The CMO Show:
Vanessa Lyons on brand transformation

Vanessa Lyons, marketing consultant and former GM Marketing & Customer Experience at Wilson Parking Australia, sits down with host Mark Jones to discuss brand transformation.

As a marketer, how is your understanding of who your customer is driving transformation within your brand?

Vanessa Lyons, marketing consultant and former GM Marketing & Customer Experience at Wilson Parking Australia, says that to effectively lead brand transformation, marketers need a comprehensive understanding of their customers.

During her first year with the parking operator, Vanessa transformed the marketing function and placed the customer at the forefront of decision-making and innovation.

“No longer is marketing that downstream function that gets involved at the latter stages. Now, it’s customer driving commercial outcomes. It’s customer and customer insights that are driving marketing activity,” says Vanessa. 

Vanessa’s advice for marketers who are looking to lead transformation within a brand is to first understand who their customer is by analysing the data.

“In order to get any sort of digital transformation, brand transformation, arriving at a new customer transport transformation, it’s all based on data points. And again, the wealth of data was there, but there was never an ability or a focused effort to synergise all the data points together to get one holistic view,” she says.

It’s equally important, Vanessa says, to connect with your customer, and develop a deeper understanding of their beliefs and behaviours by then going beyond the data and having real conversations. Marketers must understand their customers on a qualitative level in order to serve them well. 

“Champion the customer, and champion the customer early, in a way that makes sense to a business so that they feel that it’s an absolute necessity and it’s no longer an executional tactical piece that marketing plays,” says Vanessa. 

Tune into this episode of The CMO Show to find out how marketers can drive value, generate growth and unlock new opportunities through brand transformation.

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The CMO Show production team

Producers – Charlotte Goodwin & Stephanie Woo

Audio Engineers – Tom Henderson & Daniel Marr

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

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Transcript:

Host: Mark Jones

Guest: Vanessa Lyons

Mark Jones:
Transformation is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot these days – but for us marketers, it’s an integral part of the role. In our constantly disrupted world, transformation drives value, it generates growth and unlocks new opportunities. My question to you is, how are you manifesting transformation within your brand?

Mark Jones:
Hello friends! Mark Jones here. It is so good to have you with us again on The CMO Show podcast. My guest today is Vanessa Lyons, former General Manager, Marketing & Customer Experience at Wilson Parking Australia. Today’s conversation is all about brand transformation, using data effectively, and the importance of learning on the job as a marketer. And I’ve just got to say from a curiosity perspective, parking? What’s the parking business all about? How does that work? It’s a great conversation. Here’s Vanessa.

Mark Jones:
Vanessa, thank you for joining us on the show.

Vanessa Lyons:
Thanks Mark. Thanks for having me.

Mark Jones:
Now we’ve got to start at the beginning. Back in the day you were working at Telstra as a marketing manager.  If you go back to those days, a lot’s changed in that time. But tell me about some of those formative marketing experiences that really shaped you as a professional.

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah. Right. And I guess probably to start off, it’d be a good thing to say, I don’t think you’d ever think you’d be talking to someone who has marketed light bulbs, telco, old insurance products and car parks for their lifetime.. But I think for my formative years, I spent about 10 years with Phillips Electronics, and predominantly in the lighting industry, which is in itself quite a very traditional way of doing things. And in those formative years, particularly with such a large organisation, and Telstra as another example, it was all about how do we create great products? And it was very product-driven. My upbringing was very much in the product management side of things, and it was always about how you can squeeze margins, or improve the profitability of your portfolio from a product perspective, which I think is great foundations, because you learn what makes businesses tick and how businesses make money, ultimately.

Vanessa Lyons:
But as you grew through those larger organisations, it very quickly transformed into, we now need to understand the customer, and what the drivers of those customers are, and who ultimately the influencers are. So back in the day, it was very much about influencer marketing, both from a B2B standpoint, but also from a Telstra and a consumer perspective. Who was it that was really making the decision? So whilst it wasn’t the person making the end purchase, or the person handing out the cash, ultimately, it was very much about understanding the different stakeholders within a purchase decision. And I think those two groundings in themselves, both the profitability and how to make that work within a business, particularly with the discipline of large organisations.

