The CMO Show:
Brent Smart on strategic risk...

Brent Smart, Insurance Australia Group (IAG) CMO, speaks to host Mark Jones about the trick to marketing culture, and the payoff of taking risks versus playing it safe.

How does a brand in an industry that isn’t known for its creativity stand out through its marketing efforts in order to retain customers and attract new ones?

Bring in an agency veteran with a passion for creative thinking and a penchant for strategic risk-taking. That’s what Insurance Australia Group (IAG) did in 2017 when it hired Brent Smart as its first CMO.

With more than 20 years of advertising experience up his sleeve, including a stint as CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi in New York City, Brent found himself increasingly frustrated as he tried convincing marketers to be brave.

In making the switch from the agency to insurance world, Brent found being able to say yes to big ideas and make them happen brand-side creatively liberating.

“I think it’s really important that you are passionate about what you’re doing, convincing other people it’s the right thing to do. You’ve got to really stand by the work, and be the champion of the work inside the organisation,” Brent says. 

Reflecting on marketing trends across both the US and down under, Brent notes a big budget is no longer enough to prop up a campaign, especially if the concept behind it isn’t groundbreaking or exciting.

“It’s interesting, because you kind of can’t buy attention anymore in America. You can spend $800 million, and it’s still not enough to have great visibility and get attention,” he says.

“But I think it’s a much bigger risk to spend a bunch of money on a very predictable  piece of work that’s not going to surprise anyone or get anyone to care, or talk about it. That, for me, is a bigger risk, and a more irresponsible use of marketing dollars.”

Brent says creativity and solid ideas still sit firmly at the heart of marketing. While he acknowledges the importance of data, he argues it will never take the place of an inspiring concept.

“Data never tells you what to do. All data tells you is where your business is right now and what is your customer doing. But the leap that’s required to create a great piece of creative, the data doesn’t tell you about that leap,” he says.

Tune into this episode of The CMO Show to find out how marketers can harness their creativity and take risks to help transform their industry.


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The CMO Show production team

Producer – Charlotte Goodwin & Natalie Cupac

Audio Engineers – Daniel Marr & Tom Henderson

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO Show? We’d love to hear from you:



Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Brent Smart

Mark Jones: We hear this phrase, you should follow your heart or follow your passion. If you’re a marketer or in communications and you’re into storytelling, you’ve got to be passionate about your subject area, otherwise it’s not going to kind of come through as authentic and real.

Mark Jones: So what is your passion? And how well aligned is that passion with your work, with your brand, with your organisation, and how are you bringing it to life?

Mark Jones: Good day there, Mark Jones, The CMO’s Show. So we have so many great guests on our programme and this week, and this time is no different. Brent Smart is chief marketing officer at IAG. And I think he’s smart by name and smart by nature.

Mark Jones: This is what happens when you get somebody from agency world, from Saatchi’s, who goes in house and brings with him a real passion for the role of marketing, for creativity, for doing something different and just trying to push the boundaries. I mean this is the heartbeat of the agency lands. We want brave clients who want big ideas. And you know, how do you keep that flame alive when you go in house?

Mark Jones: And so Brent’s got some fantastic stories and some examples of how he’s been thriving in the in house world with brands like NRMA and so forth.

Mark Jones: you know, there’s always been this tension of, where should the talent lie in the agency, or you know, on the client side? And I think what we have an example of here is this is what happens when you get really strong creative talent inside a big brand. And then working with agencies to bring that to life.

Mark Jones: So I’m really excited for my interview with Brent Smart, chief marketing officer at Insurance Australia Group, also known as IAG. I really hope you enjoy it.

Mark Jones: I am with Brent Smart, CMO Insurance Australia Group. I was going to say IAG Australia. Why does it feel like it needs a thing?

Brent Smart: It doesn’t need a thing. It’s got three things, yeah. Insurance Australia Group.

Mark Jones: Thanks for coming on the show. Let’s get back to the beginning of your story. Well, maybe mid-way through your life story, but you were at Saatchi’s a couple of years ago.

Brent Smart: I was, yeah.

Mark Jones: And then you went to IAG. What happened there? Tell us about that experience.

Brent Smart: Yeah, it wasn’t something I expected to do, or dreamed of doing, working for an insurance company. I was in New York City I was CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi there, which, for me, was a dream job for a boy from the suburbs of Melbourne, to run one of the biggest agencies in the world, really.

Brent Smart: It was amazing. I got to work on some great brands, got to do Superbowl spots, and all the things I’d sort of dreamed of, but I was becoming more and more frustrated with 20 years of advertising, and going to marketers, and trying to convince them to do brave things, and take risks, and buy work, basically.

Brent Smart: I started to think, “What if I could actually be the person who could say yes?” That was the motivation, honestly. The motivation was, maybe if I went client side, got a marketing gig, I could make more great work happen than I actually can inside an agency. I’d say even to this day, two years into the gig, look, there’s lots of things that I find unusual and strange about working in a large corporation, particularly an insurance company, but the liberation of being able to say yes to ideas, and approve things, and make things happen, offsets all that. It’s been truly amazing.

Mark Jones: What was the culture like in agency land over there, from an Aussie perspective?

Brent Smart: The culture is definitely different, because the agencies over there are much bigger. Australians do really well over there. David Droga would be the pinup Aussie who’s done so well, and built an amazing business, but there are a lot of Aussies who have done really well in the American advertising business, and holding really senior positions.

Brent Smart: I think, for two reasons. We don’t bullshit; we’re straight talkers, we’re direct. That’s very different in the American market. It cuts through, and I think clients really like it. That’s the first thing; Aussies are renowned for that, and it works. I think the other thing is there’s a fantastic work ethic that Aussie advertising people have, and we’re not used to having those huge budgets.

Brent Smart: We’re not used to having all the time they have over there, so Australians are able to sort of work faster, harder, and really deliver, particularly creatively.  

Mark Jones: You’ve got to keep a poker face when you’re told how many millions you can spend.

Brent Smart: That’s outrageous. It’s outrageous how many 0s are on things. I used to run the General Mills business when I first went to Saatchi. I’ll never forget the first meeting I was in, and they told me the annual media budget was $800 million. I sort of spat my coffee out, and couldn’t believe that sort of money.

Mark Jones: Yeah, we’re going to own the world.

Brent Smart: It’s interesting, because what comes with that is, you kind of can’t buy attention any more in America. You can spend $800 million, and it’s still not enough to have great visibility, and to get attention. You can’t buy it any more. You’ve got to earn it, and you’ve got to do something interesting.

Brent Smart: I think those stakes are even higher in America, where there’s just so much advertising. There’s so many brands, there’s so much content, that you just have to do something interesting, provocative, cool, to have any chance of being noticed, and any chance of actually getting talked about.

Brent Smart: Advertising at its best in America is the best in the world, because those stakes are so high, in terms of the need to cut through, and the need to be noticed.

Mark Jones: Then the rest is just dross.

Brent Smart: Then there’s a whole… I call it pollution. There’s this huge amount of pollution, which is just dross. It’s horrible, awful, there’s lots of that in such a big market, of course. Plenty of it here in Australia too. I think that’s why doing something creative has never been more important. It’s not a nice to do, it’s a must do.

Mark Jones: There seems to be two creative levers that I hear. Two primary levers that are needed by brands and agencies, as we think about how to do the good stuff that you’re speaking about. One is creativity, and the other is storytelling, and really getting incredibly engaging stories. How do you think about that now that you’re client-side? What’s the perspective? Because you have to connect your brand with these stories that your customers think about, and their worlds. How do you do that?

Brent Smart: That’s been one of the pleasantly surprising things about working in insurance, and working on a brand like NRMA. There are unbelievable stories. You think insurance is this really low involvement category, and it is. It is really low involvement, but then you talk to someone whose house has burned down, and there’s no more high involvement product than insurance.

Brent Smart: There are some really incredibly emotional, and incredibly compelling stories around our category, and around our brand, around our product. What has fascinated me, as an outsider looking into insurance before I worked in the category, why do all the insurance brands kind of tell dumb jokes that make customers look like hapless fools, as opposed to telling these much more powerful emotional stories, that really respect the customer more?

Brent Smart: We’ve tried to do that with the help work we do with NRMA. It’s all about that incredibly powerful emotional idea of helping people, which is really fertile, creatively. It’s unbelievable, from a storytelling point of view. People don’t care about your product. They just don’t. In most cases, people don’t really care about your product as much as you do.

