CMO50 #9: Renee McGowan, Mercer
According to Mercer’s Renee McGowan, the value of marketing is only truly realised when marketers have the opportunity to have a really strategic impact on the business.
“If you have marketing spread in a much more diverse way, driving across and within business, its impact can be much more profound,” she says. “For us, it’s embedding marketing in the business and the way we deliver experience through every channel.”
And that’s exactly why the superannuation group appointed McGowan its first chief customer officer in mid-2013.
McGowan describes her rise to the role as “progressive”. Having spent time crafting her skills in London in marketing and sales and consultancy work, she came back to Australia 10 years ago to set up a marketing team for Mercer’s retail business. Since then, she’s held different roles across the business in various locations, then was handed the opportunity to lead all customer service functions, including marketing, in 2013.
“That was the opportunity to really think about everything holistically,” she tells CMO. “It was a great opportunity for me personally but also a good leap for the business, and recognition that marketing shouldn’t be sitting on its own to drive customer outcomes. Marketing needs to be strongly embedded in the business.”
Previously, Mercer retained specialist marketing teams in consumer and retail, then another in B2B. The group’s Customer Transformation strategy, which McGowan has architected and led for the past 12 months, sees all customer service channels pooled together, with marketing sitting alongside them.
“This is so marketing could lead the way on what that experience brand should be, and how it should play out,” McGowan says. “To engage with our superannuation customers in a meaningful way and to deliver that experience brand, we needed to be leading experience with marketing. Rather than just data driving marketing activities, it was data driving marketing activities that drive business activities and ultimately, a service experience. That’s where we get the power.”
Mercer’s overarching strategy is based on delivering a step-change in customer and marketing capability across three core areas of the organisation. The first is digital transformation, and Mercer has replaced public and secure websites and digital platforms with personalised, contextualised digital user experiences across any device.
The second focal point was customer management, and to address this, the group has replaced legacy CRM systems with the Salesforce One platform. The third component was marketing automation, and Mercer is using Salesforce’s Marketing Cloud and real-time analytics to overhaul and unite customer experiences and marketing across all channels.
For an industry that has lacked a strong focus on individual customers and had no imperative to change, this strategy and the business outcomes already being delivered are arguably transformational for both Mercer, as well as the wider sector.
To support her, McGowan has made several strategic hires, including a consumer marketing leader and digital strategy leader. She’s also promoted one employee running Mercer’s contact centre and online platforms to an overall customer experience role, and build out the team with new and existing capability.
Changing nature of marketing
Mercer’s marketing approach is a far cry from the beginning of McGowan’s career, where marketers had a narrow focus oriented around creative and communications.
“You’d have discrete brand activities and define them in terms of below-the-line and above-the-line, but all were contained in that traditional creative function,” she recalls. “The integration of digital and customer experience, which marketers are leading the way on, means our role is far more diverse today. So we’ve gone from that purely creative and comms focus and positioning to being about business value, customer experience, data and ROI.”
It’s this need to lead with customer experience that’s the big corporate challenge and for McGowan, organisations will only truly deliver customer value when all organisational pieces work together. That’s why Mercer has brought digital together with retail marketing, the contact centre, online platforms and so on, under the CMO function.
“I love the customer side that I lead and manage and frankly, it’s staying close to the money,” she says. “A good marketer who is a good leader is really close to the business and understands how they are driving revenue and profit. It’s not a huge leap though; you have to be a good leader to lead a marketing function, and those are the same traits you need to lead a business.”
For McGowan, innovation breaks down into the ‘big I’ and ‘little I’. She describes the ‘big I’ as how to get that next disruption or big thing.
“It’s about ensuring your company has that critical innovation that sits in white space or the space you operate it,” she says. “That’s really important and Mercer, for example, invests in an innovation lab.
“The ‘little I’ is the one that’s of more interest to me personally, and that’s how you innovate everyday in the way you connect with customers, they way you market to them, and deliver on experience to make it better.”
Through the course of Mercer’s recent change program, it’s been this second innovation approach that has helped McGowan take cross-functional teams along the customer journey with her.
“When you’re doing wholesale, large, transformational programs like this, things can easily become daunting,” she comments. “Our approach has been to emphasise that ‘little I’ and put bubbles around experiences or marketing activities we want to improve. And we do them as discrete activities, so we’ll change this part of it in a sprint or agile way. That’s the ‘little I’.”
While there’s been a move over recent years by businesses to separate out innovation from business-as-usual activity to drive transformative innovation, McGowan expects companies will switch tack from just seeking a big bang approach.
“It’s the world we live in of fast-paced change – you need to do lots of little things quickly in order to innovate, and that means you need to be comfortable with done being better than perfect,” she says. “A lot of people are struggling with that.”
Similarly, it’s important as a CMO to understand the short- and long-term and balance these priorities, McGowan says.
