Marketing in a post-covid-19 world - Listen to our free podcast series with industry leading CMOs

Marketing Post-Covid: Mike Cogburn, Head of Digital Consulting and Innovation at SS&C Technologies

Brian Erickson:
Thanks for joining the Cardwell Beach Marketing Podcast. My name is Brian Erickson, Chief Strategy Officer and Partner at Cardwell Beach. In this series, we’re interviewing senior marketers across industries to develop perspective on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

Today’s guest is Mike Cogburn, Head of Digital Consulting and Innovation at SS&C Technologies, a digital services provider for the financial services and healthcare industries that serves more than 18,000 firms worldwide. Mike, thanks so much for joining us today.

Mike Cogburn:
Hey, Brian. Thanks for having me. Looking forward to geeking out on some digital talk.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Certainly one of my favorite topics. So, let’s talk about weathering the storm. Seems to be quite a long storm at this point, been going on for many months. So, you personally have incredible depth in financial services, spending most of your career there, and that’s a sector that will undoubtedly continue to face challenges for a long time.

Prior to the pandemic, your firm provided digital backbone support for financial services companies working online. I’m curious, how has the pandemic transformed the way firms are engaging with prospective clients via digital right now?

Mike Cogburn:
Sure. So, we think about financial services… and specifically I operate in the asset management space. I think, traditionally, a lot of our sales and even marketing efforts jointly combined tend to be physical in nature: meeting with advisors at their offices, for instance, or institutional due diligence meetings and those types of things.

So, on that one side of the business, certainly, all of that has gone away, at least temporarily. We don’t believe that it necessarily will kick back to quote, unquote normal for a very long time. Like most of us, our clients have more Zoom meetings, have more email campaigns and the like. I think one point of this would be looking at more targeted campaigns, for example, from marketing to really hone in and give that personalized-type message that we all have probably talked endlessly about in marketing for years. And asset management has always known that it’s important but most recently, I think, has started applying more of that data.

For the other side of the business, the retail investors, so think of direct-to-consumer. Brian, if you were purchasing a mutual fund on your own without the help of your advisor, for instance. We’re just seeing firms moving a bit more swiftly in terms of investing in what that digital experience looks like, both from public website marketing and email marketing, and then also in that second layer, which is the self-service account-based website experiences.

Brian Erickson:
What specific changes have you personally liked or disliked about digital engagement and communication trends during this time? I’m sure it’s been a learn fast, fail fast sort of scenario. Is there anything specific that you’ve seen that has either worked really well or maybe something that hasn’t worked as well as initially planned?

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah. I would say from a digital marketing perspective, and a lot of our clients’ marketing efforts can go more specifically to market commentary, thought leadership and the like, often less so than sheer product marketing. So, what I have seen is many firms come out with things like weekly webinars, or monthly webinars, or commentary-type papers, reports that come out to advisors and investors alike. I think two things. One, the timeliness of that needs to be important. In the midst of the pandemic, certainly, daily briefings, even if they’re short, pithy reports, or recordings, or live meetings with portfolio managers, those types of things, daily was really the precedent there. We didn’t see many firms doing that, but certainly leading firms coming out with that.

The other point I want to make around at least that marketing angle is that many of what I observed to be were competing firms using the same, if not very similar, headlines to pull these folks in. When you think about the life of, say, a financial advisor who’s going through these wild market swings during this pandemic, yes they’re interested in what your thought leaders have to say and what your firm is coming out with for commentary and tips and whatnot.

At the same time, they’re getting bombarded with not only those messages but also with phone calls, emails, text messages, you name it, from their own clients. So, it’s really important to differentiate yourself with what you’re saying and certainly how you lead and pull them into the conversation. I would say mostly so for financial advisors, but the same truth would be said for any retail investor that’s monitoring their own portfolio and making decisions on purchases or redemptions. I think they’re getting hit with just as many messages if they’re logging into a provider’s website or multiple providers websites. They’re also getting hit with multiple emails a day, so really I’ll just go back to both the timeliness of these messages as well as differentiating view and way to write it, quite frankly.

Brian Erickson:
Have you seen any specific examples that have stuck out to you as really differentiated or really strong?

Mike Cogburn:
We’ve seen a pretty well done series that had a weekly market talk with branch managers, investment thought leaders, as well as directors of marketing bringing things together on a weekly basis and check in: What’s going on with the pandemic? How is the market reacting to it and why? What have been the common client concerns and how did they react to that?

