On 21 February 2019 the MA’s Strategic Marketing special interest group hosted a panel discussion providing access to a few of the sharpest marketers we have in the country. It was a great way to kick off the new year with insights into what marketing issues we might be facing over the coming year, and what some of the current trends are around “getting ahead of the curve” in a crowded marketplace.

Award-winning marketer Vincent Heeringa was MC for the night, leading the discussion and questions for our guests: Carolyn Luey (Consumer Director at Vodafone), Dougal Swift (General Manager Membership & Brand, New Zealand Automobile Association) and Megan Sanders (Creator of Earth Wind & Indigo, previously founder of Pineapple Heads).

The format of the evening was an informal question and answer session, so we’ve summarised some of the responses from our panellists here:

How do you ensure the voice of marketing is heard at senior levels within your organisation?

Dougal Swift: I pitch it as “strategy” rather than “marketing” and tie it directly to the overall business objectives and deliverables. And I always try to show a positive ROI to convince finance guys.

Megan Sanders: You need to understand the full business – HR, R&D, etc – not just the marketing function. And you need to use their language – just like you speak the language of the customer – to build trust and show you know what you’re talking about.

Carolyn Luey: Marketing is in a unique position because we have the inside/out voice as well as the outside/in voice. We talk to our customers and know their voice, and we know the voice of the organisation internally. So, it’s important that customer-led language gets filtered up to the board level.

How do you break the silos that exist between different departments and even within your own team?

Dougal Swift: You can never underestimate the value of regular sharing of information and meetings to help with understanding each other’s objectives. It’s also a good idea to invest in training around negotiation skills and personality profiling.

Megan Sanders: It’s very common that different departments do not know what each other is doing. You see this a lot when you’re on the agency side. So, I suggest always start with setting a common overarching strategy.

If you could change one thing in marketing, what would it be?

Megan Sanders: We could always use bigger budgets. But I would love to be able to give money back to the community and be more involved in campaigns that give back. I’d also love to see more honesty and integrity among brands – be what you say you are and do what you say you’ll do.

Carolyn Luey: We have so many tools and channels now that we can use to build customer relations – big data, search, technology, social platforms, etc. I wish for a pool of talent that can make the most of all of these. It’s an ongoing challenge trying to keep up with all the tools that are available.

What do you look for when hiring for your marketing team?

Dougal Swift: I look for strong intellect, interpersonal skills and energy. Often, these things are more important than experience.

Traditionally marketing has struggled to get credibility at the board level – should we be optimistic going forward?

Dougal Swift: Absolutely. Going forward organisations can do this by maximising the value of customer data and insights that we now have with all the data and tracking that we do. This all helps build credibility.

Megan Sanders: Yes, we should be optimistic, because we can now measure everything and make changes. We can clearly say, here is the data, here are the results. It’s also important to recognise and ignore the hysteria within the data. Don’t focus on the one negative comment when there are 800 positive ones in response to what you’re doing.

Carolyn Luey: We should definitely be optimistic. We are so much more accountable now. We’re constantly leveraging the technology and data to get better results. We’re seeing more and more that when the board is concerned about results, they turn to marketing for evidence.

What advice would you give to marketers about taking risks?

Carolyn Luey: I learned some valuable lessons when I was involved in the launch of iHeartRadio here in New Zealand. If you walk into things slowly, you’ll never know; but when you are bold and walk in bravely, then you’ll know quickly. Don’t be afraid to be disruptive. When you see an opportunity, go hard and fast. Don’t be afraid to try new things. Sometimes they work sometimes they don’t. Just give it a go and see.

Megan Sanders: I agree – you have to just dive in and take some risks. I took a risk with Pineapple Heads, starting a new business in a very crowded sector. But I followed my gut instinct and just went for it.

We hear a lot of marketers talking about being agile. What exactly does agile mean to you?

Carolyn Luey: It’s a mindset. It’s a way of working across functions. It’s providing continuous customer value while continually making change without making big bets. It’s putting stuff out there and seeing what works.

Who do you look to for inspiration; who do you think is leading the way in marketing?

Carolyn Luey: I think the Amazon story is fascinating. They’ve undergone such a phenomenal transformation, from selling books online to now offering Amazon Web Services. They’ve entered into so many industries and have been successful at it.

Continuing with the subject of inspiration, are there any books that you recommend for marketers?

Megan Sanders: Art of Start by Guy Kawasaki and The Big Leap by Gay Hendricks.

Dougal Swift: Love Marks by Kevin Roberts.

Carolyn Luey: The Lean Startup, by Eric Ries.