Vanessa Lyons:
And then you bring in that side of, who is it and how many people do we need to influence? And that’s where segmentation really came into the fore. Those were the really fundamentals that have grounded me and still drive me today. I’m probably the most unapologetically commercial marketer you will find, and I think it’s that upbringing in those disciplined organisations with such a broad remit that brought that to the fore.

Mark Jones:
You were talking about the difference between product marketing and brand marketing and influencer marketing.  What’s been your reflection on how those disciplines have matured over the last couple of years?

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah. Interesting. I think they probably all have a slightly different name, and that’s just like anything, right? You reinvent the wheel and just name it something else, but fundamentally, it’s still the same. I think, probably, what I’ve noticed the most, and the most critical for all marketers, and particularly even myself as I lead teams moving forward, is it’s the convergence of it all now. You can no longer really be, especially at a level of ours, is you can never really be such a specialist anymore. You really have to understand all the levers, and be able to combine them from a convergence perspective.

Vanessa Lyons:
You even think back to when sales and marketing were completely separate, and I remember very early on, when you were initially applying for roles, you always talk about the fact that you always wanted to see a blend between sales and marketing, whereas I think that’s a given now, and if you don’t have that, then there’s an issue. You don’t understand that commercial side of things. And now it’s almost – there needs to be a blend between finance and marketing, almost. It’s gone beyond the technology piece.  The 2ICs are almost marketers these days, and no longer the financial drivers, because marketers understand so much of that. But fundamentally they know how to grow a business.

Mark Jones:
Which begs the question about learning on the job. So how do you continue to improve? And I’d like to look at this through the lens of your current situation, obviously, as a consultant these days. That affords you a little bit of distance from your last employer, which was Wilson Parking. But what’s been the biggest thing you’ve learned about learning on the job, or continuous improvement in your career?

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah, it’s a great question and a great thing that you often reflect on. But I think the biggest aspect about learning is trial is a good thing, backing things up with data. But certainly, again, in the fundamentals and even when I went through university, marketing was all about the creative side of things. And what creative agencies do so well these days, you very much learn that side of things as well as the four Ps. Whereas I think once you’re on the job, and particularly when you’re in organisations who have a quest for growth and a desire for fast growth, is you very quickly need to be very comfortable with financials. And it’s not just selling a pitch and painting a fluffy story. You very quickly have to be able to influence your peers in a way that makes sense for them.

Vanessa Lyons:
And that’s usually financially-driven, or usually from an effectiveness perspective, not from what a traditional brand lever was, which was an awareness score or something like that. It’s very much about how it’s going to drive sales, and from a brand storytelling, that’s now come to the fore, and with all the work that you do, there’s always that underlying current, these days, of commercial outcomes.  Even back when I was working with Phillips and with Telstra, there was very much that emotive pull that you needed to have with your influencers or with your end customers, and it was all about that feel-good moment. I think just the way you articulate it on the job, and the things you learn on the job, is how to pitch your story on a different level.

Mark Jones:
And I’ve got to agree with you. I’m hearing more and more marketers today talking about this narrative of business language. How can we bury our jargon more? How can we simplify our language? And when we say, “Talk about the business, and talk about the business results,” it is really just being, I think, just part of the business, right? As opposed to seeing marketing as a separate expression of, or function of a broader story. So I think that’s an interesting perspective that really has changed in the last few years.

Vanessa Lyons:
It absolutely has. And I think it comes back to the storytelling piece, in many respects.  No longer is marketing that downstream function that gets involved at the latter stages. Now, it’s customer driving commercial outcomes. It’s customer and customer insights that are driving marketing activity. And you’re right. It’s taking the jargon and the fluff out of it. But how do you bring those conversations early on in the strategy piece of a business, so that you can then do good execution work as a marketer, or follow through in order to service that customer.  Champion the customer, and champion the customer early, in a way that makes sense to a business so that they feel that it’s an absolute necessity, and it’s no longer an executional tactical piece that marketing plays.

Mark Jones:
So let’s take all of that insight and apply it to your most recent role at Wilson Parking. And what fascinates me about the parking business, being a customer of various parking organisations…

Vanessa Lyons:
Don’t tell me who it is, Mark. Don’t tell me who it is.

