The CMO Show:
The CMO Show: IT geeks...

Those with IT skills and creative flair are increasingly in demand in the marketing department, as data, technology and digital continue to shape core strategy. 

The role of the CMO has never been so diverse or challenging. As digital change continues to snowball, CMOs need to keep up with the evolution of communication channels, marketing tactics, and the demands of good customer experience.

In this episode of The CMO Show, Jenny Williams, CMO at health insurance provider HCF, joins Mark and JV for an in-depth exploration of the digital customer experience and change management in marketing.

A digital-native since the very first years of the world wide web, Williams understands the role of the CMO in breaking down internal silos, turning dense data into engaging content, and educating teams to remain agile and effective.

Change management is one aspect in the role of a CMO that continues to evolve, Williams explains. “I would be surprised if any CMO who has facilitated a major brand transformation has not had to encounter change management,” she says.

Williams also concedes that digital and social channels are merely a mechanism for delivery, despite often being promoted as much more than that.

“In my business, social can mean customer service and how you manage what enquiries your customers have. It can mean amplification of experiential staff, it can mean managing press and reputation. It can mean engaging in communities. It can mean thought leadership, you know, it is just a channel.”

Tune in to learn more about the key pillars for an effective marketing department, the role of the modern CMO, and what it means to be an IT geek in a marketing role.

Listen to the podcast below and subscribe on iTunes and SoundCloud.



The CMO Show production team

Producers – Megan Wright and Tom van Leeuwen

Audio Engineer – Jonny McNee

Design Manager – Daniel Marr

Graphic Designer – Mitchell Marr

Got an idea for an upcoming episode or want to be a guest on The CMO ShowWe’d love to hear from you:



Jeanne-Vida Douglas (JVD)
Mark Jones (MJ)
Jenny Williams (JW)

JV:    Welcome to the CMO Show, I’m JV Douglas and I’m here with…

Mark:    Mark Jones.

JV:    Hey Mark, how’s it going?

Mark:    I’m doing quite well because I’ve just had coffee.

JV:    Yeah, coffee always helps things doesn’t it?

Mark:    It really does.

JV:    We’re going to have a bit of fun today because it’s almost like a trip down memory lane because Mark and I started our lives as IT journalists.

Mark:    We really did and it was interesting people always asked me at the time, “So are you like geeky?  Are you technical or…”

JV:    As if it wasn’t already obvious!

Mark:    Yeah, yeah.  Although I must say much of my IT stuff has been learnt on the job or just hacking in the background, which most people do quite frankly.

Yeah, so  I mean I knew enough HTML to be dangerous but first and foremost I actually considered myself to be a journalist and a writer and a storyteller as I do now in some senses, but I guess the parallel here is with our guest, Jenny Williams.  She also came from that background too.

JV:    Yeah, and this was, what I find really interesting is that I’ve always found highly technical people and engineers fascinating and fascinating just to talk to, but back in the day we were talking to them as engineers as computer scientists, yeah, as geeks, essentially, yeah?  We never expected them to be running marketing departments.

Mark:    No, we did not.

JV:    And I think the thing that’s really fascinating is that way back when sort of, well way back when sounds terrible, when Jenny began studying and she was doing sort of a combined economics IT degree it seemed totally absurd.  Ten years later it was obvious because all of the banking and finance sector desperately needed people who understood finance and understood IT.  Flash forward 20 years, and now it seems totally obvious that marketers need to understand IT and IT guys who have that emotional intelligence and those social skills and that social insight have a perfect career path in marketing.  

Mark:    Mm, and the powerful thing about her story too is that it does reflect what we know anecdotally to be true when we talk to marketers of all different stripes is that they do have these really interesting eclectic backgrounds.  There’s no one single stream into marketing and in this case obviously there’s a technical aspect.

JV:    Let’s switch over to Jenny now.

Mark:    Joining us today is Jenny Williams, CMO at HCF, here to talk to us about customer experience, digital first marketing and I’m sure a lot of other fantastic things.  Welcome to the show.

Jenny: Thank you.

JV:    What the relationship that you’ve seen between the rise of digital and the sort of more recent focus on customer experience?  

