CMO50 2022 #15: Jo Feeney

  • Name Jo Feeney
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company Michael Hill Jeweller
  • Commenced role March 2021
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 29 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Retail
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Jo Feeney was at a career crossroads before joining Michael Hill Jeweller. Ultimately she chose change - at a time when most were avoiding change.

    “I was discussing opportunities in the US with my previous employer, whilst this could have been a fantastic and challenging role – I ultimately chose change. That change provided me the amazing chance to work for a brand I feel a real affinity to, another international brand and one which was on a journey of transformation, an opportunity to truly shift brand positioning and to make a tangible difference,” she explains.

    “Had I not made that choice, I’m not sure I would have experienced the personal growth and satisfaction I have today.”

    Bravery in the face of challenge is an often-mentioned concept in marketing, but is rarely acted upon in favour of safety. As Feeney explains, it’s staying true to an idea and not taking the easy road.

    “Bravery is often misjudged or misconstrued as doing things at odds with the brand, but this doesn’t provide a good definition of the term in my mind. Bravery can be far simpler. In simple terms, it can be staying true to an idea even when it’s watered down with multiple layers of feedback, or multiple stakeholders, trusting your instinct is brave – speaking your mind is brave. 

    “I encourage my team to have a voice, a point of view, and to not be afraid of mistakes; if we never try and fail, we haven’t pushed hard enough. Fail fast, fail forward, this is how we learn and get better. Bravery can be as simple as not taking the easy path."

    Innovative marketing 

    Feeney has been at the helm of a number of successful initiatives since joining Michael Hill in 2021.

    Loyalty programs are key to success in this crowded market. The Michael Hill loyalty program, ‘Brilliance’, has grown by 134 per cent or 843,000 members since Feeney joined Michael Hill and has reached 1.4 million members.

    “Brilliance members are communicated with via multiple channels in a personalised way using key behavioural segmentation cues, RFM and key personal dates. We have further developed our loyalty rewards, a second phase strategy, to keep our members engaged and connected to the brand,” she explains.

    Similarly, in last year’s Christmas Campaign (November/ December), Michael Hill achieved its best trading results on record with 13 per cent growth on the prior year, and an eight per cent sales increase on its prior benchmark. 

    “This result came after a major shift in strategic and creative output across all channels, a key shift in channel mix including the stopping of catalogue letterbox distribution; enabling a greater spend on digital and brand. Michael Hill was searched more than ever before during the Christmas period, six per cent more than the previous benchmark [2019].”

    Finally, 'The Jeweller’s' campaign recently launched to drive re-appraisal of the Michael Hill brand through the lens of Heritage and Bridal stories, with the goal for Michael Hill to be perceived as an aspirational, iconic and timeless jewellery brand. 

    “Ultimately, for more people to choose Michael Hill over independent jewellers, the initial reaction to this campaign in market is enormous. The first week of this campaign saw the fourth most google searches containing “hill”.”

    Data-driven maturity

    Measurement has been key to Feeney’s strategy. This has included brand tracking, segmentation, a new customer data platform, loyalty metrics and paid search optimisation.

    Michael Hill launched a new platform, a first for the business, to enable measurement of the brand against key drivers of growth – and has been the driver of key initiatives across the wider business as a result.

    “We also re-defined our customer segmentation by understanding our current and, importantly, our future customer. This has provided a new north star for our communications, media strategies and design teams.”

    In the past 12 months, the brand launched a new customer data platform (CDP), a first for the business and one of the biggest undertakings across marketing, IT and ecommerce ever in the brand's history. 

    “The CDP has reshaped how we run marketing campaigns, with over 130 attributes to help enable greater personalised communications, a better customer experience at the shop front – giving out store teams a single customer view and understanding how we can better serve our customers,” Feeney says.

    The brand also redefined its loyalty program through predictive analytics, understanding the right message, right product, right customer and right time to deliver more targeted communications and therefore more loyal and profitable customers. As a result, its loyalty customers have a higher basket spend, and visit more often with a higher profit margin.

    Optimisation of paid search is generating a 10 times better return on ad spend than purely focusing on ecommerce conversions, Feeney says.

