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April, 2024

Being Aware of marketing’s ultimate job: Karen Ganschow reflects on customer insight wins at Optus, Telstra, Westpac, NAB and Aware; challenges marketers to wrestle back the 7Ps of marketing

What you need to know:

  • After nearly five years as the first head of data sciences at Aware Super and a career built around customer marketing, Karen Ganschow has officially hung up her full-time hat.
  • The former senior marketer, who worked for the likes of Optus, Telstra, Westpac, NAB and Aware, has spent her career looking at how to identify customer insights and build capability to address those in product propositions, engagement, experiences and services and has chalked up several runs on the commercial board along the way.
  • According to Ganschow, advanced technologies and machine learning have made it cheaper and more accessible than ever for businesses to build out a true, 360-degree view of customers through data and most importantly, action this across the customer lifecycle through next-best conversations and engagement. And it’s a capability she says she finally cracked at Aware super for one-tenth of the $30m it cost to build similar capability during her tenure at Westpac 15 years earlier.
  • Yet even with all this capability, Ganschow is concerned too many CMOs are focused on promotion and advertising instead of the full suite of Ps, leading to marginalisation and the rise of the chief customer officer she says they should be embodying.

It was the curious title that sparked surprise yet made sense when you thought through the career Karen Ganschow has had.

In late 2019, the former customer relationship marketing leader, who earned her stripes initially at Optus and Telstra before switching into the financial services sector with Westpac, then NAB, took up the newly created role of head of data sciences at Aware. The task was to realise data management, reporting, and action for the superannuation group and drive unification and actionability of all customer data across the organisation. Aware Super is the result of an amalgamation of five merged super funds and now has more than $150 billion under management and over 1 million members, making it Australia’s third-largest industry fund.

It’s arguably the task all strategic marketers – and growing numbers of chief customer officers – have been striving to tackle for years with mixed success (and input): A 360-degree view of customers to drive personalisation, better engagement, growth, and retention.

“Aware was a different spiel but it was still a lot of the same skills and focus; what I’ve always enjoyed is what is the customer / business problem, then how you build an enduring capability to address that,” Ganschow tells Mi3.

Over the last nearly five years, that’s exactly what Ganschow and the team at Aware worked to do. In discussions with Mi3 last year, Aware’s head of member experience and complaints, Nicola Smith, shared the fund adopted Adobe and Quadient on the tech stack front, while putting Qualtrics in place to drive customer listening programs. CRM was also on the cards.

As she hit March 2024, Ganschow says she pulled it off. “I can honestly say I’ve delivered a 360-degree customer view. So every key internal data source relating to customers – what they do in transactions, what they do online, logging into the mobile app, if they call the contact centre and what they say when they call us, what they tell us as to what they want to retire – all that beautiful, gorgeous information, as of March, is now all in one place,” she says.

Importantly, Aware has also rolled out Microsoft Dynamics 365 to all staff across the contact centre as well as the advisory network in order to action insights from this data-driven view of customers. It additional has a next-best conversation platform allowing the consultants in the contact centre to know what we know about the customer.

“As a result of that, the things we recommend they bring up with them, so they progress in their relationship with Aware as an industry super fund,” Ganschow explains.  

Ganschow expects the team to bring this capability to the customer-facing online portal and marketing communications over the next year as part of an end-to-end ecosystem approach.

“The key thing is it’s now possible. Key data is coming in, the analytics is able to run against it, and we’ve already shown the possibility of the triggered nudge in the contact centre. The obvious next place is to do it in the online environment,” she says.  

Making data actionable

In getting to actioning next-best conversations, it was critical to win the hearts and minds of the contact centre, Ganschow continues. “They have to know and love the possibility of it,” she says.

So late last year, Aware gave these staffers the opportunity to rebrand the platform. “Aware talks about members being ‘Sam’ – it’s a symbolism of the member. The next-best platform is now called ‘Sam suggests’ – it’s the suggestions Sam gives our consultants,” Ganschow says.  

Another idea, supported by Ganschow’s analytics team, was identifying and proactively responding to life stage changes for members. One of the biggest is when contributions to super from an employer stop.

“You need to tease out the individual who, as of April, isn’t going to have an employer contribution so there’s some big life change for that person. It could be retirement, job change, parental leave, redundancy. All those set up for a lovely conversation asking what’s going on, how can we help?” Ganschow explains.

“We rolled that out into Sam Suggests, and the insights were beautiful in terms of showing firstly, that we are caring and being proactive about something we should be keeping an eye on, because it is the most obvious transaction we have with our current members. Secondly, we could reach out and ask members how we can help. The acceptance rate of members has been very high in terms of that as a conversation, and whatever the next action would be – yes I’ve changed jobs, for example, and I need to send a form to my employer; or actually yes I’m retiring, can I see someone as an adviser to manage through that.

“Aware’s positioning is to try and be there as a super helpful fund, and that was a beautiful, super helpful thing to do.”

At Aware, with new and emerging technologies like Snowflake, and advanced analytic platforms like Azure and now with large language models, everything is so much easier to do and accessible. We were able to spend a lot less than $30m doing what we did at Aware; you can drop a zero off that figure. And the time to getting insights and value was much faster with the team, then being able to push it out. Now, you can be a medium-sized organisation and have $100,000s and get the outcomes, as long as you’re clear on the business opportunity and bring people along for the ride.

Karen Ganschow, former head of data science, Aware

The reality versus aspiration of customer-driven marketing

As mentioned earlier, this isn’t the first time Ganschow has tried to harness customer insight for business delivery; it’s a line threading throughout her career.

