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The Deep Dive

Audi CMO Nikki Warburton on James Warburton at Seven, fixing agency models and why CMO tenures should concern everyone

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 September 2019 5min read

Nikki Warburton

"TV is and remains a really important part of the marketing mix for us at Audi" - Nikki Warburton

By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 September 2019 5min read

After a four year hiatus from marketing and media, Nikki Warburton has spent the past year engineering Audi's brand to be less, well, German. She also talks TV, agency models, the new pressure on CMOs and marketing's credibility problem. 

"If marketers want true agency partnerships, we've got to be able to disclose the right level of information and trust for those partnerships"

- Nikki Warburton, Chief Marketing and Customer Officer, Audi Australia


Hear the uplugged, uncut, unfiltered Nikki Warburton on this week's Mi3 Audio Edition. Listen here. It's 20 smarter minutes than you'll ever get on your bubblegum social feeds.      

Let’s cut first to the obvious stuff – Audi’s chief marketing and customer officer says she’s a fan of television  irrespective of her partner, James Warburton, landing the gig recently as Seven Network CEO.

The German carmaker has one of its biggest range makeovers in years about to hit the Australian market, so expect changes in Audi’s brand strategy and marketing efforts under Warburton. TV will get some of that action.

“I’m very happy for James but whether he’s there or not [at Seven], television is and remains a really important part of the marketing mix for us at Audi,” she says.

“It still creates a really wonderful way to reach a mass audience and it also really emotionally connects with our market.” 

That wrap should keep the conversation chirpy in the Warburton home for a few days.

Nikki Warburton was in the executive leadership team at the regional pay TV operator, Austar – ironically when James Warburton was previously at Seven relentlessly carping pay TV - before it was acquired by Foxtel in 2013. But she cut her marketing teeth in the auto sector at Astra Automotive, the Australian importer of Chrysler, Jeep, Hyundai and later Audi. 

Since Warburton landed at Audi a year ago, she’s been reworking Audi’s brand strategy, hinting it will become less conservative, less serious - pretty much less German.

“There’s definitely an opportunity for Audi to connect and be more relevant in the Australian market,” Warburton says. “It’s definitely not broken, but Audi is quite understated as a brand and that’s what we’ve got back from our customers. We’ve done a lot of work around that emotional connection and really understanding how we can better connect emotionally. It’s the tone of voice. For me it’s that luxury can raise a smile. It’s about having a little bit of fun with the brand. It’s not silly. It’s not slapstick but it’s that luxury can raise a smile no matter what we do – whether it’s a TV campaign or an Audi Drive experience on the track at Phillip Island.”


Marketing, customer experience join up, less media focus 

Warburton’s latter point about customer experience is an important one – “chief customer” has just been added to her “chief marketing” remit. It’s a sign of the changing agenda for marketers that customer experience, however they choose to interact with a business and through whatever channel, is part of the broadening marketer mandate. 

Customer experience and transformation is also being led by Chief Technology Officers and Chief Digital Officers but as Publicis Sapient’s global CEO Nigel Vaz told Mi3 last week, marketers tend to skew to their traditional agency or holding company partners to deploy these strategies while CTOs and CDOs skew to their legacy partners in systems integration and IT consultancies. All the more reason holding companies and agencies need to be more progressive outside of their traditional marketing communications scope. 


More of Nikki Warburton’s thoughts? Try these:


CMOs time spent on media:

“5-15 per cent is probably correct. Is that the right percentage? I’m not sure. It probably does come back on us a bit more to push that agenda - but it depends on how close your relationship is with your media agency and how well they know your targets, your customers and what you’re actually trying to do.”


Performance versus brand budget mix:

“We are now probably 60-40 in favour of performance, or retail,” she says. “We’re looking to shift that, but what we don’t always measure is that overlap in the middle. We do a lot more experiential and customer programs.”


Agency models and the future:  

The agencies that are changing, whether that be moving to more project-based fees, having a bit more skin in the game in terms of being more results-focused or linking their KPIs to the results of their business partners, is happening slowly. But in terms of a dramatic structural change, I don’t think we’ve seen that yet.

“Where agencies add so much value that perhaps marketers don’t necessarily have the skillset in, is creativity that drives growth. I think we know that if you can tap into something really emotional, I’m not just talking about a TV ad or a radio campaign but a collective creative solution to a problem, we know there’s a lot of value that can be added there for brands and businesses.

“We’ve gone away from talking about creative and its effectiveness. We’re talking about whether a pitch is necessary. We’re kind of challenging the structure and the more tactical-based things but I think there’s a broader strategic debate that can be had about how can we all come together and ensure that we’re really driving creative excellence that leads to results.


Martech the future?

“Martech is absolutely important. It provides that infrastructure to drive greater efficiencies and effectiveness in spending our marketing dollars. But for me it is just making sure you know what it’s purpose is; what you’re expecting that it’s going to actually deliver; what value it’s going to add before going and investing and how you’re truly going to measure its success just like any other marketing investment.  

“Martech alone is not going to create that point of difference or that emotional connection with our customers to go and spend $50,000 to $150,000 on a car.  It would definitely give us the tools to allow us to be more effective, efficient, more targeted, more personalised. It’s an important part of the mix but it’s certainly not something that right now would be taking up that amount of budget (28 per cent according to Gartner).


New CMO pressures:

CMO tenure was five years-plus for many, many years. To see that now at 2.5 years should be quite a concern for the industry. It’s an opportunity for the industry to come together and really raise a more strategic profile of us as a collective.

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By Paul McIntyre - Executive Editor

9 September 2019 5min read