CMO profile: Bringing a global marketing career to an Australian brand
- 25 February, 2019 07:12
It is a remarkable achievement that someone so young has had such a varied career across four different countries, even if it did involve firing herself at one stage.
And yet, the CMO of Finder for the last 11 months can claim all this, with even more to come.
Originally from the Netherlands, Malini Sietaram started her career in hospitality and always thought she would end up working in that area.
However, the lure of not spending all day on her feet was strong, and she decided to go back to school and do an MBA with a focus on marketing.
“I went to a publishing house focusing on SEO, taking their offline mag to the online world. Really, I was working with influencers before it was a thing,” Sietaram told CMO.
Then, as luck would have it, a job came up as head of European marketing for a hip hop brand. For ‘hip hop head’ Sietaram, it was a dream opportunity. She wrote a passionate letter about why she would be the perfect assistant for this head of marketing role, as she knew she was too young to run all of marketing.
“After about six interviews, they offered me the actual head of marketing role. I couldn’t believe it. I was only 25 years old, managing a team of 10 who were all older than me. But I learned a lot, it was fun. It taught me to deal with adversity and manage things quickly. It really was a sink or swim situation.”
Sietaram then made her first foray into the world of consulting, something she would revisit for all of one day before being hired at Finder.
“I am the world’s worst consultant,” she claimed. “I always end up taking a full-time role.”
Consulting ended up in a job at eBay in the Netherlands, where she spent nearly three years as a marketing manager.
Love entered the equation, and Sietaram said eBay was kind enough to transfer her to San Francisco, where she spent 18 months as senior manager in eBay's Marketing Leadership Program. It was a kindness repeated when Sietaram’s now husband received an opportunity in Italy. She landed on her feet as global head of content and social media strategy at eBay.
However, before this started reading as an employment ad for eBay, Sietaram and her Aussie husband moved to Australia in 2017. After eight years with eBay, she decided it was time to forge for new horizons.
“I was so lucky during my time with eBay. I was handpicked to join a special team, where they put you in a new team every six months, training you to be a CMO. I was very lucky with my executive coach, who is still one of my mentors now. I was there for the rebrand, I learned to drive revenue through social, and how eBay generates content to build SEO ranking. I had a lot of fun doing that," she recalled.
“When I got to Australia, one of my old managers called me with a great opportunity to be the country manager of a fashion company, Shedd. Sadly, it had to exit Australia, so I learned how to dissolve a company and let go of my own team and even fire myself. I had to put my ego aside for that, but it was good for my humility.
“The day I fired myself, a head hunter called me for the CMO job of Cashrewards. Sadly, there wasn’t enough funding and that wasn’t what I wanted to do.”
Again, Sietaram thought she might start her own company. She secured an ABN and one day in, got a call from Finder.
“I said I wasn’t interested as I had just started my own company, but I had a coffee with the founders, and something in me said I had to take this opportunity. It’s the best decision I’ve ever made. I was a consultant for all of one day. Finder has so much going for it, it’s a dream job for a CMO to work in a marketing-first company," she said. “When people understand marketing, it makes the conversation easier. I don’t have to explain to the CEO how SEO works.”
Sietaram sees a real growth opportunity in Finder, but her first few months when she started in April last year were spent getting to know the team. “I wanted to understand the culture, what makes Finder tick, so I knew what to nurture and what to change. I was careful to have no strong opinions from the beginning.
“It allowed me to ask ‘where are the areas of disruption?’ and to understand the key things we wanted to keep as a startup.”
Culture inside and out
Sietaram and her team then worked with freelance neuromarketers to get to the ‘core’ of Finder. This has helped the company identify what it wants to be and where it is in the maturity spectrum. The comparison site is now operating in 10 markets, has 2.2 million unique visitors every month and over 1800 brands and 100 product categories.
It was then important to break down the silos in the organisation, she said, because to get customer experience right, you need to get employee experience right first.
“As CMO I have a wide variety of talent, from managing editors and publishers, so there is a good combination of different skills sets. But we had to ensure we were one customer-centric department and not just a set of small departments. We need to see how to increase talent and retain talent also,” she said.
Once the internal was right, it was time to think about the external. Sietaram oversaw a customer insight piece, delving into core customers and personas, and it is here, she said, she had an amazing breakthrough.
“As we set about understanding our customers better, we realised our customers are us - we are helping people exactly like us. So instead of anonymous pictures to depict personas in this research, we put our own pictures in,” she explained. “It really helped us to understand customers are not a separate group to us. They are real human beings, and in this way we achieved real empathy.
It is Finder’s ambition to be a global brand, to be the destination for decision making, and be a platform to help people make better decisions.
Finder undertook a brand campaign last year to further its plans. But while people easily remember the jingle, they were unclear on what Finder actually does, Sietaram said.
“The purpose of Finder is we help people make better decisions. Some people, if they make one bad mistake, they won’t be able to recover, financially, because most people only have $1000 in their savings account. We aim to explain different financial topics in an easy to understand way, to help people make good decisions.
“This is our long-term strategy. We are so much more than a search result, we are passionate people who want to explain difficult topics to people, help people get out of debt, help people understand credit scores, loans and credit cards and take control.”
The latest ‘Be a Finder’ campaign was launched last month with MKR judge, Manu Fieldel, showing Aussies how easy it is to take control of their finances. Finder’s partnership with MKR includes an integrated TVC and a series of branded play-ons, billboards and social content extensions with the MKR judge.
“We’ve gone into more video content and podcasting, to elevate the educational level of the site,” she said. “The 'Be a Finder' concept centres around heroing the mindset of our customer. It is an ode to those go-getters who strive to find better. It celebrates the mindset of not taking things at face value.”
Finder does the majority of its marketing in-house and Sietaram is now working with the CTO to evaluate various marketing platforms.
“We wanted to avoid the shiny bells of a martech solution and then not fully leverage it, like many do. So I am working with CTO to evaluate what we should be looking at, what we need and what we can do in house. We are still a scrappy startup, so every dollar we invest has to count,” she added.