Idio regularly interviews senior financial services executives to discuss and debate the issues at the heart of digital marketing and customer experience. This month, we spoke with Gail Graham, CMO of United Capital.
Jonny Rose: If I’ve learnt anything from my various interviews with wealth and asset management firms, the role of CMO is incredibly wide-ranging. What does the role entail at United Capital?
Gail Graham: I have responsibility for all consumer brand marketing which involves managing expression, tone and visuals, and consumer lead generation which is taking those brand marketing messages and turning them into calls-to-action that drives prospects through the sales funnel. Similarly, I am also in charge of our B2B brand marketing and the subsequent B2B lead generation.
A key part of what I do is making sure that our marketing is integrated into a technology process that drives leads from all the various touch points that people have with us. This means from first contact with our marketing all the way through to Salesforce, which then assigns them to a sales representative, who will – hopefully – convert the lead into a customer.
I also have a public relations function. We do a lot of public relations particularly around B2B because United Capital is an industry leader, we have a strong point of view and a CEO who is very public-facing.
Rose: Seeing as your role spans five different concerns, how do you organize where you focus your time?
Graham: Where I spend my day depends on what my priorities are in line with our marketing plan and its objectives.
Right now, we are doing a brand refresh so I have just finished six months working on the messaging component of our work; thinking about where we are in the industry, what the megatrends are, and understanding the changing consumer and B2B buyer mindsets. Now I’m shifting to spend more time on the creative expression and brand identity refresh that is coming with that messaging work.
I’m always reading a lot of research, although I don’t actually have much interest in typical financial services research. I feel like most people are using the same research to come to the same conclusions and it’s leading to – unsurprisingly – sameness. Instead, I look at a lot of trends around behaviors of consumers in other industries that might translate to our industry to try and help us with differentiation.
I spend a lot of time on devising strategy. As a CMO, the most important work I can do is direction setting. I don’t spend a lot of time on the day-to-day decisions such as what are we going to publish on digital or social media channels. I just make sure we have got a process. Once the direction is set then my team of ‘direct reports’ can get to work.
Rose: With so many responsibilities – how are you and your team measured?
Graham: We have four big goals which we call “measures of success”, these are to:
- Strengthen our brand and message
- Design and execute consumer campaigns that drive organic growth
- Launch and increase adoption of FinLife Partners – our B2B offering
- Take the marketing platform and the team to the next level to support rapid growth
These four goals are reflected in a marketing plan with KPIs that are cascaded to my direct reports. They each have their own business plans and we use a series of standard meetings to keep track and measure our progress.
Every Monday we go through all of marketing major initiatives through looking at our dashboards together. The executive team will meet later that day to go over our corporate KPIs and make adjustments if necessary. On Fridays, we have a strategy meeting.
“Marketing, Sales and Technology teams work very closely together – that is a high priority for me as alignment is so critical.”
“The challenge of digital marketing is that you can put so much money into a tactic – for example, social media – just because it’s popular, but at the end of the day still be unsure whether it converts to business.”
Rose: You spoke about making sure your marketing activities are integrated with your sales technology. How does Marketing engage with the Sales team?
Graham: To make marketing work today we need to think in terms of what I call “Smarketology” – which is our philosophy of how Sales, Marketing and Technology come together.
What this means in practice is that once I know what our messaging strategy is we go into building plans that involve both our marketing and sales technologies to track marketing effectiveness. We are currently using Hubspot, ExactTarget and Salesforce and as an organization we’ve worked hard so that there is a really tight connection between our marketing activities and the subsequent processes around sales automation, sales management and reporting.
On a personal level, we work very closely together, too. My two marketing colleagues who manage consumer lead generation and B2B lead generation are embedded in the sales team – although we have not combined the Marketing and Sales departments as I do believe that both functions require a very different skillset.
Every other week, we have a “Smarketology” meeting where the departments discuss our cross-departmental initiatives. This is a high priority for me as the governance and communication that leads to alignment is so critical.
Rose: We recently did a series on Transforming Financial Services in which we quizzed Financial Services execs & CMOs about the digital marketing pain-points of their job that kept them awake at night. What are some of the pain-points in your role?
Graham: The challenge of digital marketing is that you can put so much money into a tactic – for example, social media – just because it’s popular, but at the end of the day still be unsure whether it converts to business.
For example, Kurtosys measures our industry’s best marketing performers and United Capital typically ranks in the top five for our wealth management category in Twitter use. Which is great, but I keep telling people that winning Twitter for me is like winning “a pet rock gathering contest” because – honestly, who cares? I’m not convinced about Twitter and how it proves out from a business perspective.
