In a recent conversation with a chief technology officer, he asserted all digital technology changes in his organisation were being led by IT and not by marketing. It made me wonder: How long a marketing function like this could survive?
Rolling out a digital marketing platform across one function is hard enough when you consider the new technology skillsets and workflow change management involved. So you can imagine just how difficult it is when you add hundreds of independent franchisees into the mix.
But that’s exactly what the digital marketing team at Helloworld has been doing over the last 12 months. The travel retailer has more than 1600 stores across Australia and New Zealand, owned by a diverse collection of franchisees and associated agencies, stretching from three employees up to multi-store networks that turn over more than $100 million.
Speaking at the IBM Customer Engage Forum in Melbourne and Sydney this week, Helloworld’s digital marketing manager, George Andreolas, shared how his team rolled out IBM’s Marketing Cloud solutions from HQ through to its core 400 core franchisees, and the lessons he’s learnt along the way.
Andreolas sits within a team of four providing marketing services to the agency retail network. As well as maintaining a traditional acquisition role, the digital marketing team manages and merchandises the brand website, along with 100 white-label sites, provides channel insights, plus skills in customer retention and social media.
This sees the centralised team looking after 400 email marketing programs, handling 50 to 70 campaign requests per week across all channels.
“Each franchisee gets their own CMS and must be taught to publish and manage their own content. A large part of our role is to upskills guys,” he said. “We also have 80 digital point-of-sale systems and similarly to the white-label websites, they’re all bespoke in terms of requirements and the types of content that’s published.”
When it comes to email marketing, Helloworld’s top-tier franchisees are automatically opted-in to the program. The second tier of associated stores can pay a fee to get access to Marketing Cloud, have their lists set up and templates imported, and have the digital marketing team send emails nationally for them using dynamic content sourced from 100 preferred suppliers.
Step 1: Audit and determine key objectives
Prior to bringing on Marketing Cloud, Helloworld spent time identifying objectives in order to streamline marketing services, Andreolas said. Previously, the group managed ecommerce and retail as separate units, but thanks to some heavy lifting done around its CRM platforms, CRM is now linked to email marketing in order to deliver more personalised, lifecycle-based marketing.
However, with less than one-third previously using its marketing platform, the team felt it wasn’t adding enough value. Helloworld has an advisory panel comprised of highest engaged agencies, so it started by compiling a list of things that needed to be done better.
“A key theme was simplicity – they just need get into the system, so we needed something that was intuitive and simple,” he said. “It needed to work with other systems and integrate well, which we hadn’t set up in the past. We also needed comprehensive training and support. We were looking for a partner and platform to deliver the kind of support that allows us to be first to market to put that great airfare up or deal to South America or South East Asia, and we just weren’t able to do that.”
Step 2: Get your marketing priorities in order
The list of requirements from an ecommerce perspective included an ability to segment marketing communications and digital channels based on customer and agent preferences, testing, CRM integration, comprehensive reporting, lifecycle management, dynamic rules, customisable templates and support.
“The thing we needed to crack with ecommerce for example was the lifecycle stuff, particularly abandonment,” Andreolas said. “We know abandonment makes up a massive chunk of our ROI. It’s something that’s automated and once you have that set up, it’s a significant portion of our ROI.”
Another big headache was having to create 15 unique email templates per send on a Tuesday and Thursday every week, an impractical situation, Andreolas said.
“For every state, we had a different send from start to finish, then across different types of agents had a different set-up,” he said. “We needed to build dynamic content and rules that would do the heavy lifting for us so we could concentrate on working smarter, not harder.”
Step 3: Take a phased approach
The rollout of IBM Marketing Cloud is occurring in two phases at Helloworld and with the help of partner, Engage Digital.
“We took the time to correctly set up this platform, as we knew the heavy lifting done in the smarts and set-up in the back end would help us do much cooler stuff and accelerate our growth moving forward,” Andreolas said.
In the first half of 2016, Helloworld set up more than 400 distinct accounts, plus 60 creative variations, audited against what competitors were doing and optimised for mobile. It also washed and uploaded important database lists.
“We had the data from the old system telling us which templates agents were using, so we took four of the best of those to become our minimal viable product for launch,” Andreloas said.
“We then made ourselves accountable to KPIs around service and to do that, we put in a premium tool that could measure how long we were taking to turn things around. The plan was to set up benchmarks for every different kind of campaign or channel, then improve those benchmarks over time.”
Importantly, the centralised team conducted 16 two-hour webinars, as well as help tutorials and online portals to assist end users understand the approach and offerings.
The second phase of work sees the digital marketing team doing customer uploads, onboarding emails, and creating an image library. It’s also built more than 100 subscriber widgets, and commenced social media integration.
While the first half was a more waterfall approach to rollout, the second half has been more agile, with listening and continuous improvement core to success, Andreolas said.
“Projects are no longer linear, they are very cyclical,” he said. “Some features we hadn’t anticipated would be needed, but we have an iterative approach to learning and listening.”
For example, webinars weren’t ideal for training, so HQ switched to one-to-one phone calls. The central digital team also evolved its processes around building subscriber widgets as more and more franchisees heard about how customised email marketing campaigns had helped other agencies to grow their databases.
“Another big challenge was integrating social media,” he said. “We have dynamic rules and in the footer, the default is if we don’t have your social media account, we’ll put the national Helloworld accounts. Agents wanted us to put theirs in, but we didn’t have a data source for that.
“Just a small problem like that took a couple of weeks because we didn’t have the data to begin with.”
Step 4: Demonstrate results
Having dynamic content rules is allowing Helloworld to scale communications easily and effectively, and it’s providing customised and personalised content in post-booking emails, as well as opening up cross-sell and up-sell opportunities. It’s also enabled the teams to format landing pages and websites.
“What we know, having had some of these white-label websites tagged up, is that in some cases, up to 25 per cent of the inquiries they receive from these come from our email program,” Andreolas noted.
Andreolas also pointed to a 31 per cent improvement in output, and 40 per cent reduction in call resolution times.
In addition, Helloworld has seen a rise in more complex requirement queries, such as customised user journeys, segmentation and on-boarding processes, an example of how the network is engaging with the new marketing solution. From a previous high of 72 campaigns per month, the digital marketing team climbed to a record 193 campaigns in August, and has averaged a 34 per cent quarter-on-quarter increase in campaigns since the platform went live.
Importantly, within nine months, 43 per cent of the network is now using the system, 10 per cent more than Helloworld had hoped.
“We’re really proud of that stat, and it’s set a benchmark in the business for other services,” he said.
The next steps for Helloworld include getting other departments such as HR, internal communications and support to use the tool. Andreolas then hopes to get Helloworld’s remaining 900 franchisees trialling the services.
“This shows the faith the business has in this tool and our partners to deliver something so critical to the success of our customers, and their customers as well,” he added.