Zoopla on why CMOs should want to ‘decentralise power’ in 2021


According to marketing leaders from Zoopla, HSBC and Benefit Cosmetics, in order to explore the “art of the possible,” even in difficult times, teams must feel empowered and fully supported.

In recent months, the art of team building has been put to the toughest test. Organizations have been forced to carefully build internal structures from a distance, weigh subtle checks and balances during Zoom calls, or try to test feature mergers with Teams.

That’s the challenge the three panelists on the last day (June 10) of the Festival of Marketing: Fast Forward all faced over the past year. And remarkably, they are all able to look to the future with a positive outlook, despite the trauma of isolation.

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Employee well-being, an issue that was partly driven by online meetings held in waiting rooms and kitchens, where home and work life increasingly dissolved, was one of the key points of the conversation.

“The main driver of all the decisions I made last year was how people felt, not what they did,” said Benefit Cosmetics marketing director Lou Bennett.

That, in turn, allowed us to take a fresh look at our colleagues and, in many cases, discover other abilities and interests.

“We did make some very interesting changes; we found new skills in people,” Bennett adds. “You run the whole person, and a lot of the changes that happened as a result of that were very future-oriented.”

The way this has found external expression has been an intriguing learning process for HSBC UK marketing director Becky Moffat. She cited the breakdown of structures and the collaborative spirit as key turning points that have occurred over the past 18 months.

“The level of collaboration is increasing and is really starting to stimulate some creativity and different approaches in the marketing team as people come together more,” Moffat explained.

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Conducting such large-scale internal changes is always challenging, not least when employees are working from home. Moffat stressed the importance of transparency in such cases, not only about the process taking place, but also about the unprecedented situation that ultimately caused such changes.

“I can’t read minds at the best of times, but it’s even harder when you’re sitting at home in front of a screen.

“The key has always been to be very clear about the reason,” she said. “A lot of people might disagree with that, but at least we can be honest about why the change happened. And you have to be very honest about the fact that you don’t have all the answers and that we’re looking for new ways to work.”

That works both ways, which is important. “I can’t read minds at the best of times, but it’s even harder when you’re sitting at home behind a screen,” Moffat added.

“It’s about keeping those lines of communication really open, but also trying to recognize that you may not have all the answers and that we have to walk this journey together.”

Bennett echoed that sentiment, adding that remote restructuring can easily create anxiety and worry among employees. One way to combat this is to help people focus on short-term goals, convincing them that the challenges of working from home need to be addressed on a day-by-day or week-by-week basis.

“Our culture is built on transparency, trust and honesty, and all of a sudden colleagues stopped showing up, so it was very important to be here and be available for any questions, to be frank in any communication,” Bennett says. “You have to help people take control of how they feel about themselves.”

Decentralizing power

Zoopla CEO Gary Bramall picked up on Bennett’s point about how important it is to always acknowledge knowledge gaps. Importantly, it’s not just about enforced structural change, but also, more broadly, confidence in delegating authority and trust in peers.

“I’ve been trying to build an organization in a way that leaves me out of a job myself for several years now, so hopefully when you stop hearing about me, I’ll succeed,” he smiles.

“My organization was basically built to enable more people to make more decisions faster, and I’m not a source of knowledge, I don’t know everything. We wanted to decentralize power when it came to getting people involved in organizational change, and to push power as far down into the organization as possible. That’s what good modern CMOs are supposed to do.”

He may, by his own admission, have older and older skills, but Bramall’s ability to hire young marketers with the necessary drive and curiosity is part of Zoopla’s transition to a more agile, squad-based structure.

I’ve been trying to build the organization in a way that allows me to find my own jobs for several years now.

“I would advise everyone to try to look at agile structures that are less channel-driven and more audience-driven,” he added. “In a world where there aren’t a lot of silver bullets, that’s probably the closest thing I’ve come to really helping.”

The digital shift has led to a significant increase in the number of teams coming together and collaborating alongside individuals. This has created additional challenges, increasingly related to tone of voice and consistency.

“From a customer and brand perspective, the experience and tone of voice have to be the same,” Bennett says. “Whether the customer is shopping at home in their pajamas or interacting with us on our social channels, it has to be the same brand that they deal with all the time.”

“Digital is a very important part of that. We’ve always been pretty experiential, very physical, with a lot of disruptive action. What’s that going to look like in the future? It’s a really interesting time.”

Moffat cautioned against the temptation to create too many ad hoc teams for digital offerings, which can lead to confusion for the consumer.

“You need to organize teams around key routes and key problems so that you can practically pool expertise to solve problems throughout the funnel,” she said.

“Each organization operates differently, but for us, it’s all about fluidity and collaboration so we don’t show our customers that we’re closed-minded.”

Bramall agreed, adding that because Zoopla is a predominantly digital platform, that means having to address potential issues around data competency and confidence.

“Every marketer has to have that in order to succeed,” he said. “For me, it’s an anchor around digital.”

Creating a structure that reflects your audience is also key. “We have a team of consumers who are confident, inquisitive, and we empower them to do things, and then the magic happens,” Bramall added. “It’s the little joys in that little gray period where you feel proud. It’s about the art of the possible.”

Successful team building is ultimately about finding balance. For Moffat, that means combining generalists and specialists, finding different personalities, capabilities and levels of experience that can work alongside each other. Whereas for Bennett, it’s not just about technological know-how, but about ability, curiosity and drive.

And for Bramall? “I’m just amazed when I look at some of the people who come in, the level of confidence and competence. It makes you feel really encouraged,” he enthuses. “One of our values is to hire people who like to run escalators. Find people like that and hire them.”

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