Vanessa Bell Mumbition the Podcast


The Podcast By Mums & Co

Episode 12: Big brand marketing insights for small businesses to try.

Brent Smart


February 15, 2022
What’s the most powerful thing you can do to market your business? You may be surprised to know that creating an emotional and heartfelt connection with your audience is your most important strategy.We’ve heard from our movement that spreading the word about your business is one of your main pain points. So we asked a friend of many businesses and CMO of one of the strongest brands in Australia, to share some strategic marketing tips for small business owners and sole traders.Brent Smart is the Chief Marketing Officer at IAG, Australia's largest general insurance company. He leads the marketing efforts for major brands, many of which some are insuring you such as NRMA, CGU and RACV.Prior to Australian corporate life Brent worked in advertising including as CEO for Saatchi & Saatchi New York City, USA. Brent joins Mumbition the Podcast as part of the Mums & Co, “Co” as a previous keynote speaker for our 2018 Be MPowered Conference and as a father himself. So how can creativity help solve our common problems? Why is surrounding yourself with the right ‘Co’ the secret to your success? How can loving your content and customers help your brand and business stand out? And what is the shape of modern parenting?



Brent Smart at Be MPowered Conference 2018


Produced & Edited by - Morgan Brown
Interviewers - Carrie Kwan and Lucy Kippist
Guest - Brent Smart, CMO IAG

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Episode 12 Transcript

00:01:14:02 - 00:01:26:20

Carrie Kwan

Corporate life is something many of our Mums & Community bid farewell to some time ago, becoming the catalyst for the businesses we're now proud to call our own. But the training and experience continues to inform our decisions today.

And today's guest brings some serious marketing kudos to our conversation. Brent Smart is the Chief Marketing Officer at IAG, Australia's largest general insurance company, and he leads the marketing efforts for major brands, including NRMA and CGU. Welcome, Brent. We're thrilled to have you join our Mumbition podcast.

00:01:47:06 - 00:01:48:11

Brent Smart

Hi, thanks for having me.

00:01:49:02 - 00:02:05:07

Carrie Kwan

Now, Brent, our first question to any business owning mother is usually to hear her pitch because we feel that we should take every opportunity to connect with customers and share our story. Now, if you just met a business owning mother, what would your elevator pitch sound like?

00:02:07:07 - 00:02:22:05

Brent Smart

Well, mine's a bit different because it's not my business, but I would say that my pitch for what I do is I build a creative culture on the inside of organizations that leads to more creative content on the outside for brands.

And the reason that's important is that more creative content is more effective. So it has more likelihood to be noticed, to be remembered and to actually drive a commercial outcome.

00:02:39:04 - 00:02:48:14

Carrie Kwan

And that creativity sparks an amazing connection, I guess, doesn't it? I mean, let alone recall, but it's actually connecting with other humans.

00:02:49:14 - 00:03:05:18

Brent Smart

Yeah, that's right, and you know, what we know from all the marketing, research and literature is that an emotional connection is the most powerful thing we can do in marketing. So if you think about most decisions we make in life, they're emotional, they're not rational.

And certainly what we buy. And while we buy, it is mainly driven by feelings. It's driven by memory structures. It's driven by, you know, very non-rational, non literal things. And that's why that creativity is so important, because that's what fires the emotional side of the brain.

00:03:25:19 - 00:03:44:09

Carrie Kwan

Now you started at IAG after what sounds like an incredibly exciting four years in New York, leading Saatchi & Saatchi as their CEO. How did you find living life as an expat in New York when you were juggling work and I'm imagining you had a younger family?

00:03:45:20 - 00:04:03:11

Brent Smart

Yeah, intense is the word like New York is a really intense city. The pace is intense, the people are intense, the weather is intense like it's just everything's pretty intense in New York. So, I had a pretty intense job, you know, running a big advertising agency.