Those are a couple that stand out, mostly for the cadence of them but also for the general differentiation that I saw and observed as I pored through some of these.

Brian Erickson:
Nice. And you don’t have to name names on some of the ones that are your least favorite, but are there any sort of things that you just keep seeing over and over and over again that you would recommend that firms try to avoid messaging-wise?

Mike Cogburn:
Firms that aren’t differentiating themselves with this content or with these types of webinars are not doing themselves a great service based on the fact that if you do get the attention of your investors or advisors, you don’t want to lose it if you’re essentially repeating the same message. It may be… Often we hear in the industry, “Stay the course. Stay invested in the market.” That’s great. Proof points, obviously, will help with that. Saying it once and maybe reiterating it in the next webinar, great, but it shouldn’t be the centralized theme. It should be maybe a little bit more up-to-date data on what’s going on in the market, some explanation why, and maybe some of your thought leaders’ points of view on what’s next. Any way that you can bring some fresh, new message, new content forward with that I think gives you a better chance that that audience is going to come back and continue to follow you.

Brian Erickson:
Yeah. I think it’s super important to drill down into specific aspects of a topic. There’s so much content out there these days that if you’re just taking a 30,000-foot view and not unpacking that further, it’s very difficult to keep people’s attention.

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah, and it’s even more important… Again, if you think about financial services and think about the markets and the volatility we’ve all felt in some way or another, you have to understand that your investors are feeling that, the advisors are feeling it and they’re also getting inquiries from the investors all at the same time. And they’re being bombarded with content, so it’s really just about finding a way to get their attention, finding a way to not drag it out too long, and at the end of the day of help them.

Brian Erickson:
Yep. All about making sure that you’re helping people these days. I guess in terms of helping people, would you say that there are any substantial differences that you’ve seen in terms of best practice right now for communicating to asset managers, financial advisors, the institutional investors, and the retail crowd? Is there any sort of pillar or best practice that you would say during this that marketers should focus on?

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah. I think each of those audiences are at different levels. I think generally the asset manager industry has gotten better at this over the last three or four years, but really about having a message from the top. Being able to provide different versions of that message. So, an institutional-level investor, maybe a consultant to an endowment fund or could be a chief financial officer or what have you, is going to want more technical, more detailed, is more comfortable with additional industry jargon, if you will, certainly than the average retail investor would be, but even more so than even a financial advisor, at least the average financial advisor. So, I think it’s important that firms certainly have a consistent message out in the marketplace to all audiences, however, can adjust it up or down in terms of detail based on who they’re talking to.

Brian Erickson:
Mm-hmm. You need to tie everything back in to the top-level consumer insight, for sure. Coming out of this, at some point there’s going to be a new normal or whatever it is that we’re entering, we’re going to have to live with this on a long-term basis. Do you anticipate that we’re going to incorporate some of these lessons and meld what we’ve learned during this period and take it forward? And if so, what do you think that’s going to look like? Or how can brands make sure to come out of this stronger and better than they were before?

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah. I’ve got some very strong feelings on this. I think we as a firm at SS&C believe that almost every firm that we speak with is in the midst of what we call a digital transformation. I think probably other industries are the same. I never understand what that means. Everyone uses it, so I do spend a lot of time trying to ask questions to understand specifically what they mean. Very often I find that it’s an underwhelming endeavor. It’s not transformational at all. So, I think firms are taking a much harder look at what digital transformation means to them because of this.

The reason that I say that is that they’re understanding what may be hanging customers up. Think about the demographics of any of these firms’ clients: They’re more tech savvy. They’re more comfortable with digital. Their expectations for digital are often higher than what they’re getting for experiences with and doing business with these firms. At the same time of this pandemic, wild market swings, phone call centers are at capacity. They’re being called all day and into the night. Their website traffic is up for these firms. They’re sending more emails out in many cases. More of those emails than are even being opened.

They’re getting this pile of data, and they should be able to look at that data and understand: Where are customers getting hung up? What topics are they interested in? When they are interested in the topic and, say, they click through an email, what are they doing next? What products are they looking at, or what trades are they placing? Melding all that data together is going to give them a good picture of what they’re doing well and what some of those roadblocks might be that their customers are getting hung up on that maybe they believe they had a good experience for and had mapped it out appropriately. That may not be true.

