Nationwide CMO: We need to stand up for marketing if we want it to flourish

New job titles such as chief growth officer are symptomatic of a sometimes “apologetic” marketing industry that needs to be more confident in the value it offers, according to the building society’s top marketer Sara Bennison.

Sara Bennison
Nationwide CMO Sara Bennison

Marketers need to stop being apologetic about what they do and be more confident in the value they offer businesses. That is the view of Nationwide’s CMO Sara Bennison.

Speaking exclusively to Marketing Week, Bennison says if marketers don’t “stand up for the role”, its impact and influence will be reduced internally and the attractiveness of marketing as a career will lessen.

“If people sit back then we carry on in this death spiral that marketing is not very valuable; then you don’t recruit the people and talent you want into the industry and retain them. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” she says.

“I love it too much and the value it offers to a business is too huge, so I want to stand up for it.”

Marketing Week’s 2018 Marketer of the Year was handed additional responsibilities last year in a promotion that saw her take on product and proposition at the building society. She opted not to change her job title or publicise the promotion after concluding that the new responsibilities were essentially reflecting what marketing has traditionally been.

“It was a debate with myself as much as anything else because of all the different variations of the marketing title there are,” she recalls. “But I thought really strongly about it because all I had taken on in addition to promotion is product and pricing and proposition, and that’s what marketing always was so why would you change the name?”

If people sit back then we carry on in this death spiral that marketing is not very valuable.

Sara Bennison, Nationwide

She believes that new job titles are often taken for reasons of “fashion” or “self-promotion” and that the CMO title she already had was sufficient to describe her role.

“More marketers need to stand up for the fact that this is what marketing is. It shouldn’t be a surprise that a senior marketer should have responsibility for price, product and proposition as well as all the other things,” she states.

Bennison is concerned that titles such as chief growth officer – which became popular particularly within FMCG – are devaluing marketing.

Coca-Cola and the decline of the chief growth officer

“[These roles] sort of imply that marketing is a dirty thing or not particularly modern, but it’s what businesses need. Businesses need people who can transfer insight into propositions and put great communication at the heart of the business – and that’s marketing,” she explains.

“Some think ‘marketing is a bit old fashioned and we need something funky’. If we don’t stand up for the industry we all love, then all the bemoaning of marketing around the board table will continue.”

Bennison taking on product and proposition has enabled the building society to join the dots from insight to proposition and to “ideas that deliver on its propose”, she says.

One example is the recently launched Start to Save initiative. It began life last year as a marketing campaign fronted by comedians that was designed to confront some of the perceptions around saving. But it has evolved into a product that encourages people to start saving by offering a prize draw as an incentive.

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