Brent Smart: I think it’s about how can you actually tell a story at a brand level, a human story, an emotional story that is really interesting, and really compelling, get people to spend time with your brand, and then they might be interested to find out a bit more, and lean into the product, and lean into the experience, but at that first level, I often think it’s like people you meet at parties.

Brent Smart: You don’t like the person who spends the whole time talking about themselves in intricate detail You’re drawn to the people who tell great stories, and great jokes, and know what’s going on in the world. I think so often, brands are just sort of so one-dimensional like that.

Brent Smart: without much room for a genuine conversation.

Mark Jones: It’s interesting, the sales culture that’s increasingly crept into marketing, at a transactional level. You must wrestle with this, because ostensibly, you’re in the subscription renewal business, right?

Brent Smart: Yeah.

Mark Jones: Subscriptions, is what insurance is, except for when you get to having to fork out for the claim.

Mark Jones: How do you wrestle with that? Because there’s the demands of the business, which is relentless. Give me sales, do a thing. Take this creative storytelling idea, and make it work. We all know that we’re trying to retrofit a human function of story and personality, and emotion, and make it do a thing.

Brent Smart: I think every marketer lives that every day, the pressure to deliver sales in the short-term, but the thing is, brands are built in the long-term. I think that short-term-ism has been one of the biggest diseases in marketing. I use that word quite deliberately. I do think it’s been detrimental to the quality of brand building, and the quality of creative work.

Brent Smart: You can see it in so many categories, and so many brands. The truth of it is, and there’s been a lot written on this, in terms of effectiveness studies, and literature and research. The fact is that sure, you can drive a short-term sale, but building brands takes years.

Brent Smart: If all you’re focused on is driving a sale today, you might not get that sale next year, or the year after. You’re not building a long-term business. I’m a massive believer in the power of brand, in the long-term, to be a great differentiator, and to actually drive sales in the long-term.

Brent Smart: In our category though, it’s unique, because there’s some Roy Morgan data that says that 80% of people in the insurance category don’t shop, don’t compare. They just renew. They don’t think about it. Out of mind, out of sight, autopilot. 

Mark Jones: You get the letter in the mail, and you’re like, “Oh.”

Brent Smart: It’s like a bill, right? Pay the bill. To flip that, that means only 20% are actively shopping our category. That means in any given month, 2% are actively shopping our category. If you’re doing short-term product tactical activation work, you’re talking to 2% of your available audience. I think that’s wastage.

Brent Smart: I’d rather talk to the 98% who aren’t shopping today, but they might shop next month, three months, three years. Who knows? If I can get them to like our brand a bit more, feel like our brand is going to be there for them when they really need it, then I have a better chance when they do go to shop, that they might shop us.

Brent Smart: I think it’s easy to chase the… it’s like a drug, those short-term sales, right? It’s real easy to chase that, and show, “Look at these sales I’m driving right now. Look at these ROIs.” That stuff is easy to measure. The long-term brand stuff is much harder to measure, but if you take that longer view, then you can measure it. You’ve just got to have a different timeframe.

Brent Smart: Not a monthly timeframe or quarterly timeframe, but a yearly, two yearly kind of timeframe. Luckily, I’ve got the support of our leadership at IAG, to stay the course, and take that long-term view.

Mark Jones: That was going to be my next question. Did you come into that environment, or have you had to educate, and bring people along with you?

Brent Smart: It’s a bit of both, but I think the reason I took the job was, A, they offered it to me. I’m not your typical insurance marketer. I spent 20 years in agencies. I don’t dress like an insurance-

Mark Jones: I was going to say. You’re not sitting here in a suit.

Brent Smart: -guy, no. I don’t dress like an insurance guy, or talk like an insurance guy. I think it was pretty clear what they were getting if they hired me. It wasn’t going to be status quo, or safe. It was going to be change, it was going to be creative, and I was very clear on what I wanted to do.

Brent Smart: I felt incredibly supported to be able to-

Mark Jones: To invest in the brand.

Brent Smart: -build the brands, to be able to do work that’s more creative. It’s definitely paying off. We’re seeing good results, but I don’t think I would’ve been able to do the job the way I do the job, if I didn’t have that kind of support, and a lot of marketers don’t.

