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Getting Brainy with John Miles, CEO of New Zealand Marketing Association

Yury Glikin
Yury Glikin

Outbrain’s Yury Glikin chatted to John Miles, CEO of the New Zealand Marketing Association, about how the company is helping marketers navigate our ever-changing industry. Plus, they discuss the importance of curiosity, customer advocacy and being an expert in your product.

Tell me about your current role as CEO of the New Zealand Marketing Association.

We’re the professional body for marketers in New Zealand. We’ve got about every major company connected as a member with us, and our role is to help marketers be brilliant. That’s our purpose and everything that we do is to help marketers be better at their jobs. That includes bringing the best know-how to New Zealand and helping these marketers add value to their companies.

What are some practical ways the association works with marketers and how you help the industry?

Firstly, we hold events so marketers can learn new things. Recently we held an event with the CEO of Gravity Global, which is the most awarded B2B agency in the world. He had a great case study of a commercial Brazilian airline manufacturer which hadn’t been selling many planes, and as a result of a campaign, managed to sell $15 billion worth of planes.

The other side is learning and development. We introduced professional certifications for marketers to raise the standard of their skills. We’re launching another new program this year called The Accelerator, which is aimed at the level below CMOs.

We’ve had a lot of growth in the past year as well. The number of people attending our workshops increased by 143%, and in person attendance increased by 96%. A whopping 4698 people registered for Marketing Association events, with an attendance rate of 82%.

How has the marketing landscape evolved in the time since you’ve been CEO?

Everyone’s been stuck at home. Obviously there’s been developments in digital and technology, but in my mind that’s business as usual.

What’s really changed is the nature of how people purchase. The rise of online shopping is going to change the retail setting quite markedly for bricks and mortar. There were people in the past who were afraid of online shopping but they had to start during COVID, and now they know it works.

Another thing is digital expertise. We had little digital expertise when the first COVID lockdown occurred, but now we’re as good as anyone in the industry. 

What are the primary challenges that the Marketing Association is helping marketers tackle in 2022?

If you visit our website, you’ll see the range of events, learning and development and upskilling opportunities we offer. I believe that we’re probably one of the most progressive associations in New Zealand or Australia. I have my team focused on revenue, and instead of calling ourselves a not-for-profit, I call us a not-for-loss.

We’re constantly innovating so we can keep surprising and delighting our members. We had a session three weeks ago on third party data with Google and The Warehouse – the largest retail group operating in New Zealand – speaking. We had 314 people register and 310 turned up. That’s unheard of. 

What do you think makes a good marketer today?

Having an insatiable sense of curiosity. I always joke that I’m a real nosy bastard, and I ask lots of questions. But if you don’t do that, you can’t understand the customer and marketing is all about understanding your customer. 

A lot of the things people talk about are really channels. But if you don’t understand your customer, you’re not going to get your product, pricing, or distribution strategies right. So these channels become redundant.

Another thing people say is how the government has done a great job on digital initiatives, but they haven’t given the same support around thinking. If a small company understands the market, they’ve got a much better chance to succeed.

After all, if you’ve got a dog of a product and you digitise it, all you’ve done is change the channels. You end up with a digital dog of a product.

What advice would you give to a marketer looking to set up their own business, or who is trying to transform their company’s marketing?

You have to be a customer advocate. We had a speaker who told marketers that their number one marketing strategy should be stakeholder management. Because if you’re in a larger company, you suddenly have to report to people that have never had anything to do with marketing and are now making decisions about it. The only way you can trump their position is by being a customer advocate, because if you don’t have customers, you don’t have revenue.

I did a keynote presentation a few years ago at a university and got a little bit controversial. I said there are four Ps of marketing, but your biggest problem is you’ve lost product, price and placement, and replaced them with policy. And your department then becomes promotions and brand policy. 

The only way you can change that is by becoming an expert on the customer and product, because people will start coming to you and asking for advice. And that’s what great marketers have to do– become experts in what they’re selling. 

And for a small company, as a CEO, your focus has to be on revenue. If you don’t have revenue, you’re gonna go broke. There are always nice-to-haves, but if they’re not generating revenue, they’re not must-haves.

Can you recommend your favourite book?

For marketing, The Book of Gossage by Howard Gossage. People have been talking about storytelling really coming to the forefront in the last two or three years, but this guy was doing it in the late 50s and early 60s.

Other favourites are Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang, which is unbelievable. There’s also the early Kate Stewart books like Exodus and Escape. If anyone wants more traditional storytelling, I always loved The Last of the Mohicans.

How about your favourite news outlet?

The New Zealand Herald or Stuff.co.nz are always very good. Newstalk ZB is also worth listening to live – they rip into our government, and they’re just about the only media outlet that does.

Your favourite newsletter that you subscribe to? 

My favourite is Inbox by the New Zealand Marketing Association. 

What’s a marketing campaign that really stands out to you?

Gravity Global and Embraer’s “Profit Hunter” Tech Lion campaign that I mentioned earlier. It  was brilliant. I was blown away by the way it really covered all touchpoints. I’m a huge fan of total integrated marketing campaigns, and this was the most awarded B2B campaign ever.

Yury Glikin

Yury Glikin

Yury is Head of Sales (ANZ) for Outbrain, and works with agencies and brands to bring new business into the Outbrain ecosystem. He joined the company after a stint at Fiverr, and was a manager at Booking.com before that.