So yeah, the pace is relentless. And so it's a real challenge to find balance. The people who have worked out in New York, like people who've lived there a long time and are happiest in New York, they've all got a place outside of New York, whether that's upstate New York or at the Hamptons.

So you've got to escape New York. It just becomes too much. And so we're lucky we had good, Australian friends who had been there a while and we had a choice of places to visit. But that's really like escaping New York is a really important part of surviving.

What I miss the most is, is that just so much to do with kids. So as you said, I had young kids and you think, you know, it's quite a hard place to raise kids because you living in apartments and there's not that sort of fantastic outside lifestyle that we have here in Australia. But there's just so much to do. From museums and cultural things and things to say anything to do like you've always got something to do with the kids on weekends, and it's really fun.

And that also helps you escape work, right? Because you're doing things that are really interesting and captivating. And so it's a great place and it is the greatest city in the world. I miss that every day, but I certainly think Sydney's the greatest place in the world to raise kids.

So, no regrets being back.

00:05:26:01 - 00:05:28:07

Lucy Kippist

Amazing. Sounds wonderful. I'm sorry, Carrie.

00:05:29:17 - 00:05:44:02

Carrie Kwan

No, no, I think New York, I lived there well, didn't live there, but visited quite often. Pre kids. So it's fascinating to hear that your perspective of, you know, having a family there and and there's always something to do in the city that never sleeps, right?

00:05:45:16 - 00:06:03:20

Brent Smart

Always, and, you know, my kids had very great, had great taste in restaurants and, you know, let's go to art galleries and all sorts of stuff that young kids would normally do. But yeah, I think it's and I think it's just a it's a it's just a great melting pot to write so.

So I think you kids get exposed to all sorts of different types of people from different races, religions, backgrounds. You know, it's fantastic, I think, for kids to grow up in that kind of environment. My kids went to a public school in downtown New York, and it was just such an interesting, eclectic group of kids and parents. It was really interesting and I think has made them more sort of worldly and well, I hope so anyway.

00:06:33:00 - 00:06:45:17

Lucy Kippist

It sounds wonderful, and speaking of kids, you're the father of three boys. And as I mentioned just before that we are also parents of two boys each, so we very much welcome your parenting tips on that.

And I think that given all of that's going on, what have you had to do in order to make work and life work for you?

00:06:56:16 - 00:07:15:01

Brent Smart

Yeah, I think this idea of work life balance is very hard to attain. I think more about work life integration. Like, how can I sort of find ways to integrate the things and make them work together as opposed to this idea that I'm going to have it all balanced and all sort of in harmony? And I think that's really super hard to achieve.

But I think the biggest thing for me is being present when you need to be present. I think that's the most important thing with kids.I think it's quite easy for busy parents to be quite absent a lot of the time they're at home, whether that's because they're checking their device or they've got work to do or even just their mind is somewhere else.

So the thing I try and do is like, make the time quality, be really present, play a board game. You know, it is something that's active and and you know, it gets them off their screens too, right?

That's part of the challenge of parenting today is it's not just us being off our screens. You can get them off their screens. Not always easy to do and I think that that's really important, and I think it's very important for boys to see that dads do that as well.

00:08:14:18 - 00:08:24:01

Lucy Kippist

100%. And a good reminder there about us being off our screens to know my son's reminding me at the moment I'm telling him to get off his screen and he's telling me to get off mine.

00:08:24:09 - 00:08:41:08

Brent Smart

Right? Yeah, you got to set, you've got to set the example that you got to put it away and you've got to be really present and really connect. And so, yeah, I think the other thing to identify is to is, especially now during lockdown is when you get him out for a walk and you get him out of the house and off the screen. I don't know all the best conversations that for me when, when, when I'm walking with them, so that's that's that's something I always try and do is just getting out for a walk and, you know, have a talk.

00:08:54:22 - 00:09:11:09

Lucy Kippist

Sounds terrific. So I wanted to just paint a picture now of the average working day for one of our mums who are running a business, especially right now. So imagine that you've got two kids, your working on a small business and you probably putting about four hours a day into that, given everything else that's going on.