Jenny: So there’s an aspect of customer experience in everything that you do digitally because it’s such a huge touchpoint these days between a brand and a customer.  And it’s a touchpoint that on one hand you can sort of automate in the sense that once you figure out what you need to do you can deliver it in a consistent way and you can measure whether or not it works or it doesn’t and technology enables you to do AB testing and, you know, the data insight that you get out of digital experiences means that you can dynamically optimise your customer experience in a way that you couldn’t do offline.

We regularly audit the customer experience across a multitude of different channels and say, you know, where do we think we’re doing well or where do we think we’re doing poorly and then test that against real life customers.  But what digital gives you is the ability to do that rapidly.  

Mark:    Test and learn.

Jenny: Test and learn. I think that that’s enabled customer experience development to evolve in a much faster way.  And it’s also really immediate.

JV:    Yep, and you react, you know that straight away…

Jenny: You know, and you can respond to it.  Yeah, so it’s an immediate tangible way of optimising things.

Mark:    The skillsets that you require to do that are, you know, part artist, part, you know, project manager, and then you’ve got to have the marketing and the technical and the social and so on and so on and so on.  It’s actually extraordinarily complicated, how do you get your head around that?

Jenny: I’m trying to think of a slick answer to that.  I mean the reality…

JV:    [Laughs]

Jenny: The reality of it is that you need to have a vision, you need to have something that you’re driving towards.

And then from my perspective I need to have people who are running, you know, I’ve got four pillars in the marketing department.  I’ve got the brand pillar who are responsible for all of the sort of sponsorships and publications and activations and PR, they’re responsible for my brand.  I’ve got my digital division which is responsible for the digitally executed customer experience.  So what does the website look like?  What do the apps look like?  You know, what happens in our social pages, our own assets?

I’ve got a customer area which is responsible for all direct customer communications in managing segmentation and managing how we communicate and you know, where are the areas we need to improve in customer service.  And then I’ve got my advertising.  And my advertising are about the ads. What are the ads, what are they saying, what’s the promotion that we’re running, what do we do in local area marketing, how do we support our corporate guys..?

So having that organised in such a way where I’ve got four people who run each of those divisions and we work together to coordinate who needs to talk to what.  

Mark:    You’ve got a very clear sense of how that experience shapes the growth of the business.

Have you measured it in some particular way?

Jenny: We measure it in a lot of different ways actually.  So HCF have a 20/20 strategy which is about making healthcare, understandable, affordable and customer centric.  And what we’ve done with the brand for example is we looked at our brand and we said what is it about our brand that’s unique in the market?  What can we actually offer to position ourselves in a way where the brand can actually give somebody a value proposition as well as just a feeling.  And what is unique about us is we’re Australia’s largest not-for-profit, and the challenge that we faced in the context of that was everybody thinks, well not for profit just means charity or they think it means they have other connotations around not-for-profit.

Mark:    Or don’t make money.

Jenny: Yes, exactly, right.  So, but not-for-profit doesn’t mean for loss, what it means is we don’t have shareholders.  Which means that when you look at our priorities and how we set our business priorities we can actually legitimately say that we put our members first because they are the ones that matter the most, they are the ones that sustain us, you know?  

Mark:    I’ve got to say I’ve been a customer since I was born practically.  And took over the thing from my parents whatever when I got old enough, but the idea of it being a membership driven, membership centric organisation, if I think about it has probably been the single thing that’s kept me from going anywhere else.

Jenny: Yeah. I think, you know, that the organisation internally has always had that view that the member’s what matters, but we’ve never been very good about talking about it.  And when you talk about what’s the relationship to customer experience, what we did is say if that’s at the core of DNA, if that’s what really does matter and that’s what’s different about us, how does that translate in what we say?  

JV:    So it’s not about being sick and getting better…

Jenny: No.

Mark:    It’s about staying healthy, being healthy and staying healthy.

Jenny: It’s about enabling your health, wherever you are too.  

In terms of the digital it’s about how do we make the usability of our website work.  You know, we did an awful lot of work with actual customers in the design of it.  

And so what we’ve tried to do is make sure that everything is easy to understand.  So we not only tell people what you get in your health insurance policy.  We tell you what you don’t get and that’s somewhat unique but it’s important because at the end of the day somebody’s going to have a better experience because they know what they’re buying.  Which for us and for them is a better experience.

In terms of the customer marketing experience we’ve done an awful lot of work looking at what we communicate and what we say and how we say it.  We’ve got a whole verbal identity that we’re starting to roll out.

