Power to our people: NAB’s Andrew Knott

National Australia Bank's CMO says modern marketing success depends on recruiting well and managing staff on the road to ‘mass personalisation’.

National Australia Bank's Andrew Knott doesn't buy into the cult of the "all-seeing, all-knowing" CMO. Although he is one of the region's most powerful marketers, with a large number of employees and customers under management, Knott sees his primary job as pushing forward NAB's marketing objectives in a high-profile industry under constant scrutiny.

Knott believes in the value of employing quality marketers, placing talented people in positions where they can make the most difference. While other CMOs might see this as a way of creating internal threats, Knott believes it's the path to building stronger, more confident teams.

“As a senior marketer, I can’t actually do the business of marketing,” Knott says. “I'm there to directionally lead marketing and then put in place the best possible people I can to deliver exceptional marketing.

“I'm very conscious that I need to continuously evolve how we do things. I’m a real fan of thinking through the change process, but I guess the area I’m the most interested in is how you manage people through the process. How do you allow people to process change themselves, to get through that transformation, and come out the other end delivering results?”

Track record

Knott’s attitudes reflect his diverse professional background: since 2000 he has held a series of senior marketing and management roles at corporates and agencies, and been responsible for customers’ needs in Asia-Pacific, Africa, the Middle East, as well as his native Australia. After becoming Managing Director at OgilvyOne and then Vice-President of Strategy and Operations at Ogilvy and Mather, Knott was CMO, Vice-President of Marketing at Salesforce and Chief Digital Officer at Havas Worldwide. He was McDonald’s regional Vice President, Media and Digital for four years before taking on the CMO job at NAB at the end of 2015.

NAB, which made $5.29 billion profit in 2017, has more than 9 million personal and business customers and 33,000 employees. But controlling a large, diverse marketing department at Australia’s biggest business bank doesn’t make Knott feel infallible.

“I don't think anyone has all the answers,” he says. “I'm certainly very conscious of my limitations, so I'm very open to how others are doing it. At the same time, I have a personal mantra that ‘80 per cent right and moving’ is better than ‘100 per cent right and still thinking about it’. Trimming the sails or tweaking as you go will deliver a much better outcome than sitting back and trying to wait for the perfect solution.”

“What I'm constantly looking at is: ‘Are we effectively structured? ‘Do we have the right level of capabilities?’ ‘Do we have the focus to deliver to our customers as their worlds evolve?’”

Former colleagues and business partners say Knott isn’t just a results-oriented marketer and manager – he puts people first. Andrea Lee, who worked with Knott at Havas Worldwide and McDonald's, says on LinkedIn he “puts a huge emphasis on talent. He empowers his staff, motivates his team and encourages an inclusive, collaborative culture.” Another, Gerald Yeo, says Knott “takes a genuine interest in people and that has translated into the innate ability to galvanise his people and teams into delivering exceptional results for him”.

Knott seems to be genuinely interested in how the world works. He often speaks about shared values, and his focus is on investing in areas where marketing can have the most clout for NAB, especially in the B2B space.

“It's absolutely crucial that marketing is very clear on what value it brings to your organisation,” Knott says. “At the heart of it, marketing is there to understand the customers’ needs and to meet those needs as best we can through delivering a compelling reason to engage.”

While data is invaluable as society moves from "mass marketing" to "mass personalisation", he says the essential ingredient in good customer experience is people.

Marketing’s journey

Although Knott acknowledges marketing has a broad remit within a business as large and complex as NAB, he points to its two fundamental priorities. “At a macro level, we drive demand for the enterprise,” he says. “We try and put a message in front of the right customer in an informed way at the right time that gets them to do something with us. As we're best at driving demand when we really know the customer, I think our second role is directing the customer into the enterprise.

"A lot of people think ‘enterprise out', but I think marketing is one of the few functions that is generally customer oriented. This is really important in steering the way an organisation evolves, how we go to market, the products we develop and deliver, and our service outcomes. One of our big challenges is dealing with how rapidly the marketing landscape is changing."

NAB’s ultimate goal is to be Australia’s most “respected” bank. Front and centre in management’s planning is to deliver great customer experiences, deepen relationships in priority segments and be known for great leadership, talent and people.

To this end, and perhaps a little worryingly for traditionally unpopular banks, NAB zeroes in on the net promoter score (NPS) to measure how it’s tracking. In its 2017 annual review, the bank reported a positive NPS in its priority customer segments. Under its “Medium Business” segment, NAB reported its NPS increased by 11 over the year to reach plus 3.

Knott says part of the bank’s success is making the business as “human” as possible. He says NAB has the advantage of a “real working knowledge” of its customers. “Especially with our business customers, we get to see the totality of their business,” he says. “Our service delivery model, particularly for our larger customers, is really ‘one to a few’.

"You have a banker with a customer base he's there to serve. That actual personal experience of working with our banker is the nature of that engagement. From a marketing perspective, we get to put the wrap around that so the core experience is highly personalised. We can then use the information we have about our customers to inform what we talk to them about.

"Look, clearly we're not doing anything differently to any major organisation. We're using data our customers have given us to deliver something of value to them, which is the whole premise of value exchange.

“You know, we're on a journey. I talk about the journey from mass marketing to mass personalisation. We're probably better at it with our business customers than we are at a mass-consumer level. But that's where we want to go using data, with customer analytics on top of it. The ability to deliver through multiple channels in the right way is what helps us deliver that.”

Structure follows strategy

“It's all well and good to say that you put the customer at the centre of everything,” Knott says. “I think you have to be structured in a way that, by default, makes you think that way. It means you’re much more likely to operate that way, too.”

Building strong relationships and recruiting the right people are essential elements for successful management, he says. Another is a desire to create a stable organisational structure with clear roles for teams and divisions.

"Structure follows strategy, not the other way around," he says. “Marketing is continuously changing and evolving. What I'm constantly looking at is: ‘Are we effectively structured? ‘Do we have the right level of capabilities?’ ‘Do we have the focus to deliver to our customers as their worlds evolve?’

“To be frank, very few organisations are ahead of where their customers are. You could argue some of the tech giants are, but to me it's really just about minimising that gap.”

In recent years, Knott has recruited some high-profile marketers, including former GE CMO Suzana Ristevski, who is NAB’s General Manager, Business Bank Marketing & Customer Strategy. Knott says his recruitment efforts bolster his ambition of “mass personalisation”: taking advantage of emerging capabilities around digital marketing and customer data and analytics.

“That's not to say those capabilities weren't there,” he says. “It's also not to say I don't want those capabilities as a core part of an operational marketer. But I felt I needed to get specific expertise in those areas to accelerate what I'm doing in those areas.

“To use an expression from my old organisation, McDonald's, and having come from an agency background, I absolutely believe the only thing that determines the extent to which we will succeed is the quality of people we have in our organisation. For me, it’s really a case of ‘let's get the right structure in place, let’s put exceptional people in the right roles and let them get on with it’.”

Subscribe for free to Marketorium and receive a fortnightly newsletter with the latest knowledge and insights from B2B marketing leaders in the region and across the world. You can also follow us on Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn.

Further reading: How NAB turned information into insights