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Career profile: Andy Lark, CMO, Commonwealth Bank


Career profile: Andy Lark, CMO, Commonwealth Bank


He has no interest in golf…

Or so his LinkedIn proudly declares. Andy Lark’s stepped into one of the longest shadows in the Australian marketing landscape, but having grown up under the long white cloud he’s no stranger to proving himself.

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Andy Lark has had the best of both worlds. Born a New Zealander, Lark gained a wealth of Stateside experience and has landed in Australia. His day job is untraditionally marketing one of the most traditional of all categories (it just happens to be the second largest Australian listed company on the ASX by market capitalisation), but he is also a director at No 8 Ventures a New Zealand-based technology venture capital firm. He remembers sweeping the floor in his first gig at a small promotional company as he boards the innumerable flights that make him a difficult man to lock down on the phone. And it isn’t just a ‘line’: he humbly apologises as our interview is interrupted by another meeting, making time for a few extra questions even as the room fills.

He tells me his first boss – at the promotional company whose floors he swept – taught him not to value money and title so much, early on, but rather to make sure he was having great experiences that taught him something. He eventually moved up to production and design work and credits this lesson with driving his career down a path of seeking out places that allowed him to make a difference and do meaningful work.

More recently, Lark has worked with Gary Hamel – author of… well a lot, but specifically The Future of Management, Leading the Revolution and Competing for the Future – on a project worth your time checking out. He says Hamel challenged him to think of the new technologies such as social media as not just communications tools, but potentially devices to transform the way people work and create meaning at their day jobs.

Of course, no one who worked with Michael Dell could fail to cite the man as an influencer. For Lark, Dell inspired entrepreneurialism and the ability to drive results.

Lark made headlines globally last year when he decided to leave a highly successful 14 years with Dell – finally as vice president and general manager, large enterprise marketing and online – for Commonwealth Bank following Mark Buckman’s departure to Telstra. Banking seems a strange leap for a marketer with a pedigree of over two decades in the technology category, both B2B and B2C. Despite by his own admission bleeding Dell blue, it came down to a “soft and fluffy” reason: he wanted to make sure his kids got some “Down Under DNA” at the right age.

Marketing: You obviously value entrepreneurialism quite a bit. Do you think entrepreneurial experience is critical to corporate marketing roles today?

It’s funny, when you sit with marketers and you talk to marketers about what drives them. I did this yesterday with a group of our leaders in the business, and I said, “Why do you do this? Of all the things you could possibly do with your day, why the heck do you do this? You dreamed one day of being a fire fighter or a jet pilot or whatever you dreamt of doing, and somehow you ended up in marketing, and marketing doesn’t describe actually what you do anyway. So why do you do this?”

And it’s really interesting because it basically comes down to two things when you talk to people about it and you drill into it. And one of those things is they love change, they love changing people’s minds, and they love convincing people of things. So they’re the debaters, the arguers, the fighters, and that’s a real hallmark of being an entrepreneur.

The other thing is they love creating, they love creating stuff, writing stuff, designing stuff, building stuff; we’re all creators at heart, and so I think it’s a long answer to your question, but at the end of the day, it really helps to have been an entrepreneur.

It might be cynical but it’s a comment that is made about Australian marketers in comparison to American marketers, that they lack that courage and entrepreneurialism, and having worked in both markets at major organisations, what’s your comment on that?

I think there’s an element of truth to it. I think that you’ve got to challenge yourself down here. Australia works to a different clock than the high paced, high energy clock of the US market, so there’s also a different sense of entrepreneurial outputs or outcomes.

So in the US, when you’re surrounded by start ups and these 24 year-olds are making hundreds of millions of dollars off the back of their iPhone camera app, there’s a different sense of the entrepreneurial outcome, and there’s role models around you to follow.

So your newsstand is full of magazines like Fast Company and stuff that aren’t covering the mining industry; they’re covering start ups in Silicon Valley and Boston and New York and San Francisco and Dallas. The companies where young leaders doing really revolutionary things with different cultures, different approaches, different ways of doing stuff, and so you’re surrounded by all these role models or innovations that you don’t get so exposed to down here.

Comm bank

SAS: Forrester has come out with their CMOs Imperative Report for 2012 and it identified social as the number one imperative across all verticals for CMOs. You’ve taken CBA to the forefront within Australia, not only among the banks but also large B2C enterprises. How are you measuring the business results from that investment?