JV:    HCF is doing some really, really exciting things in that area and I guess specifically what caught our attention the other day was the Heart of the Swans campaign.  Can you tell us a little bit about what that event was all about and where it came from and where you’re taking this kind of experiential piece, how it fits into your overall I guess approach to market?

Jenny: We’ve been sponsors of the Sydney Swans for a number of years now but what we wanted to do was come back in and look at what’s the intersection between health and that sponsorship?  

So what we really wanted to do was find a way of looking at that intersection of what health means, what being a health insurer means in the context of AFL and the Swans particularly.  And one of it is that, you know, the players, their heart rate goes up and you know, changes throughout the course of the game.  the activation at the game was about, you know, what’s happening with your health when you’re at the game.  And how excited do you get when there’s a goal.  You know, how is, how is your metabolism changing as a result of the fact that you’re participating in this sporting event. So it was about us just connecting sports, health, you know, with our brand in a way that was a bit more innovative and different.

JV:    So was everybody in the stadium wearing wristbands or..?

Jenny: No unfortunately we couldn’t really do that.  We only distributed 5,000 of them and they were too – you know, sort of the hard core fan base that were sitting behind the goals?

I mean there were some limitations and controls on it though because it flashed for example.  And so we couldn’t have it flashing behind the goal when the guys were trying to kick the goals.  So you know, we had to sort of control some of that stuff.  But you know, it was a first sort of foray into the whole area of biometric data is actually really interesting.

The iWatch is an interesting – so there’s a lot more wearable technology that’s measuring a lot of stuff.

JV:    Yeah, yeah.

Jenny: So where there’s a game changer is how we can help people stay healthier leveraging that data. How do we alert you that, you know, you’ve got something or how do we alert your doctor that something that you need to be watching out for is is not on track?

How do we know that you’re obviously interested in, you know, walking or exercising because you’ve chosen to share that information with us and then we can share information with you that might help enhance that experience for you.  You know, how can we create an opportunity and have a conversation with you in an area that you’re interested in by you sharing with us the fact that you’re interested in it.

Mark:    What’s it been like communicating that internally to all your stakeholders, because obviously you’ve got to bring a lot of people with you on this.

Jenny: One of the interesting things that I found about HCF is that we have this change management approach that’s quite rigorous.  Everyone who runs the pillars of my team is sort of change management certified, change management plans are part of everything that they rollout, you know, there’s quite complex documents against every project that they do which talks about how they need to, you know, bring people along the journey.

JV:    Communicate it all, yeah.

Jenny: When we launched this brand we actually had every single member of the HCF staff across Australia go through a one-day workshop and that workshop involved presentations of what we were doing across all these different pillars of change.  

And that’s been really interesting because the feedback from staff really was we felt great that we were included in this, it wasn’t just this marketing thing that we did off here.  It was, you know, it was a business transformation.

JV:    And that’s something so phenomenal about the role of the CMO now, is that what you are describing is having access to and influence over every single touchpoint that the company has.

Jenny: Yeah.

Mark:    I wanted to ask on the subject of change management, what’s your perception of other CMOs or senior marketers, how well they understood their role to be now around change management?  

Jenny: I think digital tends to drive change at a much more far reaching level because often it changes operations.

JV:    Yes.

Jenny: I would be surprised if any CMO who has facilitated a major brand transformation has not had to encounter change management.  So in order for a brand transformation of any type to be successful you have to change the way that your front line talk and speak and all that sort of stuff.

I think that a long time ago we didn’t call it change management but there’s basically two ways you can affect change.  You could go in and do everything that you need to do and then turn around and say, ‘By the way guys, this is how it is now.’ And then beg forgiveness and try and get everybody on board.

Or you can at the very beginning, embrace, you know, collaborate, etcetera, which will take you a lot longer but then when you get there everybody feels like they own it.  You know, both are actually the way that we’ve operated.  I’ve seen successful outcomes in both instances.  You know, the first happens a lot faster but there’s a lot more mop up.  The second happens a lot more slowly, but you know, everybody’s happy with it.  So I think change management in and of itself has evolved into more of a discipline because it takes time and it costs money and you know, the more process driven you are around it, the easier it is to make sure that you don’t miss anything.

Mark:    What was it like studying computer science as a woman in the early 1980s?  And we’re sorry for dating you.