Brent Smart: I talk to a lot of marketers who don’t have that support, and I think that would be a pretty tough situation to be in.

Mark Jones: Do you think there’ll be more… probably the bigger brands, hiring the likes of yourself, and creating internal agencies as a way to make that long-term thing happen?

Brent Smart: Maybe. It’s definitely increased. We’re definitely seeing more marketers coming out of agencies, and creative agencies in particular. The internal agency point is quite an interesting one. We have built content capability at IAG that we didn’t have before I got there, but there’s no way I’m going to build an agency that replaces what my agencies do, because there’s no way an insurance company is going to be able to attract the creative talent the best agencies in Australia can attract.

Brent Smart: I don’t kid myself about that. Is there a bunch of stuff that we can do, that is in our own channels, in social, that can be joined up to our data, that makes real sense for us to do ourselves? Yeah, 100%. We’re never going to do the big ideas, or the stuff that gets in a culture, the kind of marketing that I think is a real differentiator, that our HC partners, they do that.

Brent Smart: In fact, I’ve actually hired some interesting talent out of the agency world, like strategists. I’ve got quite a few really high calibre strategists, brand strategists, connections planners at a media agency. Not to replace what my agencies do, but to elevate what my agencies do, to give them the best brief possible, to give them someone to work with who understands what they do, and can push what they do, and stretch what they do, and make it better.

Mark Jones: That’s interesting.

Brent Smart: I think it’s a danger for marketers that think they can do what agencies do, because I don’t think you can. Not if you want to do creative work that is going to really stand out, and really get talked about, and get into culture. I think that creative work, I believe is a competitive advantage, I don’t think clients are going to be able to do themselves, and I certainly wouldn’t try.

Mark Jones: There’s an interesting line of thought around this creativity, and brave conversation. I remember talking, actually, to Tamara Howe at Kellogg’s about this. Her view was that you shouldn’t actually be out there. You should be doing what the data tells you. If the data is telling you to be brave or creative, then it shouldn’t be seen as particularly unique. So how do you connect the data and the creativity?

Brent Smart: There’s kind of three bits to that. The first bit around risk taking, bravery, I think it’s a bigger risk to do something invisible. I think it’s a much bigger risk to spend a bunch of money on a very predictable, expected, average piece of work that’s not going to surprise anyone, or get anyone to care, or talk about it.

Brent Smart: That, for me, is a bigger risk, and a more irresponsible use of marketing dollars. That’s the first thing. The second point on how out there can you go, could you alienate your customers? The thing about marketing and creativity is you could do anything, but what the smart market owner says is what you should do.

Brent Smart: What you should do, has to absolutely come from understanding your brand, understanding your customers, and understanding the data, to really understand what’s the opportunity here. What’s a great insight that’s going to really resonate and connect with people?

Brent Smart: If it’s grounded in what’s right for your brand, and grounded in a really great, powerful insight, then creatively, you can stretch it as far as you like, because it’s grounded in important truths for your brand and your customer. The final point there, the third thing, I don’t think the data ever tells you what to do.

Brent Smart: All data tells you is, where is your business right now, what is your customer doing, but the leap that’s required to create a great piece of creative, the data doesn’t tell you about that leap. You’ve got to take that leap, and then the data will tell you once you’ve taken the leap-

Mark Jones: Whether it works.

Brent Smart: -whether it works, but I’ve never seen a piece of data that’s told me whether a creative idea is right or wrong, whether a creative idea is going to have amazing breakthrough, or just be average. You don’t know any of that until you’ve made it, and you’re running-

Mark Jones: Unless you’re doing testing.

Brent Smart: I don’t test. I don’t believe in testing.

Mark Jones: Okay, why’s that?

Brent Smart: I think it’s the most artificial environment we could ever create, to test an idea in. It’s amazing how far we’ve come with technology, and we still test in this most archaic way, when it comes to creative ideas.

Mark Jones: Stick 10 people in a room. What do you like?

Brent Smart: Yeah, it’s crazy. I think the only way to test it is to run it, and I think you’ve just got to do it. That’s testing it, and if it’s getting traction, you know straight away now, and so then you can make a call to scale or not scale, or do something else.

