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5 CMOs reflect on 2019, achievements and lessons learnt

We ask five Australian marketing leaders to reflect on the marketing lessons they’ve learnt in 2019, to share the hurdles and also what they saw as their biggest achievements


It’s been another year of disruption, change and transformation for chief marketing officers. And as we reach the end of 2019 and take a break to recharge before assuming the modern marketing mantle once more in 2020, it’s a good time to reflect on what’s happened, what’s been achieved, and what experiences can inform better decision making in the New Year.

Here, we ask five highly respected Australian marketing leaders to reflect on the marketing lessons they’ve learnt in 2019, to share the hurdles and also what they saw as their biggest achievements.

The lessons

For South Australia Tourism Commission executive director of marketing and CMO50 honorary, Brent Hill, the big lesson from 2019 is to get outside the marketing and advertising bubble and listen to what customers are actually saying, feeling and doing.

“In the marketing world, we consume advertising and marketing on a constant basis, and most of us are ad junkies and love the industry, so we’re hyper-aware of what each other is doing, who’s using who, what strategies they’re following and so on,” he tells CMO. “But this can cloud the true impact of a campaign, if all you’re taking notice of is the industry bubble. Often when you are really close to something, you’re intensely scrutinising every element of the ad and the message. Yet the consumer actually sees the advertising in the middle of their average day and will only take in a few details – perhaps only your brand or your tagline.

“So, it’s something I remind myself and my team of when we are looking at advertising or reviewing our own, to hold our judgement to the actual results and impact of our true customer base, rather than putting too much stock in what the industry are saying.”

Over at Suncorp, executive general manager of brand marketing, Mim Haysom, says her top modern marketing leadership lesson this year is that culture is everything.

“If you want an innovative and creative team, you need to create a culture that empowers, enables and rewards the team. You need to encourage them and create a safe culture for them to think bigger, bolder and to be trailblazers,” she says.

It’s a similar story for RACQ general manager of marketing and digital, Renee Davidson, who adds collaboration to the list of important leadership lessons learnt in in 2019.

“The benefit of collaborating and working closely with other CMOs, to stretch our thinking, share learnings and continue to build our marketing industry and community has been a key lesson,” she says.

Head of marketing at personal loans provider MoneyMe, Robert Boschiroli, also cites building cross-functional teams as a key realisation.

“Combining design, technology development, legal and marketing resources leads to stronger results, faster,” he says. “A diverse team where people from different backgrounds work towards common goals is extremely powerful in producing winning blockbuster initiatives.”

While it’s not a new lesson, SuperFriend general manager of impact communications and insights, Danielle Clarke, has again been reminded of the importance of measurement to marketing leadership and success. SuperFriend is a national workplace mental health organisation providing solutions, advocacy and insights around mental health.

“2019 has certainly reinforced to me how important effective, ongoing measurement is. Quality data and insights lead to better solutions and outcomes for your customers and business,” she comments. “When you know better, you do better.”

Challenged thinking

It’s to be expected such lessons have derived from challenges experienced in 2019. At South Australia Tourism Commission, the most difficult thing Hill and his team had to tackle was over-the-top negative feedback about its ‘Old Mate’ advertising campaign. The campaign series kicked off with an older man who appeared sad to have not had more fun in Adelaide in his youth, then progressed to a group of older men heading back to the South Australian capital.

“While we expected some divided opinions, which meant that we were getting cut through, some of the feedback was in some cases just way out of line,” Hill says. “It frustrates me that a few tweets can end up being a headline. But at the same time, the back and forth of opinion about Old Mate definitely helped in that the ad was seen by millions more than we could have anticipated.”

Hill notes positive responses from high-profile personalities, TV shows, radio shows and columnists that “came out in support of the message and encouraged everyone to not hold off and get to Adelaide – that was fantastic”.

“We understood the dark sense of humour in the ad wasn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but the way that some people responded, particularly in a social media world where everyone’s opinion is shared, was pretty interesting,” he adds.