    “This includes the creation of a newly formed data insights team which reports to me, however their scope of work spans the entirety of the business. A key strategic pillar for the business is to better know our customers. Through the creation of this team, we are surfacing deeper insights into our customers and business performance, helping to make more informed decisions," she says.

    “You have to know the right questions to ask to get to the right data. And too much data can be debilitating. I have a philosophy of no data is shared without insight. Ultimately, I believe it is a combination of data, insights and instinct. Instinct is invaluable in life, and marketing - marketing is all about understanding the human psyche. Our instinct gets better over time, perhaps there is merit in the saying 'another year older, another year wiser'. Data is sometimes a privilege not all marketers are afforded, so your gut becomes your choice.”

    Customer-led value

    Michael Hill customers say its window displays are one of the largest sources of visit inspiration. So as part of its aspirational journey, the team has focused on its flagship store windows targeting customer segments identified as large growth opportunities. 

    It redefined the hierarchy of messaging, giving customers a compelling reason to believe, instead of leading with price. “We created a strong digital integration showcasing campaign and brand messages rather than tactical offers. Aspirational imagery was used to inspire and promote ways to wear. The result was a significant improvement in shopfront conversion,” Feeney says.

    Along with this, strategic product selection and aspirational product styling with a dependence on layering, diamonds and personalisation, showcases Michael Hill as a house of diamonds and the perfect gifting/self-purchase destination for opportunity segments.

    The March Diamonds campaign led the way and saw an increase in ATV, 13.4 per cent above average for the year. The focus particularly on flagship stores from the Diamonds campaign onwards also saw these stores achieve a significant improvement in shopfront conversion.

    This was all assisted by improved training, and ‘best in class’ campaign manuals educated store teams on best practice resulting in improved store execution and compliance. Training manuals sent to stores by campaign had ‘step by step’ instructions for decal installation, product styling and merchandising standards, supported by video content as required.

    Commercial and growth acumen

    Along with all the above initiatives, Michael Hill’s top of mind awareness has increased by 19 per cent and Michael Hill’s share of ‘Brilliance’ customers' last jewellery purchase has also increased 19 per cent in the year since brand tracking was initiated.

    “The focus on elevating the brand in my first 18 months at Michael Hill and targeting new customer groups who place a greater emphasis on quality, sustainability and trend has seen Michael Hill’s average basket increase by 13 per cent,” Feeney says.

    Leadership impact

    Since starting at Michael Hill, Feeney has focused on educating the wider business on the power of brand to drive growth. The team focused on several key areas to drive the overall marketing agenda, while using new segmentation as a North Star for the aspirational brand journey. The first was re-balancing brand building and sales activation mix to drive growth, with less focus on price and promotion to a greater focus on product and brand.

    Elevating communications and realigning the media strategy while changing the channel mix saw an increase in share of voice of over +27 per cent, with no change in overall budget year-on-year.

    “We needed to broaden our awareness to be first-to-mind overall and in our priority segments. A shift in our channel mix has seen top of mind awareness increase +19 per cent," Feeney comments. “Emotion is more powerful than rational advertising. This has been a key focus to drive greater storytelling, with Cubery calling out our Christmas advertising as number three in Australia based on their independent scoring. Mother’s Day 2022 was also our most successful Mother’s Day campaign in MHJ history.”

    Michael Hill runs engagement surveys, and the benchmark, particularly in retail is very high for the team, over 82 per cent engagement. This is driven from the top down via the CEO, Daniel Bracken, and supported through the executive team.

    “We focus on training our teams, linked in learning, specialised leadership training and training for groups and individuals. Our company values are a key performance driver also; we have fundamental beliefs in driving success through how you behave, and what we are there to deliver, which is all focused on being the people behind the moments which matter," Feeney says.

    “We have recently completed the MBTI program for all of the marketing function to enable better working together, but also across the wider organisation to enable better collaboration.

    “Investing in people, resetting our agency model [within the same agency] and holding our collective team to account for the outcomes, not just blaming the 'agency' for what wasn’t working. I don’t like the client word, I never have and we aren’t always right. Believing I could turn around a broken relationship, we did. Because respect, compassion, communication is available to us all.”

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