CMO50 #8: Richard Burns, Aussie Home Loans
While many in the industry talk about the line between marketing and technology blurring, Aussie Home Loans’ Richard Burns is proof that it’s happening.
Upon joining the mortgage broker earlier this year, Burns was tasked with not only overseeing marketing, but also the technology and project management teams. The primary objective is to more closely align these functions with the needs of Aussie’s customers and mortgage brokers.
Burns’ professional achievements earned him such a unique position. Having started his career as a marketer in traditional packaged goods, he’s spent the last 15 years working in several innovative, technology driven online financial services businesses including E-Trade and CommSec, collaborating with both the technology and marketing teams.
Bringing both into one function operationally means greater collaboration on key business initiatives, and Burns says marketing has already started adopting agile working methodologies used by the IT team. It’s also removed any issues around where budget sits for marketing technology.
Burns says he’s driving the marketing team to leverage the deep technical and analytical knowledge within Aussie to help solve the integration and data challenges that taking on new marketing technologies bring.
“Our IT team will benefit from working as part of a combined team with marketing as it brings them closer to the business and the customer and out from a myriad policies and procedures,”he stated in his submission for the CMO50.
Within his first six months, Burns made several structural changes to the team, and notably, introduced a customer engagement team, which now sits alongside the brand and acquisition team.
“Aussie was very strong on brand and lead generation. Increasingly, we’re focused around the ongoing journey of customers and experience they have throughout the whole process of buying a home and getting a loan. That’s a big structural and cultural change,” he says. “Both the marketing and tech teams need to be there to support that - such a big part of that journey is going to be driven by the technology we can use to improve experiences.”
It’s the different cultures of marketing and IT that presents the greatest challenge. To help unify staff around that single objective of improving customer experiences, Burns has mandated teams spend time on the road with Aussie’s brokers.
“You can’t be truly customer focused unless you’ve had some of those experience yourself,” he claims. “Too many people have a role one or two steps removed from customer and don’t experience the service through a customer’s perspective. It gives them a sense of purpose around their role and how they impact that experience.”
Similarly, innovation can mean a lot of different things to different people. “One way I’m trying to drive that thinking here at Aussie is continuous improvement,” Burns explains. “That’s challenging everything we do and looking for better ways to trying things – that could be a customer experience, broker experience or staff experience.
“So we’re looking to other organisations, industries, and being prepared to make small changes because they can add on and make a big impact. What hopefully drives that is a passion not to just accept the status quo.”
Burns agrees embedding this in the culture requires the whole executive team to get on-board, and notes the senior leadership at Aussie talk about innovation as a key behavioural pillar internally.
“We want an open culture where if I have an idea on improving a process, other departments including marketing are receptive to those and vice versa. That has to come from the CEO down, but each executive has to live and breathe it,” he says.
While he believes a big driver of the perception of marketing is the organisation an individual operates in, Burns suggests all marketers must now be prepared to be change agents in order to earn their executive place.
“Some organisations see marketing as fundamental to their whole business, a reflection of organisations that have been much more customer centric,” he comments. “In other organisations, marketing has been playing catchup, and it’s seen as service that’s needed, as opposed to being a driving force for the business. I’m lucky, Aussie is passionate about the brand and customer, so marketing plays a pivotal role on the executive team.”
Having been fortunate enough to hold leadership roles for the last 15 years, Burns says uniting the strategic marketing mindset with business leadership is an ingrained skill. For those who haven’t quite achieved such stature, he advises thinking about more than just your own domain.
“I personally love the opportunity to look at the challenges of the business as a whole, then think about what me and the team can do bring that together,” he says. “Sometimes it’s getting outside of your comfort zone, or what people pigeon-hole you into, and tackling these challenges. Show a willingness and aptitude to look at the customer and business challenges; that’s the leadership role I play, and hopefully I’m a role model to my team. If you are really focused on the customer, you don’t need a position description to define exactly what you do every day.”
As a franchisee business with 175 stores and 1000 brokers nationally, local marketing is a critical component of the overall marketing mix. Among Burns’ achievements to date are developing two new approaches to supporting franchisees.
The first is a relationship assistance program, which involves using customer data, such as payment history and loan term expiry, as triggers for relevant customer contacts.
Another new initiative is a new centralised marketing service that provides highly localised digital, social and customer marketing support to franchisees. To do this, Aussie has created an outsourced marketing function that franchisees can sign up to instead of spending heftier sums on creating their own marketing assets.
While Aussie provides local marketing support through a consultancy model, Burns says many brokers and stores lack the time and/or experience to regularly engage in marketing activities. The paid marketing service directly improves this customer need, he said.
In addition, the local area marketing teams have created self-serve marketing packages for franchisee brokers such as referrals, movie nights for clients, seminars, shopping centre events and open for inspections. To launch these packages, the centralised marketing team shot videos of customers engaged in the marketing activity during pilots, and gathered testimonials from brokers implementing them.
“It took some really creative thinking from a team that had gone to market in a particular manner for a very long period of time to fundamentally change their approach, packaging and user experience they were delivering to their audience, the Aussie brokers,”Burns commented in his submission.
On the data-driven front, deeper analysis of the customer journey identified an opportunity to improve services at the point when customers request to see a mortgage broker. This has led Burns to reallocate resources to this critical moment of truth, and to sponsor the rebuilding of the process and algorithm that determines the best match between a customer and one of Aussie’s brokers.
While the initiative is still in its early phase, it is being architected with a much richer data set and experience in mind that one way will take into account multiple piece of customer data, such as demographic, Web history, loan purpose and social data, along with broker data sets such as language skills, training, loan knowledge, conversion rates and customer satisfaction results.
The work combines the skillset of the customer experience and technology team with business intelligence, architecture, customer experience and development teams, Burns says.
Over the next 12 months, Burns has a big job ahead ensuring Aussie has the right technology to support these initiatives and continue creating great customer experiences. “That’s a key focus for me – it’s making sure teams have right tools,” he says. “Then it’s about continuing to build a great team, because nothing happens without that.”
Through all of this, what keeps Burns awake is the amount of change being experienced, and making sure it’s managed appropriately and in a way that’s meaningful.
“The ultimate success measure is for customers to reflect back to us that Aussie makes it easier and more satisfying to get a home loan,” he says. “Looking at the metrics we have around our business, one thing I’m trying to introduce is a greater understanding of customer - where they are in journey, and where the breakpoints in that journey. That measurement is a key factor of us and is a real area of improvement for us.”
Any CMO today must have a passion for the customer and desire to meet customer needs, Burns says.
“You’ve also got to be a leader and be able to lead through change,” he says. “In all the organisations I have been involved in, there’s been a lot of change, so being able to lead teams through change is a really important attribute, as is being at the centre of that as a CMO.”
Underneath that, modern marketing leaders must work on understanding what technology is available, and make better use of data, he says.
“But on the flipside, having an understanding of the value of the brand and role it plays – it’s changing, but remains very important,” Burns adds. “In an age where there is really strong competition coming either from incumbents or disruptors, brand is a shortcut people will evaluate you on very quickly. You can’t lose sight of it.”