Mark Jones:
I said various, right? The interesting thing about this, and I’m just wanting to start here, which is the good, fast, cheap model. We talk about this, one of the biggest cliches in marketing. You can be two of the good, fast, cheap, right? And it strikes me that parking is fast and cheap, right? Which generally means it can’t be all that great at customer service. You were just talking about customer experience, and customer service.

Mark Jones:
And I got to be honest with you, all car parks, generally speaking, are pretty ordinary at customer service and personalisation. So just give me your perspective. What was that like?

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah. And it’s a great point. I mean, let’s be honest. Parking is a grudge purchase, and there’s a number of reasons behind that. And I think that’s why the excitement of the role, and excitement of where it was going was such an interesting challenge to face as a marketer, and a commercial side of things as well. You have to remember from parking back in the day, is it’s come from a very B2B, corporate deals perspective. Back when you apply for a job, and Telstra was one of them, one of the perks you got offered as part of your package was free parking in a city, through a corporate deal that was arranged. And that’s certainly shifted in a dynamic in the last few years. It’s no longer that arrangement. The big corporates are certainly cutting that out of packages, and leaving it up to individual choice of the employee on how they commute to work.

Vanessa Lyons:
And as a result, it’s now consumers, one-on-one, who are parking with these businesses. So the business has had to pivot, massively, in how it’s traditionally been set up to now, how it needs to service moving forward. And yeah, it’s pretty antiquated. We all know, you drive in, you see a big board with a confusing number of prices and costs up there on how much it costs to park, all of which seem extremely expensive at the time. And you pull a ticket. It’s a very disjointed process. So joining the marketing team, Wilson itself has a great brand, everybody knows it because there’s not that many players in this space. But at the same time, it had a lot to improve on when it came to talking to a consumer. And that all comes down to understanding the new customer, and even acknowledging that it’s a new customer these days. It’s no longer the big B2B corporates.

Vanessa Lyons:
It’s now the consumer side of things that needs to come to the fore. And with that, the way they engage with a parking provider is very different. They want to book online, and they want to plan it the night before. They don’t want the experience of driving in and finding out that carpark’s full by the time they get to the top, and have to weave their way all the way back down to the bottom to get back out. So there’s a lot of things, from a traditional business model, that needed to change within parking. And that’s still an evolution for sure.

Mark Jones:
And I’d like to talk about the digital transformation side of things in a minute, but before we get to that, just on the bigger picture stuff with parking as well. This is, I think, one of my favourite questions, is what business are they really in? And I suspect it’s actually not customer experience. I suspect it’s like property.

Vanessa Lyons:
Well, fundamentally, the people who own these buildings are property developers, aren’t they? So, essentially, Wilson Parking, and all the other parking providers, very rarely own the space outright. They lease it in order to provide a service. I always currently describe parking, in a way that more people can relate to it, is in the old days, it was the shopfront. As you were driving along the street, you saw a parking sign and that was your shopfront, and you’d drive in or not drive in, based on what you saw as you were driving past. These days, it’s an e-commerce or an online shop, where you do want to make your decision early. You want to scout the market. You want to know what you’re doing and plan ahead, and then you go in to make that purchase. So it’s definitely changed from that perspective. In terms of what business are they in, it’s now an e-commerce business. It’s now an online retail business in its purest sense, because so many transactions happen online.

Mark Jones:
Which, of course, means the digital customer experience has to be that much better. So let’s talk about that, because you’ve introduced an app, and you helped Wilson move into the digital environment. What was that process like? The transformation process.

Vanessa Lyons:
Definitely getting it out of the Stone Ages, and getting it back into the modern world. And again, when you think about a store at the moment, the point of sale or the payment point of sale actually has to talk. There’s a boom gate involved as well, with old technology. And it’s not just about releasing an app. It’s an app that then talks to very antiquated technology that raises that boom gate up and down. So bringing an app into the parking world seemed like it was potentially unnecessary, and, in many instances, seemed like it was just moving sales from one part of the business – which was drive up and pull a ticket – onto the online world.