It reminds me of back in the day when people used to spend all this money on brand and would then have to do these massive loyalty studies to defend their brand spend. Today, we don’t do a lot of brand but digital and social content is now the equivalent of brand spend. So how can you best justify it?
That said, we are finding Facebook a more effective tool for us but I’m always aware that all of these social platforms are changing. Look at LinkedIn: up until they were bought by Microsoft they were going through a crazy time with all these new concepts and products. It got very confusing very quickly.
So, as a marketer, I am always trying to step back – and this is my digital marketing pain-point – to discern where is the right place to spend our time and money, and are we spending on digital marketing that will have impact.
“I feel like most people are using the same research to come to the same conclusions and it’s leading to – unsurprisingly – sameness.”
I look at a lot of trends around behaviors of consumers in other industries that might translate to our industry to try and help us with differentiation.”
Rose: A big part of knowing whether your efforts have impact is knowing your customers. How does United Capital capture data to learn more about the people using its services?
Graham: We have a lot of digital tools for clients which we can use to learn about them and with our Money Mind® tool we can even gather information from the very first time a prospect engages with us.
One thing we don’t have – which I had in previous firms – are analysts who can examine the customer data and behavior to do lookalike modelling to improve our prospecting experience. I do get frustrated as we have over 60,000 people who have gone through Money Mind® but we don’t have the analytics resource to learn things about those people such as their interests!
That will happen someday for sure, but in the meantime we will soon be working with Google to help us understand which personas and customer segments are arriving on our site and where they are coming from. Ultimately, we want to be able to know who is engaged, how often and why, so that we can more accurately segment our offers. That’s where we’re headed but we are not there yet.
Rose: Knowing that you are still on a journey towards understanding your customers: how are you currently going about making sure that the content you are publishing is relevant to your audience’s needs?
Graham: I’ll give you an example: we have a weekly communication called FinLife Digest which features three or four curated articles from our blog. Although we don’t measure content performance at a customer or individual level, we can do it at a broader audience level. For example, we track what kind of stories people are responding to and how does photography affect whether they are opening articles.
We’ve got guidance from a publisher’s perspective but where we want to go next is to make it so that each person is receiving articles that are relevant to them.
Rose: Our core thesis at Idio is that ‘You Are What You Read’ (i.e. the content we choose to read is highly indicative of our interests and needs): What do you think about this idea?
Graham: I completely agree. In fact, I was using what magazine’s people subscribe to as a primary driver to inform segmentation strategies as far back as fifteen years ago when I was doing direct mail at Fidelity. It definitely works!
What Idio is doing is making an idea that has actually been known by people who are strategic and you’re making it real-time – which is great.
“As a marketer, I am always trying to take a step back and discern where is the right time to spend our time and money.”
Rose: We’re in the midst of great change in financial services at the moment. Most notably, Antony Jenkins recently spoke of an ‘Uber’ moment in banking. What do you think wealth and asset management will look like in five years time?
Graham: Firstly, financial planning will have to change. As basic planning and investing becomes increasingly automated, we believe that planning needs to change to become more about helping people make decisions for their lives. People will pay for that advice – especially if it is more personalized and relevant, almost like life coaching.
This is why United Capital refers to itself as providing “financial life management” – not because it sounds good, but because we have a whole different process of life planning, on top of financial planning and investment management.
Secondly, an increased focus on women and young people. We’ve found that our financial life management offering really resonates with women and younger people. Their perspective is different – and this approach is a significant departure from the [rest of the] industry as a whole which was initially designed to serve the needs of the male baby-boomer.
“Financial planning will have to change to helping people make decisions about their lives. People will pay for advice – especially if it is more personalized and relevant.”
Thirdly, because of so much automation, pricing will have to change. Prices will go down across for the industry for investment management. At United Capital, we charge separately for advice and financial life planning, which allows us to cut our investment management prices whilst keeping the fee on the portion of the business where we spend our time and is expensive for us.
Fourth, I think we will see robo-advisors being bought by the big players in asset management and banking. Currently, everyone is applauding the fintech startups like Betterment, however Betterment is paying huge amounts per household in advertising costs that are tough to absorb and they have no ‘path to profitability’. So, if I’m a big bank and I have younger investors that are fee sensitive, I can switch to that model and not have to pay household acquisition costs. Robo-advisors will become a new service model by the biggest funds.
Finally, I think retirement is in trouble. Most advisors are still using averages and predictions for retirement assets and income that are wishful thinking based on historical averages. The truth is if rates are held down as low as they look like they will be (as a result of all this international turmoil) then you have a huge amount of retirees who will find they have to tap principal much sooner than they expected.