Multinationals have invented entirely new jobs to lure Julie Woods-Moss to their top table. As ‘President and Chief Marketing and Innovation Officer’ at telecoms giant TATA Communications, she helped to almost triple market cap; as ‘Chief Marketing Officer and President of Strategy and Propositions’ at BT, Woods-Moss ran its £5 billion products and services portfolio. Her early career included a successful spell at tech giant IBM, and Forbes ranks her as the 16th most influential chief marketing officer (CMO) in the world. In November 2018, Woods-Moss was recognised as one of the top 50 women in the UK tech sector. Having just added the Nurole-recruited role of board member of the Grosvenor Liverpool Fund to her CV, Woods-Moss here discusses digital disruption, marketing strategy and innovation.

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What are the questions that boards considering investing in digital marketing need to consider?

Most boards don’t need to focus on operational details, like understanding campaign by campaign what’s working or not, but the things to think about are:

  • Do you have the right talent, or are you building it?
  • Do you have the right technology?
  • Is there proper alignment across sales, marketing and customer services? Digital is about how you engage with your customers, not just marketing.
  • A business in a growth stage should consider, what is the impact of digital marketing on overall acquisition costs? What’s the conversion rate, and customer engagement? Keep the metrics at a simple level - your marketing expert should be able to demonstrate the link without going into the micro KPIs.

What’s your advice to boards who want to think more about digital marketing, but don’t have that expertise and feel out of their depth?

It’s a very common feeling - in fact, most CMOs’ traditional training wouldn’t have covered all of today’s technicalities and nuances of digital marketing; it’s growing fast. But the basis of how a business influences customers hasn’t changed: you need to think about understanding what they want, having the insight to see how they’re behaving, and the ability to react faster than your competitors.

It’s difficult to get the most from your talent if you don’t speak the same digital language as your agencies, or the new stars coming up into your organisation. But my advice is, you don’t have to be expert, but have to know enough to direct the team.

But how - if not au fait with the latest marketing buzzwords and indices - can boards know if the digital marketing in their organisation is working?

Digital marketing is supposed to mean you can act fast. If you have pace in your organisation and can adapt and execute decisions quickly, that’s a lead indicator that your digital strategy is working.

There are a number of impact conversations to have: in the digital world, if people are not finding you, there’s something wrong. So think into details around customer sessions, and ask your head of marketing or digital to simplify data on conversion rates - these can show where you win and lose customers, so can flag flaws in product or friction in the process, both of which are critical.

Also look at how digital is increasing customer value in your business: is it increasing, say, the basket size or time people are on the site?

A company that depends on digital should also discuss sentiment analysis - don’t wait for quarterly panels or satisfaction surveys, you very easily get a sense over social media about how much love there is for your brand out there.

We’re all talking about the demise of the High Street - what are the questions boards need to ask when considering how to balance ‘bricks’ and ‘clicks’?

It’s tough for traditional retail but it has been somewhat overstated, I think: 20% of retail transactions are currently digital, and a lot of that 20% is being influenced by the other 80% - shoppers seeing things in shop windows then later buying online, for example. Physical retail is not going to go away, but I think the industry can do better on attribution models - demonstrating how physical stores feed sales across all media - and causation: if you abandon a basket online, do you try something on in the shop later? Brands need to get better at the seamless, omnichannel experience, but also need to give shoppers something in stores that they’re not getting at home. Arket, for example, with its in store coffee shops, and Waterstones with its events: the chain was written off, but it’s now doing well. It’s not going to be easy but I think it’ll be sad if the high street demises.

How can you learn digital marketing skills - without taking a career break?!

There are ways to do so without completely going back to school - I’ve done courses with Decoded, one of the new wave learning platforms, which teaches digital marketing in a day, including SEO, pay per click, and retargeting. General Assembly runs 10-week digital marketing courses, or there are lots of facilitated online learning options.

The other thing I’ve done and would recommend is to have a reverse mentor: select one of the brightest from your team or agency and have them mentor you, just as seniors mentor more junior workers on leadership, this can work on tech talent.

