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SiteMinder’s new CMO reflects on the art of transformation at the world’s biggest brands

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After working for many years in the US, Mark Renshaw talks about B2Bs v B2Cs, Asian innovation and SiteMinder’s plans for the future.

Mark Renshaw has acquired a lot of things on his long marketing journey from Australia to Asia and the US. One is a specialisation in innovation and digital transformation, having worked with some of the world’s biggest B2B and B2C brands. Another is a very subtle American twang in his metro Australian accent.

But the CMO of global tech company SiteMinder has picked up something else, too – a belief in the value of persistence.

“You’ve got to commit to an idea,” Renshaw says. “A lot of big companies – they don’t change it up every year. They land on something, make sure they own it, focus on it and keep it going.

“Marketers of many brands don’t always do that. They move on to the next thing and the next thing and the next thing. I think marketers often get tired of their internal thinking before their customers do.”

“One of the lessons I learnt over the years was never pilot something you know you can’t scale.”

Renshaw spent 17 years overseas, notably as Chief Digital and Innovation Officer at Leo Burnett and as Global Leader for Brand Practice at Edelman in the US. He returned to Australia with his wife Julie at the end of 2018 to be closer to friends and family. He also saw it as a chance to do something he wasn’t able to do before his international career – work at a local brand with a global footprint.

“I was really looking for a global company based in Australia,” he says. “Working in the US for many years, everything I worked on was pretty much global – global strategies, global approaches, global playbooks for brands. I just felt like I wanted to work the other way around.”

He says SiteMinder, which creates guest acquisition solutions for hotels, presents the ideal opportunity. “SiteMinder is a unique tech company,” he says. “We operate in hundreds of countries, yet run from a headquarters here in Sydney working with some offices in Europe, Asia and the USA.”

Based on what he’s learnt on his global working adventures, Renshaw believes finding personal or business success is not just about accumulating knowledge – it’s about having the right attitude. “If you have people in your team who come to work willing to try something different – even if we don’t have all the answers, we’ll work it out – that, to me, always trumps knowledge.”

Committing to transformation

Renshaw believes B2B marketers have always had a natural advantage over their B2C colleagues because they have traditionally had a stronger focus on customers. It also means they have a headstart addressing the demands of digital transformation.

“B2B marketers had a fundamental belief in stronger targeting of customers, and the digital side was trained from a direct marketing discipline,” he says. “But I don’t draw much of a distinction between B2B and B2C marketing as a lot of other people do. I would say there are more similarities than differences, although there are nuances between what they do.”

Renshaw judges a business’s commitment to digital transformation in two ways. One is how much it invests on infrastructure, media focus and talent; the other is how long it spends on effort.

“There are many companies I’ve worked with over the last 10-15 years that started with a fairly low spend on ‘digital’ – maybe 10 to 30 per cent of their budget. Over the course of two or three years, they ended up with an 80-90 per cent spend on digital. There’s always been a disconnect from where your customers are spending their time, where you can interact with them, versus what you spend.

“There was this lag, but I think that’s really gone away. Smaller brands tend to be all on digital. I don’t really see many companies dealing with the idea of transformation. It’s what they do. I think the issue is more the how, right?”

“How do we better understand our customers’ needs? How do we show that we understand them?”

Renshaw says digital transformation is less about technology than it is about people and culture. “I think there’s a general fear factor of falling behind,” he says.

In the US, he was often asked to organise large digital transformation projects where brands wanted to run things in parallel – optimising what they were doing while piloting something new. “One of the lessons I learnt over the years was never pilot something you know you can’t scale,” he says. “There are very, very few times you want to be piloting things you can’t scale.

“You often see marketers getting headline attention for trying some new technology. The question is: do you genuinely believe you’re going to be able to scale that and will it replace something that’s not working as well? If the answer’s no, well, why are you piloting it? What’s the point?”

Obtaining large quantities of quality data is “absolutely fundamental” to a marketer’s role now and in the future, Renshaw says. But it’s vital to know what to do with it.

“We have a tonne of quantitative data here at SiteMinder about our marketing and our customers,” he says. “But I’m always looking for the why. Behavioural data is only going to tell you the what and maybe the how, but it’s not going to give you the why. I think you have to blend old-school research methodologies with new-school kind of behavioural data.”

Asian growth

Renshaw says he was always “slightly surprised” by the attitude of US tech companies towards the Asia-Pacific region.

“If you looked at the technology and innovation area, countries like China and India, even Russia, had things that were multiple generations ahead of where things were in the US,” he says.

“I think a lot of US-based companies see APAC as a growth area, but it’s not universally understood that there’s a lot of amazing innovation here. They see local context as being important when doing business in those places but the innovation in those markets is actually better.”

He says this is often because businesses and marketers in emerging markets “leapfrog” technology conventions. “They didn’t have to deal with doing stuff on desktop, for example,” he says. “They went straight to mobile.”

Branding clever

From a branding perspective, Renshaw says B2Bs and B2Cs can learn from each other.

“I think B2C brands are much stronger at connecting with culture and leveraging things like brand purpose,” he says. “In general, B2C brands are more outspoken on particular topics in society and I think there’s a real opportunity for B2B brands to do the same – to stand up for their customers and their customers’ customers.”

Renshaw believes many global B2B companies put too much focus on functional benefits instead of trying to connect with their customers at a human level.

“I think the ones that focus on their customers’ success tend to tap into more of that emotional side,” he says. “A lot of them are very much in a functional space, and it’s hard for them to break out.”

SiteMinder’s plans

Developing more human stories is part of Renshaw’s marketing strategy at SiteMinder. “How do we better understand our customers’ needs?” he asks. “How do we show that we understand them?

“This company has an amazing story. It was founded to solve a particular problem and it continues to innovate and disrupt in the category. We’re an independent company that is making sure we do the right things by our customers. And I think that’s a really powerful story.

“We’re a high growth company, and we’ve got a lot of opportunity in all sorts of markets around the world. How we differentiate ourselves at a brand level is fundamental.”

As Renshaw knows, it can take a long time to build a prominent brand and have it stick in customers’ minds. “The big guys really try to own something for five or 10 years – they don’t change it up every year,” he says.

“I think that’s one of the challenges. We’ve got to find a good place and then stick to it.”

Mark Renshaw will speak about digital transformation and other matters at the B2B Marketing Leaders Forum APAC in Sydney, May 21-24. For tickets, go to b2bmarketingleaders.com.au/sydney/

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