The marketing technologist: Grant Pattison, IAG Commercial

The first marketing and sales technology chief for the commercial division of Australian insurance group, IAG, shares what it takes to fill the marketing technology/IT gap
Grant Pattison

Grant Pattison

The marketing technologist is increasingly touted as the solution to bridging the knowledge gap between marketing and IT departments. Positioned as a role that brings together both business acumen and technology know-how, it’s also being positioned as the answer for organisations trying to gain a much-needed strategic approach to the marketing and customer-focused technologies being introduced in businesses today.

Grant Pattison was appointed senior manager, marketing and sales technology, at Australian insurance Group, IAG Commercial, last November. As the group’s first marketing technologist, he’s creating strategy around business technology purchasing as well as some much-needed delivery and execution capabilities around marketing and digital technologies.

Here, he talks with CMO about what it takes to be a marketing technologist, his priorities, what technology and cultural frameworks he’s investing in to work with the rest of the business, and friction with the IT department.

Tell us about your career history at IAG.

I had been at CGU Insurance for nine years and recently moved into parent company, IAG, last November to take a broader look at marketing and sales technology in particular. I’ve been through a myriad roles – I started in the call centre as an underwriter, moved into workforce planning and became a business analyst and then trusted advisor to one of the executives.

An opportunity arose to lead a sales transformation activity using our CRM platform, There had been a few cracks had at it in the past, so I thought I couldn’t do any worse. I was quite successful, creating a niche around CRM, mobile, lead generation.

In the most recent transformation we’ve gone through, I spent a lot of time building on our lead generation, quick quote and quote combined capabilities. The executives wanted to front-end a lot of our technology strategy, and that’s where the marketing component came in.

Did you study IT?

I studied film and photography at university but I did a sneaky software applications certificate during my tertiary studies. But I have no formal qualifications in terms of IT or marketing. The film and photography kept me in good stead, however, because I approach this role as a creative role. There is a lot of design, optimisation, A/B testing, and making sure the desirability of customers are taken into account. That is what appeals to me about my role – the creative and innovation side.

What’s your current priority list look like?

My current task is to set up a marketing technology stack. This composes of a data platform,; and a visualisation component for that data, which is a mobile application called RoamBi. On top of that sits the marketing automation component, which is ExactTarget. We have a lot of other marketing functions across the group so I have a marketing orchestration platform called Simple, which makes sure all internal folk are aware of what’s happening in the marketing space. It’s also where all approvals and workflows are pushed through. We use a lot of different agencies as well, so that platform gives them a lens into our marketing progress. The icing on top is a decision engine, which starts to build out the playbooks and recipes using data triggers.

Why is the role of marketing technologist so important in business today?

There’s a quote from the marketing technologist from Kimberly-Clark, Mayur Gupta, who says: ‘Marketers with grand aspirations of becoming buyer-centric struggle when faced with the internal reality'. According to SiriusDecisions research, 83 per cent of marketers say creating a buyer-centric marketing function is a priority, but only 23 per cent claim to be advanced in its implementation.

My function is that execution and delivery. When you get sucked up into the traditional IT world, you have to go through the standard IT process and governance; and when you speak to people in the business or other marketing functions, they’re not quite sure how to translate their business strategy into technology. That’s where my team plays a role.

What was the catalyst for your role being created at IAG?

We recently won a Customer Experience Award through Fifth Quadrant off the back of creating a digital direct SME platform for CGU. A lot of the progress in this [marketing technology and digital] space has been brought in as a result of that. As a group, we’re looking to make scalable investments into the technology space while much bigger transformation activities are occurring.

Read more: How CGU is personalising SME services

I work in the chief commercial office, and a lot of what I do is getting leads in the door, more conversions and sales. In contrast, the traditional IT function is about making sure the lights are on, that everything is tested and secure, and that we are taking costs out of our technology spend. It doesn’t lend itself to that business-facing function, or thought leadership and innovation.

We haven’t necessarily cracked our digital strategy and all the beams that come with that. Being a large enterprise means it can be quite difficult – you have a lot of stakeholders, divisions and brands you need to manage. I have quite a defined scope I need to deliver on. Most importantly, I have a good track record of delivery and I’ve built up trust and confidence with my executive team – they know if they want something done in a special project kind of way, they can come to me and it’ll be executed against.

What are the first steps you need to take as a first-time marketing technologist?