“The things I’ve prided myself on and the times I’ve had the most exciting function, was when the priority was finding the customer insight, then a way to deal with the current customer pain point that will allow you to win,” she comments.  

Ganschow points to an early example while working as a mobile then Internet product manager at Optus. “There is a big thumping incumbent with 100 per cent market share, so the question was, why should anyone want to move this US/UK owned, second license organisation?” she recalls.  

“We were coming to market with an ‘also-ran’ product; we were also reselling Telstra service at the time. But what was exciting was going deep on customers’ pain points. And what really annoyed them about Telstra… was no customer being able to explain the mobile pricing plan… it was engineering driven confusion.

“That as a customer pain point was something we could solve for and be different around. You want to create mobile pricing plans that differentiate your brand. So we approached it with a high degree of simplicity. We had three plans instead of Telstra’s six, that gave you an allowance of minutes in a way a customer could actually understand.”

Likewise, when Optus launched Internet services, it was first to market with product service bundling, according to Ganschow. Secondly, a customer pain point identified was parents concerned about Internet safety. So Optus bundled in Net Nanny too. “By listening to customer insight, we got a bundled solution and for many months we were the fastest-growing Internet provider,” she says.

At NAB, working with then-CMO, Andrew Knott, Ganschow was given space to run a marketing approach structured by customer life stages. When it created the life moments part of the website, traffic converted at a much higher rate than the product parts of the websites, she claims.

“We unpacked very different moments of truth for our customers. Of course, everyone wants to have the great Australian dream and inspires to buy their own home, but when you’re not doing that, what everyone wants to do in Australia is travel overseas. We made that a real way of being different for our customers and moved the dial on NAB customers, which when we started with the insight was the lowest spending international spenders, according to VISA, to the top by the time the program had played out,” she says.  

“Those are career highlights in terms of customer insight and getting in and under what customers cares about. I also had times at Telstra, Westpac, then with Aware where the CEO at the time really did aspire to having data as an enabler, and using the data and bringing together the customer view. But it’s only as interesting as what you do with it.”

Take Telstra’s former chief, Sol Trujillo, who Ganschow describes as “the master of segmentation”. During her tenure there, the telco conducted 22,000 interviews to build out its segmentation approach.

“It doubled our conversion rate on everything we touched in a 1:1 space, because we were talking to the customer about what they cared about as opposed to pushing a product,” Ganschow adds.

Faster, cheaper personalisation

Thanks to technology and machine learning advancement, these sorts of capabilities are more accessible, cheaper and faster to procure. Instead of paying $30m or more to build out customer segmentation and next-best actions – like Westpac reportedly did initially before throwing another $70m at EY to ultimately fail on this front, as Mi3 has reported – Aware has built its approach at one-tenth the price, according to Ganschow.

“At Aware, with new and emerging technologies like Snowflake, and advanced analytic platforms like Azure and now with large language models, everything is so much easier to do and accessible,” she says. “We were able to spend a lot less than $30m doing what we did at Aware; you can drop a zero off that figure. And the time to getting insights and value was much faster with the team, then being able to push it out.

“Now, you can be a medium-sized organisation and have $100,000s and get the outcomes, as long as you’re clear on the business opportunity and bring people along for the ride.”

With such a plethora of customer data and action capability comes immense responsibility of course. From crackdowns on privacy to high-profile customer data breaches and now AI, Ganschow acknowledges a stronger need for data governance and responsible use frameworks.

“You need to check for biases or issues of hallucinations. So yes, you’re right. But boy you want to use it and catch that opportunity,” she says.

Reframing the returns conversation

Ganschow has seen plenty of customer pain points in her time, and she’s even been surprised by a couple. Take the urban myth around digital self-service and information cutting down call centre calls.

“Every digital project that tries to provide online services to customers, both in retail banking and super, will justify the project on the fact that by providing this service to customers, they’ll call less,” Ganschow says.  “Well boom boom – it doesn’t work that way…. When you’re giving people access to information online, and with all the fraud occurring, they’re looking more frequently.

“The same urban myth existed at Aware – the group exec all believed if we had more members online they’d call less. Guess what, the ones online are the ones that disproportionately call. It’s not an unusual phenomenon – McKinsey has pointed out it’s playing out in financial services in the US as well with organisations putting big investments into online. It’s the right thing to do, but you aren’t necessarily seeing it pay off in less calls to the contact centre. You’re seeing a more engaged customer, for lots of good reasons, now calling you more. It does beg the question of how you make the cost-out business case replacement.”

Marketing – and Ganschow’s – future position

Ganschow may have retired from the full-time job, but she’s staying active and plans to take up board positions. And she’s continuing her lecturing career to MBA and business students at Macquarie Business School, where she’s lectured for 15 years, plus the University of Sydney. Her emphasis is on helping them to ask the right questions about marketing and customer functions.

“In all the subjects I teach, I spend the first hour of four hours talking about the fact marketing is not just about advertising. Marketing has a few more things it needs to do before it advertises,” she says.

That is why it “distresses her no end” to see too many marketing teams stuck on one P – promotion – where there are in fact seven (in the modern marketing playbook).

“I really hope the CMO gets back to standing up to being the champion of the customer in the organisation,” Ganschow says, perceiving the rise of chief customer officers as an outcome of marketers losing the mantle somewhat. “They have become the customer champion and marketing becomes part of their teams as opposed to marketing being the customer champion and leading everyone else.  

“That’s what frustrates me – to watch marketers getting more obsessed about the campaign of the day versus championing the real customer proposition and how the organisation collectively needs to be different. You get marginalised that way.”