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Challenges and pressures: inside the minds of Kiwi organisations

rough water rapid

Being true to your beliefs is easy to say but equally easy to forget that it requires us to act.

In a nutshell

  1. We've recently carried out a Discovery Project speaking to 22 senior business people in a variety of roles to get a uniquely Kiwi outlook on the specific challenges facing the industry. 
  2. We found that there were some universal underlying pressures, the most common being the increase in pressure attributed to uncertainty and complexity driven by tough questions about growth.
  3. Growth is a real challenge, in part due to the speed with which things have to happen. There is little time to pause and reflect, decisions have to be made today even though you don’t have all the information you’d ideally have, and change is uncomfortable so perpetual motion creates huge uncertainty. Organisations are having to get used to uncertainty and imperfection.

TRA has been a strong voice in arguing for taking an authentic and disciplined approach to customer-centricity – which means adopting the Bezos rule of the empty chair to represent the customer’s interest in every discussion, plan and execution. For that to happen you need to know your customers and their needs. Although at TRA we talk to our own customers (our clients) every day, it’s been a while since we sat down with them and got to the bottom of what keeps them awake at night.

Back in 2012 we asked our clients the same question and they told us they were facing a wall of uncertainty, and undoubtedly opportunity (if only they could see how to exploit it) in two areas: big data and social. People were asking whether their organisation should have a Facebook page and, if so, what role it should play. Clearly a lot has changed since then, so we figured it was time to check in.

Meanwhile, a large-scale global survey of 800 CMOs was underway carried out by Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) Council, dwarfing the scale of our project. But what we have been able to do in our Discovery Project is look at the specifics of the New Zealand market by talking to 22 Kiwi-based clients and non-clients in a variety of roles: CMOs, CEOs, customer and insights managers, directors of customer experience and behaviour, heads of innovation, trade marketing managers, and data analytics managers.

A highly pressurised environment

Whatever the job title, role or responsibilities, we found that there were some underlying pressures that were universal. The most common thread was the intensity of the pressure that current tensions are creating. There has been a palpable increase in pressure and this was attributed to uncertainty and complexity driven by tough questions about growth; growth in value for commercial organisations and in delivery of results for non-commercial organisations.

The global CMO survey found the same story and this year saw the creation of the CMO Growth Council – a joint venture between Cannes Lions and the Association of National Advertisers (ANA) – to help marketers globally address issues of growth and to find their place in being drivers of growth strategies.


business challenges


There are a myriad reasons for pressure around growth. We all have enough stuff, challenger brands and category disruptors are lurking in the shadows waiting to grab our turf, consumer power causes social movements to pivot on a dime (think plastic bags), the power of inertia in large organisations is overwhelming, and things such as climate change, politics and demographics are fluid and in a state of constant change.

“Change is being led by our customers, and it’s by focusing deeply on understanding their needs – rather than getting lost in the technology – that we will succeed. There are so many areas we could choose to play – categories, campaigns, communication – and our job as leaders is to distil our purpose into a clear set of strategic priorities and cascade these effectively across our global business. Although we shout very loud, we need to continue to behave like a small, challenger brand and not try to do too much, too quickly.”
– Sam Thomson, The Body Shop

This quote reverberates across the four tensions that our New Zealand interviewees talked about.

  1. How do we manage BAU and at the same time act like a start up?
  2. How do we stay in control in the face of external events and changes (legislation, cultural movements)?
  3. How do we win and gain an advantage through a deep understanding of customers?
  4. How do we operate in a constantly changing landscape which requires us to ask some fundamental questions like ‘what business are we in’?

Growth is a challenge

"Growth is hard at the best of times, but it is now a real challenge, in part due to the speed with which things have to happen."

“What we hear from our CMO clients is that they are attempting to tackle some of their organisation’s toughest challenges, sometimes losing sight of keeping the customer at the centre of it all,” said Sheryl Jacobson, principal, Deloitte Consulting LLP and CMO customer transformation leader. “For the CMO to be effective, they have to keep the customer at the centre of every conversation and figure out solutions that will drive growth.”

Growth is hard at the best of times, but it is now a real challenge, in part due to the speed with which things have to happen. There is little time to pause and reflect before the next race begins, decisions have to be made today even though you don’t have all the information you’d ideally have, and change is uncomfortable so perpetual motion creates huge uncertainty.

We are all having to get used to uncertainty and imperfection. The idea that robustness was once defined as having all the information has been replaced by a more holistic approach that accepts that multiple signals leading to the same conclusion is the best you are going to get and is good enough to base a decision on. Robustness is found in good analytical thinking and frameworks as much as in nationally representative samples.

Our Discovery Project was a great window into the challenges Kiwi organisations are facing and has given us insight into how we can support our clients to solve the problems that will liberate growth. And as a by-product, as TRA is on its own growth path, we are looking at those same tensions in our own business and developing our strategies to resolve them. Not least to be a truly client-centric business.

Colleen Ryan
Partner at TRA

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