NatWest CMO: Effectiveness Is Key to Boosting Marketing's Credibility

Margaret Jobling says marketers need to learn to sell themselves internally in tough times

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As marketers scramble to chart their course ahead for yet another uncertain year, Margaret Jobling isn’t fixated on obstacles like inflation or political uncertainty. Instead she’s laser-focused on the things she can influence, including making sure the value of the marketing function is well and truly seen.

The brand boss is no stranger to headwinds. She joined U.K. bank NatWest as chief marketing officer (CMO) in 2020, arriving at the peak of the pandemic from British Gas owner Centrica. Prior to that she held roles at Cadbury’s and Unilever. In July 2022, she was appointed president of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA), with the remit of steering the trade body’s members through huge waves of regulation, the cost-of-living-crisis and Brexit.

She is taking a glass-half full approach to the year ahead. “Times are testing and volatile. The socio-economic political backdrop is also tricky,” she told Adweek.

“However, there are reasons to be cheerful,” she explained, pointing to the U.K.’s latest IPA Bellwether report–which is projecting the ad industry will grow by 2.1% this year–as a sign the market was “holding up well.”

As she prepares to address marketers at ISBA’s LEAD event in London on Jan. 25, her message is loud and clear. “You can only control what you can influence.”

For Jobling, there are several factors marketers can yield power over to ensure they weather economists’ predictions that the U.K. will see one the worst recessions and weakest recoveries in the G7 this year.

Along with driving trust, cultivating strong agency relationships and engaging with regulators, one of the key points on Jobling’s priority checklist is the need for brands to drive transparency and effectiveness in testing times. And the first place for marketers to start is to learn how to sell themselves.  

“From a CMO perspective, effectiveness is critical for us to be able to articulate value and the outcomes we derive from the money we spend. But it’s not just important from a business perspective, it’s important from a credibility perspective for the marketing function,” she asserted.

Dispelling the ‘coloring-in department’ myth

Recent data from PwC uncovered that 65% CMOs believed their board still viewed marketing as a cost function. A further 32% said they weren’t satisfied with the way their organizations perceived their department.

To maintain investment in the current climate, Jobling said marketers must demonstrate the strategic value they can add to the business’ bottom line.

“Where it falls short in marketing is when you can’t talk about the value you bring, and then you’re seen as the coloring in department,” she continued.

At NatWest, she has implemented a “test and learn” approach to marketing, being transparent with her own team and the wider company about what’s working and what isn’t.

The best illustration of this in action was the businesses work with The&Partnership and media shop Initiative on a campaign to modernize the NatWest brand. The integrated “Tomorrow Begins Today” campaign launched in summer 2022 to encourage customers to stop procrastinating and get their finances in order.

The brand has seen an improvement on spontaneous awareness and reached its core under-35 demographic, seeing improvements on consideration and a growing share of the mortgage and small business account markets.

“We now have a direct line of performance between the campaign and the commercial outcomes for our business,” Jobling revealed.

Jobling has introduced a more agile way of planning, which pools together media and creative teams in “scrums,” sees them work in 12-week-long cycles and two-week-long sprits to deliver results. This is part of her plan to build speed and flexibility into the NatWest’s marketing model.

This has led to increased investment in effective short-term channels including TikTok and Snapchat and decreased spend on linear TV. It also opened the door up to a metaverse event series based on offering financial support to female founders. This, Jobling said, was an interesting use case but not super effective from a marketing perspective.
“If you don’t try it you’ll never know, that’s the culture I’ve tried to build here,” she elaborated.

Cross-media measurement

Wearing her hat to represent British marketing organization ISBA, Jobling highlighted how a lack of transparency in the programmatic supply chain is hindering marketers’ ability to make the right planning choices. She implored publishers and advertisers to work together on this issue to drive effectiveness in 2023.

She also made the case for Origin–the advertiser-backed cross-media measurement project ISBA is leading, saying the goal was to make media planning neutral for advertisers and their agencies.

“Although current measurement tools allow us to make some of the necessary adjustments to media plans, they only go so far,” Jobling said. She added that to really make advertising more effective, marketers need the tools in their hands to power the media choices that need to be dynamically made to meet campaign goals.

The pilot is due to launch later in 2023 with select partners, following industry-wide consultations.

Looking ahead, Jobling believes better measurement, more focus on the value marketing brings and greater collaboration will be key to helping brands emerge strong from the looming recession.

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