“There has to be campaigns and activities you’re doing that have a short-term approach and if they’re not working, you need to be able to turn them off, or if they are, you’re able to accelerate them,” she says. “But there has to be investment in the longer-term, otherwise you’re just running from one short-term thing to the next. That’s not going to pay off either.”
One bugbear of McGowan’s in particular is the tactical approach often taken to customer retention.
“When I was asked to do this role, I was thrilled to, but … I told them I didn’t want to hear the word ‘retention’ and said we won’t be running a retention campaign in the next 12 months,” she says. “That’s just short-term tactical thinking to solve an immediate problem of someone leaving to go to another fund.
“The meaningful, long-term relationships happen through your experience being phenomenal across all areas. No retention campaign in the world will combat the need to invest in the overall experience. We have been able to move that dial and we talk about Mercer being an experience brand.”
The unique challenge Mercer faces is getting consumers engaged with their superannuation fund, something McGowan admits her team is constantly battling with. She notes Australians spend just 8 hours on average annually engaging with their superannuation.
“That’s no doubt one of our challenges, and some in the team will be disheartened, but it’s also a cop out. At the end of the day, people are putting 10 per cent of their salary every month into an investment that they own,” she says. “Yes, it’s pretty dry, but it’s also pretty profound as people go through their lives. These become large balances, and as a business, we have the privilege of managing that money and helping people to grow it.
“It isn’t enough or appropriate to say they’re not engage and therefore we need to let them be.”
Among the highlights of McGowan’s CMO50 submission was work done around using data to personalise and contextualise customer experiences. One of the ways she’s achieved this is by devising and leading a ground-up development of an innovative data analytics and customer insight platform, Mercer Edge.
The work required collaboration across a broad range of functions and stakeholders and was aimed at delivering a one-stop interactive view of customer insight. This required pulling information from Mercer’s data warehouse, channel data, third-party data and other unstructured internal sources, such as customer enquiries. Mercer Edge then enables advanced segmentation of a customer base, using behavioural, value-based, psychographic geo-demographic models.
As a result, Mercer Edge provides all parts of the business with a clear and accurate picture of individual customer activity, and also uses predictive algorithms to project future consumer behaviour and lead scoring.
In its submission, the company said the near real-time data delivery from Mercer Edge to consumer channels, such as the call centre and digital platforms, is helping ensure the right message and right content is delivered to the right audience in highly targeted marketing campaigns. The platform is producing significant results and maximising return on marketing and customer experience investments.
The focus for McGowan over the next 12-24 months is disciplined execution of the transformation program, as well as extending its impact, in order to build Mercer into Australia’s best retail financial services organisation.
“That means bringing to life all the power of the data we have invested in that, making sure that goes through all channels and that we successfully implement Salesforce and marketing automation so we’re bringing marketing into everyday customer experiences,” she explains. “In the next 12 months, we will demonstrate the value to the business in a tangible way with regards to revenue and profit.”
Mercer in Australia is also a test case for several other geographies, including the US and UK, that are also planning to embark on customer-led transformation programs.
While confident in the capabilities of her team and plans, McGowan she’s always looking at how to go faster at this for benefit of Mercer’s customers.
“It’s not faster relative to competition, but the wider benefit of delivering better financial outcomes and getting them more engaged,” she adds.
Ultimately, today’s CMO needs business acumen and knowledge of how to generate business value, McGowan says. “That’s not just financial, but understanding the levers you need to pull to grow the business,” she says.
“You also have to have a passion for data, a real willingness to embrace it to think differently, and to put it into every part of the business but in a way that’s relevant to the business. You’re only as rich in data as you are using that data.
“And it’s about how to be relevant to customers. If you can’t be relevant to them, you can’t even get on their radar. Have to use everything at your fingertips, a lot of which will be data, to be relevant.”
Demonstrating innovative marketing
One of the recent initiatives Mercer has embarked on is maximising its share of wallet with its existing customers. To do this, McGowan championed a strategy to transform business processes combined with an integrated multi-channel marketing campaign. This included introducing a paperless process and shifting the workload from the customer to call centre and administration teams.
The strategy drove significant change across the whole business, Mercer reported in its CMO50 submission. Operations, admin, IT and call centres were engaged to reengineer internal processes, remove the customer pain points and knock down traditional barriers to action to ensure the best possible customer experience. The multi-channel nature of the campaign, including a sophisticated data capture tool under the campaign landing page, creative-specific phone lines and targeted mail, email and SMS, also made it easy for customers to receive and respond, the company said.
As well as efforts around design, communications and behavioural science, Mercer also developed new algorithms to identify customers who were highly likely to hold super accounts with competitors now embedded in our core systems.
The ROI on the strategy and associated investment has exceeded 500 per cent and the average time-to-sale across the business has been reduced by 75 per cent, Mercer said.