'Marketing Is About Inspiration': CMO Leadership Talk With Telefónica/O2's Nina Bibby

What makes a successful marketing leader? In this interview series, I’m meeting up with leading CMOs to discuss the secrets of marketing leadership: what works, and what doesn’t. This time: Nina Bibby, CMO of Telefonica UK (O2).

Thomas Barta: Hi, Nina. I always like to start off with a simple question: What’s great about being a leader in marketing?

Nina Bibby: At its best, marketing is about inspiration: inspiring customers to choose us, buy from us, stay with us and recommend us. It is also about inspiring colleagues behind our customer offer. We are storytellers. Of course, we need to craft that story and ensure there is a compelling fact base behind that story — but we are storytellers. And marketing leaders need to be chief storytellers, engaging and aligning the entire organization behind delivering our best for the customer. It’s very exciting to inspire your colleagues to get behind an ambition. That’s one of the reasons I love marketing.

Barta: Can you share a story that helped you energize your colleagues?

Bibby: Just after I joined InterContinental Hotels (IHG) as senior VP for Global Brand Management, I was handed the massive task of relaunching Holiday Inn globally — the biggest hospitality relaunch in history in terms of number of hotels, number of countries, etc. I was new to the industry and I was new to the company. So, getting the engagement and the belief from many colleagues was pretty hard. This wasn’t just about engaging people at IHG but also about energizing the many franchisees. The way we engaged people was by retelling the story of Holiday Inn from its inception to the current time. We used many quotes from customers about what they loved about the Holiday Inn brand. Those stories and the link with Holiday Inn’s heritage are what helped us win the hearts and minds of all staff involved.

Barta: What’s marketing’s reputation inside your C-suite?

Bibby: We’ve got a firm seat at the top table. We’re fortunate that marketing has P&L accountability at O2, so we are accountable for revenue and for profit. We’ve got pricing within marketing, products, promotion, of course, insights and analytics — it’s very comprehensive. Both on the Executive Committee and on the Management Board, marketing is present. Equally important, our brand is a great source of pride internally, and the organization feels almost a sense of responsibility to do what is best by that brand. Our former CEO used to say, “We are a brand that runs a business, not a business that runs a brand.” Marketing, brand, and customers are up front and visible, and acknowledged to be the most important drivers of our success.

Barta: How do you manage the tension between what customers want and what your CEO wants?

Bibby: I have a simple mantra: “We have to create value for our customers in order to create value from our customers.” It’s got to be a win–win. At O2, for example, we have a digital loyalty program called Priority, where we give people early access to unforgettable live experiences in rugby, entertainment, or music. The program is one of the reasons people choose us and stay with us. But I’m also clear about the value Priority creates for us. We’ve known exactly the loyalty and churn benefits — and the financial impact. We’re creating value for our customers, and we’re creating value for the business.

Barta: Has leading marketing changed from the time when you started to today (if at all)?

Bibby: Because of the ubiquity of digital channels and social media, it’s a more transparent world. As marketers, we have to understand that we’re not going to control all the conversations or all the narratives, and it’s become more challenging for brands to cut through the noise. As we’re a service business, consistency and excellence of the experience is paramount because every interaction is a representative of the brand experience. In fact, everybody who works here is delivering the brand experience, and therefore, I go back to my earlier point that it’s so important to inspire all colleagues. If you can’t inspire your colleagues, you’re not going to be able to inspire your customers. Inspiring colleagues, having them all understand the importance of what we’re trying to do for the customer, making sure everybody’s pointing in the same direction is more vital than ever before.

Ubiquity of digital also brings opportunities, of course, such as the ability to have more personal interactions with customers. I want to create value for customers through every interaction. In order to do that, we use data-driven customer insight to power personalization, ensuring a consistent O2 experience that delivers to customers’ needs.

Credit: Telefonica / O2

Barta: In our research for “The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader,” we’ve learned that successful CMOs don’t just talk about customers — but get their hands dirty and go to the frontline. Do you agree?

