Andrew Knott, former CMO at NAB, on delivering real customer value by building solid teams with great diversity of thought.
As former CMO of NAB, and founding member of H2, a premiere global leadership network for the digital industry, Andrew Knott understands the subtle nuances of the relationship between marketing and tech. From Ogilvy to Salesforce to McDonald’s, he has become known for building exceptional teams, attracting the best talent, and according to a colleague, “empowers his staff, motivates his team, and encourages an inclusive, collaborative culture. He provides his team with opportunities to grow and platforms to be recognized and get discovered. He looks out for his team and goes out of the way to make his employees feel secure and valued.”
Andrew sat down with Domo CMO Shane Atchison for an immersive discussion about leadership in marketing and business.
We appreciate your time. I wanted to start out by asking you about your tremendous career so far. You have a lot more in front of you, clearly.
I think I’ve followed my nose to some extent. I have had the good fortune to grow up in a part of the world that’s very approximate to an area of massive opportunity and growth. As a result, I spent most of my career so far working across the Asia Pacific region. I’ve spent a lot of time in Singapore, in Hong Kong, in China, in Korea. Until subsequently moving to Melbourne in Australia, the bulk of my career was in advertising. So, I was able to get exposure to a number of different categories before actually eventually moving client-side.
I think that breadth of experience gives you a degree of insight into the value of cultural difference and the importance of cultural sensitivity. But also, the importance of optimism combined with curiosity. You know—what’s going on there, and how do we potentially create an opportunity off the back of that as well?
How you define the role of marketing in a global organization like NAB?
I believe that marketing’s ultimate role is to represent the customer in the enterprise—there are many parts of the business that think enterprise-out, and fewer that think customer-in, but I think marketing is best set up to do just that—giving way to more customers than any other part of the business. Marketing needs to hold itself accountable to drive demand for the enterprise that’s measured in P & L impact.
What changes did you put into place as a leader at NAB?
A cliché I’ve heard on more than one occasion about an incoming CMO—you do four things: Change the agency, refresh the brand, restructure, and then leave two and a half years later. I did refresh the brand at NAB.
The existing brand was working for part of the business but not all of it, because financial services are very broad and far-reaching. And I felt there was an opportunity there to help reframe what the brand stands for.
My fundamental belief is that structure follows strategy. I wanted to structure us to be able to truly deliver against the customer. Once we locked in on our purpose, intent, and the role we play, then we headed to structure. Then, substantially up-weighted our investment in digital marketing and in customer data and analytics.
How do you prioritize your time? How do you decide what is a priority and what isn’t?
Most importantly, I prioritize spending time with my people. I fundamentally believe that [as a long-term marketer], the only way to succeed is to hire the best possible people—highly-motivated, in the right roles—and enable them to succeed. The balance of my time is in making sure that I’m providing the air cover to allow my people to do the best job they can do.
The reality of my role is that my day happens to me, not the other way around. We have a very meeting-centric culture, and there are benefits to a daily desire for collaboration and collective outcome. I have a reasonably strong sense of what my priorities are over the course of a year—how we’re tracking towards goals, what my big rocks are, so to speak, that I’m focusing on. And I am focused on whether I’m moving towards the outcome I’m attempting to achieve.
Your reputation for attracting high-quality talent and for building a culture for your people to thrive proceeds you. Tell me about how you’ve made that happen. What are you most proud of as far as that culture, and what are purposeful moves you’re helping your people make?
When you’re in marketing—in an agency, specifically—the only thing you have to sell is your people, their capabilities, and their time. So, what’s most important is having the best people, with the right capabilities, who are focused on the right things.
You need to build genuine diversity of thought in your team, because if an agency is reflective too much of their leader, then you’ve got a one-dimensional, vanilla agency that doesn’t really deliver value to anyone.
The other thing I’ve learned over time is that you cannot do everything yourself. You have to delegate. And to delegate, you have to make sure you have the best people and you are setting them up for success.
“You need to build genuine diversity of thought in your team, because if an agency is reflective too much of their leader, then you’ve got a one-dimensional, vanilla agency that doesn’t really deliver value to anyone.”
How do you define success?
My definition of success is really two things. One: do my people feel they’re succeeding and getting acknowledged for that? And two: What’s my legacy plan? What happens after I’m gone? Do people step up into my role? Does that structure maintain itself? Do we continue to deliver great work? It all comes down to one very obvious point: The people.
What are you most proud of as it relates to your people?
When we went through the restructure at NAB, I made a deliberate effort to get a genuine gender balance at my direct report level. I felt that was the right thing to do and pushed through many challenging conversations to reach that outcome through dealing with ingrained cultural norms. But it was absolutely the right thing to do, because for teams, the expression of “you can’t be what you can’t see” resonates.
