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Deep Dive 18 Jul 2022 - 6 min read

ANZ CMO Sweta Mehra: ‘Taking a demotion the best thing I’ve ever done’, how to bridge tech-brand skills gap to stay ahead; martech shake-up paying off, personalisation powering conversions  

By Paul McIntyre & Brendan Coyne
Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

ANZ CMO Sweta Mehra: If you go too narrow, you miss the bigger picture, which is why ANZ is cross-skilling teams – and why she urges marketers to change career at least once.

Ten years into a data-analytics career, ANZ CMO Sweta Mehra pulled a u-turn and took a demotion to learn brand marketing from the ground up. She says it’s the smartest move she ever made, with marketers in narrow swim-lanes - think either brand, demand generation or CX - at risk of obsolescence. Mehra says ANZ’s push to bridge the skills gap within its own four walls via self-built Brand Academy and Marketing Masters programmes have shielded it from increasingly attritional talent wars while future-proofing the business – and she has a few tips for those wondering how to get ahead in marketing. Meanwhile, the bank’s martech stack overhaul and bid for personalisation at scale is starting to move the needle, with conversion rates heading north, and ‘nudge theory’ doubling account holder saving rates. With economic headwinds incoming, Mehra expects pressure to pull different levers. But she thinks budgets, for now, are safe.

What you need to know:

  • As ANZ readies a $5bn bid for Suncorp’s banking assets, the bank is enlarging its existing footprint, with sales conversions increasing via a re-engineered martech stack and customers nudged towards becoming ‘financial wellbeings’ through personalisation, per CMO Sweta Mehra.
  • While rival CommBank is busy investing in start-ups and linking them directly back to its app, ANZ is taking a different approach. But after taking a stake in Cashrewards, Mehra hints at more partnerships.
  • Meanwhile, ANZ’s home-spun Brand Academy and Marketing Masters programmes have helped it ride-out a talent crunch with the Australian Marketing Institute now accrediting its courses – and more in the works.
  • But Mehra thinks marketing is still too siloed, and urges both the digitally-savvy and the brand purists to change careers - or expand their horizons - in order to stave off obsolescence through overspecialisation. Mehra did – and says it was the best move she’s ever made.
  • With economic headwinds gathering pace, she says there will be inevitable changes in how the marketing budget is spent – but not necessarily the budget envelope.

I spent ten years in data analytics, and had to take a demotion to move into marketing. I dragged my feet for a long time. But that jump, from a director to brand manager ten years into my career, was the best thing I have ever done.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

Bridging the tech-brand fault line

Sweta Mehra studied engineering and spent the early part of her career as a self-confessed data and analytics geek before climbing the ranks at P&G, where “everything is about numbers”. She thinks the local market – and marketing more generally – has a tech-brand fault line running through its core.

“We've got marketers who join marketing because they love creativity, they love advertising. In fact, many of them in universities didn't want to do a whole lot of math; they were running away from that. Then there are other marketers who love technology, who've always been digitally-savvy and who got to build their careers in digital and data and so on,” says Mehra.

“The reality is, what we often find is the two groups don't talk to each other very well … [and as a result] don’t understand the business end-to-end; what is required to drive acquisition, engagement, retention. In this industry, the whole funnel is very important … So we definitely need that [gap to close].”

Career change management

Hence a decade into management, Mehra switched careers. She thinks marketers seeking to understand the bigger picture may benefit from taking a similar approach.

“If you're not consciously rotating across the various disciplines of marketing, you will find yourself at a place that I found myself. I spent ten years in data analytics, and had to take a demotion to move into marketing.”

The trigger was a “very healthy fear that I would not be current in my skills,” says Mehra. “But it took a long time agreeing to a demotion and moving was hard. It took me two years of thought, I dragged my feet for a long time. But that jump, from a director to brand manager ten years into my career, was the best thing I have ever done.”

Mehra sees similar desire in the market to break out of silos across both the digital and strategic side of marketing. “But how do we enable that? How do we encourage that systematically? That's something that we as leaders have to do, because the expectations of future CMOs or even current CMOs is to be this unicorn who understands and can do everything – and that is hard.”