Related: South Australian Tourism Commission's efforts to digitally transform marketing

Public scrutiny and opinion was also behind Haysom’s biggest challenge of 2019: Dealing with the fallout of the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking, Superannuation and Financial Services Industry and its impact on customer trust in the banking and financial services category.

“While Suncorp wasn’t impacted the same way the big four were, the impact was industry wide, and more than ever we’ve had to work hard to regain customer trust through transparency, ensuring great customer outcomes, and being there for our communities in the moments that matter,” she says.  

Both Davison and Clarke note challenges experienced around harnessing marketing and customer technologies this year.  

“The most difficult thing to tackle is breaking through the sales clutter, to really understand martech solutions that add value,” Davidson said. While for Clarke, navigating a customer relationship management (CRM) system with limited local vendor support proved an onerous task in 2019.

“It’s been a great learning experience though, and has helped us better articulate what we need,” she says.

On a more personal level, Boschiroli says taking more time off was something he’d look to do in 2020. “So much to do, so little time to fit it all in: Time to recharge has taken lower priority in 2019,” he admits.

Up next: Our 5 CMOs share the big wins and achievements of 2019

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Reflecting on achievement

Helping buoy optimism going into 2020 are the achievements marketers chalked up in 2019. A common theme running through milestones mentioned by CMOs was again being brave and bold.

“Our biggest achievement in 2019 was achieving stated outcomes and objectives when it comes to awareness and growth,” Hill says. “I’m really proud of the 2019 results we’ve had, and tourism is literally changing the skyline of Adelaide. We had a clear goal to be bold and grow our awareness and visitation, and we did that in spades, delivering one of the most talked about and successful campaigns we’ve delivered in the last few years.

“To grow our awareness of Adelaide four-fold, to have an ad seen by over half of the Australian population, and to generate record hotel occupancy in Adelaide – these are some amazing results, by taking a chance and being bold.”

Haysom sees her biggest achievement as continuing to champion brand and creativity “in a tough economic environment when the majority of the business is focused on short-term sales”.

“We’ve held the course, and proved to the business the positive impact of investing at a long-term brand level,” she says. “The results has been some great work across the portfolio.”

On the list are AAMI’s wins at Cannes for the Spotify ‘warning signs’ partnership and the Workplace equality award for the AAMI Queens campaign; effective partnerships and sponsorships including The Block and Team Girls with Netball Australia for Suncorp, and AAMI and the AFL; a partnership with News Corp for GIO and Suncorp to get bushfire safety content into the hands of customers within 24 hours, and a partnership with the Queensland Government and Jonathan Thurston to help Queenslanders get ready for storm season.

“These campaigns have not only built our brands, but delivered value to our customers,” Haysom says.  

Davidson points to RACQ’s partnership with TMR and MAIC to tackle distracted driving in Queensland as her big achievement for 2019.

“Now, more than two-thirds of drivers are more likely to leave their phone alone and reduce their texting and social media use while driving,” she says, noting a key measurement of success for the initiative. In addition, the motoring group saw a more than 100 per cent increase in drivers using the ‘Do not disturb whilst driving’ feature on their mobile.

“This campaign is saving lives and having a profound impact on road safety in Queensland,” Davidson says.

Similarly, one of Clarke’s most memorable 2019 moments was reaching a national TV, radio and online news audience with its 2019 Indicators of a Thriving Workplace research into workplace mental health.

“We’re a not-for-profit with big aspirations to improve conditions, policies and support for workers across the country, so reaching an audience that big was fantastic,” she says.  

And finally Boschiroli’s top achievement for 2019 was “skipping the complex”.

“We used technology to execute clever marketing strategies, while keeping marketing messages simple. Less is more,” he says. “Marketing campaigns made of a few, carefully selected keywords and strong visuals lead to more engaged and longer lasting customer-to-brand relationships.”

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