Today’s marketing landscape is all about agility. But the ability to switch gears on a moment's notice is a big challenge when you work in a highly regulated industry that requires many layers of approval before changes can be made.
That's the world of Sean O’Reilly, formerly with JP Morgan Chase and now SVP/CMO at Philadelphia-based JG Wentworth & Peachtree (JGWPT), the financial services firm founded in 1991 that recently went public.
In this exclusive interview with CMO.com, O’Reilly how his key to agility involves an important partnership, evolving digital priorities, and the trend he sees having the biggest impact on the marketing landscape in the new year.
CMO.com: To start, can you talk about your career path? What’s your mandate now that you're at JGWPT?
O'Reilly: I started my career as an officer in the U.S. Army and then ended up on the ad side at Leo Burnett. I’ve been in the financial services industry for almost 10 years now at companies such as USAA, JP Morgan Chase, and now JGWPT. Financial services is an interesting category for marketing because there’s both a universal need and an emotional component. How people deal with finances is personal and unique for each person. There’s a significant amount of data in financial services, which allows for robust segmentation. I’m talking about things like purchases, how people get money, and how they use it. Marketing in financial services is a general management discipline because it’s hard to say where marketing begins and operations end.
When I started at JP Morgan about six years ago, this was right when the company saw an opportunity to focus on the affluent market, which American Express pretty much owned at the time. I led a cross-functional business unit team: marketing, finance, risk assessment, operations, and servicing. The first order of business was research and segmentation. We were focused on differentiation and fulfilling the emotional needs of the affluent customer. I led the team that created and executed the Chase Sapphire portfolio.
JGWPT is a leading direct-response marketer. Our core business is to provide liquidity to our customers by purchasing structured settlements and annuities. Although consumers have seen our TV commercials, there’s still room to build awareness and consideration so that customers understand that selling all or a portion of their structured settlement is a viable financial option. In addition, we’re looking at options to expand the product suite.
CMO.com: What skills did you acquire at JP Morgan that you feel will prove useful at JGWPT?
O'Reilly: At both Chase and JGWPT I get to interact with bright, disciplined executive and marketing teams with great brands and products. What I bring to the table is the understanding of marketing’s impact on business results.
Throughout my career, the most important consideration is connecting marketing and resource allocations, and connecting that to business results. That’s job No. 1. The second part is understanding the needs of consumers and providing appropriate solutions and transparency in the process. Lastly, my experience with talent management: I’ve been working with people who have learning agility, and that’s so important with this industry’s rate of change. It takes a certain skill set to keep your team high-energy and solutions-focused.
CMO.com: How do regulations affect your marketing strategy? How does that make agility a challenge?
O'Reilly: Having a good understanding and absolute compliance with regulations is the world we live in today. Marketing efforts need to live in the context of regulation. So how do we stay nimble and agile? We work closely with legal. The marketing and servicing, IT, and legal teams are cross-functional. With fewer people working here compared to other much larger financial institutions, it’s a pretty collaborative place where teams have regular daily contact. We involve legal in the strategy phases for marketing, so we can get their perspective on things while we are building the plan. They help us understand the trade-offs. Then they’re right there with us again for execution.
CMO.com: What are some of the biggest challenges you see in digital marketing?
O'Reilly: CMOs need to have a deep knowledge of this environment, which is constantly changing. That’s a challenge. Then there’s figuring out the important metrics. Often people put emphasis–and budget–toward the metrics that are easiest to measure, but those may not be the ones that most affect the business’ bottom line. There’s the need to shift and understand the attribution across channels. Then there’s the need to be relevant and frequent with your content. Content on the Web becomes stale fast. So how do we develop, deploy, and staff for the right content?
CMO.com: Have you figured out your content strategy yet?
O'Reilly: It’s always evolving. Our content strategy is educating consumers, stakeholders, and influencers. We want to be the leading source for specialty consumer finance solutions. And we want to have transparency in the process and partner with key influencers. The other opportunity is allowing our customers to tell their stories and experience with our brands. Right now we’re really focused on figuring out the appropriate relevancy, frequency, and cadence of communication. I took this job to be somewhere nimble, and content strategy is one of the initiatives that have the ability to change quickly.
CMO.com: Financial services aren’t exactly sexy. So what’s your brand persona like in social?
O'Reilly: Social has changed the game in an instant. For us, social is a great way to drive awareness, not just about our products, but about our industry. People don’t want to publicly talk about their personal financials on social media. That’s the difference between us and CPG brands, for example. There are privacy concerns in financial services. We educate and make people aware of the different options available to them.
CMO.com: What are your three digital priorities going into 2014?
O'Reilly: First, enhancing the overall customer experience, understanding their needs, and digitizing more of the process. The second priority is new product launches and integrating those initiatives into the current product suite. Digital plays a key component in that. And last, but not least, would be content.
CMO.com: What trends do you see sending ripples through the marketing landscape in 2014, and why?
O'Reilly: In 2014, mobile users will for the first time outpace desktop. That transition will change a lot in this industry. It will mean small chunks of information and integrating mobile into the brand. Having people who understand mobile will be increasingly useful for a marketing team. Big data and information overload will mean strong attribution models and making sense of big data. So expect to see more integrated plans with business development.
CMO.com: Studies suggest marketing will spend more on technology than IT by 2017. What does that look like inside JGWPT?
O'Reilly: In general, the customer experience is largely digital. The brand is the customer experience. The other trend is that consumer expectations are set by best-in-class experiences in other categories. If Amazon can recommend a book that fits a user’s profile, then consumers expect it from all product categories. I think at one point people were scared of big data. But today customers embrace it and want big data to create experiences tailored to them. They want the right products and services that fit their needs. Data has outpaced infrastructure. Marketers are trying to make sense of data on legacy technology. So, yes, marketing will outpace IT spend on technology soon. To leverage data, you need the right infrastructure in place.
CMO.com: What keeps you up at night?
O'Reilly: There is a tremendous information gap between how people perceive our brand and the products we really provide here at JGWPT. Of course, economic factors for an individual can change at any given time. We’re trying to show people that structured settlement payment purchasing is a viable, flexible financial option to respond to those changes.