You've got enormous inspiration and ambition and you need to make it work. You need to make money to create your livelihood, and you need to somehow do all of that without feeling like you're either parenting or working the entire time.

How would you then approach your first few years in business?

00:09:34:06 - 00:09:51:08

Brent Smart

Yeah, look again, I can only answer from how I approached my first few years in big roles because I've never run my own business. But the challenges are very similar. You know, in terms of the challenges laid out like I'm busy, I'm a parent, I've got things to achieve.

For me, it's always about getting the people right. And, if I think about that in a small business context, I don't think you can do it alone, even as a small business operator, I think you need to have the right partners.

I think you have to have the right advice. I think you have to have the right support network. And ultimately, as you grow, you definitely have to have the right team. And for me, getting the people right always makes the biggest difference, you know, and I think when you get the people right, you can achieve extraordinary things and can achieve much more than you could have on your own. So when I think about my role, I built a fantastic team, but I've also got some amazing partners like our agency partners who contribute so much to what we do in the marketing space. I wouldn't be able to do it without them. I wouldn't be at it all myself, but I do it all in-house. You know, I benefit so much from partners who have an outside perspective. They're not. They're not as close to it as I am.

They are not living in the business like I am. I think again, for small business owner, it's so easy to get just incredibly myopic about your own business because it's yours. You live it day in, day out. Getting that outside perspective from people who that could be a bit more honest. They can they can bring, you know, perspectives from other categories, other businesses. And I think being open to that, that outside perspective, I think, is incredibly important, whatever role you're doing, whatever business you're running. So that would be my advice to get the people around you right? And I think if you do that right at the start, then you really benefit. three, five years down the track.

00:11:38:07 - 00:11:39:10

Lucy Kippist

100%, Carrie?

00:11:40:00 - 00:11:56:18

Carrie Kwan

In the spirit of saying that, you never want to be the smartest person in the room. So I think you also want to always have that diversity of thought in that thinking. And you're right, like a lot of our community, you know, business owners, they don't have employees, they don't have staff.

So I think that's a great piece of advice just to build that around you. One of the questions around Mums & Co is about recognizing this community of support around us? And that's the partners and friends and, you know, clients that you work with, suppliers that you work with.

Can you tell us a bit about your Co? And how does it all work and how does your community support you?

00:12:27:09 - 00:12:44:11

Brent Smart

Yeah, well. In many ways, and I'd be lost without them, so, so you know, as I think about that concept, my team is my first coach, if you like. And of all the incredible marketing team at IAG with a really, really strong creative culture, which is quite rare inside corporations, particularly insurance companies. All right, so we've built this really strong creative culture and we really feel like we're on a mission to bring creativity to a business and a category that usually isn't very creative. And we all feel that we're in that together. And so because of that, there's incredibly strong connection and support resilience within a team and certainly for me. You know, they picked me up. I'm going to be picked up. They feed off my energy and give a lot back and I'd be lost without them. I couldn't do great creative marketing without the team I built. But then, as I think about about stuff like concentric circles, right, that sort of move out from my core team.

I talked before about the importance of partners, and we've got some incredible agency partners that we work with. And again, I don't believe as a marketer that I can do it all myself, and I certainly don't believe that at an insurance company, we can hire the best creative talent in the market because really creative people want to work for really creative companies. And unfortunately, that's not normally an insurance company. So I kind of feel like our partners can bring a level of creative talent, a level of creative thinking, plus that outside perspective that I mentioned before, which I really value. And because of that, they make the work better. It's a huge contribution. And then as I think about my own personal support network, I think it's really important to have mentors, I call them coaches. People who throughout your career have been a great sounding board have been great supporters.

I think often, at times when you're at your lowest and you're questioning your own ability. It's really good to talk to people who have seen you at your best and just remind you of what you're capable of. Sometimes we all need that reminder. I think it's really important to have those people in your life. And you know, for me, anyway, they've been really important in my success.

