Lessons learned: A CMO’s journey through 25+ years of marketing

Over the course of her diverse career, Maryanne Smith has worn many hats – but has returned to her true love in retail marketing. It’s this love, spurred on by ambition and drive, that attracted her to the position of CMO for Hunter Home and La-Z-Boy NZ and AUS.

In her current role, she is implementing an aggressive growth plan for La-Z-Boy across Australia, and although Covid slowed plans down, people are still invested in making their houses into homes with new furniture.

Tapping into her wealth of experiences, Maryanne believes a good marketer is someone who is committed as a leader within a business.

“I’m happy to put myself in really uncomfortable situations or put my hand up for a role that I’m not quite sure if I’ve got the skillset, but you’ll have my commitment and, passion, and energy to make a difference,” she says.

 Starting out as part of a young marketing team for the engineering department of Auckland Institute of Technology (now Auckland University of Technology), Maryanne’s passion for the discipline of marketing was sparked while working with an inspiring manager.

After a structural change within the organisation, she found herself working in the main marketing department of the university, a transition that she thoroughly enjoyed.

“I was really excited about the opportunities of what I could learn,” she says.

From there she moved into a marketing promotion job at Esprit de Corp which was New Zealand-owned at the time and worked in a team of about six women all under 25 managing around 17 retail stores.

“The fun we had as a young team in retail to create fortnightly fashion collections, to do all the local brand and promotional advertising, to do events, it was wonderful. I just loved it.”

Ambitious and not one to drag her feet, Maryanne was keen to learn more and build her career. 

Her next challenge was at DFS,  a global travel retailer of luxury products and airport duty-free stores. The company had never had a consumer-based marketing role before, which gave her the chance to create exactly what she felt the business needed.

“There was a huge appetite to introduce new consumer led marketing strategies which meant that I could help the business achieve their goals faster, be more creative, and actually have a bit of fun along the way.”

She says having fun is one of the things she has learnt to do more of during the course of her career. 

“I think businesses are so serious, and as I’ve got more mature, that’s the perspective I can bring because I’ve had so much experience across countries, customers and stores.

“You’re there really to help guide and remind everybody what [the businesses] purpose is, what we’re doing and why.”

As a self-proclaimed ‘yes person,’ her career has also taught her how to say no for the betterment of the business.

“It’s not about doing everything all the time and being really busy. It’s actually about doing the right things that are going to achieve the biggest result.”

While at DFS she was promoted to work in Hong Kong where she spent six years managing a new store in Japan, and working in Abu Dhabi, and Macau.

Despite not having much experience in South East Asia, Maryanne thrived in this environment, saying that having a “good pack of Kiwis” around her was a key reason for this.

“We were the ones that got put on projects and go do this, grow that. And we delivered it. We were always on time, on budget, and exceeded expectations. When your reputation builds, the horizon becomes whatever you want it to be.”

After 10 years in this role, it was time for Maryanne to return to her homeland of New Zealand, as by this stage she was married and had a baby.

When she returned to Aotearoa, DFS transferred her to a sales role which “was a great way for me to realise how much I loved marketing and not sales,” she laughs.

But this experience gave her insight into the retail metrics that marketers need to understand.

After a short time in this role, she moved back into marketing, this time with Noel Leeming. Here she worked hard to build the businesses profitability alongside a committed business team. When The Warehouse Group (TWG) acquired Noel Leeming, it gave the team the investment to grow and be sustainable for the next 10-20 years or more.

“TWG was a great experience. There were different leadership skills that we were encouraged to have as an executive team to really bring the culture of what we were, but to also fit within a newly formed TWG brand.”

After a while here, it was time for another challenge, so she moved to work for a tech start-up in solar energy. Moving from Noel Leeming to a start-up environment, was “a ride” and “a wonderful way to learn to be purpose-led.”

“To bring your skills as a marketer and craft a story about a new energy as a service solution and learn what we could do politically was incredible.

“Your mind is really challenged constantly on where can we take this, what do we need, and trying to move 70 people in the business to follow that mission. It was awesome.”

Looking back on her 25+ years of experience, Maryanne says the one thing she would like to see more of in the industry is creativity.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that there is the human in the machine, there’s the left and the right brain.

“I represent La-Z-Boy, which is a 95-year-old iconic brand, with an exciting mission to be relevant for today and tomorrow’s consumer.” She says the obstacle there is how to do that creatively in a way that makes an emotive moment but also stands the test of time.

“That’s the challenge,” she says. “For La-Z-Boy, the 60s and 70s had a series of print advertising creatives that I absolutely admire – I’d love to see us do more of that.”

As for what she would like to see less of in the industry, it’s the stopping and starting of campaigns, no doubt a side-effect of the recent uncertain environment due to the pandemic and other external global disruptions.

“Momentum is something that is very hard to restart,” she says. “When you’re on a roll, momentum is your friend. Like we’ve all experienced over the last few years, when we’re forced to stop and revisit our strategies, the winners are those who can keep going without too much disruption. Having the trust and the investment to keep your brand communications going, or your ‘always on’ going, even if you are not going to return sales that month or the next month, it’s something I think we’ve always got to keep challenging.”

So what is it that keeps the passion alive and draws Maryanne back to retail marketing? More than anything else, it’s a combination of work being recognised by non-marketers and getting the best out of her team.

“When people realise, wow, that’s what a team pulled together, I’m so proud. I think being part of a dynamic team that is moving a business forward and having a positive environment is super satisfying.

“We’re retailers so we’re about profit and continued growth, but we can also have fun. If you can have a little bit more enjoyment along the way, that’s a good thing.” 

This article was originally published in the March/April 2023 issue of NZ MarketingClick here to subscribe.

Avatar photo

About Bernadette Basagre

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles, The Register and Idealog. To get in touch with her, email [email protected].

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *