CFO World

CMO interview: What AGL’s marketing chief is doing to embrace ambiguity

GM of product and marketing talks about the soft skills, brand strategy, technology and personalisation plans helping fuelling the energy company's customer transformation plans
Alison Wild

Alison Wild


Finding people who can “thrive in the grey” has become an increasingly important element of any marketing leader’s recruitment make-up, AGL’s Alison Wild believes.

“The ability to deal with very high levels of ambiguity across teams is a key skillset today,” the GM of product and marketing tells CMO, pointing to the significant changes occurring to marketing thanks to digital and customer-led transformation.

“It’s finding people who can thrive in the grey. Because it is ambiguous, trying and finding the right use cases that deliver the value for the organisation and customers. It’s not necessarily obvious or easy.”

Wild was appointed GM of product and marketing position at AGL nearly six months ago. The role is one of a number of restructured, executive-level positions introduced as part of an operating structure overhaul in early 2017. AGL now operates two divisions: Wholesale Markets, and Customer Markets (retail).

Under the new structure, Customer Markets is headed by chief customer officer, Melissa Reynolds, who in turn is supported by Wild, a GM of digital, GM of customer operations, GM of customer experience transformation, and GM of sales and go-to-market.


Previously, the retail arm maintained a GM of sales and marketing, a role formerly held bySandra de Castro,who has now joined Vocus as chief executive of consumer.

The realignment of AGL comes after the ASX-listed group unveiled a $300 million customer experience transformation program aimed at putting digital at the heart of the organisation and the way it engages with customers. The program has three core components: Investing in foundational capability, such as IT systems; digital adoption; and building more ‘signature moments’ for customers around their experiences with AGL.

It’s this personalised retail quest that’s fuelling Wild’s approach at AGL. But equally, it’s been at the core of her career in recent years.

Prior to joining AGL, Wild was director of health insurance marketing at Bupa, and executive sponsor of the group’s customer personalisation program. She has more than 20 years of experience in marketing services, spending the first decade of her career in banking across product and strategy before switching to insurance, then a year’s stint at Telstra.

“As general manager of product and marketing, the role at AGL offers a broader remit than what you often see in marketing roles,” she comments. This includes marketing, product and pricing, brand, data and decisioning, and insights and performance. “It’s a meaty, what you might call old-fashioned marketing role.”

Personalisation in practice

Five months in, Wild sees AGL’s progressive values and very strong customer ambitions as driving forces behind everything she’s striving to achieve. The overarching priority is turning AGL’s vision to be a personalised retailer into practice. This requires a combination of technology and capability, and Wild points to work already done on segmentation as a step forward.

“We’re going through the process now of integrating this into our other data platforms, so we can use it as the basis for our planning and create a fantastic foundation for personalisation,” she explains. “We have three views of our segments, which we’ve built over the last year, and those are now actively coming into our data platforms.”

The way AGL thinks about segmentation had to change with the shifting energy sector profile, Wild says.

“There is an enormous amount of segmentation around how people interact with energy, and wanting to control and manage usage over time,” she says. “The other important overlay that’s changing is people’s attitudes towards technology. We are an industry that will be disrupted over time – we’re already in transition. It’s interesting to look at how we take customers into the energy future, their attitudes towards new technology and how they might use it.”

AGL already has its data and decisioning platform in place, and invested in Adobe’s marketing technology stack.

“My focus is now leveraging that all marketing and capability, including building out our first use case for personalisation,” Wild says. “Personalisation is very easy to talk about, but at-scale delivery is much more complicated and more digital than most people understand. Simple things you can do, like audience suppression, or messaging to existing customers, is one thing. But true personalisation is a multi-year build. It means taking some of the fantastic experiences we’ve already built, and delivering those to right customers at the right time.”

One milestone experience is AGL Energy Insights, which was trialled between July to October last year and officially launches in May. As part of the pilot, 3000 customers were given digital electricity meters in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia to provide greater insight into how energy was being used in their homes. These units broke down consumption by appliance categories such as heating, cooling, electric water heating, pool pump, refrigeration and home entertainment.

“That was about giving customers information on appliances on their home that use power so they can make more informed choices to how they do things in future,” Wild says. “This is our marquee personalisation experience at the moment. It goes to the heart of what customers need, which is information. It’s about helping them make informed choice about how they spend their energy dollars.”

Early use cases of personalisation favour existing customers, Wild argues. “In building out the personalised retail strategy, it’s about personalisation across all touchpoints and channels including our product offerings over time,” she continues.

Over time, AGL will use insight from connected devices and the Internet of Things to inform these interactions. “Although not to all customers, as some won’t be interested in that. But over time, energy will be more complex and there’s a real role for us to help customer orchestrate all these devices, including solar and energy generations products.”

The ambition is to have vibrant interactions and engagements that go well beyond price, Wild says. “Given energy is a grudge purchase for individual customers, we know we have to do a great job of demonstrating value and striking the right balance of value exchange between us and the customer,” she says.  

Data-driven personalisation of services and using digital to improve customer experiences is a major part of these efforts, too.

“We have already delivered a long list of impressive digital customer experiences. The opportunity now is to link them together and extend their reach,” Wild says. “Some I am leading do relate to product offerings, so there’s a real opportunity to personalise those propositions over time and deliver new products.”

One example from this year is a pre-paid product, and Wild says it’s looking to other tools that help customers budget and manage. “Plus there’s lot of change around billing and payments, particularly aimed at helping people understand how they can smooth payments, pay monthly if they choose to, plus lot of self-service,” she says. “It’s beyond marketing.”

Up next: How brand is helping Wild wield change, plus the people power and customer ownership steps she's taking to ensure success

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Brand power

Alongside the personalisation play – and arguably because of it –  Wild’s other priority has been extending the brand proposition across the AGL business. AGL relaunched its brand 12 months ago, setting out a core positioning statement aimed at showcasing the group as a strong market leader.

“It’s interesting times in the energy sector, and many people have a view on what we should do and when we should do it,” she says. “I’ve elevated brand outside of marketing… That’s with the consideration of creating a single brand experience and narrative across the organisation.”  

As a values-based organisation, Wild is keen to better bring these values to life.

“On my arrival, I was thrilled to see we had our logo in full rainbow to support the ‘yes’ vote. We are a very inclusive organisation. I’m looking forward to integrating those values into the brand expression, particularly internally, and considering the role it plays in our external communication as well,” she says.  

Another part of the marketing function Wild is extending into the wider business is insights and performance. Historically, insights wasn’t really accepted beyond marketing and communications, she says.

“It’s making sure that as a total business, we’re being driven by commercial and customer insight, rather than just allowing that to guide the communications element,” she says.  

Customer ownership

What’s helping AGL better realise these customer ambitions is that transformation is a highly integrated approach, Wild claims.

“No one function owns it, it’s working collectively to deliver for the customer,” she says.  “The expectation on us is to work collectively to align component parts. Structure is supporting strategy strongly, which you don’t always see. And we’ve found a great structure to naturally support the strategy.”  

At the same time, Wild’s wider remit helps. “Over the last few years, we’ve seen a narrowing and fragmentation of marketing,” she comments.  

She puts part of the blame on technology revolutionising the marketing function. “I’ve done two or three CRM/personalisation projects over that time, and all were distinctly different,” Wild says. “The impact of technology on marketing has been enormous, it’s really changed the game.

“Six or seven years ago, CRM projects were all about the big system, and making choices there. These days, the technology is more ecosystem focused. There has been strong maturity and specialisation, with technologies that do very specific things, and that fit nicely with other pieces doing something different. The conversations we’re having have been so different in recent years. And there’s also a more natural partnership with IT and marketing.”

For Wild, this has created two groups of marketers. “Some marketers really understand it, leverage it, have been curious to learn about it. The other set can generically talk about digital, but don’t understand all the opportunities available,” she says.  

The people equation

Whatever the technology, however, focusing on people capability is the key element for Wild. Having done a lot of bottom-up build of soft skills at Bupa, particularly around dealing with ambiguity, Wild says she often jokes with recruitment people about wanting a quick, simple test you could give people to understand how they’ll respond in certain situations.

“Over time, I’ve built skillsets that allowed me to find these people and when you get them in the team, they’re amazing and capability of bringing others with them,” she says.  

Wild has started that work at AGL, across her team of 200 employees encompassing journeys, product and marketing.

“The cultural component is really important,” she says of her approach. “The other piece is higher levels of trust, and that’s about being in a team where you can challenge and ask the hard questions. You need to be so safe you can come up with ideas that will be received in the nicest possible way, and built on by your peers. That’s something I’ll always try to create in teams I lead.

“It’s important to step away from me-too ideas and ideas being executed in other organisations. It’s about people being allowed to do big thinking in safe environment; to do the right thing for the organisation and customers at the time you’re executing, rather than ideas you’re executing a year ago. Timing is very important for that sort of change.” 

Wild knows she needs to live and breathe that style of leadership. “People will trust you when they see it every day, and have conversations, and when you facilitate the right outcomes for them from a career perspective as well,” she says.

“It’s also definitely about leveraging those AGL values. It’s a very progressive and positive place to come to. As marketing, it sets the best possible foundation for getting the right culture in place.”  

Other attributes vital to being a CMO are curiosity and the ability to create opportunities for people to learn constantly, Wild says. “It isn’t black and white anymore, so leaning into the grey and making people comfortable in matrix environments and ways of working is also vital,” she says.  

Finally, you need a fantastic imagination. “The ability for people to think big, not to just copy what other do, and create amazing execution and strategy, is something that’s underestimated at times,” Wild adds.

“I’m a big fan of ‘M’ marketing including the strategy work.”

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