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Mercer’s head of consumer marketing on the change that goes with replatforming five key technologies

Change Makers

Mercer’s head of consumer marketing on the change that goes with replatforming five key technologies


Cambell Holt, consumer marketing lead at Mercer, talks us through the company’s redevelopment five key platforms to become a brand for which every customer feels like the customer.

The superannuation industry, says Cambell Holt, consumer marketing lead at Mercer, is about share of wallet. Every Australian adult must have a plan, so the focus is not organic growth, but instead “pinching business from competitors.”

This highly competitive playing field means a focus on the customer, long term value, combined with end-to-end process efficiency and automation technology, all must be considered and nurtured to maintain a competitive advantage in the age of the customer.

Holt talks us through the changes to people, process and technology over the last few years to achieve a customer experience in which each customer feels like the only customer.


Marketing: Over the last little while Mercer’s been on a bit of a journey. What was behind the need to re-invent and evolve the brand?

Cambell Holt: A consort of factors has led to a real acknowledgement at Mercer of this fourth industrial age, the age of the customer, where the customer is more empowered than ever before. Consumers are forever changed as a result of the rise of digital. Post-financial-crisis, people are just more interested in their finances and in doing it themselves.

The information symmetry that comes with the internet means consumers are more educated and informed than they ever have been, and sometimes they are more so than the service providers or companies that they’re dealing with.

Then there is the app experience as well. Consumers use the last great app that they used as a yardstick for judging every experience in their life today. Those forces in terms of consumers are really important in terms of our own journey as it relates to the superannuation industry. We’re entering a period of unprecedented competition in what is a $2 trillion industry. An industry that’s larger than Australia’s gross domestic product.

The fuse was lit in this competitive environment way back in 2005 when the government said to most Australians, ‘Actually you’ve now all got choice about where your retirement savings are invested, and you can choose who looks after your retirement savings.’

To most Australians it’ll be the biggest asset they’ll ever own, if not, the second largest asset they’ll ever own. And so that choice legislation introduced in 2005 made it possible for a competitive market to develop and it’s really only been in recognition of the age of the consumer, it’s really only been over the past few years that that started to actually crystallise as a competitive tension in the market.

The other core change is the size of the industry that I’ve just mentioned. If you look at classic disruptors of any industry that have been attracted to industries we’ve got very large opportunity, in terms of size of the market in dollars.

The legislative protection or the way the industries were arranged in super industries are similar in that sense. So we’ve got Australia’s big four banks very interested in the superannuation market now, and as much as we don’t like to admit it what begs to us is great customers. They’re coming in and looking at the industry.

And then there’s the potential for true disruption to enter the market. They’re a very dynamic industry and there are dynamic competitive tensions.


M: In a business where the marketer can’t change product or price, what’s your starting point?

CH: It’s changed. I think the super industry in some parts is coming to terms with the fact that the actual offering is quite commoditised. We’re selling the equivalent of online savings accounts these days. Term deposits and mortgages, and a hallmark of a commodity is that actually the conversation very quickly turns to price because you’ve got an absence of any other defining features that can follow a proposition. That’s again very much behind the transformation that we’ve embarked on over the past three years around our customers.

Recognising that it’s actually all about customer experience and customer value, or value that we can exchange with a customer. And most of that when you’re talking about superannuation comes from the experience and the value we can add intangibly around the core offering.


M: What does being ‘closer to customers’ or ‘delivering a better customer experience’ actually look like? How does it play out practically?

CH: The ambition has always been to get to a point where ‘I feel like the customer not customer.’

That’s very much at the core of it. You as a consumer know exactly when you feel like the customer versus getting a cookie-cutter or institutionally-scaled experience.

A feature of the superannuation industry has been that most superannuation enterprises across Australia, and there’s still 300 of them across the market, have, over the past couple of decades evolved around scale, efficiency, and lowest cost to serve.

What you see in any business, not just superannuation, pursuing those sort of strategies is they end up with very generic customer experiences. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ as it were.

Our entire philosophy over the past three years of transforming around the customer has been completely reversed to say, ‘Actually, no, every single customer needs to feel like the customer and an individual and every part of their experience with the superannuation provider needs to reflect that.’

So thats what we’ve spent the past three years doing. Completely re-engineering our business, completely re-platforming five core customer platforms with new technologies to deliver on that promise.

Today I’d say we’re very much there in terms of our ability to create unique personalised and contextualised experiences. Of the two frameworks that sit under our desire to treat every customer as individual, segments of one, one is called ‘fact, insight, action’. It’s a framework we’ve developed that is probably best with an example: Historically, you’ve received a superannuation statement or gone online to review your superannuation balance. You’ve received a number, which might be your current balance, and if you’re lucky you might see a projection that shows how much you’ll have in retirement. They’re facts about you, but what’s historically been missing is the insight that goes with those numbers.

So, we now no longer present facts in the absence of an insight. Such as, ‘that money is going to last you x number of years in retirement’. What you see is a massive shift in terms of the value that people see in those sorts of numbers. They’re pairing insights with facts about someone. It’s incredibly powerful for a customer.

But we don’t stop there. We go on to add the action to that insight. So if you’re not happy about with that insight about how long your retirement savings are going to last you if you stop working, we give a range of actions that are unique to you, that you can undertake right now to change that number. Fact-insight-action as a framework is very powerful in terms of customer experience.

The other philosophy that underpins our transformation is around treating customers as ‘the’ customer, not ‘a’ customer. It’s the notion of personalisation and context. There’s a lot of talk in the market around personalisation and has been for quite some time. Personalisation, in our view, in my view, is only 50% of the equation. If you’ve got personalisation in the absence of contextualisation – that is, actually delivering value and information or experiences and interventions at the right time – then personalisation is of little use.