Jenny: So that was actually quite interesting because I probably was, you know, absolutely in the minority at the time and computer science was actually embryonic at that time as a studying thing and yeah, you mentioned before I was actually doing a bachelor of economics, but at the time the thought that economics would go with computer science was so foreign that you couldn’t actually for three years – to do that double major I had to miss a lecture every week from some – one topic or another because they refused to schedule it so that the two could be done together.

Mark:    Yeah but they didn’t think anyone would want to do it so…

Jenny: They didn’t.  In fact I was the first graduate out of Flinders Uni to have that as a double major.

Mark:    Wow.

JV:    Where in your mind did that idea to combine the two come from?

Jenny: Well to be honest I was doing economics because I thought that was my career future.

But I was doing computer science because I was interested in it.  So I took the econometrics bent of the economics degree.  So I was into that sort of statistical analysis bit and I thought oh well if I learn computer science then that’s going to make it even easier to do the econometrics piece.  

Mark:    Well it’s interesting the productivity commission just recently put out a report really digging into this today and I read a really unfortunate article which shows there’s not a very good correlation between people who study in the field of STEM and then end up working in that field.

Jenny: Right.

Mark:    How you’ve seen this trend from essentially pioneering it from an education perspective to now, you must have seen this enormous change.

Jenny: Yeah, well yeah it is pretty huge.  The first job I took out of uni was working for a company that rented PCs and they rented PCs because no large organisations considered they were worth buying.  So it was pre-Windows.  So I wrote software to put on PCs for instance, the first telegraphic transfer program for the ANZ Bank ran off a PC and a program that I developed rented from a company.

JV:    Wow.

Jenny: [Laughs].

Mark:    That’s awesome.

Jenny: And then Windows came along so you sort of saw core things that changed the way that – so networking changed the propensity of organisations to see the relevance.  Email fundamentally changed the way we talk to each other.  

JV:    You started out your career with this combination of economics and IT that you needed to explain to people and now we kind of come through to the very early dot-com days where you’re also explaining technology to advertising people.

What were some of the challenges of those early days?

Jenny: Oh look, it varied a lot by geography.  So I started in the States where, you know, at the dot-com boom time everybody was really excited about the technology and so they were, you know, sort of investing a lot of money and doing lots of sort of wild and interesting things. I came back to Australia in 2000 and I think my biggest client at the time was MasterCard Australia who had a total annual budget of $35,000 for digital.

And then I went over to Asia Pacific to do some work over there and a lot of agencies were giving digital away as a value add on top to get the advertising.

So what you see is this transition of, you know, the value proposition of digital and why it’s important. And I guess it was by about, oh, 2007/2008 probably that we started to see significant percentages of digital spend in the advertising industry.

What changed there was this dynamic where the above the line agency suddenly wanted to absorb the digital units because that’s where they could see the money was starting to go.

JV:    Because we’ve made that transition where digital was an add on and now, I mean we often question whether or not the phrase digital marketing makes any sense.

Jenny: No it doesn’t.

JV:    Is there any element of marketing that doesn’t have digital?

Jenny: It’s just a deployment mechanism, you’ve got analogue and you’ve got digital.  You know, analogue means you know, you might print it and put it in the mail and send it to somebody.  And digital means that you take the same document and you send it digitally in an email.

Mark:    It’s like the parallels of the early days of social media, you know?  Actually it’s a communications channel.

Jenny: Yeah exactly, In my business social can mean customer service and how you manage what enquiries your customers have.  It can mean amplification of experiential staff, it can mean PR and managing press and reputation.  It can mean, you know, engaging in communities and putting like minded people together, it can mean thought leadership, you know, it is just a channel.

Mark:    Jenny Williams, CMO at HCF, thank you very much for joining us today.

Jenny: Thank you.

21 Questions

JV:    Well we’re going to change speed a little right at the end.  Because what we like to sort of finish off with is these rapid fire questions.  So this is a bit of a chance to find out more about you as a person

Mark:    Are you ready?

Jenny: I hope so.

JV:    What are you grateful for?

Jenny: I’m grateful for my life.

Mark:    Do you like rain?

Jenny: When I’m inside and I don’t have anything especially pressing to do, I quite like rain, the sound of rain.

JV:    In the movie of your life who would play you?

Jenny: Maybe Angelina Jolie.

JV:    [Laughs]

Mark:    I was going to say Cate Blanchett.

Jenny: Do you reckon?

JV:    I was going to say Goldie Hawn.

Mark:    Oh there you go.

