Redefining the CMO role

| By Laura Gumbrell
Fonbet’s Alina Yakirevich speaks to iGB about how the role of a chief marketing officer is being revolutionised, from keeping up with the digital landscape to being a female leader in a male-dominated industry C-suite.

Alina Yakirevich is CMO of Fonbet. She has extensive experience in all areas of marketing – TV, digital advertising, below the line communications, printed and radio advertising, PR, SMM, SEO and context, content and native advertising. She has also reorganised and established all divisions of Fonbet’s marketing team, setting KPIs which reflect the key business goals of the company.

While the proliferation of digital marketing channels has been increasing the demands on CMOs for some time now, this has been intensified by the pandemic.

As businesses work to scale products to an online audience, speed and innovation have become paramount. CMOs are now required to radically evolve content for ecommerce platforms, where messages need to be personalised and targeted to individual consumers.

Alina Yakirevich, CMO of Russian-facing betting operator Fonbet, highlights two key areas that marketing directors now need expertise in, that they didn’t necessarily have before.

“The first is the product,” she explains. “I interact a lot with UX and UI research, making product decisions, offering ideas and making recommendations. The product team and I have the same goals. I have to really understand the product well.”

“The second area is customer service. Today, in Russia, the fight for customers is a major focus, and the winning company is the one with the best loyalty programme, the lowest churn, best retention, steepest conversions and highest lifetime value (LTV). All this is closely related to the way we handle customer service.”

Battling with the evolution of technology 

With analytics and data-driven roles becoming a key part of the industry’s conversion to online, Yakirevich agrees that Fonbet has had to adapt its strategy.

“Primarily, I maintain a solid budget for R&D. Recently, we’ve been using consultancy services a lot at Fonbet alongside hiring specialists to work in-house.”

“However, our focus is on data-driven marketing. We create our own B2B products which are strategically crucial for a company with a strong development team like Fonbet. If we like something, we’ll often purchase a B2B solution, use it for one to two years, and then create our own in parallel.”

By working closely with analytics and marketing performance data, Fonbet’s efficiency is maximised and the return of investment increases. Being able to measure website traffic and SEO success rates makes recruitment specifications far more niche than they used to be, and Yakirevich doesn’t deny that roles are becoming harder to fill.

“Analytics are crucial to marketing, and we’re always looking for good analysts. To be honest, we don’t have enough of them! 

“Demand has been huge lately, but this is an area we are determined to grow and improve in.”

Working on a global scale

With operators such as Fonbet holding licences across a wide range of jurisdictions in Europe, they need to adapt their marketing aims to optimise results in different countries. Yakirevich explains that, at Fonbet, this is achieved through a combination of research-driven tasks.

“When we enter a new market, we always research and analyse it first. We always have country managers or local marketers who help us develop creative campaigns appropriate to the environment.”

With regulations having become a hugely influential part of the industry, Fonbet recognises that understanding a country’s values is the first step to successful marketing. 

“This goes as far as regulations and policies surrounding gaming. In some places, the message is ‘have fun’, and in others, it’s ‘if you know a lot about sports, make money from it’. These are absolutely diametrical approaches to the same activity: from an emotional message to a strongly rational one.”

The need to outsource

There is a clear increase in the role of third-parties in corporate marketing decisions, drastically changing the managerial demands of a CMO. Yakirevich highlights the importance of outsourcing, and how in some countries, and particularly Russia, it is as much an internal struggle as external.

“Every year we use the services of auditors and consultants more and more. Fonbet sometimes hires business advisers, which I personally think is an excellent decision.

“However, marketing directors in Russia are cautious about this approach, which I disagree with. They feel it is hiring someone to look for their mistakes. However, the truth is, when it comes to strategically important business decisions, you always need second and third opinions.

“I also want to note that when a third-party specialist is involved, there are two possible outcomes: they’ll look and say that everything is fine and they have nothing to add, or they’ll say that things need improving, and the company would benefit from knowing these changes.”

If Covid-19 has taught industry leaders anything, it is the need to address uncertainties and seek to find answers quickly. Yakirevich tells iGB how essential it is for a CMO to be fluid when faced with problems, and the importance of learning from mistakes and accepting specialists’ opinions in order to achieve the best outcome for the business.

“Even if we do make some mistakes, it’s crucial for us to stop making them as soon as possible. If we’re headed in the wrong direction or doing something ineffective for the company, it’s important for us to face the truth and say, “okay, what we’re doing could be better”, and work on a solution ASAP.”

Changing profile of gaming marketers

Not only are the day-to-day activities of a CMO changing, but so is the typical profile. As a female CMO, Yakirevich touches on what the industry could do to create a more diverse environment for women heading sectors in the gaming vertical. 

“Betting companies are recruiting more and more women. I seem to be a bit of a trendsetter, because I’m one of Fonbet’s top managers and most visible faces in general. The fact that I’m a young woman and have a solid career history gets people’s attention.”

Yakirevich is keen to point out that this conversion stems from how Fonbet operates internally- and that it is only sustainable through a unanimous attitude within. She comments on how the company “trusts young professionals, where there’s no ageism or sexism.”

However, despite the fact that this should be the norm, in Russia, there is still a long way to go.

“If we’re talking about Russia in general and our industry in particular, then we can say that there is discrimination against women. I do think that this will change with time though. 

“The more we talk about our employees, who come from a variety of countries with different religions, the more we’ll be able to speak with pride of their success and support an inclusive culture.”

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