Then, also, taking that data and really looking at the platforms that they’re on for digital technology-type platforms and understanding where they can enhance it. One example may be their folks are opening more accounts, or folks are trying to trade out of funds and exchange into a different type of fund. Well, where in that process do you see a spike in drop-offs from the website, for instance?

So, I think if anything, the silver lining of this is getting a really clear, clean look at what they do need to transform as part of these digital transformations. The evidence should be there and the numbers should support and bubble to the top what they do need to take a look at investing into, or changing, or enhancing, or whatever you want to call it.

Brian Erickson:
You mentioned a lot of folks aren’t really approaching with as much of the emphasis on transformation as might be desired. Is there anybody that you’ve seen that’s doing a really great job that you’re working with that has really pushed the envelope on digital?

Mike Cogburn:
Without giving you any names, I can tell you we’re working with a few firms, actually, to really flesh out what that experience can and should look like. I’d actually almost deflect that question and say, historically, I’ve worked in this industry for 20 years now. I’ve always noticed the same thing, which is we get our expectations in financial services from our outside lives. What I mean by that is if I fly to Columbus, Ohio, Uber understands when I land, what hotel I typically stay at. It pops up on my phone and says, “Should we reserve a car and assume you’re going to this hotel?” It makes it easy for me. My car knows when I get in it at 11:45 on a weekday that I’m probably going to the gym on my lunch hour and suggests a route there and tells me how long it’s going to get there without me inputting anything.

So, if we think about our daily lives and what I’ll call just their retail consumer world, typically we find the best ideas then trickle down into retail banking, for instance, which is different than asset management. Those types of experiences, the best of those will then trickle back down into our level of financial services, which is more specific to asset management.

We keep an eye on those trends. My hunch is that many folks who have been maybe cooped up inside due to a quarantine from the pandemic may be more comfortable using their smart speakers at home, and they may be expecting more out of them, for instance. So, that’s something we’re looking into at SS&C to say how quickly and what fundamentally would we need to be able to make that work for our clients.

There’s a lot of those examples. I really say that asset management is very slow to adapt. Always has been. When we look at those outside industries and see what trickles in, and then I see my job for the industry as being one to translate some of those things into what they could mean based on our business line. We can see what’s coming, not that we don’t want to vet those. We do plenty of market research to vet those with investors and advisors alike, but I would really look to there. We do have some clients certainly looking that way.

I don’t know if I went off on you there.

Brian Erickson:
No, that’s great. It’s a thing that I think about all the time and we talk about at Cardwell Beach all the time. It’s just you close one website and open another and you’re the same person, right? You’re using your phone, your smart speaker or whatever it is, and you’re just an individual. You’re not a B2B buyer, or you’re not a B2C buyer, or a government buyer, you’re a human being. So, it’s silly to think that you would have a different standard for those experience other than by being forced to have a different standard for those experiences. You would, ideally, want the best experience across the board.

Mike Cogburn:
Right. We’ve found through market research that in the asset management space, the firms who provide certain elements of a digital experience are those that are chosen when advisors, for instance, are trying to decide between one product or another. In our industry, the product is always going to win. People invest their money because they want return. Products and fees are huge, but when they’re comparable, we find that the firm that gets chosen is typically one that provides a better digital experience.

Analogous to our industry, I’d say back in the early 2000s when mobile check deposit had first come out there were very few banks that had it. I know, for instance, I was at the time looking to switch banks and I was not going to go to a bank that didn’t allow me to do that, and I couldn’t understand why a bank wanted me to walk into a branch to deposit a check. That’s the type of thing that I think… It’s probably not specific to asset managers either. It’s probably how many of us make decisions. But digital experience has become something that actually will lift sales but also retain assets for these fund companies. So, they’re starting to take it more seriously, they’re starting to invest in it more.

Again, the pandemic is somewhat of a silver lining for the digital folks in this industry because I think very quickly the senior management of these firms are seeing that it does equate to dollars. Whether it’s dollars saved or dollars, it’s very much influential.

Brian Erickson:
When we talk about what are brands doing to differentiate, I think just focusing on digital in general, is kind of what I’m taking away from what you’re saying, is really making it a priority is differentiating in itself.

Mike Cogburn:
I haven’t done a presentation at an industry conference in a few months, but I can tell you over the last few years every one that I’ve given has had at least two slides dedicated to the fact that differentiation is very important in digital experience, especially in our industry, is a differentiator. And it’s in a lot of ways easier to be the differentiator when much of the industry is slow to adapt. For the firms that are willing to stick their neck out and invest in some more modern ways of doing business, I think is certainly the way to go.

