3 Australian CMOs explore the global marketing trends expected to dominate 2021

Leading Australian chief marketing officers respond to the latest Deloitte trends on marketing strategy in 2021

The world of 2021 marketing and commercial growth will be driven by human connection and the overarching need for organisations to not only be trusted but also embraced by the customers they’re striving to engage with.

That was the overarching takeaway of Deloitte’s recent 2021 Global Marketing Trends report, which was explored practically this week through the experiences of trio of leading Australian chief marketing officers from Coles, ANZ and Telstra.

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends study is based on two surveys: A consumer pulse across nearly 2500 consumers in the US, UK, Mexico, Asia and EMEA; and a poll of 400 c-suite executives from global companies including CMOs. The research focused on the impact COVID-19 has had and its potential impact to 2021 and beyond.

Trend one: Purpose

Top of Deloitte’s list is purpose. The analyst firm’s research found 79 per cent of consumers could recall instances of brands positively responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to help customers, communities and their workforces. What’s more, 25 per cent customers said they will walk away from a brand if they don’t think they have an alignment with their goals.

Panellists on Deloitte’s webinar agreed that increasingly, c-suite understand being purpose-driven will translate to the bottom line and makes good business.

“When you look at companies that have performed very well in last five years in different parts of the world, it’s those with strong purpose that are doing better from a revenue and marketshare point of view,” said Coles CMO, Lisa Ronson. “Purpose presents alignment with customers and a filter you use to make the decisions on what you are and aren’t going to do.

“It’s no longer nice to have for brands to think about impact and role in the community and impact on the world. Every dollar a consumer spends is a vote for the world they want to live in.”  

Ronson has worked with her c-suite colleagues to build out the supermarket giant’s long-term business strategy and its first purpose statement and mission. The resulting purpose, to sustainably feed all Australians so they live healthier and happier lives, was significantly tested during the global pandemic.

“That purpose was our light on our hill to guide us through the pandemic and it ladders up to our goal to be the most trusted retailer in the country,” Ronson said. “We were making decisions, hourly, daily during COVID and it came back to that vision and purpose.”

Over at ANZ, CMO, Sweta Mehra, has taken the group’s purpose of shaping a world where communities thrive and homed her marketing team in on one of three pillars underpinning this: Financial wellbeing.

“Financial wellbeing impacts our customers more directly, particularly consumers and small businesses. And it starts with measurement – you can’t improve what you can’t measure,” Mehra said. “We have just launched our Financial Wellbeing Index in A/NZ, which gives us the ability to measure at every area what is happening to financial wellbeing of Australians, and if that’s improving faster than customers of other banks.”

This emphasis on financial wellbeing is so important, it’s becoming part of the executive leadership scorecard across ANZ. Another way ANZ is practically chasing its purpose is by looking at behaviours and insights linked to financial wellbeing. The marketing team then taps these to guide programs of work to move consumers forward.

“This informs everything from our features to how we nudge customers to set up goals and actions, now and into tomorrow,” Mehra said.  

For Telstra, an overarching purpose to ensure everyone can thrive, not just the happy few, has been a guiding light. “Over the last 18 months, that has come much more to the fore in the way our CEO has led us, and more broadly held in the company. While it’s always been nascent, perhaps it’s now been made more explicit,” Telstra CMO, Jeremy Nicholas, said.

“It’s also not a trade-off between good and shareholder value – you create shareholder value from doing good things.”  

This has guided Telstra’s multi-brand strategy across the Telstra, Belong and wholesale brands, helped cement a focus on connecting to remote communities, and informed how the telco dealt with the pandemic, Nicholas continued. For example, purpose drove Telstra to ensure families benefitting from tax benefits during the pandemic had discounted Internet, led to the decision to give everyone more data, and saw Telstra giving small businesses a break on debt.

“We’re by no means perfect but we know the standard we are trying to hold ourselves too,” Nicholas said. “It’s improved the quality of the conversation and outcomes for customers, and over time, it improves the return to shareholders as well as society we serve.”  

Trend two: Agility

Deloitte’s second key global marketing trend for 2021 is agility. According to its consumer pulse, 60 per cent of customers were able to name a brand pivoting quickly to make their product or service more appealing to consumers during the pandemic. Yet despite this, only 35 per cent of organisations surveyed are actively designing offers with the input of customers.

Agility is a major stumbling block. Mehra said ANZ’s move to agile two-and-a-half years ago was particularly important in helping the brand pivot and adapt as COVID hit.

“We needed to use all that small team agility that we could. We created new hubs, importantly continued to listen to customer feedback, and were constantly iterating on what info needs to be out there to help consumers, what changes to make to products, or to increase the scope of our offering,” she explained.

“Agile was a blessing and helped us organise and react for speed… Within marketing, whole section all focused on how to help consumers to get to what they need very quickly. We could find patterns – for example if homeloans is significant part of our outflow – which allowed us to hypothesise and launch campaigns on the go to respond.”

As Mehra put it, agility for marketing is not a choice. “I described it as dream big but bite small – we focused on just getting this done, then this done. It focused the whole organisation to work together, not in silos.”  

Telstra has also transformed to an agile way of working. On top of this, its T22 strategy is about reducing complexity in products and services. Eighteen months from introducing full agile at scale, Nicholas said the huge shift has been profound.

