CFO World

CMO interview: Bringing purpose and fresh thinking to an Australian B2B brand

SiteMinder's new chief marketing officer outlines the global brand ambitions of the business and his plans to build the brand strategy

SiteMinder’s new chief marketing officer, Mark Renshaw, has always had a rather visceral reaction when people say ‘best practice’ marketing – and not in a good way.

“Best practice only gets you to parity with everyone else. We need to try what’s next,” he tells CMO. “That’s why I much prefer ‘next practice’.”

It’s also why he’s constantly asking his marketing team ‘why’. “My favourite phase is ‘what if’. We are doing sessions every week asking if that we did this or that, what would happen,” he says.  “We’re looking outside our category for aspiration too. For example, we had a session on an employee-led social customer program this week as a team, getting outside our industry to see what we can learn.”

Fresh brand thinking is the remit for Renshaw, who joined SiteMinder to head up marketing globally in January. The Australian-based technology company produces cloud-based guest booking engine for the hotels industry, working with 30,000 hotels across 160 countries and now generating nearly 80 million guest reservations worth US$26 billion annually.

It’s Renshaw’s first stint as a client-side CMO, having spent the bulk of his career in agencies building expertise in digital and brand strategy. Having worked his way up to head of interactive for Leo Burnett in Sydney by 2001, he took a regional leadership role in Asia, working on the B2B side with companies like HP, as well as B2C brands such as Procter &Gamble, General Motors and McDonalds.

He then moved to the US in a global role, working for ARC Worldwide and Leo Burnett with the CMOs at the likes of Symantec, Samsung and Amazon. For the last two-and-half years before returning to Australia, he was global chair of brand practice for Edelman.

The emphasis has firstly been on getting these brands back to a leading position or reinvigorating their marketing at a brand level, he says. “Secondly, I’ve helped drive digital transformation. You can do a lot of great transformation in your marketing modelling work, but if won’t have a compelling brand idea, you miss the opportunity to transform in a unique way,” he says.  

In coming back to Australia, Renshaw was keen to work for an Australian-based technology company taking its wares to the world in a big way.

“I had been able to develop global strategy and brand from the US, and I wanted to do that from here, in a company that’s growing, is ambitious and is a disruptor,” he says. “With those headquartered overseas, I realised I was going to be taking a playbook from the US most likely, with some ability to adapt, but not a lot of ability to transform. SiteMinder has such a massive untapped opportunity around the world. It was good match.” 

According to Renshaw, SiteMinder is in at “interesting place” right now. “We have a wide group of customers in 160 countries, and we have a strong reputation, but there’s a massive opportunity to further extend and connect our brand to those customers,” he says.

“The company has just grown and grown. Yet there is a whole dimension we can add to the company by really leaning into the brand idea, and by adding functionality into the overall marketing program.”

While scant on specifics, Renshaw says the group has ambitious marketing transformation plans, and adds some of the right pieces are already in place. In terms of priorities, meanwhile SiteMinder has to date been largely focused on acquiring new customers.

“We will continue to do that and we have ambitious objectives for that. A lot of the infrastructure we needed to do that is already in place and we’re optimising it,” Renshaw says.

The second focus is how to build out a stronger brand for the company. “There are dimensions to the brand we can live more. That will help with the third area of focus, which is our customers, and building a much stronger community of our customers,” he says.  

“We have some amazing stories from customers about how we help them with business challenges. But we can do a stronger job of connecting them to us as well as each other. It’s about turning those customers into a community.”

Fostering brand purpose

The digital transformation agenda has given companies an ability to leverage data and technology in interesting new ways to try new things, lead and disrupt, Renshaw continues.

“If you do that via a solid and fundamental understanding of your brand and what it stands for, that’s where you see the massive upsides,” he claims.  

“A lot of companies have very good functional marketers  and strong operationally led teams; some are very creative, some have a strong brand idea. I want to bring those three things together at SiteMinder. We’re working right now on what we are as a brand, then continuing our digital marketing agenda and how we do that in a really creative way.”

What informs this work is a sense of brand purpose. Having done a lot of work in this area over his career, Renshaw says he’s surprised by how many B2B brands have not made this more of a focus in their marketing.  

“Knowing what you are for and what you are against is often where purpose lies, and in defining your conviction and essence and what you will and won’t tolerate,” he comments. “What many B2C brands will do is then take that to make a stand on certain issues. Yet not many B2B brands have done the same. They often have a smaller universe of customers in B2B, so you’d think you’d know those customers, and if their values and yours are defined, then you could take a stand. But the bulk of most purpose work tends to come from B2C.”  

Years of research demonstrates people expect brands to take a stand on a particular issue, Renshaw says. “The research shows people expect people to declare if you’re for or against an issue. Sitting on the fence can be dangerous,” he says.  

“So much of B2B marketing is very serious. Marketing has both strong functional and emotional sides. But B2C are more polarising and take more risks, even with mass audiences where you are likely to get some backlash. Take Nike – there’s an increase in followers and some criticise the brand.

“There are a lot of B2B companies that are purposeful but you don’t see that translated into their marketing. There’s difference tolerance and risk profiles in place. But I don’t know why more B2B brands aren’t doing this.”

Functional state

With such ambitions, it’s inevitable SiteMinder’s marketing function must evolve. Renshaw says he’ll be looking to hire more people to ensure more dimensional, strategic marketing programs are in play.

“We’re also looking at category leaders, our regions and what support we need,” he says. “We have a strong internationalised team in Sydney as well as managers regionally. It’s that age-old question of what you have in the global centre versus regional markets.”

SiteMinder is also continuing to build out its in-house creative and media team. “We’ll then bring on partners in specific areas, testing and evaluating those around the world. Our external partnerships tend to be more on the PR and communications front,” Renshaw explains.

With regards to marketing technology capability meanwhile, the emphasis is on shifting from marketing automation to marketing intelligence.

“A lot of those components are in place, it’s how we optimise and upgrade some of them,” Renshaw says. “Some are being used more as foundations, and we need to optimise that. Being a SaaS house, we have a lot of data scientists digging into how people use our software and how it’s helping them in business. It’s connecting that to the brand and marketing area.”

Renshaw is particularly keen to build marketing’s utilisation of these data-driven insights to improve its customer game. The vendor’s customer sweet spot tends to be smaller, independent hotel operators through to mid-market chains with up to 100 hotels globally.

“We have to learn from our customers about what their needs and motivations are. Being in a software company, we will have a lot of the behaviour or quantitative data, but it’s when we add qualitative and why people exhibit behaviours – that’s where you get great insights,” he says. “We want to get deeper on the qualitative side of things to understand customer needs more clearly.

“We have lots of people in lots of different markets, which means plenty of nuances in how a product is used and perceptions in Asia versus Europe.”  

To get there, Renshaw says fostering the right attitude across teams is vital. “Everyone understands there’s huge potential for us to continue growth in so many countries,” he says.

“In many places, we’re just getting started. We need the attitude of getting in there and figure out what will work and be willing to adapt and be flexible in a framework. I’m a big believer in building big brands that are very locally relevant. I’ve been with brands where we had harder parts not up for debate, then some points where you needed to adapt to resonate in a local market.

“The second thing is the role of creativity. I’ve always been in highly creative environments. We need a strong creative culture that will try new things, be bold and experiment.”  

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