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How leading CMOs balance the art and science of marketing leadership

Many of the best bets marketers place are done on instinct and gut. But for Amazon Prime leader and global VP of marketing, Neil Lindsay, it’s vital to embrace science to amplify the art if you’re going to drive growth.

The marketing luminary detailed his approach to balancing data, technology and automation with creativity during CMO’s recent webinar, ‘Elevating the impact of marketing through data-driven innovation’, sponsored by AWS.

“As marketers, we don’t realise the extent to which the science, automation and technology can help minimise our need to engage in decisions that really can be made through automation. Understanding the difference is a very important and valuable part of the role of the marketing leader,” Lindsay said.

Data is at the core of Lindsay’s flywheel for effective marketing at Amazon. This three-pronged approach is dominated by customer experience, supported by the right messaging at the right time to the right customer in the right moment, and brand truth. The marketing strategy takes its cues from Amazon’s wider business flywheel, which defines the global retail and cloud computing company’s strategy and is grounded in customer experience.

“Marketing, to be credible and helpful to the company, has to be as focused as the rest of the business on what we consider to be most important. Amazon is a product and technology company that’s focused on customer obsession,” Lindsay said. “Marketing playing an important role in helping develop the CX is critical.”  

Getting there means diving deep into data. In building a great experience, for example, it’s important not just to look at insights relating to customer satisfaction, but also anecdotes that strike an incongruous note, Lindsay said.

“If you suddenly start seeing a few customer complaints in a particular area, those anecdotes encourage you to investigate,” Lindsay said. “That mechanism helps us drive actions that continue to deliver a better result.”

To get to the Holy Grail of right message, right customer and right moment, Amazon uses data to measure, optimise and automate activity, supported by machine learning models and hefty computing capacity delivering personalisation at scale.

With millions of customers and hundreds of thousands of products and services, contextual advertising and messaging requires understanding where customers are at in their journey with the Amazon brand, level of engagement, and what products and services they use in order to recommend others that might be most useful. Multivariate testing is enabling Lindsay’s team to understand the performance of such configurations in a consistent way, and what’s getting the best performance at an individual or segment level.

Another method in use at Amazon is structural equation modelling (SEM). Amazon surveys customers regularly to see how it rates on rational attributes such as delivering on time or product selection, as well as emotional factors, such as if they love the brand.

“Using cluster analysis, we look at which factors seem to move together, and simultaneous models identify the best fit and model,” Lindsay explained. “Hypothetically, we might learn that if we move the perception of having great selection up by 10 points, that might impact the perception of making a customer’s life easier by 3 points, which might move love for the brand by 1 per cent, which helps brand interest and advocacy.”

When it comes to amplifying Amazon’s brand truth, quantitative ways of measuring customer and prospect perceptions also help Lindsay’s team see whether those match the reality of what the company does and its mission. ‘By understanding perceptions, we understand where we may need to act more boldly or help customers understand better our actions and intentions, like our stand on climate change and our actions on sustainability, such as The Climate Pledge,’ said Lindsay.

It sounds like science to manage the magic. But for Lindsay, data insight informs judgment and provides an integral tool to understanding where to focus efforts.

“If data is available to help you make the decision, great, get scientific and methodical. You don’t want to spend time applying judgment where machines can do it for you. You want to apply it where it’s going to matter most – on that big bet, or the creative idea you know will connect because it has heart, rather than because it rationally ticks all the boxes,” he said. 

Data driving CX and revenue

Fuelling marketing impact through data and technology continued as the dominant theme during the webinar’s panel discussion, featuring Seven West Media chief revenue officer and Olympics event director, Kurt Burnette; Publicis Groupe president, Verizon and former NAB CMO, Andrew Knott; and Tennis Australia chief insights and marketing officer, Josie Brown.  

For Knott, data and digital transformation have elevated marketing’s accountability. “Data informs everything we are doing and allows us to see end-to-end impact, particularly where you close the sale in the organisation,” he said.

“Marketing has always been accountable for driving the brand, but nowadays we’re also accountable for representing the customer and for driving growth and by doing so, we’re delivering genuine impact.”

Brown said AI and cloud computing giving marketers better access to cheap and fast analytics, enabling her team at Tennis Australia to contribute and lead the organisation to make data-aware decisions. 

“At Tennis Australia, we’re starting to use technologies like CDPs [customer data platforms], which help us stitch together data sets, see connections and start to get to know individuals. In our case, that’s their relationship with grassroots participation or enjoying the entertaining experience of watching the Australia Open,” she said.

The obvious centre of gravity is knowing the customer and community, which in turn, fuels insight for growth. “Technology is helping us to talk about the customer in a way that shapes how we plan scenarios or taking decisions,” Brown said.  

Data, for example, is informing how Tennis Australia talks to different customer segments and how it delights them. Such customer-led insights, coupled with marketing’s focus on CX, then enables iconic experiences. This could be designing a playlist to encourage people who enjoy playing tennis socially, to designing the welcome experience at the Australian Open.

To do this, Brown ensures her team presents information in a way that unlocks action. “I could say we grew our addressable audience by 5 per cent when we did a campaign to get more communities to play more tennis. But when data was reframed to say there’s more demand for social tennis on a Saturday afternoon than there is on a Sunday afternoon, you can unlock action and focus efforts on what will get you that better growth,” she said. 

But without the internal relationships, marketing’s effectiveness only goes so far. “The way marketing partners with the technology team is critical to harnessing tech but also increasingly data and systems of scale,” Brown said.

Digital transformation has significantly disrupted media companies and the products they offer advertisers. At Seven West Media, data is increasingly helping marketers in concert with revenue colleagues deliver growth through audience acquisition that leads to commercial growth.

“A lot of the innovation required to grow and engage our audience base is incredibly reliant on data strategies and technology,” Burnette said.

During its broadcast of the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, for example, Seven West Media employed data to not only on-board viewers but also understand their behaviours, iterate and scale customer learnings.

“It’s about understanding what those people are doing and having an actionable insight to move on,” Burnette said. “When we launched that product, people signed up and could nominate their team, sport and country of choice. We also tracked what people were doing when the games were on. If they hadn’t begun watching, we’d send EDMs to prompt and encourage them to share interests; if they stopped watching for three days we could send a note saying we know you’re a tennis fan, Djokovic is about to play the final, and encourage them to come into the digital platform to watch.”  

More recently, Seven West employed AWS’s Rekognition machine learning offering across its content to define key viewer moments and create more targeted audience buys for advertisers. This led to working with Arnott’s to connect the FMCG brand to learnt family moments through broadcast and digital platforms.

“In future, we estimate 50 per cent of transactions will be automation and microtransactions. That still leaves 50 per cent to ideate, work through business challenges and work with marketers internally and externally to better connect with the customer,” Burnette added. 

Want to know more about how AWS is helping marketers harness data and machine learning for growth? Click here to find out more.

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