Our chief marketing strategist, Greg Bowell, comes with a wealth of experience on both agency and client sides. As the brains behind our marketing advisory service, his expertise is a priceless commodity.
What’s your background in the marketing industry?
My marketing career spans nearly 30 years. After completing a Bachelor of Commerce (Marketing and International Business) from the University of Auckland, I went straight into the consumer pharmaceutical industry. There, I worked for global companies and brands like Berocca, spanning the pharmacy, grocery and route channels. I then moved into pure FMCG, working for one of New Zealand’s largest and most loved brands, which made and marketed biscuits and snack foods. This continued a great grounding in not only branding and marketing strategy but also sales, commercial acumen, managing teams, manufacturing, NPD and business turnaround.
When I moved to Australia, I entered a new industry: Franchised QSR with Eagle Boys Pizza, which was great exposure to founder-led business and small business through franchising. I then returned to FMCG through a high-growth acquired business for Goodman Fielder Baking. This was an entrepreneurial food manufacturing business and delivering high-growth results through brand and marketing led me to an executive position at Goodman Fielder Baking with ANZ responsibility.
I then held the marketing executive position for Minor DKL Food Group, whose largest brand was The Coffee Club, with ANZ P&L responsibility for brand, marketing and customer experience. This again provided exposure to franchising and getting results for small businesses across all functions. After that, I moved into an executive position for Australia’s largest listed early education company.
Now working at New Word Order and in consulting roles, I have broadened my experience to include government, not-for-profits, and SMEs in mining, manufacturing, health and technology—both B2B and B2C.
What have been some of the key highlights in your career and why?
My career highlights have had similar ingredients and common outcomes. I often find myself walking into or being part of a business with very little strategic understanding of brand, marketing or the customer, but with a great product and an appetite for growth. This, plus the trust and accountability of peers and boards, is generally the right ingredient for a strategic marketer to do their best work.
The heart of my career highlights is having the time and investment to complete a formal strategic insights process. Without it, you guess and hope things will work, which is not sustainable. I have been lucky to have encountered this mix on several occasions, whether it be dramatically turning around a business about to go under, building a high-growth business to triple the top line and double the bottom line in three years, or transforming a tired and mature brand into a modern contemporary, targeting a whole new demographic.
I just love when this strategy work then flows right through the execution process and delivers exceptional outcomes.
What have been key challenges in your career?
Marketing is a constant challenge, as it is the least black-and-white of the key functions at executive and board levels within a business.
Marketing is not a stroke-of-pen decision and so, while it is probably the most important growth driver, the appetite and commitment for true investment and budget tends to rely on less tangible and more instinctive factors than other functions. The key challenge is often trying to turn around a deep-set mistrust and scepticism around marketing, perceiving it as a cost rather than an investment, or a short-term mindset to deliver immediate results.
This is why marketing success often comes down to the stakeholder engagement skills of the CMO, or the mindset of senior leaders towards marketing. In addition to that, often timing related to the entire business performance can determine if marketing gets to market. I have also found obtaining the right marketing metrics to prove ROI and growth can be challenging if legacy systems exist or do not integrate with other systems in the business.
What have you found is the toughest part of being a CMO?
Getting everything and everyone working in unison from strategic insights through to excellence in execution and measurement.
I liken the role of CMO to winning a 100m sprint and the complete process of strategic marketing being every step of the way to winning the race from start to finish. If you fall with just one metre left, you may have been leading all the way to that point but it can leave you nowhere. You can be fast out of the blocks but quickly get left behind if you have not done the insights or training and are not at the peak of your game.
You may hide this by performance-enhancing price promotions, but you eventually will get found out. You need a great team and coaches around you—from your internal team to your team of suppliers. You just can’t do it alone. You also need the right facilities, equipment and technology. You need good data down to the split second to measure your performance.
What drew you to marketing strategy?
Marketing is a human-centred, behaviour-driven discipline. So emotional connection is at the heart of great marketing. I love how marketing is a mix of creativity and commercial pragmatism. I naturally think that way—proven by all the personality and thinking models I have completed.
So you are drawn to what you like and how you naturally think but then combining that with all the amazing opportunities I have been given to work with—fantastic people and fantastic brands—has only made that attraction stronger. I’m happy when I’m adding value by making great things even better or slightly tired things new again, and when I’m making people aware of new things.
What’s the best part of a marketing strategy project?
Strategy will never drive success on its own. You can have the best marketing strategy but it can be let down by poor execution, communication or culture.
I think the best part of a marketing strategy project is when you can see a powerful insight uncovered right at the beginning of a project be transformed into an emotive, human-centred, behaviour-changing, outcome-driving campaign that exceeds expectations. This is when all the components work to exceed the expectations of the key stakeholders. It’s a rare event but one to be extremely proud of. This is why I place the most credence on Effie Awards, as other awards tend to only reward one step in the process while campaign effectiveness is a better holistic measure of success.
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