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February, 2024

The questions CMOs wished they’d asked as junior marketers: ABC Audience Director Leisa Bacon, Digital Wellness MD Nicole McInnes and ex-Movember, Visa, Woolies marketer Chris Taylor

Less than 50 per cent of what will make you a successful marketer will be your marketing skills. The more important bit will be your leadership, EQ and communication skills.

Leisa Bacon, ABC

No black and white answers, learn from mistakes

Leisa Bacon, director of audiences, Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Reflecting on my earlier years in marketing, when you first start in a job you think you need to know ‘the answer’ to so many things. The reality is marketing is a constantly evolving learning experience. There is rarely a black and white answer. Rather you need to ‘be curious’ about everything – the job is truly a blend of art and science, of taking bold leaps based on a complex web of best practice, analytics and experience / intuition. You will never stop learning, which means you can never stop asking questions. With the current rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, automation, and digital platforms, no one is an expert and we are all developing new learnings.

This constant evolution has meant marketers are doing a lot more test-and-learn on the job. This comes with the need for everyone to understand analytics, and be able to build out meaningful testing frameworks. It also means getting comfortable with failing. Not everything will work and the most important lessons in my career have all come from something going wrong.

As an enabler for learning, there is tremendous power in having a network, one where you can share your challenges and learn from others, both inside and outside your industry. Many industry bodies are great places to meet like-minded peers (such as AMI / ADMA / AANA).

The fundamentals are still important, and while I invested my time in a degree and masters, you can build marketing skills with an online course such as Ritson’s Mini MBA, and reading marketing classics such as How Brands Grow by Jenni Romaniuk and Byron Sharp, and The Long and Short of It by Peter Field and Les Binet. You can also get nominated for the fabulous The Marketing Academy (TMA), which combines study with mentoring and coaching.

My favourite time hack is also subscribing to podcasts, with many good ones including Mi3’s Audio Edition, The Uncensored CMO by Jon Evans and On Strategy Showcase by Fergus O’Carroll. But this is just ‘marketing’.

Less than 50 per cent of what will make you a successful marketer / team member / colleague / manager will be your marketing skills. The more important bit will be your leadership, EQ and communication skills. Of course, there are podcasts and reading for this too, but you will learn more from having great role models. So look for the people who inspire you and talk to them, better still, ask one to mentor you.

Curiosity can annoy others – especially if you question everything, as I often did earlier in my career. But the benefits of always looking under the hood and finding the root cause far outweigh any ripples a question will cause.

Nicole McInnes, Digital Wellness

Make commercial ripples; broaden perceptions

Nicole McInnes, Managing Director, Digital Wellness Australia; former CMO, non-executive director

Leaning into the opportunity the full remit of marketing affords is critical if we’re to see more marketing leaders earning the respect of boards, CEOs and their peers. From my experience, there are four areas that can help marketers apply their experience to the broader problems businesses face and avoid some common marketer pitfalls along the way.

Are you being a Chief Marketing Outsourcer?

Articulate and funny professors, idealistic viral sensations, teams of consultants and inspirational and oh-so-cool agency folk all have one thing in common: They all know a truckload less about your business and your consumer than you. As a junior marketer and worse still ad creative, I could not get enough of these external influences. I dreamed of contributing to the zeitgeist and creating an emotional response so great, every consumer would know and love the brands I worked on.

Agencies and consultants are awesome to add to your internal knowledge, to outsource elements you don’t want to manage or for a fresh perspective. But the right answer surfaces from synthesising all the information, which only you will have. Question external opinions, proposals and ideas, if they don’t ‘feel’ right, don’t be pushed into self-indulgence that won’t work or over-priced consulting or software that will never deliver the promised return. If you can get fame, a bevy of awards, or a keynote on the annual tech giant’s showcase and the profit follows – happy days. If the return doesn’t happen though, you will have missed the mark with your most important stakeholders, your customer and your CEO. 

Where’s the money (and the data)? 

On that note and as best as you can, try to link your marketing activities to the bottom line. Make sure you know how your business makes money and sustains itself, ask for time with the CFO or financial controller and get them to take you through at least a light version of the P&L. To enhance your ‘gut’, ask for a catch up with your company’s data analysts or see if you can get a build licence on your BI tool so you explore the data yourself (make sure you check before crossing certain metrics as sometimes they are such large sets you could compromise your servers! #BTDT)

I was lucky my first marketing gig was with a manufacturer and online retailer so I learnt early how marketing could be a company’s lifeblood. I knew exactly how much revenue I generated by week and at what margin – it was painful building the dashboards to know that and being that ROI accountable but so worth it to understand better each lever’s role in driving the profitable growth of a business. 

