​CMO’s top 12 marketing leadership profiles of 2020

We dive into our top dozen CMO interviews, from ABC ot Mars Wrigley, Lenovo, IAG, Suncorp and more

One of the staples of our editorial calendar is our profiles of chief marketing officers locally and internationally. And boy has it been an interesting year for these interviews.

Faced with rapidly changing communications, customer and market conditions, marketing leaders have arguably had one of the toughest – and most exhilarating – years on record. The stories of their efforts to drive brand and marketing innovation in the face of crisis are both inspiring as well as thoughtful.

Here, in honour of the 12 days of Christmas, we present our top 12 CMO profiles of 2020, based on our most-read articles of the year.

CMO50 2020 #1: Leisa Bacon

One of the paradoxes of the COVID-19 crisis is the positives it’s created out of negatives. It’s something ABC’s director of audiences and our 2020 CMO50 number one, Leisa Bacon, is very conscious of.

On the one hand, the pandemic has positively impacted the ABC by strengthening appreciation of why we have a public broadcaster in this country. The ABC has never been stronger, with huge growth in reach and quality/distinctiveness over this period. On a brand purpose and social advocacy front, the crisis also cemented the ABC’s critical role in leading national conversations around key issues such as the environment or mental health.

“When your audiences grow, there is nothing more fulfilling for a team whose job is to respond to audiences to be part of that,” she says.  “Yes, we have had challenges, we have had to react quickly, and we threw away some of the plans to make sure we were appropriately responding.

“But at the start of COVID, I still remember saying to my team: We will never have this opportunity again guys. This is brand building, audience building – it’s the opportunity of our generation and we have to make this work.”

Check out the full profile of this year’s #1 CMO50 marketing leader here             

Changing the perception of marketing from brand to revenue generation

There’s a positive side to come out of the COVID-19 crisis for Hudson’s chief marketing officer, Vivianne Arnold, in the way she’s repositioned the professional services’ marketing function from content and brand to revenue generator.

It’s a situation many marketers – well those outside of FMCG anyway – will be familiar with: Either being relegated to a comms and content focus, or being “elbowed out by other functions who claim their territory”, Arnold says. And it was arguably a situation this CMO could have wound up with at the recruitment firm a little less than a year ago.

But an appetite for looking at things differently, pivoting quickly to answer client and candidate needs, and strong leadership during the COVID-19 firmly changed all that.

“Previously, we were seen as content generators, thought leadership and brand. Now, we’re seen as product development, monetisation, rapid response, and as driving real revenue,” Arnold tells CMO. “We’re taking new products to market and new monetising services that weren’t available previously. I have loved having the opportunity to show what we are capable of.” 

Here, Arnold shares exactly what she’s turn to turn marketing’s reputation around.

How Mars Wrigley's marketing chief is navigating unchartered consumer waters

There are plenty of “red herrings and wild goose chases” marketers can pursue in the name of brand building, Mars Wrigley Australia marketing director, Ben Hill, believes.

“Our job as marketers is not just how best to invest the company’s money in marketing programs, but also not to waste it,” he says. “I think there has been a lot of wastage by brands spending on messaging that’s not consistent or coherent with what they stand for.”

It’s the pursuit of strategic and commercially led marketing from years of brand experience across brands such as Bega Cheese, Mondelez International, Nestle and SPC Ardmona that Hill brought to Mars Wrigley when he joined in mid-February. In his first few months, which coincided with the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Hill says the overarching plan for marketing has held firm.

“When I came in, there was a clear strategy around where we’re trying to get to in the next couple of years. And that’s what the business needed us to deliver on,” he says.  

Read more about Ben Hill’s marketing approach for the snacking giant here.

What Lenovo has done to keep generating leads in a pandemic

Despite the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent clampdown on conferences and seminars, lead generation still needs to come from somewhere.

Much of that effort has been directed online, which has led to massive growth in content and webinars. But as many brands have quickly learned, they have not been alone in going digital, and find their messages drowning in a sea of content. So for B2B brands with long sales processes and complex buyer considerations, gaining and holding a prospect’s attention online is increasingly difficult.

This is the situation faced by Sachin Bhatia, the Singapore-based chief marketing officer of Lenovo Data Center Group for Asia-Pacific. As a company that sells high-end computer infrastructure to large organisations, Lenovo DCG found itself needing to strengthen its connection to would-be customers, and especially those planning to step up their investments in infrastructure to support ongoing digital transformation initiatives.

Bhatia’s challenge was to find a way to replace traditional face-to-face events without being lost in the rapid rise in produced by competitors. Find out how he achieved this here.

Blackmores chief marketing and innovation officer on leading the growth agenda

Blackmores’ first chief marketing and innovation officer has her sights set on reframing marketing as the company’s growth engine as the ASX-listed vitamins giant charts a new global course. 

Speaking to CMO just weeks into her new role at Blackmores, Joanne Smith said the position is a significant shift for the business and reflective of wider changes occurring in the company’s strategic direction. The c-level title sees Smith not only gain the global marketing remit but also product innovation, reporting directly to the CEO.

“This is a reimagining of both marketing and product as key to delivering positive growth outcomes for the business,” she said. “This is about focusing marketing and product innovation teams on delivering that growth agenda.”

Find out more about Smith’s plans for Blackmores marketing and brand here.

Behind the scenes of The Coffee Club's brand - and culture - refresh

In July, The Coffee Club officially unveiled a new brand platform and visual look, the latest step in a strategic refresh program that’s arguably only grown in scope and momentum during the COVID-19 crisis.

The Coffee Club chief brand officer, Megan Magill, explained to CMO campaign aspects supporting the brand refresh had been due to debut in March, the week the COVID-19 lockdown struck in Australia and New Zealand. Having made the decision to pause media given uncertainty around trading conditions for its 400-strong café network, a softer relaunch approach ensued.