Bibby: Absolutely. As a board, we’ve committed that we go to as many of our stores as we can. We talk not just to store leaders but to all the store colleagues or the people in our contact centers. That way, we hear firsthand what customers are saying, what’s working, what’s not working. Last summer, one store manager told me, “How come you do so much research amongst customers, but you don’t do research amongst us?” I thought, “Yeah, that’s a really good point.” We have a permanent panel of customers to test ideas quickly, why not for frontline colleagues. So, we’ve launched the equivalent panel for our retail and contact center staff because they are hearing and seeing what works every single day. Just yesterday, I did store visits in the west of the country again. I think that’s absolutely critical, for marketing leaders to leave the office!

Barta: What’s going to be your biggest future leadership challenge?

Bibby: For me, I guess there’s a couple of things. Leadership was always about having the right team, the right people. The team is number one, two, and three of what I’ve got to get right. This means to make sure we have the right people at the table, that we’re developing them, that we’re coaching them, and let them go to another role when the time is right. Also, the workplace is changing, and therefore, peoples’ expectations are changing, too. Because of digital, we all have the ability to work more flexibly today. In fact, flexible work options are a huge part of what O2 offers. The other challenge on the horizon is the convergence of customer expectations across sectors. Customers expect to receive the same level of service, the same immediacy of fulfillment across their transactions. Why wouldn’t they? We have to continually innovate and re-engineer to ensure we are meeting these expectations.

Barta: Nina, in your organization, what makes you a role model?

Bibby: I’d say I hope I’m a positive role model. First off, I’m a working mother, which is still perhaps too rare on executive committees and boards. I strive to make life work. I love my work. I’m passionate about it; it excites me. Of course, I adore my family, and I’m passionate about them and devoted to them. These are not mutually exclusive things. I’m not trying to balance them. I want to embrace them, and I want my team to see and feel it’s about making life work versus work–life balance. And I think that’s a really important message — getting away from the guilt.

I guess the other thing is customer first. I am always the one who is loudest, strongest, most vocal about “Where’s the customer in this?”

Barta: What’s the most important leadership advice you’d love to give to other people?

Bibby: If you want to get true “engagement,” you’ve got to really invest time. People value your complete attention and focus on them as individuals. It’s about letting people know that you’ll support them. You are only going to grow if you encourage risk-taking. And if you take risks, mistakes will be made. That’s just a fact. Your people need to know you’ve got their back. Mistakes are going to happen, and that’s okay.

My other advice: Let go of your ego. Don’t be afraid to show your vulnerability, to say, “I’ve been there. This is how I learnt. This is how I grew from that position.”

Barta: Nina, many thanks for your thoughts.

Marketing leadership expert and keynote speaker Thomas Barta is a former McKinsey partner and the author of the new leadership book The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader (with Patrick Barwise).

10 Ways to Improve Your Online Marketing Efforts

There are so many different ways to market your business online. You need to have your own website, a social presence, and maybe even a video strategy.

Members of our small business community have plenty of experience with these methods. Read on for some of their tips in this week’s Small Business Trends community news and information roundup.

Make a Lasting First Impression


Your landing page is often the first thing people see when they get to your website. So its job is to create a positive first impression and a clear call to action. If your brand is having trouble converting online customers, consider these tips for creating an effective landing page from Adam Groff.

Create Social Media Graphics That Spread Like Wildfire

(Rebekah Radice)

Visual marketing has become incredibly important in recent years thanks to social platforms like Pinterest and Instagram. If you want to be successful on those platforms, you need to know what kinds of images are likely to gain attention. Rebekah Radice shares some tips for creating shareable social images. You can also see conversation about the post in the BizSugar community.

Use These Best Practices for Design and Conversion

(Marketing Land)

Great web design doesn’t always lead to the best conversion numbers. But designing specifically to increase conversion doesn’t always lead to great design. However, there are a few things that Web designers and conversion optimizers can agree on, as Jeremy Smith shares.