00:15:08:09 - 00:15:32:10

Carrie Kwan

Amazing, and I love concentric circles. And hopefully it's a bit of a ripple supporting each other. Now we know the two biggest problems our members face are access to customers and to time. What are some of the patterns that you've seen in marketing that helps solve these universal problems?

00:15:34:04 - 00:15:49:10

Brent Smart

Yeah, it's interesting in marketing, I think the biggest challenge is content and time. Similar concepts to customers are content and time. I'll tell you why. So right now in the world, there's never been more content. There's an incredible amount of content. Just think about this podcast we're doing. It's competing with millions of other podcasts of people's time, rather than just so much content in the world, and yet every single customer that I ever talk to in a focus group says the same thing. I've got no time and particularly about your audience, busy mums, I mean, they’ve got zero time. So if you've got infinite content and very finite time that equation is a real challenge for marketers, and I'd say for small business operators as well who are trying to get their content and their story out into the world. So infinite content, finite time means only the best content cuts through, only the best content gets noticed, most of it's invisible. Most of what we just scroll past now feeds and it's gone, you know, so to do something that's going to get the customer's attention is getting harder and harder, and that's why I'm so passionate about the role of creativity, because you just got to do something creative. You got to do something that's worthy of people's time. And if I think about small businesses who are really relying on social media. Instagram, for instance, as a channel, your competing with all that content out there and the dumbest thing to do is to look like everyone else in the category. I think the thing you have to do is zag against your category, find your voice and make sure that it's distinct and different.

And that's how you start carving out a brand that is worthy of people's time. And I think whether you are a multi-billion dollar insurance company like IAG or your small business. That is something you have to think about. You have to create things that are worthy of people's time. And so that's how I think about that sort of equation of customers and time.

00:17:57:05 - 00:18:09:19

Carrie Kwan

Great, perspective, you know that there is this clutter at the moment. How do you sort of stand out and create your own brand and voice is one of the more of a trusted brand at the moment?I think that's that element of trust that comes to the fore with COVID especially. But yeah, certainly standing out in that capacity. And it doesn't matter if you are a big corporate or a small small business, we all face that same challenge.

00:18:28:13 - 00:18:29:03

Brent Smart


00:18:30:18 - 00:18:41:12

Lucy Kippist

Brent at Mums & Co, we talk about harmony being a triangle, which is our ambition, our livelihood and our wellbeing put together. How would you describe the shape of a good life for you?

00:18:43:22 - 00:19:01:08

Brent Smart

I don't know if it's a triangle. Maybe it is now. I would say for me, what motivates me and inspires me is doing great work, great creative work, putting things out into the world that are worthy of people's time. I'm way happier if I'm doing great work. The brands I work on are succeeding, because we're putting great work into the world that's having great commercial success.

If I'm doing great work, I get out of bed, happy each day. I’m better to be around if I'm good at work. So for me, it always comes back to that. It's the reason I do what I do, it's been sort ofmy Northstar. I hate that kind of term, but it's been like that for my whole career. I need three things in front of me that I'm excited to make at any point in time. If I don't have three things in front of me, that I'm excited to make, I am a total pain in the ass for everyone that works with me because I'll be harassing them about “where's the thing? What are we doing? Where's the brave? Come on, we've got to do something great.” I become sort of paranoid and frustrated and hugely annoying. But if I've got three things in front of me, I'm excited about, then I can really get excited by the possibilities.

So it's a pretty simple formula for me.I think no matter what you do with your work, if your a chef, a cobbler, whatever you do if you're about great work. Making great advertising, making great film, making a great meal, making great shoes, then I think that is an incredibly motivating thing and it makes it very simple and it becomes a very simple purpose for what you're all about, making great products. I think that's a really worthy thing to do, no matter what your profession is, make something great that you're going to care about and people are going to care about.