Brent Smart: Also, when we creative test, we take away the most powerful thing going for any idea, and that’s execution. It’s nonsense to put a communication in front of people, that hasn’t actually been executed yet. How can you judge that? How could I possibly judge a movie, that’s a bunch of drawings, and a bunch of words on a page? I’ve got to go and sit in a dark cinema, and watch it, and see it, and hear it, and feel it.

Brent Smart: You know what I mean? I think it’s crazy, the way we just think that we can somehow get people to feel the way they’ll feel with a finished execution, when it’s not actually made.

Mark Jones: To borrow the movie analogy, it seems that you’re the director. You have to make the call as to whether you think this is going to work for your audience, so you’ve built this thing, and you put it out there. How do you feel from a sense of responsibility or risk, that you’re the sign off, and you’ve got these others above you. How does that work when you’re with them all the time, unlike an agency environment? What does that feel like?

Brent Smart: You know what? It’s definitely scarier, because I think agencies always have the excuse of the client. The client picked the wrong script, the client approved the wrong thing. They always have this excuse that the client-

Mark Jones: It’s their fault.

Brent Smart: Yeah, and now I am the client. I don’t have that excuse anymore, so that is pretty… it’s not scary. I wouldn’t say it’s scary, but I feel that responsibility, but I absolutely want that responsibility, and you’ve got to take that responsibility as a marketer. I think you absolutely have to own the work you do.

Brent Smart: Especially within the organisation, I think it’s really important that you are passionate about what you’re doing, convincing other people it’s the right thing to do. You’ve got to really stand by the work, and be the champion of the work inside the organisation.

Brent Smart: I don’t think I ever really appreciated, when I was in an agency, how important that is, and how powerful that is, because I wasn’t in those meetings. We’d present it, and then we’d go away, and then it was up to the marketer then to go and champion it inside the organisation. I think it’s such a critical role that marketers play.

Brent Smart: Ideas are fragile things that are really easy to kill, really easy to chip away at, really easy to ruin. It happens all the time, and so you’ve got to protect them, and you’ve got to really shepherd them through these complicated organisations that we find ourselves working in.

Brent Smart: I take that responsibility really seriously, and I think it’s a massive part of my job.

Mark Jones: Sounds like you’re really working on your people skills.

Brent Smart: I’m so glad I grew up in an agency, because the skills you learn inside an advertising agency, certainly in the time I grew up in them, people skills are number one on the list of what you learn as an account guy. I was an account guy. You absolutely learn how to present, how to influence, how to really understand the motivations of decision makers, I don’t think I really appreciated how important they are.

Mark Jones: Let’s talk about some of the work that you’ve done since you’ve been there. You mentioned NRMA, and I just have this image in my head of the guy who, in his van, comes to rescue you on the side of the road, with a flat battery. I’ve been there myself many times.

Mark Jones: Such fertile ground, as you said. Tell me about some of the work that you’ve done, and maybe some lessons that you’ve captured from that time.

Brent Smart: it’s a beautiful, amazing brand. I’m so privileged to work on that brand. The biggest thing we’ve done at NRMA, is take it back to its equity. I think it’s tempting for a lot of marketers, particularly when they come in as a new CMO, to want to reinvent.

Mark Jones: Correct.

Brent Smart: What’s the new positioning? What’s the new direction for the brand?

Mark Jones: Put your mark on it.

Brent Smart: Put your mark on it, right. That’s human nature, and I get it, but I think I just felt like where the NRMA brand was when I came in, was a bit lost, and I felt like it had really lost its core equity, and its magic. For me, that was help. When I grew up, NRMA equaled H-E-L-P. It was this fantastic brand property that had been around for many years.

Brent Smart: We hadn’t used it for 15 years, and yet still, in focus group research, people would talk about help. Still, you do a Google search, and there’s loads of mentions of help around our brand. It was this dormant equity that I felt we had to bring back. And also, when you can boil your brand down to one word like that, how healthy brands can do that, it’s really powerful, and it’s such a great north star for us, to just say that everything we do must be helpful.

Brent Smart: It’s real easy for you to start working out what the right thing to do, or the wrong thing to do is for the brand, because everything you do has to help. It’s a fantastic, amazing position. The first thing we did was, let’s reclaim that. Not just the way we help customers. That’s a part of it, but what about the fact that Australians by nature are incredibly helpful? It goes to the core of-

Mark Jones: Connect to that spirit.

Brent Smart: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the bigger cultural opportunity for the brand

Mark Jones: Did you use that as a platform? Because that would be like your umbrella narrative, and then do you plan to keep that, but then just pop up with different campaigns over time? Is that the approach?

Brent Smart: Yeah, absolutely. That’s the core brand equity if you like, but then at Christmas, I’ve been really passionate about… I’m hugely inspired by John Lewis, who I think make the greatest Christmas ads the world’s ever seen, out of the UK. It’s been incredibly successful for their business.

Brent Smart: Again, when I turned up, I thought, wouldn’t it be interesting if an insurance company… no one expects us to do that. Retailers, sure, but an insurance company turning up at Christmas with a really emotional, heartwarming Christmas message, really generous brand message. So for the last two years, we’ve done a big, emotional Christmas spot around the idea of just… drive safe this Christmas, guys.

Brent Smart: We insure a lot of people on the roads. Our heritage as been safety on the roads, as NRMA, and we thought it would just be a really generous brand act to turn up and say, “Drive safe, everyone.” We’ve made two-

Mark Jones: Well, because we know that all the deaths on the road at Christmas time is huge. It’s a big thing.

Brent Smart: Totally. Massive, yeah. It goes up massively, so yeah. We’ve done that the last two years in a row, so that’s an example where that’s a really helpful thing to do.

Mark Jones: Sort of like MLA, with the lamb ads.

Brent Smart: Totally.

Mark Jones: Around Australia Day.

Brent Smart: Exactly. I call them cultural spikes, when what you do is, rather than running a classic 12 week campaign, and spreading your activity over 12 weeks, you actually just pick a moment, you really condense your activity and spend, and you really spike the presence for your brand, and you get a whole bunch of conversation, talkability, and social going.

Brent Smart: Thats what we’ve tried to do around Christmas. The other great thing is the other insurance brands all stop spending, so there’s this powerful, clean space for us to go after. We’re going again this year, too. I’m not going to rest until I’ve got one as good as John Lewis. We haven’t quite got there, but we’re trying.

Brent Smart: I think that’s a big opportunity for the brand, but that’s the great thing, again, about property like help, then as different cultural moments happen, you could think about how could we turn up and be helpful?

Brent Smart: Because if we turn up and talk about insurance, most people don’t care, but if we turn up and be helpful, that’s cool, and not expected from an insurance company.

Mark Jones: How do you make sure that the emotion hits the right spot? 

Brent Smart: I always start with, does it move me? If I’m not moved, then no one else is going to be moved. I think that is something we really have to trust the agency, and trust the director, and trust that they will execute it in a way that will move you emotionally. You can see it in a piece of paper. You can see the idea, and you can see the potential, but it’s really hard to move people with a piece of paper.

Brent Smart: It comes down to craft, and performance. That’s the bit where you’ve just got to trust. You’ve just got to trust that I see the potential in the script, now if we work with the right people, and we give them the space to really craft something beautiful, then we’ll get that emotional power out of the piece of film at the end.

Brent Smart: You don’t know. You really don’t know. That’s a leap you’ve got to take as a marketer, and go, “I see the potential in this.” You just sort of cross your fingers, and hope that it gets there in execution. Look, you don’t get it every single time. You’ve just got to have faith, and trust that if you’re working with the right people, that you’ll get the right emotional outcome.

Mark Jones: It seems like you’ve, particularly because of your background, a very strong focus on the creative, and the story, and presumably the visual outputs around TV, or related video. How do you think about the other channels? Have you had to really push yourself into other spaces? One of the reasons I ask, and you sort of touched on this earlier, I think is the advertising in many forms, is becoming less and less effective, in terms of getting that cut through.

Mark Jones: Creating content that people can engage in, for example, in different formats, and different ways, particularly through influencers. Globally, that’s a huge thing around creating these events that influencers are at, and to interact with an experience with the brand, which is entirely different from the world we’ve been talking about. What are your thoughts on how you might shape and change in that direction?

