Why CMO-CIO collaboration is vital to HCF’s marketing transformation plans

HCF's chief marketing officer shares her digital marketing transformation ambitions and how the health insurance provider's marketing and IT teams must come together for its success

The more IT denies marketing’s need for rapid technology advancement, the more they will become marginalised, according to HCF’s chief marketing officer.

Speaking at Forrester’s CMO+CIO Summit in Sydney, HCF chief marketing officer, Jenny Williams, took attendees through her company’s digital marketing transformation plans, highlighting marketing-IT collaboration as the core ingredient to success but also one of the biggest hurdles to overcome.

Williams noted several market factors impacting the way HCF’s marketing team operates. The first is the rise of aggregator insurance websites, creating cost-driven and seasonal purchasing in the consumer market. Another game-changer is mobile, and Williams said about 50 per cent of all search marketing around health insurance is now done on a mobile device.

As a result, HCF is embarking on a marketing transformation. Williams outlined three key objectives: Customer centricity and shifting towards more needs-based communication; education and empowerment of its customers; and marketing efficiency through measurement and ROI, cross-media optimisation and attribution, geo-targeting and offline/online connectivity.

“What we want to do is build relevance in a digital age,” she said. “We’re looking at what are the different stages of the customer journey, what the customer looks for and what messages should be delivered in those stages. We then have layers of campaigns to rollout across those stages. For example, in the early stages, it’s about brand, the use of video and above-the-line, and online.

“Once we get further down the pipe, we can do segmentation, and we’re in the process of developing more psychographic segmentation so we can start to change the way we target customers in the engagement and retention part of the lifecycle.”

Simultaneously, HCF is striving to learn more about what customers are doing, Williams said.

“The only way to facilitate that is through marketing automation,” she said.

Williams not only recognises technology’s importance, she’s endeavouring to invest in a raft of core platforms and has envisaged a digital ecosystem to drive this new marketing approach.

“We’re starting to look at all these channels and what their role is at each stage, and what we need to do technologically to connect the dots,” she said. “We also have to drive programmatic buying. There is no way I can go into a marketing campaign with the kind of aggressive market I operate in, if I can’t start buying specific types of audiences.

“That requires me to get a DMP inside the organisation so I can start to do that. It also requires the enterprise data warehouse can talk to that DMP.”

In total, Williams’ list of current projects includes procuring a new CMS, website redesign, brand repositioning, a segmentation strategy, marketing automation, analytics and cross-media optimisation.

“What’s interesting is when I presented this to the business managers, one asked if this is a differentiator for us. And in all honesty, I have to say no,” she said. “My competitors are buying this stuff too, and there is nothing new or particularly innovative about this idea, it’s just what a digital marketing stack needs to look like now.”

Pulling this kind of transformation off poses challenges, not least of which is the IT/marketing relationship. The issue is that HCF’s IT team (known as IM) structure is not geared around marketing automation or performance expectations, Williams said.

One big question at HCF is whether to build or buy IT capability.

“Historically, we have built everything. What that means is we can’t change anything without internal IT teams making changes,” she explained. “But it also means… there’s an organisational appetite around cost that just didn’t exist before. All of a sudden, we have to figure out how to pay for it and keep paying for it.”

A related challenge is how new marketing systems will integrate with back-end systems, and how long they will be used for before needing to be replaced.

“If you buy a CMS and in three years’ time change back-end systems, the question we had is can’t we just buy a new CMS? But they’re saying no, you can’t buy a new one. Yet if it’s all cloud-based, the question is why not?” Williams asked. “That’s the sort of thinking that needs to change in order for us to be much more agile.”

Expectations around speed to market is another big discrepancy between CMO and CIO, and Williams pointed out waiting three years for a CMS, or undertaking a four-year technology rollout isn’t going to cut it in the new marketing age.

“There is also the discussion of where this technology is sitting in the books and who pays for it,” she added. “If it’s OpEx, does it sit in marketing or IM’s budget?”

Achieving marketing and IT collaboration

Despite this wide list of challenges, HCF is making progress. One of the key ingredients is cross-functional collaboration, and HCF has done lots of business-wide workshops, involving its IM team as the business determines what it’s doing digitally and why.

“Once IT understands what’s happening at the front line and the customer, and the decision relating to the back-end technology, it changes the meaning and helps IT think more creatively about what the solutions might be,” Williams said.

“More widely, we have done a lot of work to overcome silos in the business, but the most important factor is aligning KPIs.”

Different acronyms across IT and marketing haven’t helped collaboration, nor have the “degrees of definition” each side expects, Williams admitted.

“As marketers, we want everything fast as we’re trying to respond immediately to things,” she commented. “I’ve taken on-board the fact that some things do take time; the most important thing in developing the collaboration between marketing and IT is to figure out how to give marketing the tools to be responsive within their own ecosystem.”

Adding to the complexity is the fact that HCF has internal employees from a range of topic areas that have to work consistently in project planning, then a wider group including agencies, analytics teams and consultants delivering services around that. That's upwards of 100 people involved.

“Looking at systems and technology that help facilitate that is important,” Williams said. “We other thing we found is we had to educate the business on who specifies what.”

Creating a team responsible for the user layer between back-end systems and front-end services was a further step forward towards bridging the gap between internal capability and customer experience, Williams said. HCF has also implemented a more structured approach, with frequent communications across stakeholders, and has a sponsor actively engaged at each stage of the transformation agenda.

In addition, the health insurance provider has put in place a change management function within the business, and is rolling out training around change management to its top two management tiers.

Defining an actual process for work to be done was another must. Rather than deciding on either a waterfall or agile approach, Williams said HCF has adopted a “wagile” way of working.

“But what really has to change to done anything with agility, is that the mindset has to change,” she said.

For Williams, other fundamentals for marketing-IT collaboration include top-down endorsement from the leadership team, as well as aligning marketing and IT with the organisation’s strategic direction.

As a final note, she recommended an “ear to the ground – at all layers of the business”.

“I find in my role as a CMO, unless I have that informal ear to the ground, I won’t know what’s going on,” she said.

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