Which is why ANZ is attempting to bridge the skills gaps within its own marketing teams via two internal programmes: Marketing Masters, aimed squarely at marketers; and the Brand Academy, a marketing-led programme also designed for multifunctional teams.

Mehra says it’s paying off.

“Both programmes continue to go from strength to strength. Our employee engagement is pretty high along with employee satisfaction – and we've seen increases of up to 25 per cent on [metrics such as] 'ANZ is a great place to have a marketing career. I have support and the programmes to help me grow',” says Mehra.

Amid an economy-wide talent squeeze, the programme is delivering.

“It’s a big acquisition and engagement tool for us – and we’re introducing some new components, with a new programme on personalisation going live in July with different modules for beginners versus practitioners,” Mehra adds.

“We've just launched a programme on data and insights and we've got a lot of positive traction within the marketing audience – because many of them have worked in marketing, but they've never gone down to understanding every piece of data available within the bank and how can they use it to do their job better. So we're helping them figure out data sources for different kinds of business questions, when to use what and how.”

All I can say is that [thanks to ANZ’s upskilling programmes] I’m not worried about attrition within my marketing team. There are certain other parts of my marketing function – data scientists, engineering – I've got challenges there. But not in pure marketing.

Sweta Mehra, ANZ, CMO

Talent war averted?

ANZ recently inked a partnership with the Australian Marketing Institute to accredit its training modules, and plans to create an emerging marketers programme with the Institute aimed at the bank’s younger talent, “so that they can start building skills – not necessarily deep into everything – but so that they can be well rounded from the beginning”, says Mehra.

Overall, she suggests investing in skills pays for itself.

“All I can say is that I’m not worried about attrition within my marketing team. There are certain other parts of my marketing function – data scientists, engineering – I've got challenges there. But not in pure marketing.”

For most people, staying within a narrow area is worse for your career than [shaking things up]. Of course we need experts. But by and large, you need to move around.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

How to get ahead in marketing in three steps

Mehra thinks there are three simple rules to get ahead in marketing – and stay in front.

“It always starts with the individual: Are they curious? I’ve always raised my hand to say ‘I don’t understand this. I’ve got a day job, but can I spend 20 per cent of my time learning something else on the job?’ I learn best on the job, so that is what I’ve done. Raise your hand and pick up something that is out of your comfort zone in an area that you don’t know enough about.”

Second, she says, is to sign up for whatever training is going internally and externally, while third is to change career.

“For most people, staying within a narrow area is worse for your career than [shaking things up],” says Mehra. “Of course we need experts. But by and large [in marketing], you need to move around.”

Something I'm quite excited about is how are we building our infrastructure and more importantly, our partnerships with companies like Cashrewards. We want to do more and more of that.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

The team constantly runs experiments, we're constantly optimising to see where the customer is getting stuck. We've run about 400 experiments in the last year and I would say most of them have helped improve our conversions by seven, 10, 15 per cent.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

Personalisation, experimentation hits pay dirt

Aligning digital sales and marketing is starting to move the needle, says Mehra.

“From the site’s look and feel to what happens to our online application forms, the tech stacks behind it, we're responsible for it all. So we've done what marketers do best, which is taking the consumer understanding and experimenting a lot – leverage data, but being absolutely disciplined about the funnels,” she adds.

“Our budget is not the highest, therefore traffic to our site is not the highest among the Australian banks. However, our conversion is absolutely among the best in the market based on the benchmarking our vendors and external agencies help us understand.”

Personalisation and experimentation are turbo charging conversion rates, Mehra suggests.

“On the unsecure site, where people are not logged-in, we’re now at about 75-80 per cent personalisation, up from about 5 per cent. So we can make sure you're seeing the right content and can find the right product – which makes starting your application journey a whole lot easier,” says Mehra.

“On the secure site, once you've logged-in, we are very fortunate to be an industry where we have a lot of data and we can personalise even more. So we've got up to 95 per cent personalisation on our site, which is really helping.”

Even for data-rich banks, trial and error is critical to that success, she underlines, because seemingly minor detail – where call to action buttons are placed, or whether information is presented in a table or a list – can make a massive difference, says Mehra.

“The team constantly runs experiments, we're constantly optimising to see where the customer is getting stuck. We've run about 400 experiments in the last year and I would say most of them have helped improve our conversions by seven, 10, 15 per cent.”

If you want to save, how do we provide you the right nudges so that you increase the pace at which you save, the diligence of your saving? What we're seeing is that people who are signing up are, thanks to the nudges, saving at double the rate.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

Tech stack shaping and nudge theory

Aligning tech stacks is reaping rewards. Mehra says lead management was previously too slow. Now it’s getting closer to real time. “[We wanted] to bring it down to around 15 minutes, so a branch or contact centre could call customers interested in having a conversation with us. That delivered pretty big uplifts on conversions within home loans. So we’ve expanded that approach across all products,” says Mehra.

Now it is pushing into “all areas around engagement and retention”, she adds, with customer ‘nudges’ driving major gains.

“Things like if you want to save, how do we provide you the right nudges so that you increase the pace at which you save, the diligence of your saving? What we're seeing is that people who are signing up are, thanks to the nudges, saving at double the rate.”

The nudges are as simple as “reminding customers why saving is important, why they set that goal, the end point. It could be because they want to buy, a car, a home loan, a trip to the UK. But the moment you name something – and if we provide you with helpful reminders – we're finding it really works wonders to help people get to the goal they want to achieve,” she says.

“It’s the opposite of death by a thousand cuts.”

To get to that point required a tech stack overhaul (read more about it here).

“We had most of the technology within the bank – it just wasn’t connected the right way,” says Mehra, citing duplication and blind spots where systems were not talking to each other, resulting in leads going missing and CX suffering.

“A lot of the work that we've done is frankly getting together with the data and technology teams, because there was different ownership of the tech stacks. So we had to get to a common vision: this is where we're trying to get to, this is what is getting in the way, and then literally unpick that tech stack,” says Mehra.

The upshot is that ANZ is running Adobe for most of its marketing, Salesforce for CRM, and, like rival CommBank, “we’ve decided to go for Pega for our orchestration in the future”, she adds.

“But that is just the technology. You need to make sure your data is clean and we’ve made massive progress in getting that going.”

Meanwhile, she says banks are acutely aware of a rapidly evolving data privacy landscape.

“You need to make sure you've got the right model definitions, you've got the right orchestration rules and you've got the governance around the whole thing. Because this much [personal] data comes with a huge amount of responsibility to manage it the right way for the customers,” she says. “We must respect the thought behind the law versus the legal definitions as they are today – because they keep on moving.”

From recent conversations, the board definitely continues to think about marketing as investment and wants to invest more … So the amount of money is not the problem, it's the discipline that we will require in making sure we are spending it in the right way.

Sweta Mehra, CMO, ANZ

Looming headwinds signal spend shift

Mehra says strengthening economic headwinds “will definitely drive changes” in terms of media planning and investment, though how that plays out is not yet clear.

“One of the things we often talk about in banking is it's easy to lend money, it's harder to get it back. Therefore [a downturn or recession] will drive a lot more planning discipline around where we spend. How do we think about every product from a transaction savings account that will play a different role in a consumer's life versus credit cards, lending and home loans? They'll all have implications at a quite different level. So net-net, yes, there will be differences,” says Mehra.

But that doesn’t mean ANZ is planning to slash marketing and media budgets.

“From recent conversations, the board definitely continues to think about marketing as investment and wants to invest more, so that's a positive. That said, it always comes with a responsibility to spend in the right products. We're having a lot of conversations around what we anticipate happening in different product categories, and therefore where and how we will likely invest the money,” says Mehra. 

“So the amount of money is not the problem, it's the discipline that we will require in making sure we are spending it in the right way.”

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