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| 14 minutes read

CMO Series EP103 - Áine Bryn of Marsh McLennan UK on Demonstrating the Strategic Credibility of the Marketing Function

On today’s episode of the CMO Series, we shed light on an often-misunderstood aspect of professional services firms - the marketing function. Traditionally seen as a cost centre, it has emerged as a strategic player in driving growth and profitability.

Cam Dobinson is lucky enough to welcome Áine Bryn, a seasoned expert in building and showcasing the credibility of the marketing function. As Partner and Chief Marketing Officer at Marsh McLennan UK, Áine brings a wealth of experience and insights to the table.

Together, they explore the pivotal role marketing plays as an enabler of business development and how it contributes to the overall strategic vision. 

Áine and Cam discuss: 

  • What the landscape currently looks like for professional services marketing teams
  • The importance of a commercial mindset and "speaking the language of the business", and the alignment between Marketing and Sales
  • The key elements of credibility and how marketers can  demonstrate those to the firm
  • Why content is essential to demonstrating credibility and Áine’s approach to delivering value to clients
  • Advice for anyone looking to demonstrate the credibility of the marketing function within their firm


Cam: The marketing function is typically viewed as a cost center and can be one of the first areas considered when it comes to improving efficiencies. But marketing can play a strategic role in the growth and profitability of organisations. We're lucky to welcome someone with experience in building and demonstrating the credibility of the marketing function.

Today, Áine Bryn Partner and CMO at Marsh McClennan UK joins the CMO series to discuss the role of marketing as an enabler of commercial success and how to demonstrate the strategic credibility of marketing. Áine, welcome, and thanks for jumping on.

Áine: Pleasure. Thank you for having me.

Cam: So to jump straight into it, with increasing efficiencies, what does the landscape currently look like for the professional service marketing teams?

Áine: I would be positive. I think in the current environment with economic pressures, cost of living crisis,  inflationary environment. Companies need to grow. And marketing's really core function is to help the business grow. And I think that's where the opportunity lies for marketeers who engage directly with the business and understand what the business is trying to achieve and then can be a real strategic partner with them to help them meet those objectives. So again, I think lean in, understand what the business is trying to achieve and then match the marketing program to help them achieve that.

Cam: And you mentioned previously the importance of a commercial mindset and speaking the language of the business. And you've mentioned there about how companies need to grow and aligning the marketing function is really a key enabler for that. Do you think there is sometimes a misalignment between sales and marketing? And if so from your experience, how have you tried to align those and actually correct that?

Áine: Yeah, I don't know why, but marketing and sales are always seen as adversarial and not necessarily as partners. And I think sales and marketing are should be working hand in hand and whether it's a commercial team or a pure sales team, you know, unless you're a charity and even then you're trying to generate revenue. But there's always a a sales perspective to a role. So I think when marketing and sales work in partnership, you get a boost in terms of you enable the business to engage with their clients or whatever they're selling or whatever services or products to be better at engaging with the clients to help them, see that you can help them achieve their objectives. And then you're basically mutually supportive. And I use the analogy of the never ending relay race where the baton is passed directly from marketing to sales and back and forth until ultimately, you achieve the ultimate outcome, which is either signing a contract with a client or renewals or engagement of some sort. And I think that's where marketing can really demonstrate that strategic understanding. So the business knows that the purpose of marketing is to help them grow. And whether that's business marketing or whether it's very tactical or whether it's brand marketing, and both are needed for an organisation, you can actually achieve greater results when you work together with the sales teams. But it does require an openness and an engagement on each side, understanding the value and the skills that they can work together with.

Cam: Yeah, that's a really useful metaphor of the baton being passed because I guess it's not only um sort of the feedback that that the sales team receive and actually making sure that gets back to marketing is also pretty important in most cases. What are the key elements of credibility and how marketers demonstrate those to the firm?

Áine: It's about understanding what the business tries to achieve and then demonstrating that marketing is aligned to those objectives and is working on programs and campaigns and tactics that help achieve that with the business. So you don't want marketing sitting to one side and, and this also comes to the point of making sure that marketing has a voice at the table so that the decision isn't made and then they go to market and say, “oh, can you make this happen” because that's never geared up for success. Whereas if marketing have a seat at the table and speak the language of the business, so understanding whether it's the seafood that you're working with the CFO, the CEO, Chief Growth Officer or whatever that you understand what they're trying to achieve. And then you can translate that into what marketing can help you achieve too often. I think marketing can sometimes be focused on Martech or the data that we can deliver and all of that's great and they're enablers. But let's keep it simple. What is it you're doing that helps achieve the business objectives?