Vanessa Lyons:
And in actual fact, it wasn’t about that at all. The growth and the new customers that were generated as a result of coming into the more modern age, and providing customers with information and choice ahead of their journey, was phenomenal, because it became a much more simplistic process and a much less stressful process, because parking is stressful, and annoying for most people. They could shop the prices in advance, know exactly what they were up for, book their timing in advance, and be able to know what their window of time slot to drive into that boom gate was.

Vanessa Lyons:
And there’s some flexibility that you had to build around that, because if there was a traffic jam, or a big footy game on, on a Friday night, you had to allow for traffic in order for them to get in at the appropriate time, or have some leeway. And there were a number of things that needed to be built into that digital transformation. It wasn’t just about flicking a payment switch. Only with that could you then have the personalisation, the rebooking speed, that you could with a repeat customer, and then you can start to get that personalisation and service, and extend those aspects out. I can tell you a significant number of the 1,000 daily inquiries that Wilson Parking gets is in relation to an overcharge or an incorrect payment. And it’s purely out of confusion. So now with the digital age, you can be a lot clearer in your communication. You can be a lot more transparent in how things work, and you can also be a lot faster to react to those concerns. So you start to get great data points, but also great communication points with customers.

Mark Jones:
I wanted to ask you about the stakeholder management side of things, because what you’re speaking about here is process – workflow, multiple stakeholders across different business units, and so on, I imagine. How complex was that?

Vanessa Lyons:
It was more complex in the sense that, I think ultimately everyone fundamentally knew change was on the horizon. I think there was also that cut-off point of, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. It was still a very well-oiled machine, and Wilson is still a very effective machine in terms of how they run. They’re very efficient parking operators. I think in terms of managing stakeholders, it was more about proving that the customer had changed and proving that the market needed to change, and de-risk the business in that respect. In order to get any sort of digital transformation, brand transformation, arriving at a new customer transport transformation, it’s all based on data points. And again, the wealth of data was there, but there was never a ability, or a focused effort to synergise all the data points together to get one holistic view.

Vanessa Lyons:
Three years ago, the whole single view of customer, or even five years ago, that single view of customer terminology was thrown around. But Wilson certainly has gotten closer to doing that. Whilst in my 12 months of putting the digital transformation agenda together, the number of systems dropped from 22 down to seven, just to get that single view. And it was only then, when you got a real clear view of who that customer was, and I can tell you, it’s not the 45 to 50-year-old male corporate businessman. It’s a female, who’s driving because they either need the flexibility because they’ve got to pick their kids up after school, or they only work part-time, or they’re the ones who pay the bills. So most of the time, it was a female and the only way the business and the engagement could get there was by me proving that the customer that we’re talking about today is different to how it was.

Vanessa Lyons:
And only when that was clear, by using the data points that existed within the business, not creating my own fluffy marketing ones, it’s using data that they were familiar with, but presenting it in a more insightful way, for them to be able to then go, “Hang on a second. This is coming from fact. Whilst Vanessa’s not a parking expert, by taking the data that is actually true and we’ve used for a number of years, 30 years, we can now believe it, because the sources of truth were correct. It’s just now how they’re being interpreted is a slightly different, or I guess, more insightful way of looking at it.” And that’s what got people across the line. It was a very traditional business with people who are extremely experienced and lots of years under their belt in the parking industry. 

Mark Jones:
You know, it’s interesting. An enduring hunger that I see in marketers, at all stages of their career, is that desire to really know the customer. And it seems that we’ve swung from, if you like, an intuitive sense of the customer to a data-driven sense of the customer. And it makes sense, if you think about the scale that you’re dealing with at Wilson, and any other organisation at scale. But one of the things I’m concerned about is the loss of qualitative insights. How did you get those? Because you need that woman that you just described, who may have different scenarios in her life, from income through to looking after children. I mean these are the sorts of psychographic profiles that really make the difference from an insight perspective, right? So how did you approach that challenge?

