Why CEOs want marketing superheroes

The CEOs of Wagamana and Kerry Foods explain why an appreciation of internal comms and a thirst for innovation are important characteristics marketers must possess in the post-pandemic world.

superheroThe question of what CEOs expect from those running their marketing departments may never have been more pressing. In a time of rapid – almost rabid – change, those expectations have been changing daily.

While the CEO is ultimately responsible for the happiness of company teams, the CMO has a big role to play, according to Wagamama CEO Emma Woods. 

Speaking today (24 March) at The Festival of Marketing: The Bottom Line, Woods explained that internal communications have taken on a new level of importance over lockdown.

“We are a business that relies on very motivated teams – and most of them have been on furlough at some point. Going on and off furlough is a recipe for cultures being destroyed overnight,” she pointed out.

A huge proportion of management energy, in particular from the marketing team, had to be diverted into keeping teams engaged and keen to get back to work, said Woods. She credits Wagamama’s marketing department with ensuring that the teams are engaged and ready for work when the current lockdown lifts.

When you get to be CEO you realise you need a marketing superhero. But you also need a finance superhero and an HR superhero.

Emma Woods, Wagamama

“The way you inspire your teams is probably as important as the way you inspire your customers and it is really blending together. Customers want to buy from good businesses. Good businesses care for their teams,” Woods said.

“You see it already in terms of businesses you want to support and businesses you want to boycott.”

Kerry Foods CEO, Nick Robinson, agreed that this internal comms role has become critical during the pandemic. He noted that the amount of time CEOs spend on internal communications can be a shock to those new to the role.

CMOs, he said, will be judged by the quality of their teams, their performance and their understanding of company strategy.

“As a marketer or CEO, if you have done those three things well, you are well on the way to success,” Robinson noted.

Complementary skills

Marketers have been obliged to innovate in new ways this year and have proved their value repeatedly with their creativity and dynamism, according to both speakers.

“Many people said that innovation would suffer during this period, and that customers and consumers would be less willing to try new things,” said Robinson.

In fact, while Kerry Foods saw the impact of lockdown differ by product category, it did not suffer the expected resistance to change.

“Though there has been a move to trusted brands, we have been pleasantly surprised by the level of innovation that has landed well over the last nine months,” he stated.

“People are still looking for exciting new propositions and we have probably had our best year on innovation in the last four or five years.”

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For Wagamama – forced to close its restaurants due to Covid-19 restrictions – innovation was vital. The brand turned off its traditional marketing channels to reflect its financially vulnerable position.

The marketing team set about keeping the brand relevant to customers even when they couldn’t eat out, with initiatives including Wagamama’s executive chef cooking chicken katsu in online videos.

“We did not sell anything during that time, but we served our customers and we maintained brand saliency,” added Woods.

Agility, and a keen eye for changing realities, are a key factor in marketing success at this time. It is also important for a marketing department to understand the metrics that support growth, according to Woods. She noted that those metrics, and the behaviour driving them, are changing rapidly after a year living with the pandemic.

“There is going to be a change in the effectiveness of some channels based on the customer behaviour shift we are seeing through the pandemic. We’ll need marketers that can lean into that and we’ll need agencies that can lead into that, to give us the right frame of reference,” Woods explained.

People are still looking for exciting new propositions and we have probably had our best year on innovation in the last four or five years.

Nick Robinson, Kerry Foods

Robinson believes making sure marketing is aligned to the overall deliverables and metrics of the organisation will be even more critical.

“If a CMO came to me and wrapped their proposals around the context of the overall metrics of the organisation, I think that’s the most effective way of doing it,” he explained.

Both Robinson and Woods also agreed that being elevated to a CEO position highlights any gaps in your knowledge and proves how important relevant experts are, especially those from areas in which you have not worked.

“When you get to be CEO you realise you need a marketing superhero. But you also need a finance superhero and an HR superhero,” said Woods.

Robinson also noted the importance of surrounding yourself with experts who complement you with different strengths once you become CEO.

With both speakers agreeing that fundamental marketing skills are as important as ever, but being applied in new and rapidly changing ways, the answer to what CEOs want from marketers could perhaps be defined as the same as always – but different.