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Automation is the way forward

This isn’t a new concept, but one that is finally moving away from theory and is set to become best practice, with 30% of firms expected to automate their marketing processes by 2015

JULIAN WELLS, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING, HML
JULIAN WELLS, DIRECTOR OF MARKETING, HML

It’s cold, it’s dark and it’s coming up to Christmas, which means that every industry is reflecting on the past year and trying to forecast what’s going to happen in 2011.

Just this month we’ve had a Lending Zone round table, Mortgage Business Expo and the CML Conference – the most popular debate at all of them would make good reading for the Scrooges among us. But I’m no Scrooge, and even though 2010 was a slow year in the mortgage market and 2011 isn’t looking much better, there are pockets of innovation and development that, in my role as a marketer, I find completely fascinating.

Throughout my career there have been key developments that have sparked my interest. The dotcom boom, the impact of the Financial Services Authority’s Financial Promotions rules – yes I did genuinely find that interesting – and more recently the highly paced evolution of social media.

So what’s new now? There are a few specific things that are worth keeping an eye on in the coming year and I’ll illustrate that with some specific examples.

I think there’s a skills transformation under way. We all know the world is more joined up than ever before. A result of this is that there is a plethora of ways we can communicate with each other across a wide range of business and personal media.

Communication skills have never been more important or more valuable across all areas of the business world, not just in the marketing department. For example, I recently caught up with the marketing director of a well-known lender who told me how his role remit has broadened considerably over the past year. The company’s narrow product offering means there’s not currently much for the marketing team to promote in terms of driving new business.

But there are numerous existing borrowers and a lot of communicating that needs to done with them. Much of this revolves around sensitive areas like arrears and potential repossessions. Where better than the marketing team can you find high-quality communication skills? Hence this particular marketer has now got a whole new area of responsibility – the customer services team.

And this is not an isolated example. Marketers are being redeployed and having roles reassigned. But just as the marketing team is adding value to the operational side of its businesses, so their colleagues in operations can play a pivotal role in the marketing function. Brand skills are at the heart of every marketing team, but when you look at how promotional strategies are deployed there is a strong requirement for technical skills.

The work of the modern marketing team includes email marketing, complex customer relationship management systems, websites/microsites, search engine optimisation, social media, and last, but by no means least, a growing reliance on analysis and management information. These are not necessarily the strengths of the creative types who’ve traditionally inhabited the marketing role.

There is a growing trend for analytical minds that can combine creativity with automation of the marketing process. And I’m not just talking about consumer marketing here – in fact I’m focusing on the business-to-business side of things.

Less than 10% of business-to-business organisations have begun to automate their marketing processes, but by 2015 this is forecast to rise to 30%.
Conceptually this isn’t new of course – people have theorised about it for years. What’s new is that it’s now emerging best practice, rather than simply being discussed at marketing innovation events.

I’ve long held the view that business-to-business marketing is a brand-led discipline and one in which automation would not be appropriate. I’ve always championed quality and consistency delivered with the personal touch. What I’m seeing today is an opportunity to automate the personal touch.

Let’s assume you have built a database of people who you feel represent your target audience. You might decide to send them an e-newsletter talking about some of the areas of your proposition that you feel may be of interest to them.

You can do this using one of several email platforms that let you track who has opened the newsletter and tells you who has read each individual article. You can put a link at the end of an article inviting people to request more information – a white paper perhaps.

Using automation, you can ensure that the white paper will be sent to them automatically. You might also be organising an event on the same topic. So, after a few days, you could also automatically send them an invitation to the event. If they accept, via a link in the email, they are automatically added to the event, which is being managed within your CRM system. The places fill up automatically and you can see when you have filled it, and who will be attending.

And this has all taken place electronically with minimal, if any, human intervention. So the productivity of your marketing team just went through the roof. Not only that, but you also have a vast array of reporting and analysis being captured in your CRM system. You can see all the behaviour of your target audience and gain real insight into what they are interested in so you’re able to market to their preferences.

Ultimately this is helping your sales activity because you are developing and nurturing a sales pipeline of contacts who may go on to become your customers.

If they are already customers then they may become even more valuable ones who are more engaged with your brand. Conversion is a word that is close to the hearts of sales and marketing professionals everywhere, and improving it is the holy grail. There’s no doubt in my mind that these trends will gather pace in financial services marketing in the coming year and beyond. That’s not too hard to predict because, unfortunately, companies in our industry have a tendency to be late adopters of this kind of thing.

Maybe in 2011 we can catch up a bit faster than usual. After all, it doesn’t seem like there is going to be much excitement elsewhere in our industry in the next year.

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