In a relatively young organization [like NAB], the ability to get people into more senior roles when so many people are going on maternity and paternity leave…that shows we’re building depth of capability. That ability to elevate people is crucial, as opposed to going external to find that talent. I’m pleased that those pathways worked well.
There’s a lot of change as consultancies come into the mix [platforms that offer services that can overlap with an agency’s]. How have your expectations of agencies changed?
I can tell you what hasn’t changed, and that is the fact that I still expect really effective partnership, the right people to be put on my account, absolute candor from agencies, and challenge in the relationship. I’m not looking for servile responses, I’m looking for genuine service.
The media landscape has changed so much and continues to evolve. I need agencies to be close to the forefront of that change and to help me navigate it. Organizations get so immersed in what’s going on internally, and it’s the agency’s job to keep that antenna up.
A former colleague, Matt Biespiel at McDonald’s, said something really useful. He said, “Data informs us, technology makes us relevant, but creativity makes us special.”
When agencies bring that to the forefront, it helps us to be worthy of the customers who spend their time engaging with the message.
How much time do you spend in marketing vs. other business conversations? What is your relationship to your CFO, CIO, and CEO as it relates to your time and energy?
I think all those relationships are important. They vary by the day, but none of them can be neglected if you want to succeed as a CMO.
My role is to work across the value chain. The partnership with finance is really important. CMOs that can talk to data and understand numbers—where we’re investing, the return we’re generating—tend to build a greater level of trust. The CFO partnership is important because if they believe you’re acting with fiscal integrity, they’ll back what you are recommending. We spend significantly on technology, primarily MarTech, EdTech, and some of the data and analytics infrastructure that we have within our organization. So, I need a partnership with the CTO’s organization because they are the ones with the depth of skills and capability to make those evaluations and to make integration work.
The CEO is the physical representation of the brand, and looks to their CMO to say, “You’re the custodian of the brand on my behalf. Are we doing the right things to build that brand and protect that value that we’ve built over time?” It’s the CEO’s job to challenge us. Are we genuinely delivering on the needs of the broader customer universe and the opportunity that represents for the business, as opposed to just servicing our existing customers?
There was an expression at McDonald’s—when everything was going well, the operators or franchisees would say, “It’s all about quality, service, cleanliness, and value.” And when things were going badly, it was marketing’s fault.
Marketing is often held to a higher standard when things are challenging. But the positive thing about that is that the rest of the company is looking to marketing to help turn things around. Because it’s marketing that can reach customers and motivate them to do something.
“Marketing is often held to a higher standard when things are challenging. But the positive thing about that is that the rest of the company is looking to marketing to help turn things around. Because it’s marketing that can reach customers and motivate them to do something.”
What type of data do you care most about day-to-day, as a CMO?
What’s most interesting to me is asking how a huge volume of data can provide genuine insight, and how I can use that insight to provide value to my customer. But there has to be a value exchange. That’s the inherent thing for me—asking, what will we give customers for our provision of data? And how do we use that to deliver benefits to them?
I can measure impact in terms of brand value, brand consideration, and other metrics. I can measure impact in terms of marketing attribution against key product outcomes and against the PNL impact of that. At the end of the day, though, I think, “Are we telling great stories that are compelling? Do people stay with us to build their careers? Do our competitors aspire to do what we’re doing?”
You must get ideas pitched to you often. How do you determine what ideas you’ll invest your time in?
I look for ideas that challenge me—the ones that make me a little bit nervous, or even downright scared. And then I look to see if we can make that work. If it can deliver value to our customers. And if, in doing so, that will deliver value to our organization.
Coke used to use the expression, “70/20/10.” 70% of their investment was in effect business-as-usual type activity. 20% was out on the horizon. And then 10% was for pure stretch thinking. It was a little bit different in McDonald’s, because being a retail business, you probably weren’t going to invest that level in innovative thinking—sort of more like 80/15/5.
I have the same kind of mental construct. Steve Easterbrook from McDonald’s said he’d rather have a strategy that’s 80% right, executed to 100%. So, I absolutely want to deliver that business-as-usual. But I also want to challenge myself to say, “Is that stretched thinking? Is that the stuff that’s going to help us be fundamentally different? And will that get us there more quickly?”
Are there opportunities you see other business leaders like yourself leaving behind?
I have a Copernican theory about the relationship between brands and customers.