And that's where the strategic credibility lies in and in most cases you're pushing at an open door because when you speak their language of the business, this is what you want to achieve. This is how we're going to help you achieve it. And this is where we pass that baton back and forth and it's not a done deal that marketing goes “Right, we've done that job off to the next one.” It's not because nine times out of 10, you're either wanting clients or customers to keep with you. So you're reinforcing those messages. So that's the sustained growth and by educating the business on what marketing can do. And that's where the data and the market can help you but translating it into the language of the business and what they want to achieve, you know it's a marriage made in heaven.

Cam: Yeah. And you've already mentioned there how marketing can use the data that's available to really reinforce what that looks like and actually how they can feed back when they gain a seat at that table in terms of demonstrating credibility when you're initially looking to gain that seat how do you sort of navigate that or go about that?

Áine: Well, again it's understanding what your purpose is as a marketing function or as a marketing professional. I always, you know, I've been asked over the years, what is the purpose of marketing? And I would say it's growth, you help the business drive growth.

So in order to get credibility, you need to prove to the business that you can do the fundamentals and then run with the visionary stuff. But you can only do both of those pieces if you understand the business working with stakeholders in the business is asking questions, be curious, you know, you're not the subject matter expert and nor do you need to be, but you need to know enough to be able to say, “oh if that's what you want to achieve, that's your target market. Those are the buyers, that’s the environment, those are the competitors.” And then you can use your marketing skill to, to build a campaign that is sustainable and it gets the right level of growth, whether that's the brand building, business building. And then you're demonstrating to the business that the cause and effect because it's all about outcomes and that's where the data becomes the enabler too often. I think marketing can sometimes get so caught up in the data because we are sitting on so much data. But data for data's sake doesn't help us. It doesn't achieve the outcome. 

If you use data as the enabler and help the business understand that. So for example, if you are selling investment services and you've got clients who are coming to your website, but they're looking at the part of the website which is talking about benefits. You're thinking, why is that connection? And if you liaise with the business, say, “Well, your client suddenly shifted from an investment focus to a benefits focus. Is there an opportunity for us?” When you’re giving intel to the client team to help them maybe upsell the client or ask, “Oh, is this, you know, are you moving functions or are you looking to expand your service offerings to your customers?” And again, you're enabling the business to grow and that's where that again, back to the baton passing, you know, it's not about my job finishes at this point. And then over to you, it's not, you're the voice of the customer as well. And you can bring that intel from the customer back to your business and help them be more successful. And again, that's mutually beneficial. 

Cam: And I guess that process of the baton being passed, it can't even start if there isn't somewhat of an understanding about what the business is trying to achieve. And actually our marketing aligns to that. You mentioned before we jumped on the recording, that content is a key component to demonstrating credibility with clients prospects as well. How do you approach delivering that? And how do you ensure that it's valuable to your clients?

Áine: Well, again, my interest and my attention span can sometimes be limited, just as our clients, work life gets in the way. So whatever content you're creating and whatever channel you're using, you need to get to the point. And I'm probably the worst person to say that, you know, again, being Irish, I love to converse and I love to talk and I will use 20 words when one will suffice. But in this case where you're creating content, you need to be to the point. You know, the old ad was, “it does what it says on the tin” type approach. Sell them once, and explain why they should be interested. What's the next step, you know, to make it easy for the audience that you're trying to target, to engage with you? And that's what the content needs to do and whether you're talking about leadership or a short blog or even a social card, it's all about whether will they walk away knowing what you were trying to tell them and what they should do next. And that's where the content really is effective. And you know, it's multiple channels now that we're dealing with, you know, in terms of, there's no magic bullet in terms of one channel will always get to your target audience. So you're really finessing the channel, but the core messages are the same and again, back to the sales perspective as well. You're then enabling the sales team, the consultants, the client relations to managers to understand what the message is. Again, the internal enablement of your marketing campaign is as important as the external piece because if they both work in harmony, you'll get better conversion rates, better engagement, but it's all about keeping it simple and not presuming knowledge, avoid the jargon and stuff. And again, you can see with SEO and you know, Google is getting more and more clever and the algorithms that they use. So don't try and out kid them, but just focus on why this is of interest, why it will add value. What's the benefit? In my advertising sales training, we had a very simple sales approach which was called FAB - Feature, Advantage, Benefit. And I keep coming back to that in terms of, am I actually telling what the feature is. What's the advantage? What's the so what and then what's the engagement? How do you actually then what's the next step? Don't leave the wallet on the table, ask for the business and tell them how to engage with you. 

Cam: And you mentioned earlier that there's a wealth of data available for marketing teams and there's also a wealth of content out there at the moment. So being able to dissect that and actually offer value in as short a format as possible is always really reliable for clients and for prospects for that matter. Áine: And just to add to that, I think one of the key things is know your clients know your customers.So is there an industry lens that you could use that cuts through the noise because you're right,there's so much content available.So how do you make your content stand out over and above what it is? And again, the more you understand your buyer who influences their decisions, who could help you cut through that? And it it could be the industry sector, it could be whether it's a short, medium, long term. So the more you can apply that to the content. And again, that shows that marketing is working with the business because they're understanding the clients and again, back to that relay race, it becomes mutually beneficial.

