Like many companies today, global HR consultancy Mercer is working to advance its business. That manifests in the products and services it offers, the partnerships and acquisition deals it strikes, and the way it leverages digital to market to customers in new ways.
Underlying that sizeable effort: establishing a strong foundation that supports agility and flexibility, according to Jeanniey Mullen, global CMO of Mercer, a wholly owned subsidiary of Marsh & McLennan.
In an exclusive interview with CMO.com, Mullen detailed Mercer’s efforts around innovation and digital transformation, as well as the skill sets B2B marketers need on their teams.
CMO.com: Part of your responsibility as global CMO is Mercer’s Innovation Hub. Can you tell me about the hub? What is it?
Mullen: Mercer has a long-standing history of providing guidance for our clients as the market changes. Whether change is driven by culture, geopolitical efforts, or technology, we are trying to stay ahead of the curve and act as a true thought leader and partner for our clients.
Our CEO, Julio A. Portalatin, started the Innovation Hub in 2014 as a way to enable innovation and continue to disrupt ourselves. I joined the company in late 2015 to spearhead the marketing strategy and go-to-market efforts for products built in the Innovation Hub.
CMO.com: What are some of the developments that have occurred within the hub?
Mullen: Since its inception, the Innovation Hub has launched a series of innovative products including “Mercer PeoplePro,” which offers smaller startups access to critical HR consulting in an affordable, teleconsulting manner. One of the elements that makes Mercer PeoplePro successful is the way we focused on customer experience when we were designing the product and marketing programs.
CMO.com: How are you thinking about customer experience?
Mullen: Customer experience is the new buzzword, but realistically it’s just brand advocacy and brand loyalty from “back in the day.” I laugh sometimes because creating a subject line for a great email is the same process that direct marketers had to go through when they were creating a Johnson box on a direct-mail envelope back in the day. So if you’ve been in the space, if you’ve been a marketer for a long time, it’s kind of like fashion, right? There’s nothing new; it’s just recycling the great ideas.
Even 20 years ago, in order to be successful you had to focus on your customer—who they were, what they enjoyed, what they loved, how you were making their life easier, how you were making it faster for them to get the information that they needed, how you were making their life better—with the products or solutions that you offer. The difference today is the technology. But customer experience, even with new technology, applies the same principles.
When you look at where the future work landscape is, with statistics predicting that anywhere from 40% to 50% of the organization will be select workers—meaning they won’t necessarily be full-time with a company, or else they’ll have multiple jobs—you realize the Uber economy is coming to light. Our relationships with employers are just as important as us building relationships with employees, so understanding what drives somebody to have the most fulfilling life that they can, from a comprehensive health, wealth, and career vantage point, enables us, from a customer-experience perspective, to think about going to market differently and creatively to really get to the heart of how we can improve people’s lives.
CMO.com: Where would you say the company is today in terms of digital transformation?
Mullen: There are a couple of different digital transformations that are happening within the organization. Comprehensively, from a product and solution standpoint, our CEO is a true pioneer and a phenomenal, inspirational leader who looks at taking that transformative journey and where the company needs to go in terms of how we’re looking at products and solutions. Of course, that includes our partnership strategy, our acquisition strategy, and our organic product strategy. There is an entire focus that is intended to move us very forcefully and successfully into the future.
From a marketing perspective, we have a different kind of a digital transformation journey, where we’re currently aligning the client or customer experience with digital opportunities that are available to us. If you had to ask me today, I would say that we’re early on in our stages of that transformative journey but moving very rapidly.
What we’ve been focusing on for the last couple months, since I’ve been in the global CMO role, is establishing a strong foundation to support moving very quickly. It’s no secret that the market is changing quickly and technology is evolving rapidly. We need to create a framework that is very agile, that allows us to be flexible, and that means everything from our tech staff, to our analytics platforms, to the way we’re interpreting and leveraging data to our contact and communications strategy. It needs to be able to evolve with the times and the transformation process that the rest of the world is putting into place so that we can continue to capitalize and stay on the forefront in certain areas and always be in a test-and-learn scenario.
CMO.com: Does digital transformation mean you have to completely replatform?
Mullen: A lot of large companies have very rigid technological platforms, especially from the days where everything was build versus buy. And moving into the cloud and looking at SaaS-oriented tech platforms and digital staff have changed things around. There is some legacy technology that just isn’t in a place where we will be able to ... upgrade it and enhance it as quickly as we would like. I think that’s reality with every company, but we are focused on what the long-term digital roadmap looks like.
Over the past few years, we’ve brought in a number of different partners and vendors that are very SaaS- and cloud-oriented and integrate well with each other. I think one of the best advancements in marketing technology that I’ve seen in the past couple of years is just the willingness to be so open and have APIs and do a lot of integration between different platforms to make it easy to connect them all. We are in really good shape from that perspective, and we’re able to move pretty quickly, as far as connecting our CRM platforms to give us that comprehensive view of what a dashboard or a sales funnel or even a client experience looks like.
We’re leveraging as many cloud-enabled and SaaS-based platforms that have APIs for integration, and we’re always looking out for innovative, new, cool technologies that can give us that angle or insight to achieve a differentiated presence in the market and a better way to build that relationship with our customers.
CMO.com: Technology plays such a huge role in marketing today, right? How does that affect who you hire?
Mullen: Throughout my career, I have had the good fortune to have someone in a leadership position see potential in me and give me the opportunity to learn something new and different, which I’ve always taken advantage of so that I can remain cutting-edge and understand what’s coming up.
I bring that with me in every kind of leadership role that I have, and what I’ve noticed in my time here at Mercer, before I moved into this role, is that we’ve got an incredible amount of talent in the marketing team. You want to make sure that you have a good mix of some traditional marketers, more technically savvy marketers, and then more digital marketers. I feel that is very important, especially in a B2B organization, to always have the tie back to traditional marketing.