If it says something to the customer that’s personalised, but it arrives 12 weeks after it was relevant to them because that’s when the marketing team got around to running that campaign, it’s useless.

The power in terms of customer experience when you get personalisation and contextualisation right is phenomenal. And so, again, that’s why we’ve spent our time building an ecosystem of technologies around the business to deliver on those ambitions.


M: What are the five key platforms that were retooled?

CH: When I joined the business we had a digital platform that was built before the iPhone was invented. Which would be funny if it wasn’t true. So we’ve spent the past three years replatforming virtually every platform that a customer touches.

We’ve replatformed the digital public environment and secure environments that customers log into to interact with their own accounts on Experience Manager. We’ve replatformed a proprietary CRM system that deals with the 1.4 million customers onto Salesforce One. We have moved our call centre infrastructure into the cloud.

We’ve hand-built our own consumer insights and analytics platform. We decided that actually most of the offerings in the market weren’t suited to our needs. We’ve put that insights and analytics platform at the centre of that ecosystem and that delivers insights and analytics to every single platform in real time as customers touch them. Including predictive analytics that drive interactions and customer journeys.

A lot of the decisioning that gets made around that insight and how to apply it in a personalised, contextualised way in real-time for customers is being done by Salesforce Marketing Cloud. So we’ve had to add automation as well. And it’s now being recognised now by Salesforce itself as one of the most advanced uses of marketing automation in Australia today.

We’ve embedded this technology so deeply that we’ve even been able to retire our legacy statementing engines. The marketing cloud is now producing superannuation statements, a world first, for our customers as well.

Marketing Cloud now drives pretty much everything, from digital content experiences when a customer logs into their account, through to call centre experiences, through to email, SMS. Again, I believe we’re probably one of the few enterprises in Australia to be actually driving direct print automatically out of a marketing automation engine with no human intervention from any marketing or comms people.

We’ve really, really deployed that very deeply across the business. We’ve got automated customer journeys that span three years. If you meet certain criteria you’ll enter a journey that won’t end for three years.

We’ve got an on-boarding process now – that’s the interesting thing about our business actually. There are five really important things that every Australian needs to do with their superannuation: consolidating all their accounts into one, nominating beneficiaries, changing your insurance options, and actively choosing where your money’s invested.

We know that for every new customer we acquire, if they don’t perform those important actions within the first 72 days, the chances of them ever doing it reduce to nearly zero.

When we talk about sales we’re talking about profitable customer actions. If you consolidate your superannuation with Mercer, we essentially treat that as the sale. The game in superannuation in Australia is mostly share of wallet because it’s a mandatory system, there’s no real organic growth in the market. It’s about pinching business from competitors.


M: On the people side,what does the marketing team look like compared to three years ago in terms of size and skills?

CH: Different. It’s tripled in size over the past three years. And a lot of that is in the insights and analytics space and our digital space.

In terms of the skill set, people, process and technology are the key into the future, as far as I’m concerned. A lot of people tend to focus on the tech when, in fact, it’s only one pillar of success in my opinion.

So, we’ve grappled with people and process over the last three years as much as we have with the tech and it’s easy to underestimate the amount of work you’ve got to do with people both from a skill-set perspective.

When you’re deploying customer experience technology there is a huge amount of change management that needs to go on, not just in your marketing team, but right across the enterprise through your frontline team, sales, call centres and all the way into your back office functions.

The other factor is process, and the way the marketing team does its business is completely different to the way it was three years ago. Everything from work flow through to production are all completely different. That’s been a massive journey the marketing team has been on, and one they’ve been really excited to be on as well because they can see that this is absolutely the future of their profession.


M: What’s next?

CH: We’re going now into digital display and social and leveraging our capability to talk to existing customers in a whole new way. Salesforce is deploying product called Advertising Studio that allows us to talk to existing customers in social channels and display in ways that we’ve never been able to do before. That’s really, really exciting.

I can actually talk to an existing customer with Facebook advertising being completely aware of that customer’s attributes and even positions that they’re in within automated journeys across our business. That’s phenomenal.

Or I can massively reduce our search spend by not displaying to existing customers. There’s an interesting stat that the majority of customers use Google to access the login page for their provider’s website. And superannuation is quite an expensive search marketing term to buy. In some cases that could equal $4.70 per login for every customer. The ability to exclude current customers from our digital display and search spend is really exciting. That’s what we’re doing in 2017.

The other one is again in the marketing automation space because I think that these technologies are truly revolutionary in this age of the customer. We’re going to be looking at how we bend our operational processes in the back end of our businesses. Most marketers are entirely focused on the front end of their business. Now we’re seeing the change with the introduction of the chief customer officer and customer advocates in various incarnations across businesses today that are starting to look end-to-end.

Today, most marketers still aren’t looking a customer’s experience with me in year two or three and how that experience is being shaped by the infrastructure and arrangement of the business in the back office.

I think we can take these marketing technologies and automation technologies and apply them to business infrastructure that has been arranged for scale and lowest cost to serve efficiency and still be able to deliver on that ambition of segments of one all the way through a business.

And that’s where marketing at Mercer is really pulling down some really well established business shortcomings and being really focused on the customer end-to-end. And that brings us back to the start when I talked about arranging our entire business around the customer.



Peter Roper

Editor of Marketing and Marketing Mag from 2013 to 2017. Tweets as @pete_arrr.

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