Brian Erickson:
On the note of differentiation, as we approach potentially record-breaking unemployment numbers here, and I think we’ll see in the coming months how everything shakes out, what advice would you give to digital experts who find themselves as free agents right now? How can they best differentiate themselves and their skill sets to stand out and hopefully land their next gig?

Mike Cogburn:
I think what you’re saying is the first point. One, differentiate yourself. I’ve certainly seen that those who can show that they understand and are comfortable with data and applying data in marketing are going to have a head start over those that don’t. Regardless of the industry, we all as marketers have access to more data. However, we have to have an understanding of how to apply it, how to organize it. You don’t have to necessarily be a data scientist to be able to do it. It’s just more setting goals around what you want the data to do and have an idea of how it can work for you to be a better marketer and, in turn, increase engagement, increase sales, help with retention. Whatever it is, you have to have an idea and a general plan on how you would be able to help that company use the data.

Brian Erickson:
That’s really taking a more cross-functional look and viewing things more from a business perspective regardless of your specific background and skillset, right?

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah. I think this is across industries, we’ve seen asset management, at least as we view the leaders in the industry, adapt to this. We’ve seen many firms completely reorganize themselves, especially marketing, into these pod-like teams where they have a software engineer, a product expert, a marketing strategist, a digital expert, an analytics person sitting on the same teams, with maybe one leader at more the executive-level leading each team, but working more agile. Being able to cross-reference the marketer who says, “I want to craft this type of experience,” and the digital person understanding what that’s going to take digitally, and the programmer understanding how to use their marketing technology staff to actually do that. And being able to experiment on the fly projects that take weeks or months as opposed to years.

It’s a huge shift in how teams are organized and how firms operate. I absolutely think we’ll see more of that and not less of that in the next couple of years. But all of those also have that thread of data in them as well as marrying up the technology, so it’s critical.

Brian Erickson:
If you could give one piece of advice to mid-market and small business digital specialists trying to create engagement online right now, what would you say?

Mike Cogburn:
You’re saying I’ve got to say one thing, but I’m going to say three and I’m going to explain why.

Brian Erickson:
Everybody does.

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah, of course. I think first of all when you’re thinking about financial services, which is what I know best, you need to think outside of the industry first and then apply what you see there. Get an understanding of what that could mean to your business. Often, that example that I gave around personalization, that’s one. We don’t need to harp on personalization. Everyone knows the importance of it by now.

But I do think also meeting your customers where they are, not just with a personalized message but… For instance, I mentioned becoming more comfortable with the smart speaker as of late. Well, maybe if you are in financial services, you need to think, “What is Alexa going to say when I ask her for my account balance, or to place a trade for me, or what my firm’s thoughts on the market today are?” Those are things that may be uncomfortable if you haven’t started, but you have to start somewhere.

And then, really I think even more important, and I say this lastly is: At the most fundamental level, how easy do you make it for your customers to do business with you? I think that should be at the forefront of any marketer’s mind. Oftentimes I hear that’s a service function or that’s an operation’s function. It’s really not. The experience that your firm as a whole provides, whether good or bad, is a direct reflection of the overall brand of the firm.

In our case, it’s, “How easy can someone give me money to invest?” If you can’t open an account on your website or your app, it’s very difficult for someone to do business with you, especially… If the pandemic hasn’t shined a light on that for you, if you think that folks are going to print out that application, fill it out, and put it in the mail to open an account? I think you’re entirely off, especially when many times the post office wasn’t even open to do that.

So, really take a step back. At the end of the day, how do we make money? How can we make that easy? How do we partner up with folks in other areas of the firm, whether it’s your data folks, your tech folks, your service and operations folks? How do we make that experience as easy, as seamless as possible? And, for inspiration, look outside of the industry.

Brian Erickson:
Great. That’s awesome advice. Mike, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us today.

Mike Cogburn:
Yeah. No problem. I appreciate it. Happy to do it anytime, and if anyone has any questions, feel free to find me on LinkedIn and reach out. I’m happy to continue the conversation, both with you, Brian, as well as your clients.

Brian Erickson:
Awesome. Well, very much appreciated. This is Brian Erickson from Cardwell Beach. Thanks again for listening and please make sure to check back for more senior marketers sharing their perspectives on what marketing will look like in a post-COVID-19 world.

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