Avoid These Writing Mistakes

(Kapow Content)

Whether you’re creating content for your blog, social media channel or other outlets, great writing is key. You don’t need professional training to write great content for your business. But tips from Wendy Johnson can help you avoid some common writing mistakes.

Don’t Automatically Write Off Pop Ups

(Spin Sucks)

Most people hate pop ups on websites. However, when used in the right situations and for the right customers, they can actually be pretty effective. Laura Petrolino shares some tips for implementing pop ups. And BizSugar members shared some feedback as well.

Understand Your Video Presentation Options

(The SEM Post)

Video presentations can be some of the most effective ways to get the attention of your customers and teach them about what you have to offer. But there has been quite a bit of change in the online video presentation market lately, as Greg Jarboe explains. So it can help to know your options before getting started.

Understand These Realities of Blogging for Business

(Busy Blogs Plus)

Pretty much anyone can start a business blog. But it takes practice and hard work to actually keep it going and make it successful. Amanda Lynch shares these and other realities of business blogging. The BizSugar community also discussed the post.

Connect with Your Employees Online

(Biz Epic)

Virtual businesses are becoming more and more prominent. That also means that there are a lot of online tools available for business owners to communicate with their employees who work remotely. Ivan Widjaya shares some tools and tips for virtual businesses to connect with their employees.

Learn These Lessons from Successful Entrepreneurs


You don’t get to be a successful entrepreneur without learning a few lessons along the way. So less experienced business owners could do well to listen to some of that wisdom that their more experienced counterparts have to share. Nellie Akalp shares some of those business lessons from successful entrepreneurs.

Find Marketing and Additional Resources Online

(SMB Stash)

There are so many different resources available online, it can actually be difficult to keep track of them all. But this new online directory is now available to give small and medium sized businesses a place to find a huge variety of resources that can help them with marketing and more.

10 Must Reads for Improving Your Online Marketing

Having a good website and clear online marketing strategy is very important in today’s business world. But there’s a lot that goes into building an online strategy. So we rounded up some of the best tips and related posts from members of our small business community. Read on for the full list in this week’s Small Business Trends community and information roundup.

Create a Welcoming Website

(Barefoot Basics)

What do your customers see when they go to your website? Do they see a site that is welcoming and professional, or one that is confusing and difficult to navigate? This post from Rochelle Stone explains the importance of creating a welcoming website and some things to consider in order to accomplish that goal.

Correct These Google Analytics Blind Spots

(Marketing Land)

If you have a website for your business, then you probably use a service like Google Analytics to measure its performance. But there are some website features that Google Analytics doesn’t help you with. This post from Brian Massey outlines some of those Google Analytics blind spots and offers solutions for correcting them.

Make Your Web Content Live Up to Its Promise

(Premier Content Source)

Writing great headlines and promoting content is very important to finding online success. But your actual content needs to live up to the hype. Here, Nicole Beckett shares some thoughts on creating great content. And the BizSugar community discusses the post further here.

Use These Tips for Your Holiday Facebook Strategy

(Competitive Edge)

When the holiday season rolls around, many businesses take the opportunity to spruce up their social media promotions. In fact, there are many different ways you can make your Facebook page more inviting for holiday customers. This post by Shantha Wetterhan shares three strategies for optimizing your holiday Facebook presence.

Measure Your Social Media ROI

(Stuart J Davidson)

When you use social media in your marketing efforts, it can be difficult to really tell what you are getting out of it. But this post from Stuart J. Davidson shares some methods for measuring social media ROI. And BizSugar members talk more about the post here.

Avoid These Online Marketing Mistakes

(Belle Communications)

So you’re marketing your business online. That’s great. But there are plenty of roadblocks that can negatively impact your online marketing efforts. Here, Kate Finley shares 10 of the most common online marketing mistakes and how you can avoid them.

