Career Journey with Marketing Leaders – Episode 3 with Al Murray
Welcome to the third edition of ‘Career Journey with Marketing Leaders’, where we sit down with CMOs and Senior Marketing Leaders from the CMO & Marketing Director Forum.
Each publication will ask them five questions about their career journey to date, greatest campaign, biggest failure, challenges facing CMOs and the advantages they hope to take in 2023.
Alex Marriner: Tell us a little about your marketing career and journey to where you are today as CMO at loveholidays.
Al Murray: I actually started my career as a Management Consultant, working across a broad range of industries from retail to car breakdown services to the NHS.
Across my five years in consulting, I found myself gravitating towards travel & spent ~2 years of that time working with travel businesses. So, when my boss left to become CEO at Rentalcars, it was an obvious move to follow him & that’s where my Marketing career began.
Up until that point, I had never worked in or on Marketing. Still, I’d had good exposure to Marketing teams across my time in consulting & Digital Marketing, in particular, struck me as a great place to deploy the “Consulting toolkit” (i.e., it’s data-centric, involves short, medium & long-term thinking, and is a critical driver of strategic business growth).
At Rentalcars, I worked in multiple channels, initially leading our strategic partnership with Booking, before taking over Marketing Innovation, where I led the measurement of our brand & loyalty efforts and developed new channels for RC, such as Programmatic Display & ASO.
Between leaders, I also briefly ran our Email & PPC teams before taking over as Marketing Director in 2019. In that role, I led our integration into Booking.com, where I continued to lead Marketing for all non-Accommodation products before finally running Strategy for the broader Booking.com Marketing team.
I left Booking early in 2022 to join loveholidays & have been CMO here ever since.
Alex Marriner: Tell us about a campaign that you’re proud of.
Al Murray: Throughout my Marketing career, I’ve been in Performance Marketing led organisations that are focused on ROI & led by data. So, I’ve been particularly proud of my involvement in bringing robust measurement to brand campaigns that deliver impact on upper funnel metrics but are grounded in reliable performance data for the internal organisation.
Rentalcars launched its first brand campaign in 2015/16 with “Rentalcarma”, which focused on the idea that the holiday really starts once you get into your car & the chaos of airports is behind you. It had a strong creative foundation & we showed that we could increase broader customer awareness (+7%pts aided) & trust while also delivering provable uplift in site visits & bookings.
More than the campaign execution, which was great, I’m most happy about how we delivered a true brand campaign & could explain it clearly with a performance lens to an organisation that was used to Paid Search.
We’re taking that same approach here at loveholidays – letting our brand marketers do what they’re best at (building a strong cross-channel campaign that resonates with customers) and supporting them with an equally creative approach to isolating & measuring the impacts that it’s having on our growth in the short & long term.
Alex Marriner: What are the key challenges facing CMOs in 2023?
Al Murray: Many! The CMO role is as broad as it’s ever been. It’s obvious, but Marketing effectiveness is bound by the quality of the customer experience, and customers’ expectations are high.
The impact that Marketing can have through enabling improvements to customer conversion, customer experience & retention (even where the responsible teams are outside the remit of the CMO) are as impactful, if not more than improvements to bidding or a great creative idea.
The more that Marketing teams can help the broader business to understand & deliver against the brand experience they have set, the more they’ll be set up for long-term success.
More tactically, for travel, as in many other industries, forecasting & benchmarking will be as challenging as ever. In our first full year outside of COVID, there are no clean, stable benchmarks for seasonal demand. So, getting a breadth of reads on Market demand & share will help CMOs to understand what is market growth vs share growth.
Alex Marriner: What are the most significant opportunities you hope to take advantage of this year?
Al Murray: We have a big opportunity at loveholidays to do a better job of delighting our customers across their whole experience & laying the foundation for higher retention rates in the future.
In addition to the great work that our product & customer service teams will be doing on customer experience improvements, in Marketing, we’ll be looking at ways to stay front of mind & relevant for our customers.
As a business that’s always been focused on performance Marketing (read: Customer Acquisition), there’s a big opportunity for us to expand our impact through Brand Awareness & Retention.
Alex Marriner: What has been your biggest marketing failure? And what were the key learns you gained from that experience?
Al Murray: I’ve had a few, particularly in my Marketing Innovation role, where we were trying to introduce new channels or approaches that had either been tried before & failed, or never been tried, so we had to get used to a reasonably high failure rate.
One example is some work we once did on attribution. We spent several months building an innovative, bespoke, internal attribution model that took advantage of the best theory on the topic available at the time – it was really at the cutting edge & developed in-house, so I was very excited about it & proud of the outputs we were able to deliver.
We got to the point of proof of concept (before deciding whether to invest significant engineering resources into implementation) & found we had a good, predictive model that was provably good at its job.
The only problem? It really didn’t propose any significant reattribution of our Marketing spend vs the basic last-click model we had in place at the time.
We came to learn that this was for two reasons – 1) it was focused on recommending big increases in credit (& therefore spend) on brand terms or other areas of our Marketing where we were already topped out on investment, and 2) a large % of our customers re-traced their steps each time they came to the site – so clicks 1-5 were all from the same campaign!
I was frustrated that we had this market-leading attribution model but that the business value associated with implementing it was just too low to justify vs the many other things we could have our data engineering team working on.
Learning – sometimes a powerful output <> a powerful outcome. It’s OK to deliver great work but find out that the business value it delivers is less than you expect!
Alex Marriner is the Founder & Leadership Search Consultant at Acquire Digital Talent.
Acquire Digital Talent is a people-first Leadership Search Firm that exclusively partners with Technology companies and Consumer brands to build Digital & Growth Marketing Leadership teams. Our expertise and reputation ensure successful delivery across niche, critical and executive appointments from Seed to Series A and beyond.
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