these two disciplines and how one serves the other.”

Analytical prowess

Top of the list of skills for Microsoft CMO and communications director, Pip Arthur, is the need to continue to build her team’s analytical capability. 

“We have so much data now at our fingertips to understand how audiences are reacting, interacting and engaging and the types of activities having the biggest impact,” she pointed out. “We are better equipped than ever before to go shoulder-to-shoulder with sales, partnering to drive business growth. That requires all our marketers to have capability and confidence around data and it’s a priority for us all.”

Contextual relevance

Across National Australia Bank’s marketers, executive group marketing leader, Suzana Ristevski, is working to improve the ability to gather and provide context.

“Of course, data and insights play a large part in understanding business challenges and customer needs and wants, but actively listening and observing customers and colleagues gives you a broader view of what is going on,” she commented. “My team have often heard me say context adds 100 points of IQ. Context creates much better decision making.”

Commercial acumen

For former D’Longhi Group marketing director and now marketing director ANZPI at Brown-Forman, Caroline Bonpain, a commercial mindset remains a significant skill marketing needs to continue building up.

“Marketing is critical to drive sales and needs to be in the driving seat. That means in terms of skills we’re building on strategic and financial skills, not just the pure marketing skills,” she said. “The other priority is digital acumen and finally, operating as one team with sales.”

Fostering a growth orientation

Putting it another way Hudson CMO APAC, Vivianne Arnold, said developing a growth mindset is critical. In turn, this helps her marketers to explore new business models, thereby becoming proactive business partners to the recruitment firm.

Alongside this, having clients and candidates as the centre of gravity is another imperative she’s working on. Finally, she says she’s helping her team to make data-driven decisions, “even when the data might not be perfect”.

Speedy confidence

Tabcorp executive general manager of marketing, customer and product, Luke Waldren, also has a couple of things on his marketing skills list that are arguably intertwined. The first is to build speed.

“As a digital and retail business with operations across all jurisdictions bar WA, we work under a range of risk and compliance obligations. Speed in execution is a skillset we need to continue to compete with digital-only players,” he said.

Hand-in-hand is confidence. “We’ve seen terrific results from people having confidence in their own opinions and ability to create a difference. We are going to do more to foster this,” Waldren adds.  

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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