Mercer CMO: Why people marketing and employees are your brand’s biggest untapped asset

Financial services' marketing chief shares her recipe for getting employees to become your biggest brand advocates


People marketing is the biggest untapped opportunity marketers have to drive success for their organisation, Mercer’s global CMO claims.

Speaking at the ADMA Global Forum in Sydney, the financial services group’s Jeanniey Mullen said the line between marketing and HR functions is blurring because brands need to more actively involve employees in building their brands.

“We live in the age of brand equalisation,” Mullen said. “Your brand name doesn’t matter online as much as the brand experience. To survive and thrive in a digital world, brand is about building advocates... unlike any other.

“The thing is, brand advocacy is not driven just by external influencers - in many cases, it’s driven by your employees. When you’re building the workforce for tomorrow, it’s not just about building employees that get a job done, you’re building a brand force.”

Mullen pointed to a recent report outlining four key pillars required to build sustainable businesses today. The first is ‘growth by design’.

“If that doesn’t scream hey marketer, we need you at the executive table playing a strategic role in the way we grow, then I don’t know what else does,” she said.

The second trend is the shift in consumer values. In turn, today’s employees increasingly want to work for a brand they can believe in and that has purpose.

The fourth pillar is the ‘quest for insight’. “Not only are we looking for insight, data and trends on how our campaigns and efforts are performing, our employees are looking for insight and trends about their performance as well,” Mullen said.  

“When we marry the two together - what an employee wants and what marketing and consumers care about - you get an incredibly powerful combination. When you activate that combination, you build a workforce that builds extreme brand connections for your business.”

To fuel people marketing, Mercer has adopted a three-pronged approach it has coined ‘AIR’ – authentic, inspirational and reliable. As an example of authenticity, Mullen said marketing is putting campaigns in front of staff first and encouraging them to collaborate.

“We are learning interesting ways to improve what we take out externally as a result,” she said. “The average person reaches 25,000 people on social networks over the course of the year. Every message put out on your company’s behalf should be considered a marketing moment.  

“If staff believe something is authentic and feel positive about the company they work for, their network can have a critical impact on the bottom line of the organisation.”

In Australia, Mercer's local marketing team recently shared its new brand campaign, ‘A different kind’, with staff four weeks ahead of launch externally in order to collect feedback and encourage contributions. The campaign also involved actual clients. Collateral related to each client was put in focus for one week at a time. In the final week, the content was wrapped up and shared with employees.

“We made it experiential, ran events, shared creative and collateral and things that would support their conversations in the market, and talked about how they thought clients would react,” Australian-based head of corporate communications, Dan Hinton, said. “Already, staff felt a part of it and felt energised by it.”

Mercer also dressed up the offices, used digital signage, and even dropped flyers on desks encouraging staff to download the app and watch a 3D message from the CEO talking about how people played a key role in differentiating Mercer in the market. Internal chatter and sharing extended to social when the campaign went live.

“Our people were authentically sharing their excitement and passion for Mercer -  it was pride,” Hinton said.

As an example of inspiration, meanwhile, Mullen’s team ran a virtual career fair aimed at both articulating the strategic role marketing is playing in the organisation, as well as actively filling gaps in functional capability. Different marketing teams were asked to put together a two-minute video explaining what their teams did.

In total, 1300 offices dial in, with more than 14 per cent of organisation tuning into the marketing career fair. Off the back of the event, 75 people in Mercer applied for jobs in marketing who didn’t work in marketing, while others were offering 20 per cent of their time to help or learn new skills, Mullen said.

“We engaged the entire company around the globe and gave them something to be excited about,” Mullen said. “This is the way marketing is going forward – we continue to evolve our brands by leveraging our employees to make a statement.”

A 4-pillar approach to marketing transformation

Mullen’s people marketing ambition is one of four core strategic pillars she has devised in order to shake up Mercer’s marketing and customer engagement approach.

Mullen took up the global CMO post four months ago but spent the previous 18 months leading an innovation team internally tasked with launching new forms of products. Before joining Mercer, she spearheaded a number of technology startups, and she’s also previously worked on the agency side.

“As a CMO, there’s always that tremendous opportunity, and you always have to decide on whether you focus on short-term versus long-term changes, and how you move the needle,” Mullen told CMO in an interview following her presentation. “When I first joined, I walked into a traditional brand and was looking to turn it upside down by transforming marketing, customer experience and revamping the roadmap.”  

The first problem Mullen identified was that Mercer’s marketing was operating as a centralised function disconnected from localised teams and business units.

“It was a great marketing function but it was in a bubble – we needed to eliminate those silos, and better align marketing to the business,” she said. “It’s not about being a service bureau, we need to be business partners with a seat at the table.”

The second, big ambition for Mullen is decentralisation of digital as a standalone function to ensure digital becomes a key component to every function and role across Mercer. Historically, digital has been a centre of excellence within the company manned by a specialist team.

“Digital is a part of everything we do so my objective is to enable the whole organisation with digital,” Mullen said. “Decentralising digital creates great opportunities for us.”

While marketing today relies on the same strategic thinking, Mullen said digital presents a different way of execution. “As marketers, we need to collaborate with IT and the CEO to create effective marketing strategies across the board,” she said.  

Mercer also launched Mercer Digital in July, a newly integrated business providing digital solutions that are designed to empower the workplace of the future. In addition, the company has done a series of acquisitions and partnerships to improve its digital clout, including its partnership with digital financial advice solution provider, Decimal Software.

Mullen’s third key pillar is to ensure people marketing becomes entrenched in the organisation, and she’s realigning the business to ensure this happens. For example, there is now a dedicated head within the global communications team tasked with leading people marketing.

“The first step for any marketer should be to ask the employees,” she said. “So many companies forget that. People marketing is about linking companies to your brand internally before externally because you want to get that buy in. Understanding what employees want in the brand can transform your business.”

Mullen noted a lot of Mercer’s employees in finance, actuarial services and business lines have been with the organisation for many years. Bringing them on-board to help foster brand values and actively contribute to marketing is vital.

The fourth pillar of her transformation plan is to better align marketing with sales, another gap she saw at Mercer. One way Mullen is striving to overcome this is by upending the traditional concept of account-based marketing to focus on key accounts not actively engaging with the brand and are at risk of churn.

“Rather than look at those who have come to the site in the last 30 days, for example, what I’m interested in is who hasn’t been to the site from our key account list as those are the ones that represent a retention issue,” she said.

Read more about how Mercer's Australian team is tapping customer insights to fuel marketing success here.


 Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO conversation on LinkedIn: CMO ANZ, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+:google.com/+CmoAu

 

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