Brent Smart: Look, we live in a time where social media is this incredibly powerful thing. You can’t build brands just on television anymore. You can’t. Those days are over, so we’ve put a big effort into our content, and how we turn up in social. Again, the category set a pretty low bar in that space, in insurance, so we felt like we could do something that was more interesting, and again, not just about us, and about insurance, but tell stories that people want to spend time with, and engage with.

Brent Smart: We’ve spent the last year… we call it stories of help, just telling these stories, just great stories of people who-

Mark Jones: Almost like case studies.

Brent Smart: Yeah, kind of, but less about case studies about how we help customers, more about great stories of Australians helping Australians. We talked a lot about that great spirit of helpfulness, mateship that’s there-

Mark Jones: It’s like a mini version of Australian Story.

Brent Smart: Probably is, you know. It is, probably Australian Story for Instagram.

Mark Jones: For the Instagram mindset.

Brent Smart: Yeah.

Mark Jones: It’s not an hour, it’s like 15 seconds.

Brent Smart: That’s done really well, and been really engaging, and we were number 11 in terms of share of voice in social measure by share of engagements. Not reach, share of engagements, and we’ve moved to number one in financial services, which has been a fantastic move.

Brent Smart: I think the reason we’ve been able to do that is, I hired Zara Curtis to head up content for me. She came from Fremantle Media; television production. Not from marketing, so she thinks like a publisher, a media person. She doesn’t think like a marketer, and so it means that we approach content not like a marketing campaign, but we approach it more like… more like an episodic, series-driven piece of content.

Brent Smart: I think that’s made a big difference. That’s vital, and important, and particularly in a category like ours, where again, there’s just not much engagement, and not much interest. You’ve got to work hard to generate it.

Mark Jones: I should pick you up on something, because you raised an interesting point. You almost used marketer as a pejorative there.

Brent Smart: No, no, no. I’m a proud marketer.

Mark Jones: I know that, and I know the spirit behind what you’re saying, but don’t you think there’s an interesting conflict there, about creatives and storytellers, narrators, script writers, directors, and this other world? What’s going on there?

Brent Smart: It’s definitely about collaboration always. You’ve got to bring those directors and storytellers, and designers into our world to create stuff, but we’ve hired a bunch of them. In building out our content capability, we’ve hired directors, and editors, and writers, and videographers, and all these interesting people that you wouldn’t normally see in a marketing team.

Brent Smart: They bring a whole different way of looking at content, because I think the challenge with marketers is we tend to see everything through a marketing lens. If you hammer everything that looks like a nail, right, you tend to want to do everything the way you do marketing, but the fact is that what works in social, what works in content is very different to what works in a marketing campaign.

Brent Smart: You’ve got to bring a new lens to it. That’s one of our mantras we say. When it comes to our social and our content, think like a publisher, not like a marketer. We actually embrace that.

Mark Jones: I think that’s getting closer to where this is going. By the way, think like a publisher, that’s been kicking around for a decade, in terms of what Google has done to the industry, as in everybody becomes a publisher, right? Yeah, it’s fascinating to me, because marketing is always changing, but the profession of marketing has to mould into some sort of amalgamation of all of these ideas.

Mark Jones: To be a good marketer, you have to tell a story, you’ve got to be creative, you’ve got to know the data, you’ve got to be able to talk well to all your stakeholders, and be a nice person, you’ve got to be able to drive your agencies, and you’ve got to spin it around. There’s a lot going on there.

Brent Smart: It’s part of what I love about the job. It is incredibly varied, and you do need to have, as you say, it’s a lot of skills. I do think though, there are important fundamentals of marketing that we can’t lose, and I think maybe some marketers do think that stuff is maybe not as sexy, or not as important any more.

Brent Smart: Positioning is really important. Segmentation is really important. Good old four P’s are still really important, but then you need to be working with, I think, people who will then take those fundamentals, and build on them in really interesting ways, that just makes your brand more interesting, and makes people want to spend time with you.

Brent Smart: That’s the challenge. There’s so much content in the world. I just think we’ve got to remember that no one is sitting there, waiting for an insurance commercial, or an insurance podcast, or an insurance post, or whatever.

Brent Smart: They’re just not, and so the onus on us is so high, to really do something that’s worthy of people’s time, because even though people are more time poor than ever. Everyone says, “I’ve got no time. I’ve got no time. So busy, got no time.” They somehow find 10 hours to binge watch Game of Thrones.