What’s your greatest career fail?

Jenny: So back in about 1997 I worked with a creative director to build a screen saver for AMD, you know the chit company?

Mark:   Yes.

JV:    Yeah.

Jenny: It was just the most appalling project I had ever done, it just completely blown out of all proportion, AMD had $5,000.  The total project cost me about $35,000.

Mark:    Oh, that’s a cracker!

JV:    [Laughs] That’s got to hurt.

Jenny: Yeah, and I tell you, in 19 – you know, the late 90s that was a lot of money.

JV:    Yeah absolutely.

Mark:    It’s still a lot of money.

Jenny: [Laughs]  That was a really lot of money.

JV:    Beach or mountain?

Jenny: Beach.

Mark:    Best ever career advice?

Jenny: Enjoy what you do, get paid appropriately and never report to an idiot.

JV:    [Laughs]  I’d love to know where that last one came from!

Jenny: And if you can tick all of those three boxes you will be happy.  And if you’re not happy one of those three is out of line.

Mark:    That is awesome, I’m going to take that.

JV:    Summer or Winter?

Jenny: Summer.

JV:    And if you weren’t a marketer you’d be a..?

Jenny: I would be a travel journalist.

Mark:    Chocolate or strawberry?

Jenny: Strawberry definitely.

JV:    What did you have for breakfast?

Jenny: So Woolworths make this really good bread now and it’s got red currant and fennel in it..

JV:    Wow.

Jenny: I’m just a little bit addicted at the moment.  So yes, that’s what I had for brekkie.

Mark:    What would you have rather had?

Jenny: No, no, that was good.

JV:    What was your last conversation with your parents?

Jenny: My mother, probably talking about her cleaning out stuff in her house really.

JV:    [Laughs]

Mark:    Scrunch or fold?

Jenny: Fold and roll.

Mark:    Fold and roll!

Jenny: [Laughs]

JV:    If you could change one thing in the marketing industry, what would it be?

Jenny: It would be greater transparency I would think, so across, you know, where we’re buying media, how we’re spending money, you know, where it’s going, who’s getting it, who’s getting how much in what buckets…

JV:    I hear a data analyst talking!  [Laughs]

Mark:    Can you ride a bike?

Jenny: Yes.  A motorbike or pushbike?

JV:    Either, or..?

Jenny: Yeah, push bike yes, motorbike not very well.

JV:    What’s your greatest frustration?

Jenny: Right at the moment it is getting reports that tell me exactly what’s going on.

Mark:    Touch, taste, sight, hearing, smell – which would you rather sacrifice to save the rest?

Jenny: Probably smell.

JV:    Dogs or cats?

Jenny: Oh, hard.  I’ve got both.  

JV:    Well you can’t pick your favourite child can you? And if you had to change your first name what would you change it to?

Jenny: I’ve never thought of that actually.

I called my daughter Sophie, I like that name…

JV:    It’s a beautiful name.

Mark:    Well that rounds out the 21 questions, thank you very much.

Jenny: No problem, thank you.

Mark:    So there we have Jenny Williams.

JV:    So many insights.

And the thing I found fascinating about that conversation is that we got insight into the way the industry’s changed, we got insight into the really, really complex, I guess, and emotionally intelligent nature of senior marketing managers these days.  Like so many different people to bring together and to get working in a really, in a really functional, I hate to say it, but symbiotic relationship.

Mark:    Ooh, big words!  Also the way that she structured her team to build on that.  How she’s got this kind of big picture view and really thinking in very clear ways about how to create silos of expertise…

JV:    Yeah, yeah.

Mark:    …but not leave those people isolated or make sure that you drive value across the whole marketing team and then also, you know, thinking ahead to strategically how this is contributing to the business.  You know, we talked about the fact that I’m an HCF member.

It’s actually quite heartening for me to hear the story of somebody who’s inside the organisation, brings a whole another light to what it actually means to be member-driven and to be thinking about that big picture of how we create services and how we be customer-centric if you like, and there’s a lot of talk in marketing about that.

Thank you very much for joining us this time on the CMO Show, great to have you as always.

JV:    Remember you can reach out to us on Twitter.

Mark:    And Facebook, and our website.

JV:    And subscribe on SoundCloud and – all of the above [laughs].

Mark:    Exactly right.  

Thank you very much and we’ll see you next time.

JV:    Cheers.

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