It starts with defining the marketing and sales technology strategy, and the marketing stack is a large part of it. Insurance is very data led, and we have a lot of data, but we’re not utilising it to the best extent. So coming up with a wider data strategy is important as well. Getting that base foundation, then running campaigns to fill in gaps in our business, is also part of that.

In addition, we’re looking to fuse marketing technology into the business. I’m running awareness sessions about what our function done, so they can sell my service out in the field as well is a priority.

Who suggested you as the right person for the role at IAG?

The role was something my manager brought to me – I wasn’t aware of it. There isn’t a lot of difference between a chief digital officer and marketing technologist (at first glance). I’ve always thought about this space in a digital context. But we are a member of the Corporate Executive Board, which had identified a number of new roles, including marketing technologist.

How do you position yourself in that junction between CMO and CIO?

I collaborate closely with the brand teams – we have 15 brands in the commercial space, and I’m working with them to ensure we’re aligning to the brand strategy.

We also have an enterprise operations function that has three CIOs working to a plan, build and run model. I work with those different stakeholders too, but I sit in the business so my number one stakeholders are the distribution units – our broker business, niche and direct business, and our agency business. When I get time, I like to go into claims and workers compensation areas as well. I have that de facto digital responsibility as well.

UP next: What it takes to be a marketing technologist and that friction with IT

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What specific skillsets does a marketing technologist need to be successful?

You have to have a delivery bias and bias to action. You need to understand how things connect to one another, so understanding architecture 101 is really important, as is being able to translate business strategy into technology and vice versa. One of the major risks of a role like this is creating point solutions that don’t leverage one another. I think of our platforms as one ecosystem. In many companies, that responsibility would fall under the enterprise architect function.

I’m also a bit of a procurement and legal function. We have some great partners that are a lot more innovative than we are, so it’s also about leveraging the best our partners can provide. Then from a marketing POV, it’s about working with our digital agencies around SEM and SEO best practices. We’re implementing different triggers for marketing automation and making sure we’re measuring our return on investment. In the technology space, we’re making sure our mobile strategy is in place and working towards a mobile-first strategy.

Another big one is change management – I have that function in my team too. It’s all well and good to be strong on delivery and execution, but if your business users don’t use whatever initiative you’ve just delivered, you won’t deliver your return on investment.

What does your team and function look like then?

It incorporates delivery, operations, change management and architecture – they’re the pieces of bread in my sandwich. Then I have channel marketing, which is about how we create new business leads for partners, optimise a lot of our offerings and look at innovative ways to go to market. I also have a business technology function, which is more about manufacturing CRM, mobility and Web portals and channels capabilities.

Do you expect to see other types of emerging roles, such as analytics and data, fall under your remit eventually too?

We have a chief data office, which I’m a consumer of. IAG Commercial is focusing on predictive analytics to formulate valuable behavioural insights and design and deploy customer experiences that result in measurable improvements to long-term profitability, so we can start to build out predictive models for our go-to-market. There is also a chief digital office, which approaches things from a more technology and shared service point of view. Take SEM for example: We have brands like CGU Insurance and NRMA and they shouldn’t be bidding on the same key words, or if they are, there’s a strategic intent why. So the digital team here leverage testers, architecture functions and I’m a consumer of those services.

I’m more about the pre-sales function; the person who could spin you up a prototype quickly, and as demand for that builds, see it through to execution.

What other cultural changes have occurred company-wide that further support your efforts?

One of my peers heads up the innovation function at IAG and runs design thinking bootcamps on a monthly basis. He’s starting to immerse that customer-first, desirability first mentality through the business, but not leaving out feasibility and viability.

In my broader customer experience team, I have a customer and partner insights function, a proposition development function, then it goes through to marketing and sales technology, so there’s a linear value chain that validates a lot of what customers are after, then there’s the designing and pricing proposition before it gets to execution and delivery function.

Why can’t the traditional IT function do what you do?

I think it’s unreasonable to expect the IT function to be across the ever-expanding marketing technologies available. There are a lot of different capabilities here, from SEO to email marketing, CMS, CRM, live chat, analytics – the list goes on and it’s growing rapidly.

Every CIO dreads shadow IT, and the rise of marketing technology has certainly lifted the chance of this occurring across the business. How are you keeping a lid on rogue IT?

The most important resource in my team is my architect, followed by change management. His responsibility is to make sure everything we do is documented, goes through the right rigmarole and governance and is signed off by IT. The main reason is we need our internal folks to support what we do once it goes into production. They won’t be able to support if they don’t understand the capability, product or how it fits into the business.

