Why HCF's CMO is focusing on people first, martech second

Chief marketing officer talks through the marketing and digital transformation occurring across the health insurance provider and how people and culture are key to success

Deploying a new marketing technology stack might require a functional shift, operational rethink and significant project management skills, but it’s the people transformation that has presented the biggest hurdle for HCF’s CMO, Jenny Williams.

“I would say there is more work involved in the people transformation than digital transformation,” she told CMO during a recent interview at the Adobe Digital Marketing Summit.

“The technology comes and goes. There has been shift from the old mindset of first deciding on technology, then letting staff deal with that, then putting the project in place and making it work, to getting the people in place to drive the strategy first. The tech is just the tools.

Jenny Williams
Jenny Williams


“It’s the people that have to either adapt where they sit organisationally, or adapt with what technology they’re able to use, and you start to develop more agile approaches not just for how you do projects, but for everything.”

Just over a year ago, Jenny Williams joined HCF as CMO and was given a mission: To implement change.

“The financial services industry was the first cab off the rank to be highly impacted by digital and to notice the impact on things like supply chain, and how to respond to customer requirements,” she commented. “Health as an industry is probably the next cab off the rank to undergo fundamental digital change. It’s not just in the way we market to people, but the way we service our members to understand how they are managing their health and what our role is in that dynamic.”

Customer-led transformation

Williams has three objectives: Customer centricity and shifting towards more needs-based communication; empowerment of customers; and marketing efficiency through measurement, cross-media optimisation and attribution, geo-targeting and offline/online connectivity.

The first manifestation of HCF’s transformation is a new customer-facing website launched in May. Significant work has been done behind the scenes evaluating the customer journey around the initial decision stage, as well as on usability.

“The second thing is about how we leverage engagement post-purchase so we can start to direct people towards services we may offer,” Williams said.

Supporting these efforts is a marketing technology overhaul. HCF is adopting Adobe’s Marketing Cloud suite, deployed by tier-one partner, Deloitte, and commenced rollout last October. Williams says HCF had already committed to a core systems transformation, making it easy to get executive buy-in.

“We have chosen the Adobe platform in part because I knew I needed a CMS [content management system], and a big part of that is transitioning from our IT team driving all technology implementation,” Williams said. “From taking five days to get a press release up on our site, we’re now looking at something marketing can be much more responsive on. We can also do a lot more test-and-learn and optimisation work.”

Analytics quickly became the underlying foundation of the marketing stack. Work to date involved placing Adobe Analytics tags across HCF’s existing website in order to gather behavioural data.

“We’re building a new website, and implementing AEM [Adobe Experience Manager] as well as Adobe Campaign, but laying the bedrock of analytics has strategically been the lion’s share of the work,” Williams said. “If we get that right, what that enables us to do down the track is that much bigger.”

Running in parallel was a fresh segmentation approach. “Our segmentation was based on things like age, life stage and marital status, so we invested in a comprehensive psychographic segment exercise and worked with the analytics team to overlay that and understand what that drives in terms of eight need states,” Williams says.

The ultimate goal is for HCF members to derive personalised value from content. Williams said HCF has created a hypothetical content strategy, which the technology will now allow it to start delivering.

“We’re aiming to create a health relationship with our members where they have trust and faith in the content from HCF and in us to help curate their health journey,” she added.

People management

Through all of this, Williams said it’s the people change management that has been the biggest thing to consider.

“That’s whether it’s getting the IM [information management] department to understand what it is we’re trying to do and get behind it the right way, or the frontline and board to understand what the implications are for them, or the executive to understand why this needs to be prioritised over the core system, or why we’re choosing a brand proposition,” she said. “I ran ahead, thinking I know what I’m going to do and go with it, then realised they’re all back there and I have to go back and get them. That was a bit of a learning for me.”

As part of her digital-led marketing transformation, Williams’first step was to restructure the marketing department into four pillars, each with day-to-day tasks as well as more strategic responsibility across the various transformation work streams. The first of these is a team responsible for advertising and day-to-day campaigns and promotions, along with the marketing automation program.

“We’re looking at how we start optimising media and leveraging data to be better about media buying,” Williams explained.

A second digital stream runs existing digital engagement, social and content but is also in charge of the AEM implementation and all UX aspects of the project. Within this is a dedicated mobile division.

The third pillar is brand ownership, which also extends to HCF’s more comprehensive brand transformation effort. “That was the first piece of the puzzle, because that needed to drive what we actually did,” Williams said.

“Then I have a customer marketing pillar, where the main responsibility has been segmentation. Making sure brand and segmentation ran in parallel was the first priority – that then led to the technology, content, tagging strategies and marketing automation.”

Williams is quick to point out these operational pillars are moving feasts, and said she may introduce other pillars as work on the marketing transformation progresses. Through all of this, optimisation and test-and-learn is vital, she said.

“The reason robots can do things better than us is because they focus on one thing and they keep optimising it, learning from it,”she commented. “But nine times out of 10, learning is from mistakes, not successes. What we as humans don’t do very well is talk about our mistakes. One of the learnings I’m taking back to my organisation is how we borrow something from that philosophy and apply that to a human learning philosophy, where we’re starting to optimise what we do.”

Cross-functional alliances

Digital and marketing transformation has also seen Williams work to better understand the nature of alliances with each of the business and functional chiefs within HCF. These include the CIO, head of strategy and HR.

“The reality is that every executive in the business has an objective they are trying to reach, where there is an overlap with what I’m doing,” she said. “It’s about finding that intersection and making sure we collaborate very well around that intersection. As a CMO, understanding what that intersection is, then what the blurry bits around it are, and working one on one with each of them, is critically important to success.”

What’s also important to remember is that marketing’s transformation is just one of the many steps HCF is taking to better adopt to the needs of customers today.

“It would be very easy for me to go off and say ‘this is the marketing transformation’ and for our head of strategy to say ‘this is the business transformation’ and for it to be presented as two separate things to the organisation,” Williams said. “But it’s not. It’s the same with sales and the transition in the sales organisation: For us to measure KPIs and do attribution appropriately means I need good data from the sales channel. I won’t get that unless the sales teams in all the different touchpoints are incentivised to record that appropriately.

“Then there’s HR – we have to get about 1500 frontline staff across what we’re doing it, why we’re doing it and what it means. The brand transformation requires them to understand how they engage with customers and how that might need to change, and how they can take the essence of the brand transformation and understand what it means in the context of a sales conversation or a customer service conversation. That means we have to literally have training sessions and hands-on workshops with 1500 staff.”

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