00:21:05:12 - 00:21:19:12

Carrie Kwan

Now, working at IAG, you have an innate understanding of business risk. What is the number one thing you'd like to see our community of business owning mothers factor into their business planning in this area?

00:21:21:01 - 00:21:37:09

Brent Smart

I think the biggest risk is the risk of being invisible. I see too many ideas, too many products, too much content that is invisible, what we don't see because it's invisible.

I think that's the risk and it comes back to that challenge I talked about before that. There's just too much stuff in the world that people have no time, so you better make something worthy of that time.

Too often people create something that is either exactly like something I've seen before. It looks like everything else in the category and it just sort of blends into the sea of sameness that we have in the world.

You know, make something great, make something that stands out, make something that's worthy of people's time. And you won't be invisible. You'll be sought after. You'll be talked about. You'll be revered. And I think that's the biggest risk for brands for advertising and for business is being invisible.

00:22:27:06 - 00:22:39:22

Carrie Kwan

Now, as mums ago, we have a huge amount of respect for working parents. What have you found to be the most transferable skills between working and fatherhood?

00:22:43:23 - 00:23:04:23

Brent Smart

I think it's about being emotionally vulnerable. It is something that men struggle with and I think it's something that managers struggle with. Being able to sort of talk about how you are feeling and  being able to sit with other people, talk about how they're feeling and be comfortable with that is a really important skill that makes you a better dad and makes you a better leader.

It's something that I've had to work on. I'm still not great at it, but I'm trying to get better at it. I think that's really, really important, especially for men, specially as dads, we need to set a really good example for our boys and to show that we don't have to be these tough men who would never cry or feel anything, quite the opposite. We need to show them that it's really important to be, in touch with their emotions about talk about your emotions and and be able to really be considerate of other people's emotions. It's really important. That's an incredibly transferable skill between parenthood and leadership.

00:24:10:20 - 00:24:34:24

Carrie Kwan

Beautiful point, and being vulnerable is definitely something that we need to I think even as leaders now. Every business owner is a leader in their own way. So beautiful skill to transfer in the spirit of supporting business only women who are ambitious and that's those that are unapologetically blending motherhood and ambition. Who would you like to say hello to? Is there someone within your team that's a working mum or is there a business owner that you'd like to shout out to?

00:24:48:06 - 00:25:17:07

Brent Smart

I had three incredible working mums on my leadership team. Zahra, Sally and Caroline and all three of them. Yeah, they amaze me. They amaze me, they're unbelievable how they manage to balance two incredibly demanding roles. And do it brilliantly. So yeah, to Zahra Sally and Caroline, that's who I want to shout out to.

00:25:22:05 - 00:25:35:13

Carrie Kwan

Thank you, Brent. Thanks so much for joining us today on the podcast and thank you for your company. It's been fascinating to hear how you blend your ambition, livelihood and wellbeing.

00:25:37:12 - 00:25:39:03

Brent Smart

Thank you for having me. It was really fun.

00:25:40:03 - 00:25:52:23

Carrie Kwan

Now if you'd like to connect with Brent, you'll find him on LinkedIn. And don't forget to connect with us too on the Mums & Co page. Why don't you ask Brent how he teaches his kids to be creative? Because I know that your dad, it teaches you how to be creative. But I don't know how Brent teaches his kids how to be creative?

00:26:05:11 - 00:26:27:16

Brent Smart

That's a great question. So a couple of things, I think I try and show them stuff that I think is really creative, whether that's films taking them to museums or galleries that I think are really creative. So I'm always showing them stuff that I think is creative.

But then I've got three boys and I try and work out what, what thing they're most creative at. And really encourage them to explore that and do more of that. Whether one's got a drawing, one is good at music, one still trying to work out his thing.

So, you know, I think it's important for kids to try lots of stuff and work out what you like doing and then do more and more of it and really get encouragement, you know? So you say you want to keep trying, you want to keep doing it. That's the main stuff. But kids are so creative. I mean, kids are way more creative than us adults. So Stay silly. Make us stay silly.