Brent Smart: They will find time for awesome stuff, and most of the time-

Mark Jones: If your story is good enough.

Brent Smart: If the story is great, the idea is great, the design is great. That’s what we’re competing with, and we need to remember that. We need to remember that just doing marketing… I don’t compare myself to marketing. I don’t look at, “Is this good marketing?” You’ve got to compare yourself to what’s going on in culture.

Brent Smart: “Is this a great story? Is this a great piece of design? Is this a bit of content worthy of spending time with, and sharing?” Compared to all the other stuff out there that people are spending time with, and sharing, and half the time, most of the time, the answer for most marketing is no.

Brent Smart: Just not, and that’s how we’ve got to think as marketers. I think fundamentals still matter, but you do need to think about marketing in a very different way in today’s world.

Mark Jones: Last thing that I want to pick your brain on. I heard this really interesting podcast, speaking of which, HBR, talking about marketing in China. The western mindset is, actually, illustrated by yourself, which is Christmas coming, and months and months, and we’re going to plan ahead of time.

Mark Jones: the classic, we’re going to do a really great job, and we’re going to put a lot of time and effort into it, but it’s going to be fast, whereas they say speed and agility, and right now is the thing. They’ve sort of flipped it, right?

Mark Jones: Work with, in particular, KOLs, influencers, have an idea to execution in the market within two weeks. It’s sort of this hyper speed model. It seems to be quite pervasive, and in a country of a billion plus people, that’s a pretty arresting idea. How’ve you thought about the speed, versus well considered, beautiful idea?

Brent Smart: I think the answer is you’ve got to do both. I don’t think it’s a choice. You absolutely have to work fast if you want to work at the speed of culture. If you want to be relevant with what’s happening right now, if you want to be responding to your customers in real time, then you’ve got to be fast. There’s no choice.

Brent Smart: By the same token, there’s a reason that the last episode of Game of Thrones took 55 days to shoot, and they spent $30 million on it, and it’s the most amazing piece of content that we’ve all seen in a while. There’s still a really important place for stuff that is beautifully crafted, like Apple products.

Brent Smart: They don’t make them quick. They really think about every little detail.

Mark Jones: Some things can’t be quick.

Brent Smart: Yeah, I think some things can’t be quick, and I think consumers are way smarter than we give them credit for, and think they really notice when something has been crafted, and has had some love put into it, and has had some care. It just stands out so much in a world that’s full of stuff that’s been made quickly

Brent Smart: I think there’s a real role for crafted, curated things to stand out, but by the same token, not everything. If you do everything like that, you’ll do two things a year, you’ll have no momentum, you’ll have no traction, and you’ll be seen to be a big, slow, traditional brand.

Brent Smart: You’ve got to do both. It’s kind of and, not or, and I think craft some things beautifully, and really take the care and the time, and then at other moments, yes. Look, done and being timely sometimes, is more important than being perfect, right, so just get it out there, and get some traction going with your brand.

Brent Smart: I certainly want to both. I don’t want to make a choice between those two things. I want to see both things appearing in our marketing.

Mark Jones: Well, all the best with that, because therein lies another big thing that will keep you occupied for some time to come. Brent Smart, CMO at IAG. Thank you so much for being our guest this time, and all the best with shaking things up in insurance.

Brent Smart: Yeah, thanks.

Mark Jones: So how about this quote from the interview? He says, championing ideas and protecting ideas are really important. That they’re really fragile things, really easy to chip away at, and really easy to ruin. And don’t we see that all the time where we’re building up these creative ideas and you know, it’s kind of death by a thousand cuts in committees and meetings, and you know, different stakeholder groups and sales versus marketing versus customer service and all this kind of stuff.

Mark Jones: So, you know, I think we’re talking a lot about passion for the profession of marketing. And I think in this case, you know, passion also has to come with conviction, like the conviction of your idea, and fighting for something. You know, and it’s hard, right? But ultimately that is the job of the CMO, and for the leaders in marketing communications, is fighting for these ideas because if you don’t believe them, obviously nobody else will. So some great ideas and insights from Brent in this episode.

Mark Jones: Thank you once again for joining us on the CMO show. You can get us at We love your input. We love your feedback. So keep it coming. And until next time.

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