Am I too siloed? 

Marketers that manage to experience the full marketing remit from pricing and promotion, to distribution, to lifecycle management and retention, to product/interface design and of course marketing communications and brand management, end up gaining such a broad perspective of the company and the external environment, they are literally the only logical choice to run companies. Specialising is hard to avoid, especially in larger organisations, but plan your experience to have a series of specialisations across marketing.

Ask your leader if you can be seconded into other areas rather than pursuing a direct line in your specialisation or gain experience in companies where you have to work across all 4Ps. In the end, understanding the full marketing remit is not just essential to set yourself up for c-level roles, but makes you a more effective marketer in itself. 

How can I increase my perspective to unlock ingenuity?

Yes I know, according to everyone we know, people are permanently on Google, TikTok or Instagram, and that personalisation and Gen AI are the future of everything. But challenge popular perspectives.

Ask questions like: Why does big tech advertise on TV, while telling you that their channels are all you need for full funnel marketing? Is the cost of a full personalisation / martech solution ever going to be covered by the small iterative uplifts it creates? Is x or y project impacting the business’ outcomes profitably, or am I motivated by non-commercial reasons? What is the ROI on my time? 

Curiosity can annoy others – especially if you question everything, as I often did earlier in my career. But the benefits of always looking under the hood and finding the root cause far outweigh any ripples a question will cause. Being able to visualise the future and make it happen is what makes marketers unique and expanding your purview to impact more can only mean good things for you and the company you work for. 

Taking the time to ask questions like, ‘Where do I want to be, and what do I want to achieve?’ can help craft a career path and identify the individuals who can assist in achieving those goals.

Chris Taylor, Digital Frontier Partners

Essential skills and strategy building

Chris Taylor, Former chief marketing and experience officer; senior consultant, Digital Frontier Partners; non-exec board director and investor

Reflecting on my journey from a junior marketer to a chief marketing officer, I recognise several areas where early questions could have significantly shaped my understanding and effectiveness in my marketing career.

Understanding the essential skills and competencies required for success in marketing is crucial. Young marketers should ask themselves, ‘What steps can I take to develop essential skills?’ These include strategic acumen, consumer insights, creativity, proficient communication, digital marketing proficiency, adept data analytics, project management, adaptability to industry trends, teamwork, and a results-driven orientation. Understanding and developing these competencies over time forms the basis of a successful marketing career.

Early in my career, I grappled with the challenge of formulating effective strategies and comprehending the interplay between goals, objectives, strategies and tactics. Often, my focus leaned more towards tactics rather than achieving overarching goals. Understanding these elements, though seemingly basic, is essential for developing sound strategy. An early grasp of these concepts is a fundamental skill differentiating successful marketers.

The marketing landscape has witnessed a significant transformation in recent years, marked by a notable shift towards specialisation, especially in fields like data analytics and digital marketing. Young marketers should ask themselves, ‘How can I embrace transformation and specialise in areas like data analytics or digital marketing?’

Taking the time to learn about the technical side, gaining hands-on experience, and understanding the intricacies of different marketing areas, whether technical or traditional (like media planning, brand management, campaign planning, customer insights), makes for a more well-rounded marketer.

As I ascended the corporate ladder, the importance of leadership in marketing became increasingly clear. Traits such as emotional intelligence, patience and adeptness in navigating workplace dynamics emerged as indispensable skills, best cultivated through keen observation and hands-on experience. I came to realise effective team management encompassed not just guiding the team towards collective goals, but also the delicate art of managing individual personalities and work styles. The earlier a young marketer can grasp these nuances, the more adept they become in their roles as leaders and team players.

My career journey began in sales at Coca-Cola, providing me with a solid foundation in understanding customer behaviour and market dynamics. Transitioning to marketing and eventually securing my role at Visa required networking, patience, and a clear sense of direction. Taking the time to ask questions like, ‘Where do I want to be, and what do I want to achieve?’ can help craft a career path and identify the individuals who can assist in achieving those goals. In today’s landscape, many junior marketers aspire to swift career advancement, often without a comprehensive grasp of the intricacies of their trade or where they want to go.

Navigating setbacks and failures is a skill essential to every marketer. Setbacks offer valuable learning experiences when viewed as opportunities for growth rather than failures. Seeking constructive feedback from teams, peers, or mentors and drawing upon their perspectives can provide valuable guidance.

As young marketers embark on their journeys they should maintain a curious mindset, continuously seeking knowledge and feedback and they should never cease to ask questions.