CMO50 2022 #16: Joanne Smith

  • Name Joanne Smith
  • Title Chief marketing and innovation officer
  • Company Blackmores Group
  • Commenced role February 2020
  • Reporting Line Chief executive officer
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 70 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Healthcare and FMCG
  • 2021 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    For Joanne Smith, bravery as a leader is being able to hold your ground in the face of opposition and stand up for what’s right when it’s easier not to.

    “I encourage everyone in the team to be curious, to have a strong vision of what success looks like in whatever they are doing, then to keep going until they achieve that vision,” she says. “I encourage them to think differently, to be innovative in problem solving, and to not to settle for anything but the best work.”

    It’s this mindset Smith has brought to her role as chief marketing and innovation officer for Blackmores Group over the last two-and-a-half years. And it’s paying real dividends.

    Operating across 13 markets, Blackmores reported FY22 sales of $649.5 million, reflecting total business growth of 12.6 per cent. Growth in the Blackmores brand lifted 15 per cent year-on-year, market share growth was experienced in all measured markets and over $50m in innovation at a highly accretive gross margin was achieved.

    The business has also reversed decline in key brand health metrics, returning all to growth for the first time in three years.

    Business smarts

    “The CMO role can positively impact company strategy as we can articulate a strong vision for the future and connect every function of the business around it,” Smith says in response to the company’s achievements.

    In Blackmores’ case, Smith has shaped the strategic agenda by leading five global consumer growth platforms with all markets and functions aligned around a consumer-led strategy. To do this, the team tapped data and insight to identify platforms and opportunities for growth, then focused resources behind three core brands and markets.

    “We developed consumer-focused strategies, aligning workplans to these across the business, directing innovation against them and delivering the work,” Smith explains.

    Identifying what workstreams would stop was just as important as identifying the innovation pipeline. Smith has integrated product development and the scientific research program to align with Group strategy and improve speed to market.

    “When I began in the role, I saw our highly qualified scientists were siloed and disconnected from our strategy and consumer. I could see an incredible advantage for Blackmores through partnering marketing and product development together to deliver the innovation program,” she says. “I reassigned workstreams and co-located teams together. Product development and marketing now work in partnership on innovation and strategy, unlocking greater speed to market, more effective use of resources and the development of a three-year innovation pipeline.”

    Leading such a large program of work to reignite Blackmores’ innovation culture and performance required strong partnership with supply chain, regulatory, product development and country managers at every stage.

    It also required data and insight. Using a range of data-based insight techniques such as global macro trend analysis, cultural anthropology, social listening in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia, expert interviews, quantitative screening and concept testing, the team could uncover future health needs and white space opportunities across markets, Smith says.

    “This created insight-driven innovation platforms that were springboards for ideation,” she says. “We developed over 300 ideas, quantitatively screened in China, Indonesia, Thailand and Australia. From there, we identified 80 high-scoring ideas and finalised 36 large global innovations which went into a high value three-year pipeline.”

    The project put consumer insight at the centre, creating a powerful digital database of validated ideas, leading to a highly valuable and scalable innovation pipeline, Smith says.  

    “The biggest outcome from this work was the positive cultural change in our business,” she says. “Thirteen markets came together enabled by data-based decision making to deliver over $50m in innovation in year one at a highly accretive gross margin.

    “Partnering these teams together and redirecting the research investment behind evidence-based consumer innovation has delivered more than $50 million dollars from innovation in F22, Blackmores’ biggest year of innovation ever.”

    A further element in the growth mix is ecommerce. Historically, this had been siloed and inconsistently executed across the Group’s 13 markets. But as Covid saw more and more consumers turning to digital channels, an opportunity to help accelerate ecommerce performance arose. In F22, Blackmores’ ecommerce sales grew from 24 per cent to 29 per cent of total sales, ahead of industry and FMCG norms.  

    Innovative marketing

    It’s this focus on strategy which fed into a range of innovative marketing work spearheaded by Smith. As she notes, the Blackmores brand had been declining across sales, market share and brand health metrics in Australia and needed significant love. The ambition was to return the Blackmores brand to sustainable growth, re-establishing brand positioning and igniting consumer demand, thereby reversing decline of key brand health metrics.

    “We needed to land an effective brand platform for Blackmores demonstrating the effectiveness of a fully integrated communications platform and media strategy in re-establishing brand performance after a long period of decline,” she says. ‘It’s about executing with excellence across all touchpoints.”

    The brand positioning would need to re-engage both customers and employees around how Blackmores serves consumers and improves health outcomes.

    The resulting campaign was based on the insight: ‘My health and the health of my family has never been more important, but I have never felt more disempowered to control it. Good health is at the heart of everything we value in life’.

    “Covid reminded us our health matters most for ourselves and our families. Blackmores’ purpose has always been to empower the best in health naturally. This work brought together our brand purpose and consumer insight,” Smith says. “The campaign was an empowering call to action executed across all brand touchpoints.”

    Smith developed the business case, demonstrating the need for a return to brand support behind this iconic brand. She secured the funding, wrote the creative brief, landed the creative platform, ‘Good Health Changes Everything’ and worked on execution of the campaign with The Monkeys and media strategy with Mindshare.  

    Results included sales growth of +6 per cent total brand and +25 per cent in key categories such as Bio C Immunity. All brand health metrics are now in growth for the first time in three years, powerful proof of the campaign’s impact, Smith says. Market share growth has been reported for the first time in three years.

    “The success of the campaign created the evidence needed to continue media investment in Australian and extend that success into our other markets,” she says. A global rollout of the campaign is now underway.  

    Leadership impact

    While the brand and strategy work has been rewarding, Smith is arguably proudest of the marketing capability program she’s been leading at Blackmores Group. Prior to her arrival, there was no formal training in place for marketers.

    “I am passionate about capability and learning culture and the confidence it builds in teams. I wanted to create a best-in-class program for our marketers that they would love doing and would benefit them wherever their careers took them,” Smith says.

    The initiative turned into Blackmores Vitality Brand Masters, developed for Blackmores and its 90 marketers in 13 markets. The Blackmores Vitality Brand Masters program was accredited by the Australian Marketing Institute in 2021, one of only three organisations in Asia-Pacific to receive this accreditation. By completing the Vitality Brand Masters classes, marketers are awarded points towards their Certified Practicing Marketer (CPM) qualification.

    “Our marketing philosophy is to create a world-class marketing community with the capabilities to build brands with impact connecting consumers around the world with the healing power of nature,” Smith says. “We have trained 120 learners across 13 markets.”

    Vitality Brand Masters is now in its second year, embedded in the business, with a full program planned for 2023.

    In Blackmores’ recent employee engagement survey, the marketing team’s score increased 20 points from the previous year and was ahead of global benchmarks for the first time. Turnover has also declined in the past year even in a competitive job market.

    “The approach has reshaped the marketing team, bringing digital marketing, ecommerce, insights, brand marketing and product development together. This has improved collaboration, speed to market and consumer centricity,” Smith adds.

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