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah, I think it’s an interesting point, and I think gone are the days where you do focus groups and get told what you want to hear, or you’re selecting the wrong demographic, ultimately. I think one thing people misconstrue when I talk about data, or when a number of marketers probably talk about data, is that it’s all quantitative. These days, the tools you have in mind, and one of the systems that I migrated at Wilson, was all of the customer feedback, written. And the way you now can transcribe and form segments and clusters of information, and really dig deep into what’s that heat-map look like, what are those real pain points, and put qualitative information into quantitative facts. That’s the ability of data these days. So I actually don’t believe that we’re missing a beat anymore. Wilson has over 10,000 transactions a day. But even with the number of inquiries, you can now either have a audio transcript that’s now transcribed. All of that can field into a data final. It can be words, and they are very powerful.

Vanessa Lyons:
Email addresses. Where they come from. Locations. There’s a number of different ways that you can pull that information to make sure that you know really who your customer is, in a more quantitative manner, though, in order to put some foundations behind it. And I think, fundamentally, if you’re not talking as a marketer or as anyone in a business, if you’re still not going out and experiencing it yourself, or talking to people who have experienced it, then you’re doing yourself a disservice as well. It’s that fine balance. 

Vanessa Lyons:
So many people have perceptions, but perceptions aren’t necessarily reality. And where data becomes important is to make sure that those perceptions are founded. So there’s definitely a perception game that you need to cover off. But yeah, you also need to put your money where your mouth is. If you’ve got enough information, you can’t sit there and wait for perfect information. And sometimes you do just need to go on a whim, but that’s all about understanding your business and the risk. 

Mark Jones:
Yeah, it’s interesting. I think that people are still really torn about this, how to best understand the customer, because there are so many digital options, from simple tools through to complex scenarios like yours, and the rise of AI as well. So the idea that we can hand this whole thing off to an intelligent machine, which will spit it back, synthesise transcripts and who knows what else. It is fascinating, and in my experience, for many people, a little bit overwhelming. As professionals, as marketers, we’re still really desiring simplicity, don’t you think?

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah, I think that’s fundamentally true. And I guess my point to that was going to be, as well, is you’re right. We’re looking at data, but the way I view data is, A, they don’t need to be complex systems. I mean, certainly by any stretch, you don’t need to spend years and years implementing these things. But also once you have it, you don’t need to keep reinventing it.

Vanessa Lyons:
The whole point of data is to make yourself more effective and more efficient. So if it’s not doing that, then you actually are not looking at the data right. It’s all about taking noise out of one end, of people number-crunching and running a whole heap of models and what have you, and being able to make better, more effective, faster decisions. And if that’s not being achieved, then you’re actually probably just spinning your wheels, but in an automated way. So yeah, I think you’re right. We should be making things simple and taking friction out. That’s what we always talk about with a customer is, you’ve got to take pain points away from a customer. We’ve also got to take pain points away from a business and make yourself more nimble. That’s what the focus should be.

Mark Jones:
A quick question related to the customer experience is loyalty programmes. And I note that Wilson has the Wilson One card and back in the day, a partnership with Virgin’s Velocity Frequent Flyer programme. So, there’s an interesting angle there too, is to what extent those things contribute to loyalty.

Vanessa Lyons:
Yeah. Interesting. I probably have to hang my hat on that one. I was the one who spearheaded the cessation of our Virgin relationship.  Despite what they’re going through now, a fantastic brand and everybody, every company would love to hang their hat on either a Qantas or a Virgin partnership.

Vanessa Lyons:
And Wilson One was part of that. I think at the end of the day, whilst it’s a nice brand to have, if it’s not driving loyalty or a different behaviour versus the rest of your database, then you’re just leaking money. And that was fundamentally what happened. When Wilson entered into the original relationship with Virgin, it was certainly with that intention. Whether that transpired or not, that’s probably the bit that you would argue these days. So I think they add a lot of value when they’re done well, but adding them, it’d be like everybody saying they wanted to work with Uber just because it’s Uber, or everybody wanting to work with Facebook and Google, just because they’re Facebook and Google. There’s got to be a real purpose behind it. 

Mark Jones:
Well, the interest for me is also a bit more, a bit broader these days. I’m interested in loyalty programmes per se, because airlines have had to reinvent them. And we’re seeing this, with obviously in the parking space, it’s this idea that we’re going to improve customer service and give you some other tangible rewards, intrinsic or otherwise. So what do you think the future of those loyalty programmes will be?