Cam: And I think we've touched on a lot of really interesting points there even delving into the understanding of the business and the need for um companies to grow. And that's being a core function of the marketing um platform. Essentially, if you had one piece of advice for anyone looking to demonstrate credibility of their marketing function within their firm, what would it be? I'm sure that there's a huge amount that you could share with us. But I'm gonna put you on the spot here and just ask for one.

Áine: I would say, speak the language of the business. You, if you bring your skill sets around marketing and everything that entails, but understand the business and speak their language, they will open the door to you. You will be seen as a credible partner in helping them achieve their objectives because you're having the same objectives and that you're not seen as someone who sits at the side of the table creating campaigns that may or may not impact the business. Whereas you're saying, actually, I only want to do what sustains the growth of this organisation because that helps me achieve my objectives and that will get you a seat on the table, it will give you the credibility and you actually really enjoy it because you get to know the organisation that you're working with what the highs, the lows and how you can help them grow and then that becomes the adventure and you get fun from what you're doing.

Cam: Excellent. Just going to get started with a very quickfire round to start with. What's your favorite business and nonbusiness books?

Áine: I'll do the latter first, because it's the top of my head since I've just come back from holiday. It was the Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus. If you haven't read it, it's hilarious. It's about a lady who goes into chemistry in the 1950s in the US where that wasn't the norm. So it's about smashing the ceiling as it were. As for business books, I don't tend to read business books. I'm a typical Gemini, so I like things to short, sharp and sweet if I'm trying to learn something. So I tend to look at either a little podcast or short articles. Mckenzie's is a good one. I read their articles so I tend to go there. 

Cam: Any business podcast that you'd recommend for listeners?

Áine: Well, Stephen Bartlett, the Diary of a CEO both his own perspective, but also his guest list is the who's who of diversity of activities and roles and you can't help but come away of learning something.

Cam: I wouldn't assume. But you mentioned that one of your favourite books was around chemistry in the 1950s, I’m hoping your first role wasn't a role in chemistry. But what was your first job?

Áine: No, my first job was media sales.I was selling advertising for a company or a magazine called marketing magazine. Still going strong part of Haymarket Publishing. That was my first job out of university and I had the best time because I learned to sell and I was paid to be on the phone, selling advertising which was as an Irish person again, I love to talk. So it was, it was a dream job and I learned how to translate marketing into sales, which I've kept with me ever since. 

Cam: Yeah I can't compare in terms of being able to transfer skills from my first job. I won't give away what it was, but there you go. In terms of your role now, what really makes you happy at work? 

Áine: This is a cliche but it doesn't mean to be, it's the people in collaboration. I get my energy from other people. So I am best in a group where we're trying to brainstorm ideas or fix a problem or look around the corner and see what might be, the art of the possible. And that's where I get my energy from and, you know, two heads are better than one and we can come up with all sorts of wonderful, innovative ways of making marketing even more effective.

Cam: Excellent. And you mentioned the Diary of a CEO podcast. What else are you listening to? Any personal podcast or even audio books for that matter?

Áine: So again, I'm not a big audio book fan, I like, I'm old fashioned. I like a hardback book on my nightstand, which is where I tend to have the time to read it. But in terms of podcasts,

I have a very eclectic mix. My Spotify is anything from a song can get me on to a playlist, can get me on to someone who's talking about their experiences. So I suppose one of the things that is very key to me is curiosity. So, I just want to know more about other people.

So whether they're musicians or CEOs or charity workers, I listen to everything and anything and you just mentioned, you've been away recently, was that one of your favorite places to visit? If not, what was and why?

Áine: Um it's not my top favorite place, but it was top because it gave me some sun. I went to Abu Dhabi. But my favorite place in the world is Italy. I just love everything about it, the food, the people, the culture, we went to Florence recently and I would be happy spending my time just wandering around the streets bumping into the lovely architecture and the all the big cathedrals and small churches and just sitting there watching the renaissance world come to life. You know, I'm in heaven. My 13-year-old daughter wasn't so in heaven until I took her shopping to Zara. But there you go.

Cam: Yeah, we recently went over to Cinque Terre which was, if you haven't been, well worth a visit. Absolutely beautiful part of the world.

Áine: It's on my list. It's on my list. 

Cam: Well, Áine, I'm definitely gonna steal your analogy of the relay race there and the baton and forever being passed on. Really insightful. Thank you so much for joining us and thank you again.

Áine: My pleasure. Thank you for having me.


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