Marketers must drive growth and ‘stop hanging out with agencies’, says Virgin Mobile chief

Virgin Mobile’s chief executive David Scribner has urged marketers to step up and become the driver of growth for their company and not let “scoreboard operators” dictate strategy.

Scribner, one of only a few marketing chiefs to have been elevated to CEO level, said marketers’ customer-centric approach makes them best placed to lead business growth.

But they must also work in tandem with their IT counterparts to produce “hard measures” of success, he said, and expand their influence within the business rather than “hang out” with agency friends.

Speaking on Marketing Dividends, a new three-minute weekly segment on Sky News Business, Scribner said there “has never been a more important time for marketers to be the voice of the customer…and to use that to help with business growth”.

“Never in history… has the customer had such a great voice in dealing with companies. So if marketing can tap into that and be the voice of the customer in the c-suite and on the board we’ll see a great future for marketing,” he said.

“Marketers have always been at the forefront of change and ideas. Post GFC there are no easy cuts or easy growth. You have to be innovative and come up with ideas to achieve that growth.

“Marketers need to step up , they have the opportunity to be the person for change and the person for growth and…and it’s important you don’t just let the scoreboard operators run the game, that you are letting the players run the game. That’s where marketing has to step and…show some gravitas and try to take the mantle for growth.”

Scribner, who spent two years spearheading Virgin Mobile’s marketing before his appointment as CEO in April last year, said there is room, and a need, for the CMO to sit around the boardroom table, something that is rare in Australia. Getting that “first marketer [on a board] is the big issue”, he admitted.

“We are reaching a tipping point with represention on boards. One of first questions shareholders, CEO’s and board members must ask is who is representing the customer ….and whether that is the appropriate person,” he said. “Do they have the right background? Would they better served having someone with a marketing background?

“I don’t see a lot of companies with board representation with marketers but what I do see which is very promising is the growth in areas such a chief customer officer reporting to the CEO. It’s an exciting evolution.”

He said he was increasingly important for marketers to grow their influence with executives within the business, and advised them to leave agency relationships to the broader marketing team.

“It has always been easier to hang out with your friends, such as the agency etc but now it’s time to have tough conversations with the finance community, the IT community and sales community so they are on board with the growth mantra you are trying to execute,” Scribner said. “If marketers can spend more time with those people rather than the agency they will see big growth in their ability to influence at the c-suite level.”

Good marketers will be those who demonstrate the work they do leads to tangible results, and “create linkage of soft metrics to hard metrics of sales and profitability”, Scribner said. That can be achieved by working closely with data and analytics people with the business.

“We are on a journey with that change and I don’t think we have hit the tipping point yet….the way marketing used to happen was to make your big ad, follow and sales will come. It was quite a sexy way of doing business whereas data analysing and getting your fingers dirty and finding where the customer wants to go is a bit different.

“Presenting that and amplifying that through social or social by design and supporting that with above the line communications is a completely different way to market and a lot people are on that journey.

“If the marketer can be really curious then data can be a wonderful playground for them to be in.”

Marketing Dividends is a joint initiative between the Association of National Advertisers (AANA) and MEC Global.

SAGE logoDavid Scribner will be speaking at SAGE – Secrets of Agency Excellence, organised by Mumbrella’s sister title The Source in Sydney on November 25. He will discuss how agencies should connect with client CEOs.  More program details can be found here.

Steve Jones


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