Or, if your organisation is large enough, choose an executive assistant (EA) who has very strong digital skills. I think LinkedIn and Twitter are the most important platforms in the business world, and when I was first getting into social at Tata, I spent more of my efforts on building the company’s LinkedIn community. Once we had almost 250,000 users on that platform, I bought my EA into the fold and said, ‘let’s learn about social media together’. It was very successful, and we built the right Twitter following quite quickly as he was naturally extensively social.

What do you put your own success down to?

The fact that I apply a growth mindset to my career: that results will follow effort. Even if things are going well, it’s about not getting complacent, you still have to apply that growth mindset which starts with yourself. The combination of effort, perseverance and practice will ultimately outplay pure talent.

At what stage does an organisation need a CMO?

It depends on the type of business - but if marketing is core, then it’s important to realise that the traditional distance between sales and marketing doesn’t exist anymore. Companies should hire a head of marketing at the same time as a head of sales. It has to be someone with the potential to really understand the customer landscape and the company’s values, as well as having absolute empathy with the customer journey and making that frictionless.

What’s the best digital marketing example out there right now?

I’m always impressed by the brands who don’t have huge budgets, but are doing really clever, intriguing things. I loved AeroMexico’s recent campaign, playing into geopolitical tension between Mexico and the US, and [Donald Trump’s US-Mexico] wall. The tensions had negatively impacted their sales. So the airline ran a campaign that involved interviewing people with anti-Mexican sentiment, then running DNA tests and giving the percentage ‘Mexican’ that they were as a discount off a flight to Mexico. The ad addresses a very topical issue, the company must have been very agile to get that campaign out, it was done very sensitively, it bought a smile to people’s faces, and it had a call to action which generated sales. That’s a successful campaign.

What is the Next Big Thing that boards should have on their radars to stay ahead of the curve?

There’s a lot of hype around machine learning and AI - I think some of that is ahead of its time, but the companies that can get ahead on it will be those who know their data. What’s your business’ strategic data? What data do you need to augment machine learning? Right now it’s important for boards to start understanding their data set and how to experiment with it - that will be needed for training algorithms.

How did you find your Nurole experience?

Initially I had an open mind and wasn’t sure what the quality of positions would be or how relevant they would be for me, but I was very impressed. To create a platform like Nurole for something as ‘elite’ as recruiting NEDs and chair people and executives - roles which are often retained by a very small number of exclusive search companies - democratises the whole process.

The platform is very usable, and I’d encourage people to spend time, and be thoughtful on their applications. The Grosvenor opportunity really excited me and when I spoke to the CEO he said the quality and variety of both the long- and short-list that Nurole provided was extremely positive, so on this occasion it worked well for both the participant and from the company’s perspective.

Let’s finish with a few quick-fire questions...

What’s the best professional advice you’ve been given?

Shelley Lazareth, former CEO of Ogilvy, once told me, ‘it’s easier to find a good job than a good husband’. I agree with that!

What was your biggest break?

Becoming president at BT when I was 39; I was somewhat lucky with succession planning, I was well supported and it was an incredible opportunity.

What are you reading now?

I’m a readaholic - I’ve almost finished Angie Thomas’ book The Hate You Give and just listened, on Audible, to Michelle Obama’s Becoming - I didn’t want it to end.

Favourite holiday?

Spending time with family and friends at my summerhouse in Croatia - flip flops and frizzy hair; it’s the simple pleasures.

What do you do to have fun?

My ladies’ cycling club, heels on wheels - it’s physically challenging but also really social.

When did you last cry?

Just after Christmas: my son is at university in Amsterdam - I secretly cried: tears of pride but it’s also hard to say goodbye.

When does your alarm go off and how many hours of sleep do you have on average?

A normal day will be about 6.30 with a 15 minute snooze; I’m trying to get more sleep but I’m a night owl and need to start going to bed earlier!

Lucy Tobin is a senior City journalist and columnist at the Evening Standard. She tweets @lucytobin.

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