To date, the new brand identity, incorporating a fresh palette, logo design and photography, has rolled out in digital channels and multiple touch points in-store as well as product design. It’s also supported by the brand platform, ‘Your happy place’. The work was done in partnership with brand and creative studio, Accompany.

But in addition to the external look and feel, the brand refresh is supported by a raft of significant internal, menu, operational, system, loyalty program and customer insight changes spearheaded by Magill to rejuvenate The Coffee Club brand locally as well as support international expansion.

Here, the chief brand officer talks through the brand overhaul and how COVID-19 has helped drive innovation for the QSR.

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: Jane Power

As part of series one of our Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO series, we caught up with Jane Power, who stepped into the director of global marketing and transformation role at GenesisCare in April 2020.

GenesisCare has Jane working across Europe, US and Australia and is a leading healthcare provider specialising in the treatment of cancer, heart disease, sleep and respiratory conditions. Jane is responsible for the global marketing strategy and the introduction of new digital platforms and ways of working. These are aimed at helping deliver new ways for both patients and doctors to engage with the brand and its services driving growth and an exceptional patient and doctor experience.

PrIor to this, Jane was chief customer officer for Greencross, working across both the vet and retail (Petbarn) business.

In this video interview, Power shares her marketing strategy and customer approach, the challenges of B2B marketing, and her passion for championing female leadership and gender equality.

Building a customer engine and marketing culture at Allianz

Nick Adams’ remit upon joining Allianz as its marketing chief seems clear enough: Help drive growth, lift the insurance brand’s consumer business strength, and get the customer firmly on the agenda.

Yet three years into his first CMO role and with some strong results now on the board, Adams admits he’s had moments where he lost confidence as he worked to transform Allianz’s marketing function. In fact, he describes lessons in leadership as the biggest part of his personal journey so far.

“My favourite saying is ‘context changes everything’. I went from a company with a very large marketing budget and 40,000 employees to a company with 4000 employees and smaller revenue in Australia. I thought it’d be easier – but it was 10 times harder,” Adams told CMO in his first interview since joining Allianz.

“In the early days, I misjudged the context round how to engage the team, selling in the transformation, and made some missteps. It took me a while to readjust to the new context and delivery. I’m now getting that momentum up. It’s fair to say I lost my confidence along the way.”

Luckily for Allianz, Adams stayed the course, driven by a belief in the journey he’d set. Here’s his story to date.

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: Suncorp's Mim Haysom

The crisis we've all had to navigate our way through in 2020 has not only changed customer behaviours in recent times, it's also a catalyst for changing marketing dynamics as we recover and find our way to a new normal.

In this episode of Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO, Suncorp executive general manager brand and marketing, Mim Haysom, shares how she's adapted her brand strategy and what she believes it'll take as marketers in the next phase.

In a career spanning two decades, Mim has become recognised as one of Australia’s pre-eminent leaders in marketing. In her role at Suncorp, Mim leads Suncorp’s network of brands, which include Suncorp, AAMI, GIO, Apia, Shannons and Vero.

Check out the full interview here.

Conversations over a cuppa with CMO: IAG's Brent Smart

Leaning into brand building is a key way IAG's NRMA and CGU businesses are getting through the COVID-19 pandemic, chief marketing officer, Brent Smart, told CMO in the thick of the crisis.

In this episode of Conversations over a Cuppa with CMO, we hear from the dynamic marketing leader about the brand lessons from these tough times, and how to balance the short and long term in the midst of a crisis.

Brent Smart is CMO of IAG, the Australian insurance giant with leading brands including NRMA and CGU. According to WARC, NRMA is currently the most awarded financial services brand for creativity and effectiveness in the world. Previously Brent spent 20 years in the advertising business in Australia, New Zealand and the USA.

Check out this dynamic interview here.

Building sustainable brand connection at Kathmandu

More and more, consumers are looking for brands they can have an emotional connection with, says Kathmandu’s chief customer officer, Eva Barrett. And for the Australia and New Zealand-based outdoor apparel brand and retailer, credibility around sustainability will be key to achieving this as it works to build engagement locally and abroad.

Barrett became Kathmandu’s first dedicated customer chief in February, a role that encompasses all aspects of marketing as well as customer service, ecommerce, digital, PR and social.

“There is a clear desire to grow a global brand,” Barrett says. “Equally, it’s vital to continue to building a strong brand here in A/NZ.”

The key is brand differentiation and tying that to a higher purpose people care about, Barrett says. Here, she explains how she’s working to do just that.

How this marketing leader approached an IPO

Becoming the Salesforce or Workday of security is firmly in the sights of cybersecurity company, CrowdStrike. And judging by its successful initial public offering (IPO) last June, valuing the business at nearly US$7 billion, the market agrees the cloud native provider has the goods to achieve its mission.

For CrowdStrike global CMO, Johanna Flower, the IPO shared commonalities with her former experience selling Websense to a private equity firm in 2013.

“It is exciting – CrowdStrike has been on this journey, and an IPO was always a possible outcome. It wasn’t the only outcome, but it was considered a great one,” she told CMO on a visit to Sydney. “One thing I would say is I felt we started to prepare for it early on, in terms of getting the story together. This is your biggest branding moment, and all of a sudden you have whole new audiences – financial analysts, the banking world, and so on.”  

In Flower’s eyes, the most important thing was defining the narrative CrowdStrike wanted to take to market. Of course, it’s not just the CMO making such calls, and she noted significant collaboration with the head of product as well as senior executives.

Here, Flower talks through the strategy she used for the IPO, plus her marketing ambitions more generally.

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