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Mercer Asia CEO Renee McGowan: CMOs need to jump in the deep end

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Successful marketers speak the language of business and learn how their activities drive revenue and growth.

Leading APAC marketer Renee McGowan admits she learnt a lot about her profession only when she briefly stepped away from it.

Now Asia CEO for global consultancy business Mercer, McGowan recalls the time she was asked to set up an internal marketing operation after spending time elsewhere in the organisation. “I realised we weren’t going to have any impact if we adopted the old ways – the way we used to do marketing,” she says.

What did McGowan learn? Marketers have to jump into the deep end and fully immerse themselves in the business. They have to become more financially astute and seek to understand the role marketing plays in their organisation.

The only metrics that matter, McGowan realised, are those affecting the business bottom line.

“Rather than trying to link marketing activity to a specific number in a narrow field, marketers need to talk about how their activities drive revenue and growth,” she says. “It’s a far more holistic conversation.”

The first thing McGowan did when setting up her new-style marketing function was focus on customer experience – not “old-school marketing”. That meant bringing together people with a range of skills and backgrounds.

“We focused on changing the entire customer experience as opposed to just changing the components a marketing team would normally impact,” she says. “It was about standing up to the business and saying, ‘this is the way it needs to be done’.”

The language of business

Before becoming CEO of Mercer’s Asia division based in Hong Kong, McGowan has been the company’s Global Leader of Individual Wealth, Executive Director and Chief Customer and Marketing Officer, and completed successful stints in its New York, Melbourne and London offices.

McGowan says the best marketers use the language of the business, and they do this “deliberately”. They don’t talk in terms only understood by their marketing team. “It’s tricky for marketers if they’re only in that marketing function – if they haven’t actually spent time working in or alongside the business,” she says.

“If the majority of your conversations are in your silo and you’re only having 10% of your conversations around the business, you’re just not getting enough visibility into all of the mechanics that go into running a business. You also don’t know how important the marketing component is in that.”

Marketers need to ask if what they’re doing is having a meaningful impact on the broader organisation, she says.

“If you spend 90% of your time in the silo, your lingo’s sounding pretty good and you’re focused entirely on things you’re doing,” she says. “They might be great things and you might be delivering value, but you’re not putting your work in the context of the broader organisation.”

McGowan is concerned when marketers latch onto technology that only measures marketing-related KPIs or goals. “In good marketing teams, technology supports better customer experiences,” she says. “Some marketers stop short if they’re talking about technology and the customer experiences in the context of the marketing silo. They’re not truly impacting on an end-to-end basis.

“You have to drive change across the entire customer experience throughout the entire organisation. That’s a challenge.”

Three essential B2B marketing skills

To succeed, modern B2B marketers need to excel in three areas, McGowan says. One is attaining enough financial awareness to understand what impact their marketing activities have on their entire organisation.

The second is having a broad understanding of all integrated parts of the business.

“What I’m saying about marketing is the same as it is for IT or HR and other functions that existed as silos. They can no longer exist as silos.”

The third area, she says, is obvious. Marketers need to focus on what their clients or customers want. “Think about how you can deliver a better outcome for the client and how marketing can support the business to do that,” she says. “How are you constantly focused on making it easier for clients to do business with your organisation?”

McGowan understands the many challenges marketers face today. “Like many professions, marketing is going through phenomenally profound change,” she says. “Marketers and marketing teams have moved pretty rapidly from activity-based direct marketing days into fully integrated technology-driven experiences.”

Ultimately, she says, it’s up to marketers to establish new ways of doing things and demonstrate their value to the business. Those who do will see sudden and significant improvements in how marketers are perceived within their organisation.

“In our instance, instead of talking about campaign metrics and the implementation of Salesforce Marketing Cloud and all these things, we’re talking about assets under management driving revenue for the firm. We were able to drive half a billion dollars of assets under management in a six-month period through changing this process.”

It’s a compelling argument for change.

Renee McGowan will share more about her personal journey from CMO to CEO at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum ASIA event in Singapore on August 21. If you would like some more information, click here.

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