There’s two things. First, I’d say: number one is I only get a little tiny bit of the credit. I started here eight months ago, and the reality is that the social initiatives here were well in place before [me] – okay, I added some spice to them and lit a fire under some of it, but boy, they’ve been doing some amazing stuff in social for a long time here. So I just say that because it deserves to be said; they’ve got a great social team… But my predecessors deserve a lot of credit for embracing social and driving social, even before I got here. Second thing I’d say is Forrester is wrong, I don’t buy that. I think that marketers are struggling with a whole raft of issues, and social is just one of them. I think it’s convenient to make social a priority but we’re equally struggling with the accountability of marketing, with demand generation models, lead generation. Social is absolutely in our top four priorities, but it’s right there alongside building the brand and building brand resonance in the market. It’s right there alongside demand generation, marketing automation, CRM etc. falls into that bracket. Mobile, I would argue, is more important than social – arguably social is an inherent part of doing mobile well, but if you don’t get mobile right, social is really your second problem. Mobile is big.

How are you actually measuring your investments in mobile and social, in that case?

Direct revenue generated. I can tell you the direct revenue flow from social. I can tell you the value of the community members and engagement. we look at reduced service and support costs, we look at improved customer service. There’s a whole raft of metrics there that flow from social. Now, admittedly, I had a bit of a head start on that because at Dell we did a lot of this very early on, so we really understood the models for assessing our return on social, and we’re doing that a lot here at the Bank now. But we see significant returns from social, both internally and externally.

Scale is obviously one of the challenges, but also the advantages at your organisation. How are you managing to synchronise and measure the leads and service levels with the kind of volume of customer transaction and data you have across so many brands and channels?

We’re working really, really hard on it. It’s a big activity for us, and so frankly, you’ve really got to watch that you don’t spend most of your time measuring stuff as opposed to doing stuff, because there’s so much to measure; there’s so much data. So we’re putting a lot of effort into measurement, but we’re putting an equal amount of effort into doing, because there’s so much data. You could spend all your time measuring stuff.

Marketing: I see from your blog that you’re personally quite interested in content marketing. What role is data playing in the Commonwealth Bank’s content marketing deployment, and how does it work at an executional level?

Content, I really believe is the single biggest – one of the single biggest challenges facing all marketers. Because for the most part, marketers have been brought up not as domain experts but rather specialised experts, and so marketers aren’t necessarily experts and trained in financial planning and financial advice, they’re trained in demand generation and branding and all these other things. Content hinges on domain expertise as opposed to specialisation, right. And so your ability now to become creators of content, editors of content, reporters of content becomes really crucial.

Do you believe that these developments in content marketing means that marketers need to upskill into this, or is this something that you see agencies being able to handle for their clients?

I actually think marketers need to upskill. I think agencies will struggle because they’re too far away from the content itself. I think marketers need to become experts in great content and context – not just content but context. The ability to look at content and put it in the right context is what the game is going to be all about, because otherwise you just can’t speak to the audience in a way that’s relevant or relative to their life.

I’ve been talking to a lot of agency heads about working upstream lately, and I’m wondering if you work with any particular agency partners in this capacity, and if you do or don’t, why or why not?

We just started working with M&C [Saatchi] and they’re providing some interesting thoughts in that area, but as of yet, no I haven’t really seen any of them come to the table in that manner. But there’s certainly an opportunity for them to.

I actually just got off the phone with Dan Gregory, who was discussing the shift of interruptive advertising to utility advertising, and he’s putting forward the idea that marketers and agencies are now all in the entertainment industry.

Absolutely. I talk about the five new Ps of marketing, and one of the Ps is ‘Play’. I think every single one of us needs to tune our industries into play, whether it’s entertainment, whether it’s games, whatever it is. If you look at the highest yield marketing activities we do, they involve some form of play, and play drives engagement.

Do you actually see a difference in this between B2B and B2C marketing?

No. Exactly the same things happen right across the board, albeit with different constructs, right. There is no question that at the high end of the B2B market, where there are complex sales cycles and long funnels and you’re trying to reach the C-suite, it’s a slightly different game. And you’ve got to be far more sophisticated and clever about what you’re doing from a relationship standpoint. That’s a little different than the transactional B2B market or the B2C market, but they’re all following similar paths, albeit in different ways. So it’s like the earlier comment about context, right. It’s just the context that shifts. I do think that one of the major changes with seeing though that differentiates the B2C from the B2B market is in the collapse of the funnel. So this idea that you would build awareness, build preference, drive demand, sell off demand, build loyalty, that’s collapsing in a lot of the B2C funnels, because people now search, it does everything for you. You believe the algorithm on your device of whatever kind it is, is suited to every task from selecting a new mate and partner through to selecting a new book through to doing whatever you’re going to do next.

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