Vanessa Lyons:
That’s a great question, right? And if only you could predict what would drive that behaviour in the end state. Oh god, we’d all be millionaires. It’s hard for me to assume what will happen in the future from that perspective, and certainly talk on Wilson’s behalf anymore, so I’d probably hazard to do that. I think the key though, is yes, there needs to be tiers or models of some form, and how that’s structured, whether it’s a discounted price, whether it’s more frequency of parking, more flexibility of where they park, how often they park, there’s a number of different ways to skin that cat. 

Vanessa Lyons:
I think the only way to look at it is as a broader journey, and that was certainly one thing, in my last role, as I was leaving Wilson, it was very much: Wilson is part of a journey. It’s not the only product or service in that journey. And so it all starts from a home or a business, and how they want to engage and go about their day. And everybody’s different. Some have multiple meetings and need to go from one end of the city to the other, four times within that day, and then go home. Others are just trying to drive in and drive home. And I think by being part of a broader ecosystem, and whilst you don’t want to talk about that, and whether Uber is part of that in going up and down the city and back again, who knows. That’s probably more where the loyalty or the holistic drive will come from, rather than just being a solo player.

Mark Jones:
I reckon that’s a really great insight, because what it says is that we’re going to understand the whole customer experience in the day, getting back to your points about the person, understanding the person and what do they go through? So I think, in my view, over time, we’re going to have to see much more clearly-defined benefits being communicated. Something that I actually really want. So if I’m a member of Wilson One, for example, I’ll get 100 bucks credit on Uber, or something that I can use, and it’s a talking point that I would tell people about, and feel a bit of pride.

Vanessa Lyons:
Well, ultimately, then, it’s solving something, right? And whether it goes back to my fin services days – I mean, it was a little bit different with lighting, fin, cell services, Telstra, and certainly parking and insurance, we’re very similar from this perspective, is there’s no point introducing a product or a service if it’s not solving something, or taking a pain point out of something. If it’s not simplifying, then why the hell are you doing it? You don’t just refresh. So, for me, that’s not an innovation. That’s just an addition or a complication in the product.

Vanessa Lyons:
And I think that whole broader discussion, and Wilson certainly are on that journey, and the whole mantra that I introduced just before I left, was do more with your day. That’s the whole driving force from a customer, in terms of the story we’re telling them, is it doesn’t matter whether you want to drive in and leave your car at night because you want to have a few beers on a Friday with your mates, and then catch the train or an Uber home. That’s okay. Do more with your day, and make it more effective for you, and take that pain point out. It’s less about parking specifically. It’s an enabler of that entire event.

Mark Jones:
Well, thank you so much for being our guest today. As you told me at the beginning, and we didn’t really touch on this at all, but you’ve had 12 months off recovering from cancer. So can I just say it’s great to see you, and congratulations on your journey. I’m sure you’re starting to have some dreams about where you might go from here.

Vanessa Lyons:
Indeed, indeed. And bring it on, I look forward to the future. I’m like many who have just dealt with COVID for the last year. It’s certainly been a little bit longer for me, but yeah, it’s quite refreshing. I feel great. And so I’m looking forward to getting back, stuck into it. So look out, peeps.

Mark Jones:
Fantastic. Well, thank you so much for being our guest on the programme.

Vanessa Lyons:
Thanks so much, Mark. Pleasure.

Mark Jones:
Reflecting on my conversation with Vanessa, the sheer amount of quantitative data available to us as marketers, and the need for us to use that data to understand our customers is clear. And it’s so important. But ultimately – like Vanessa said – data doesn’t beat having real conversations and understanding who our customers are on a more qualitative level. So, we really need to make sure that we understand customers’ perceptions and their beliefs to serve them well.

Mark Jones:
Now, just before I go, make sure you “subscribe” to the show on your favourite podcast app, and if you liked what you hear, please give us a “rating and review” on Apple Podcasts. This of course, helps us move up the charts, the marketing charts and helps us get our CMO insights – all these fantastic stories that we hear from marketers around the world, gets them into the ears of more marketers, and people just like you. So that’s it for this episode of The CMO Show. As always, it’s been great to have you with us. Until next time.

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