In Conversation with Michael Nearhos

The GM of Brand Experience at National Australia Bank Shares How His Team Thrives in a Changing World

July 3, 2017

Michael Nearhos

Complexity is a real challenge for marketers today. Customers, technology and organisations are all becoming increasingly complex and with that comes a wave of change and uncertainty. But learn to ride that wave and the opportunities for success are massive. So in this first installment of “In Conversation”, we invite Michael Nearhos, National Australia Bank’s General Manager of Brand Experience, to share his thoughts on living with change.  

Michael, you made the transition from a legal career to marketing over 20 years ago. As a marketer who has sat on both the agency and corporate side of the table, how do you think the marketing discipline has changed?

The marketing function is much broader today. It has grown along the organisational value chain, reaching products on one side (via the customer experience) and sales on the other (thanks in particular to digital channels). This, and a host of other factors, means that marketing is now more complex. The Mad Men days are over — you can’t fake a need and expect customers to buy into it anymore. Today’s marketers are on a quest for the truth. A value proposition based on a product truth, or societal truth, is what customers will engage with.

There’s a natural resistance to change. What’s your approach to effecting change?

My favourite acronym when thinking about change is PERMA. It was developed as a happiness model in the field of positive psychology and stands for Positivity, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning and Achievement. I believe these are all essential elements to effective change management although I’d add the need to tailor your approach to the audience.

For example, back in the day when I was Strategy Director for Interbrand London, I was asked to help define the brand for a well-known financial institution — for the first time in its 300-year history. It was challenging to get the company’s business silos to come together and have a brand conversation. But we used data to convince them that they had more to gain by working together, and they were sold. So in this case, the ‘A’ in PERMA, the empirical results, had to come first. It’s all about doing your homework and understanding who you’re trying to change.

In the financial services industry, you are faced with an additional layer of complexity in the form of regulatory requirements. How do you bring creativity to the table despite this?

The financial services industry does come with a particular regulatory environment that we have to be sensitive to. However, I think it’s really important to always start with the customer. Put aside those barriers and constraints for the moment and just focus on what the customer needs and how you can develop a creative and compelling proposition for them. Have that, then make it work within those boundaries. If you start with the constraints, you’ll get nowhere.

Is that the same customer-first approach you took for NAB’s Australian Business Insights Showcase Page on LinkedIn?

Definitely. As a leading business bank, we have a wealth of insights. The challenge is getting it to the relevant audience and, perhaps more importantly, at the right time. What’s great about LinkedIn is that it is a contextually relevant platform. The people we’re engaging are eager and ready to consume information so engagement levels are that much higher. We’re really proud that Australian Business Insights is the fastest growing LinkedIn Showcase Page in Australia and the fourth fastest in the world.

Before we let you go, tell us what you think the next big change in marketing will be.

Two things come to mind. The first is more structural in nature. I talked about how the influence of the marketing function has stretched within an organisation. I think this will continue. As marketers, we need to think about the territory that we want to lay claim to, how we are connecting with other functions and how our voice is represented at the leadership table.

The second is the proliferation, fragmentation and digitisation of the media landscape. New channels and new technologies can offer immense opportunities to marketers who leverage them well, but they will also bring further complexity to marketing strategy, performance tracking and more.

View the video of "In Conversation with Michael Nearhos" below:

In Conversation With Michael Nearhos

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