Update Your Content Marketing Efforts

(Griot Digital)

Content marketing is a constantly evolving field. It’s not just the tools that change though. Businesses also need to update the methods they use for trying to reach customers. This post by Nadia James includes some thoughts on content marketing along with a helpful infographic.

Tell a Great Story

(Resonance Content)

It’s important to tell a story with your online and in-person marketing efforts. Part of that story is to explain who exactly you are. Here, Rachel Parker shares some methods for telling your story effectively. And BizSugar members talk more about the post here.

Use These Internet Security Tips in the Workplace

(Internet Billboards)

Online security is becoming increasingly important, particularly for business matters. In this post, Agnes Marylinn shares some tips for improving internet security in the workplace.

Get Your Great Content Noticed With SEO


If you want to get your website or blog noticed, you need to have great content. But if no one ever sees that content in the first place, it still won’t do any good. This post by Kerry Butters shares some thoughts on balancing SEO and great content. And the BizSugar community shares some thoughts on SEO as well.

Step Up Your Online Marketing Efforts with These 10 Tips

Today’s businesses need an online marketing strategy to succeed. While every business’s strategy may look a bit different, there are some common threads that hold most of those successful strategies together.

Members of the small business community have plenty of tips to share when it comes to successfully marketing businesses online. Check out their top tips below.

Make Your Way with Social Media

Social media isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. You have to determine the strategy that is going to work best for your business, as Rachel Strella of Strella Social Media discusses here. And Strella elaborated on these suggestions in a conversation in BizSugar community here.

Super Charge Your Local Search Results

Even for local businesses, online marketing can make a huge difference. Local search, for example, can help to bring new faces to your store, restaurant or other local business. To make the most of your local search marketing, check out this Inc article by Small Business Trends CEO Anita Campbell.

Think About These Things for Your Website’s Social Sharing Features

Letting customers or followers do some of your online marketing for you can really help out and save you time. But you need to make sharing your content easy for them. So in this article at the Social Media Week, Larry Alton suggests some things you should think about when incorporating social sharing buttons into your website.

Keep Up with Marketing Technology Trends

Thanks to technology, online marketing is constantly changing. That means that you need to keep up with the new trends in order to stay relevant to tech savvy consumers. This article at Docurated by Angela Stringfellow includes some marketing technology trends that are poised to re-shape the world of marketing.

Grow Your Website Traffic

Content creation can be a key part of your online marketing strategy. But you need to build traffic in order for your content to be effective. This post on the official dlvr.it blog by Bill Flitter includes a playbook for growing traffic to your content.

Expect These Things When Joining Social Media

As a small business owner, the idea of joining various social media sites and regularly using them as part of your online marketing plan can seem daunting. But if you know what to expect, the process can be a bit easier. Here on NutsPR, Corina Manea shares some things you should expect when joining social media as a small business owner.

Use These Best Practices for Twitter Polls

Twitter’s polling feature can help you to gain insights and interaction from your followers on the platform. And the microblogging site has now revealed some of the best practices that people should use when running polls, which Matt Southern covers in this Search Engine Journal article. BizSugar members also chime in with their own thoughts here.

Consider Starting Your Own Podcast

Lots of businesses have websites and social media accounts. But starting your own podcast can really help you to stand out in today’s business world. Here, Ileane Smith shares some of the benefits that businesses could realize through starting a podcast.

Create a Content Anchor

When creating content for an online audience, the length and quality of your content can make a big difference in how many people see and interact with it. In this post on Blogger Sidekick, Will Blunt discusses the concept of a content anchor and how it could help your online marketing strategy.

Use Influencer Marketing That Works

Influencer marketing is a relatively new concept to a lot of businesses. But it can really jumpstart your online marketing efforts if used correctly. Here, Ann Smarty discusses how small businesses can use influencer marketing in a way that should work both now and in the future.

If you’d like to suggest your favorite small business content to be considered for an upcoming community roundup, please send your news tips to:  sbtips@gmail.com.