“In my chapter areas, we have teams of two marketers to 10 with everything from UX to comms, brand expertise and data. It’s a fantastic mix of people to get stuff done,” he said. “You’re not passing briefs between functions, you’re getting it done together. While there is complexity in managing teams this way, the impact to speed to market, improvements in conversations and getting stuff done has been immeasurable.”  

Read more: CMO50 2020 report: Customer-led innovation in a time of crisis and beyond

Up next: five more trends expected to dominate marketing in 2021

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Trend three: Human experience

Deloitte’s 2021 Global Marketing Trends report highlights human experience as its own standalone trend. As was noted, the digital debt that has surfaced between technology and human connection remains a core area for brands to address.

“Agility is all about two-way communications, focusing on customer and team members. We’ve largely had to do that through digital interactions,” Ronson commented. “However, even through COVID, there was still a lot of human interaction happening in the community.

“Yes, we had a massive increase in online shopping and engaging in digital channels. But in going into stores, we still had 15 to 20 million human interactions every week and fortnight. Balancing human interaction and what makes sense to add value in a digital sense is therefore really important.”

The key here to seamlessly connect the physical and the digital, said Ronson. “Often when you look at advocacy, NPS – those that have had a great digital interaction and a great human interaction, and one that’s not disjointed, is always a better experience,” she said. “You need to identify where it’s important to have human interaction then do it in a way that meets and exceeds customer expectations.”  

An example for Coles over the pandemic has been more content and daily updates online focused on helping customers with full pantries cooking from scratch more often. “It’s constantly changing, and we have to constantly look to the insights to navigate it,” Ronson continued.  

“We do thousands of surveys, get a lot of commentary on social media and calls to contact centre, and speak to store teams so we can design experiences to be end-to-end and they’re not disjointed between physical and digital world.”

Trend Four: Trust

Another big area for marketing leaders to focus on in 2021 is brand trust. Nicholas described trust as the intersection of competence and care.

“You need to demonstrate you care for someone and have their best interests at heart. But that care is no good unless you can follow through and be competent on what you do,” he said. “Similarly, just doing something and not showing you care isn’t helpful. Doing these together has been key.

“What has been born out this year and an important lesson for all – we have had to put our trust and faith in competence of government, big business and each other.”

At Telstra, competency comes from having superior networks and connectivity. “It’s when you let people down on some other pieces on a customer service issue for example, is where it starts to fall down. Trying to make sure the execution at every point is as good as it possibly can be, is key,” Nicholas said.

It’s also not good enough to be ‘good enough’ 99.9 per cent of the time. In Telstra’s case, that still means letting down thousands of customers. To overcome this, Nicholas emphasised the need to care for your staff, the economy, country and society more broadly.

“Also, trust is multi-dimensional – just because you’re trusted on one thing, doesn’t mean you’re trusted on another,” he said. “That is OK – you try for it across everything, but you can’t be perfect at everything. So trying to exacerbate the bits you’re good and trusted for, and working hard to improve the others, is vital.”

For Mehra, trust is born out of what you do. “Brand is not what we see or hear about, it’s what the consumers experience. It comes back to those principles we want to be known and famous for,” she said.  

To do this, ANZ embraces points of parity, such as getting things right first time. Then there’s points of distinction, which Mehra tied to knowing your consumer, showing you care and showing them they’re better off being your customer than not being your customer.

“And it’s thinking about new business models and driving new ways of finding revenue – not making money because a consumer makes a mistake,” she said.  

Trend five: Participation and a two-way street

What’s equally clear is people want to feel on the same side as the brands they interact and engage with. According to Deloitte’s consumer pulse survey, 56 per cent of consumers globally interacted directly with brand in areas such as content, reviews or other forms of co-creation. This is expected to continue to grow.

Trend six: Fusion - the new ecosystem

Hand-in-hand with participation is how a brand interacts with other organisations. A clear trend witnessed during COVID-19 was organisations embracing external partnerships. According to Deloitte, 80 per cent of its c-suite survey respondents who introduced new partnerships during the crisis see these key post-pandemic.

Nicholas pointed out Telstra partners with a lot of companies, from product and tech development though to marketing executions in-market. But he saw Australia lagging on partnerships strategically, particularly when it comes to more “unusual” collaborations. Examples he pointed to during his previous work with VISA included partnerships with Starbucks and Under Armour.

“It’s how you think about doing something together to create impact,” Nicholas said. “And rather than just thinking about it from a product perspective, it may be on values or other places of connection between companies. There is plenty of opportunity and cool things to create if we think about partnership differently.”

Ronson said making the consumers’ lives easier should drive partnerships. She also pointed to examples of ‘retail-tainment’, such as using store visits to bring an interesting experience into the environment, as opportunities for retailers.  

Trend seven: Talent

As a final trend, Deloitte identified the transformation of marketing teams as a major trend now and going into 2021. For example, its survey found 70 per cent of CMOs increasingly turning to artificial intelligence (AI) tools to supplement human capital. Another is brands building more internal agencies and trading desks.

At ANZ, this has resulted in creation of an internal skills academy, while at Coles, Ronson said talent is one of her biggest areas of focus.

“When it comes to that balance of insourcing and outsourcing, there’s no one right one way – you need to look at objectives and costings and line it up,” Ronson added.

Related: The skillsets the CMO50 are building across marketing functions right now

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