A good architect will own it for you and meet with all the relevant stakeholders. Sometimes that process will identify that we have another capability in the group and we can leverage that rather than make a new investment, which is a nice surprise.

I think it’s unreasonable to expect the IT function to be across the ever-expanding marketing technologies available

Why is it we’re not seeing more marketing technologists in Australia?

Some organisations might have a digital office and these things could be interchangeable. It’s each business for its own.

Most of our brands under IAG are premium brands, so we’re unlikely to move to become the lowest cost provider. Innovation is the next strategic differentiator for most of our brands, thus it makes sense for us to focus on this space.

How are you securing executive buy in for the investments and changes you’re making?

Most of my demand comes from the executives, and a lot of the big projects I’ve worked on have been sponsored by the CEO, COO or a member of the executive. It’s true we don’t want to create a lot of legacy, particularly when we’re going through a big back-end transformation, so anything we create in the marketing tech space can’t be seen to be irreputable debt. That’s where I need to come in and build the business case, saying we can get an ROI inside of 12 months, for example. And when the back-end transformation is ready in 18 months or so, we’ve already paid for it and generated a lot of learnings and insights that can be fed in at a later date.

What steps have you had to take to skill yourself up for this position and talk the language of the board and business?

Early on, I got caught up preaching the solutions. The executive don’t care, it’s all about the business benefit and outcomes, or if it removes friction from our business, or make us more efficient and ultimately add more sales.

What measurements and metrics are you using to gauge you and your team’s success?

I measure myself on four key things: Steady increase of volume of opportunities coming through the door; increase in new business strike rates; increase in renewal retention; and our Net Promoter Score for key customer segments.

There are a lot of intangible metrics, but when you start going down that route, it becomes subjective. It’s important to have tangible metrics to measure yourself, that show how different events and decisions have either spiked a different metric, or even have caused a negative effect so you can optimise or stop a particular campaign and improve from there.

What lessons have you learnt so far about what it takes to make a marketing technologist in a business?

There are two things. The first is have a strong executive sponsor. Our CEO is the biggest advocate of our service offering. If you have that, doors open up, which is particularly important as what we’re doing can be controversial.

And in a large enterprise, you differentiate yourself by being able to actually deliver things. It sounds basic, but my team uses the lean startup methodology and we’ll often document what we’re trying to achieve on a single piece of paper, in terms of proposition, revenue levers, cost levers how we differentiate ourselves in the market, and we’ll execute straight away. We’d rather spend three months learning and building on a capability or go-to-market technology we’re trying to develop.

Should every organisation be bringing on a marketing technologist?

If innovation, speed and agility to market is a focus to your organisation, this role could be important in terms of getting to that next level of performance. Owning the creative, vendor relationships and execution and delivery is an imperative while the IT department keeps things running smoothly and securely, and the CMO focuses on lead generation, brand sentiment and customer relevancy.

Have you experienced any friction with the IT department so far?

Well and truly. It’s not a popular role, as it can be seen as a threat. When you start making technology decisions, it’s a quick way for things to come to a head. But there is a need for an intermediary inbetween those [IT and marketing] functions to be practical... I’m not necessarily more aligned to one or the other.

What are your next priorities?

I’m focused on getting us to base camp first. At the moment, a lot of what the departments do is ad hoc and not optimised or best practice. I’m starting to build out the strategies and channel marketing plans we want to execute against, starting to optimise the campaigns and content, then we’ll start to automate it all and leverage the best practice data we’ll hopefully have flowing through.

What timeframe are you working to?

I use a framework called ‘Objectives and Key Results’, which was implemented at Google. It’s a goal setting framework that makes sure what we do aligns with the greater picture.

For example, in the customer and partner experience team, we’ve identified that we want to improve customer and partner experience, sell more, improve the capability of our people and emerging tech, deliver more innovative customer and partner value propositions, and deliver more efficient and effective capabilities. I’m going to own one of those, which is improving the capability of our people and emerging tech and customer behaviour.

How I’ll measure my success is Q3 FY14 is implementing three propositions into the market this quarter. I’m also developing one long-term capability for growth and differentiation, aim to improve quote to new business strike rate for two products as well as renewal and retention for four products. We publish these objectives out to the whole business so they can see what we’re working on and contribute as needed.

Is knowing what you’re up to a common question from other departments?

Yes, particularly from IT. That’s also why the marketing orchestration part of the stack is important – anytime anyone wants to come and see from an operational and transactional level what we’re working on, they can through that platform.

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