Over the years I’ve had the privilege to work with many amazing marketing professionals who’ve inspired me and educated me. They wear many different hats and in many cases their official title sometimes has no “marketing” in it, but they are all among the movers and shakers who I call “Marketing Rock Stars”.
In this series I will post my conversations with these marketing experts – each with diverse backgrounds and experience leading brands, top agencies and in many cases, their own firms. Today I am talking with Paul Herdtner, VP of Corp. Communications at American Century Investments.
Paul Herdtner joined American Century Investments—a global asset manager—in June 2016. As the vice president of corporate communications, he has responsibility for the firm’s social media marketing efforts. He also leads the website, public/media relations and video production teams. This is Paul’s second career—the first involved spending nearly 20 years in television news an an anchor and reporter.
I’ve known Paul for five years now, and have always been impressed with his relentless pursuit of excellence and “never be satisfied” approach to his work. I recently had the chance to chat with Paul in-depth about his experience at American Century and how he has helped modernize the company’s marketing and communications efforts.
Q: Describe the marketing situation when you arrived at American Century.
A: American Century Investments had a fairly solid marketing strategy in place, but what was missing was a consistent, rigorous measurement process of its execution. Many departments were still operating in silos. In recent months, we have felt the impact of some significant changes – including new additions to leadership in Marketing and Communications, recent SaaS purchases, and an overall switch to a focus on ROI. We also had inadequate media spending vs competitors (e.g., T. Rowe Price) on traditional media.
Q: What are your core marketing goals for the next 2-3 years?
A: We’re focused on raising our profile—both nationally and globally—and aligning with our distribution (sales) needs. There were times in the past when too many one-off marketing and communications projects were askew with those goals, but we’ve solved that. We are also working on dramatically improving overall marketing efficiency. And we are working on delivering better support to our European and Asian markets where are our business is seeing growth.
Q: What are the key marketing capabilities that you need to build to achieve those goals?
A: For starters, we’re fine-tuning the thought processes of our teams – they are now realizing that everything we do should have a clear ROI attached to it, and that each project should ladder-up to company goals. So we are Installing MBOs, dashboards and other accountability components in both our tools and processes.
Q: What does the Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) approach mean for American Century?
A: Like so many other companies, we’re integrating LTV into our strategy—much to the delight of our CEO and CFO! We’ve drilled into the books to determine revenue for various segments of our client population, which gives us a “North Star” data point to guide our marketing spend.
Q: How do you see data’s role in the marketing mix?:
A:We have a fair amount of data at our disposal. We just need to start looking at it differently and do a better job at incorporating it into social media campaigns, for example. We have client and investor information, as well as data about the audiences engaging with our content on our blog and social media channels, among other data points.
We need to continue to stay focused on learning more about anyone who engages with us and get as much insight as possible into this audience—whether that’s on our corporate site or social platforms.
Collecting and analyzing this data is cross-department task depending on the campaign. The Marketing and Communications teams work with Digital on projects involving social media, for example, to better target ads toward the most desirable audiences. When we start looking at basic client demographics—to build a Lookalike Audience, for instance—we reach out to our Retail team to get a better sense of the kinds of people who have been attracted to our services in the past.
Q: What metrics do you currently track:
A: It all depends on the campaign, but in some cases, we’ll be looking at engagement; in other instances, it’ll be time spent watching a video, or the number of leads generated from a landing page.
It could be something as lofty as incremental growth of assets under management (AUM), or perhaps the level of recognition of our brand within the market.
That’s going to be on a case-by-case basis. We’re looking very critically at each campaign we run and whether we met/exceeded not only our goals, but also our standards for excellence.
How aligned is the CEO and other execs around the role of marketing?
He’s delighted by our approach. For the first time, we have truly data- and metric-driven marketing and communications departments—aligned in our goals, and working shoulder-to-shoulder to meet them.
Q: Have you found any inefficiencies, and how did you tackle it?
A: We have. For example, a video commercial production in mid-2016 cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, took six months to produce, and in the end did not deliver on the ROI it should have. I initiated a new video early this year for $22k that took 6 weeks from start to finish. After running in-market on television, Facebook and Instagram, we saw a nearly 50 percent increase in unaided brand recognition in the city where it ran. The post-campaign metrics from the audience survey were astonishing and blew away what we saw with the expensive ad from a year ago.
Q: What are the biggest obstacles that you face in achieving success?
A: My team has had to change its entire mindset. For example, a few of them enthusiastically brought me a sponsorship opportunity not long ago. It was a cool, high-profile event. But I asked everyone to sit back and look at it from the “How will this make a difference to us, from an ROI standpoint?” It was an obvious question, but it’s not one that might have been asked a year ago. Afterwards, they realized that “cool” does not always result in meaningful results.
Q: What does a typical month look like for you?
A: It can get pretty manic, especially at the end of each quarter. Since my arrival in June 2016, we’ve made high-quality video production a priority. That includes interviews with our portfolio managers, who are located in New York, Kansas City and the Bay Area. We travel to them to grab an hour of their precious time to get their thoughts on the past quarter, and what they expect to encounter from the markets in the next three months. The finished product lives on our website, as well as our YouTube channel and Facebook page. That thought leadership is so crucial to raising our profile in the asset management industry.
Q: What advice do you have for other newly appointed CMOs marketing and communications executives?
A: Use your most precious asset: your fresh eyes. You’ll never have another opportunity to really scrutinize your operation to determine what works, what doesn’t, and what you should ditch entirely.