To cut a very long story short, Copernicus was a Polish astronomer that watched the movement of the stars through the heavens and identified that we weren’t actually the center of our known universe—that we actually rotated around the sun, and in doing so, opened up navigation by the stars. Look at that as an analogy in relation to organizations interacting with customers throughout history. The organization was at the center of our known universe, and they would interact with you on their terms, in their time frame, providing you with the level of information that they, the organization, felt was sufficient.
I think what we saw with the explosion of the web is that it actually changed that balance of power. Now, customers are generally sitting at the center of the equation, and brands revolve around them. Consumers now get to choose who they interact with and how they interact with them. They have absolute knowledge, more or less, and can determine the way they want to behave.
I believe from a consumer standpoint, that’s been the case for close to two decades now. I am amazed that many organizations talk customer but don’t actually live customer. The concept of customer still revolves around the outside, and the organization faces out into those interactions as opposed to being genuinely aligned with delivering that outcome for the customer. It sounds unduly simplistic, but ultimately, the customer determines the success of the organization, and therefore, why shouldn’t everything be focused on delivering that?
And with the complexity of a business like yours, you’ve got lots of different types of customers. Can you give an example of when you’re being customer-centric in a meeting or in a plan? is it a persona? Is it a specific customer? Is it a segment?
One of the things I’m proudest of is our ability to actually communicate to our customers in the context of their current life moments. And then, identifying what the financial solution or service is that we can provide to assist them in that process. It fundamentally changes the construct. We’re not talking about taking out a mortgage. We’re talking about when you want to change your domestic living environment by buying a new home, upgrading, renovating, or whatever. I think there’s genuine power in turning things 180 degrees and looking through the eyes of the customer accordingly.
“It sounds unduly simplistic, but ultimately, the customer determines the success of the organization, and therefore, why shouldn’t everything be focused on delivering that?”
Let’s talk about leadership. Who do you admire?
I have a huge level of admiration for the CEO at NAB, Andrew Thorburn. He’s an incredibly impassioned, compelling, visionary CEO. Also, Chief Operating Officer, Anthony Cahill. But aside from the obvious, the person that I have a huge amount of respect for is one that probably won’t be well known to your readers. It’s a woman named Bec Goddard. Bec is an Australian Federal Policewoman. Her day job is trying to stamp out child pornography. But her other job, until recently, was the coach of the Adelaide Crows, Australian Football League women’s team. What is extraordinary about Bec is that she had to bring together a team. Half of the team was based in Darwin in the Northern Territory. The other half was based in Adelaide. It was a first season, so non-professional players, and she had to make them professional over an eight-week season to win the Premiership.
Her ability to gel a geographically-dispersed group of people with very different backgrounds and upbringings, and build this incredibly focused, compelling team to ultimately go on and win the Premiership, was extraordinary. I have a huge amount of admiration for somebody who effectively did that part-time, and who has made a genuine difference in the game, a genuine difference in the lives of these young women, and a genuine difference in society as a whole.
What are you reading right now?
I’d like to say it’s something particularly intellectual, but for me, I get up, I flick through my social feeds, I read the daily newspaper, I stay up to date with sports—Australian Football in particular, around this time of year.
I just reread Watkins’s The First 90 Days. I just sort of wanted to challenge myself. You know, am I thinking about the right things? The other book that I use as a foundation of sort of my overall approach to team building and management is Lencioni’s Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Beyond that, you know, I think there’s probably some Scandi-noir on my Kindle that I generally read about a page or two before I pass out each evening.
Where would you advise someone looking at marketing to start their career?
I have a huge regard for the advertising business overall, as challenging as it can be. However, in this day and age, there’s a lot of value to just getting breadth of exposure. But I’d come back to one slightly more salient point: Where is it that you can be at your most curious? How do you challenge yourself to understand what’s going on in the world around you? And then, how do you apply that in a way that’s delivering value to customers in some form? And if you can find that and use it as your source of energy, I think you’ll have a very enjoyable and successful career as a result.
“Where is it that you can be at your most curious? How do you challenge yourself to understand what’s going on in the world around you? And then, how do you apply that in a way that’s delivering value to customers in some form? And if you can find that and use it as your source of energy, I think you’ll have a very enjoyable and successful career as a result.”
I had the good fortune to be at South by Southwest and was able to see some amazing stuff there. But what resonated with me most was Walter Isaacson talking about Da Vinci, which is one of the books I’m reading on my Kindle at the moment—albeit it, about a page at a time. But Isaacson talked about Da Vinci being the most curious man of all time. If my marketers, my agency partners, could be even 10% as curious as Da Vinci, I think we’d be in a better place as a result.
“Isaacson talked about Da Vinci being the most curious man of all time. If my marketers, my agency partners, could be even 10% as curious as Da Vinci, I think we’d be in a better place as a result.”