Executive Marketer Series

We’re back with another instalment of the Executive Marketer Series.

The Executive Marketer Series brings together some of the great minds from the marketing industry in Australia. We aim to shed light on marketing pain points and help to create a picture of digital marketing today.

This week we spoke with Fiona Allen, General Manager – Marketing, Product & Digital at Medibank, about aligning sales and marketing tactics and how to overhaul a brand image.

Fiona has over 20 years of brand and marketing experience working with leading organisations such as GE Capital and, for the last four years, Medibank. Her experience extends across consumer, government and business markets both locally and internationally.

Q. How can marketers get buy-in from the C-suite, and how can marketing influence sales strategies?

A. The C-suite is less concerned with the theoretical and purist marketing detail and much more interested in how the marketing strategy will drive sales growth and improved business performance. The marketer still has to apply the science in the background and ensure the strategy is sound, but the conversation with the C-suite should be squarely focused on driving profitable growth and mitigating risk.

In terms of influencing sales strategies, the first thing you need is a thorough understanding of the business. You can’t determine how marketing can drive commercial value unless you understand the business strategy, external market, financial performance, product and customer mix. Equally important is understanding your stakeholders’ deliverables and the key business outcomes they are seeking.

Clearly one of the most critical stakeholders is the sales executive. The sales and marketing strategies need to be inextricably aligned, and marketing has a lead role to play in developing the foundations for both. If the marketing strategy is right, it has the ability to influence the entire business model.

Q. How has the traditional face of marketing changed in a digital world?

A. The digital world has transformed marketing on every level. In the early days, digital just meant dedicated digital teams focusing on online advertising and search opportunities. Now every facet of marketing needs to incorporate digital elements.

Customers now expect more immediacy, more channels, more consistency, more customisation, and more relevance. That means a whole paradigm shift in how we manage our teams and develop our marketing strategies.

Q. Looking back on your experience, what do you believe is the key to achieving a competitive advantage in modern-day marketing, and how do you maintain this?

A. It is difficult, if not impossible to sustain a competitive advantage in business today. Competitors can easily replicate products and services, compete aggressively on price, target the same customers and so forth.

However, true differentiation, where you integrate unique value into your products and services, is sustainable at least in the medium term. The marketing function is well placed to assist the business identify and develop this differentiated value. For example, using market and customer insights to understand “white space” opportunities right through to value proposition development and brand positioning.

A differentiation strategy does mean that you need to aggressively protect your IP. You can’t rest on your laurels. You need to review your competitive strategy on a regular basis and adopt an agile approach to ensure you stay ahead of competition.

Fiona Allen Executive Marketer Series

Q. You have spearheaded the repositioning of a number of high-profile brands. How important is it to modify all other elements of business when overhauling a brand position?

A. Every time a consumer interacts with a brand it influences their perception and ultimately their loyalty towards that brand. It’s critical that an organisation aligns their external promise with all aspects of their business, operationally and culturally. Think about this in terms of the frontline customer experience. The entire organisation influences a customer’s experience. That includes its culture, back-office policies and processes, product design – every touchpoint they have with the brand.

It is impossible for the marketing team to oversee and manage every one of these functions and decisions, so the best brands will engage the whole business so that accountability for alignment is shared. In my experience, the best way to do this is have the business undertake an audit and identify elements that are incongruent with the new brand positioning. The business can then prioritise and develop rectification plans to address these. Not all elements will be fixed before you go to market, but there should be an ongoing work plan to rectify those. A new repositioning will always require significant stakeholder engagement and there will be many moments of truth when changes to the operational status quo are required.

Lastly, your biggest asset in repositioning a brand is your people. They are the ones who bring it to life and act as your brand ambassadors. A strong internal activation program is therefore vital to ensure they live and breathe the brand’s value proposition.

Q. Smaller business marketing versus larger business marketing: what can small businesses learn from large businesses and vice versa?

A. There are some stark differences between marketing a small business and a large business. Budget and resourcing are two of the biggest and provide large businesses with many advantages, but marketing a small business does have its advantages too.

Clearly bigger brands are able to invest more into developing their brands and driving market share. Their purchasing power also means they can drive better economies of scale and access superior quality resources. This includes talent. They can afford to access external expertise, adding to their bench strength, and can also attract high-calibre talent, creating depth of expertise and focus in their marketing.

Smaller brands however simply don’t have the capital or resources to invest at the same level. Every penny is scrutinised for its ability to generate commercial returns. While the underlying marketing science is the same, the approach to strategy development and execution is quite different.

For example, a small brand doesn’t have the luxury of running separate brand campaigns to build brand awareness. Instead it needs to build brand and drive direct response simultaneously. On the positive side, resource constraints often result in innovation and breakthrough thinking.

Smaller brands have other advantages too. Smaller organisations are often closer to their customer and more agile so they can quickly adapt and respond to new insights. Smaller organisations are also less likely to have fragmented technology platforms and more likely to have a single view of the customer. Data analytics are therefore less complex and more readily accessible.

Their flatter organisation structure also means they are generally less bureaucratic. As a result, marketing a small organisation often means greater speed to market and more willingness to test and learn, which can be a great learning environment, particularly for graduate marketers.