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How Fannie Mae Drove Digital Transformation

Steve James

Steve James

Chief Marketing Officer at Fannie Mae

Steve James Fannie Mae

Allow your organization to reach its full marketing potential by embarking on a digital transformation journey. This is not a sudden change, but one that is implemented step by step to analyze the effects.

Quartz Network Executive Correspondent Britt Erler sat down with Steve James, Chief Marketing Officer for Fannie Mae to learn about his recent success story. Steve led the digital transformation of this historically B2B company while guiding their journey to include B2C support.

Steve shares his own success stories and best practices for how to:

  • Leverage software and tech tools to embark on your own MarTech journey
  • Transform a small emerging team into an enterprise capability
  • Deliver a personalized experience for your customers instead of one size fits all
  • Expand your outreach capabilities from B2B to B2C to be more effective

Quartz Network: Please share a bit of background about Fannie Mae and your current role.

Steve James: In this role as Chief Marketing Officer, I oversee all of Fannie Mae’s marketing and communication efforts. This includes both external communications and our internal communications, as well as our web, social, and mobile app properties.

At Fannie Mae, we sit really in a unique place in the financial services ecosystem. We provide liquidity or financing for over a quarter of the homes and a quarter of the rental properties in America. Those are the two business areas we have at Fannie Mae. The homes single family, which most people know us for, which is the mortgage-backed security side, and then our multifamily business. We provide that liquidity, as we call it in the single-family space, by buying mortgage loans from lenders and securitizing them for sale as mortgage-backed securities, or as we call MBS, around the world.

We’re a mission led, mission driven company. We’re very focused on our mission to provide housing to low to moderate income Americans, both with mortgages for home buying as well as rentals, where over half of the multifamily units we finance are actually for renters earning less than 80% of the area median income, or as we call it AMI. We’re also very focused on our efforts to help consumers with education and information, which has been especially important during the crisis.

Quartz Network: You’ve been on a very long digital transformation journey with Fannie Mae. Where did it all start for you?

Steve James: It’s interesting. I joined about five years ago. The marketing capabilities were really limited to basic lender and servicer customer communications, developing collateral for events. There was a very small B2B marketing team that I’d say simply supported requests from the sales team. I think that resonates with a lot of people who work in the B2B marketing space. But there is also very little understanding of marketing technology capabilities or needs.

We, at Fannie Mae, had a renewed focus on lenders and servicers right about when I joined. I joined Fannie Mae as the Head of Single-Family Strategy, Marketing, and I also ran the affordable business.

One of the things I did right away is assess the state of the marketing capabilities. It became really apparent very early that the lack of any marketing technology was hindering opportunities to be much more efficient and effective. That’s when we embarked on what I’ll call the MarTech journey for us. At first, for the existing functions around customer support, as well as events. That’s that was the meat of what we did. We started there.

The very first thing we did was to bring in Salesforce CRM to put some structure around how we connected with our customers. This implementation went in phases over the course of about a year, and resulted in account teams being fully trained and efficient using Salesforce. It’s funny because I get feedback today. They can’t even imagine living without it, but it didn’t even exist five years ago. The Salesforce and the CRM was the first part of our stack that we put in place. We then implemented Seismic to manage content. We began to leverage it for messaging and customer base and channels and news digest, web portals, whatever.

On top of that, we built our own events portal. We do a lot of events and we go to a lot events. We used to before the pandemic and we still do quite a bit virtually. We wanted a place to centralize requests and ensure strategic alignment, unified message platforms. We were able with that to coordinate across all of them.

In our journey, we onboarded Cvent to manage a large number of customer meetings. Many of those events, sometimes we would meet, and have three, four or 500 meetings with our customer-facing teams, so we needed a better way to manage those.

Then, we began finally developing some early campaign capabilities. As our marketing mix started to evolve, I started to build out the marketing team. We built out more robust analytic capabilities. So we track the results of what we were doing. That was something that just was nonexistent at Fannie Mae when I joined. We put things in the market, but we had no idea what happened. Even things as simple as open rate for email, we weren’t tracking who was opening and what they’re looking at.

Finally, on this beginning of the journey, we added email capabilities like marketing cloud to the mix. So I’d like to say now that it is, and I say to my team, it’s the marketing and communications tech stack, because we’re using it so much. We’re using so much of the MarTech in comms, both internally and in for external comms.

Quartz Events: As a leader, how are you able to turn this small emerging team into an enterprise capability?

Steve James: Well, it’s funny. So again, MarTech took center stage. We combined all the disparate Marketing and Communications teams from across the company into a new organization that we aptly named Marketing and Communications, or as we call it M&C. I was named as the Chief Marketing Officer, which was actually, for Fannie Mae, a new role for us. We didn’t ever have a Chief Marketing Officer, we had a Chief Communications Officer in the past, and this role was placed on the Management Committee.

One of the first things I did is look at the capabilities within the new marketing communication organization to see where MarTech could help us and found even more opportunity to enhance our capabilities at the broader enterprise level. We also began to port over what we had built in the single-family business to the rest of the organization. So, we took all those things I talked about before, and we started to use them across our other businesses with investors, multifamily business, much more broadly across the organization.

Then, we focused on the web and social. We saw that as a huge opportunity to centralize and optimize. We added Sprinklr. We centralized management of our own social with Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. We spent quite a bit of time. This was a big journey of migrating the web architecture to a cloud-based platform.

We used Acquia Drupal. That provided technology and security benefits, and also enhanced the user experience. This is something that I had been trying to do for a while but gave us the opportunity to have enhanced personalization capabilities, so we could start to serve customized content. Prior to this, it was one size fits all.

Then, as a central team, this was a big one, we built out our digital analytics function. We really wanted to have a true 360 view of marketing activity. We put functionality like Google Analytics and Tableau in, so that we could track what was happening.

The final thing we did is we looked internally. We wanted to improve our workflow, our process across the division. We brought in Workfront, which again, this is one of those things just like Salesforce, my team can’t imagine working without Workfront. They use it.

Over the course of five years we went really from a non-existent MarTech stack—there was nothing there—to one that is enabling Fannie Mae now and the Fannie Mae of the future.

Quartz Network: How have you been able to expand your audience horizon and who you’re able to reach out to with these new MarTech capabilities?

Steve James: This was a big moment for us. There was a lot of confusion that was triggered by the COVID 19 pandemic, the economic crisis that it was leading to, and unemployment. We actually launched our very first consumer facing marketing campaign, one that we call Here to Help.

At the time there was millions of American homeowners and renters that were impacted. They really couldn’t figure out what their options were, what information they were reading in the paper was right, what was not right. So, we recognized this crisis as a mission moment, a time when Fannie Mae could step in, really make sure our customers, our lenders, our servicers, and the entire industry had the right information at the right time. So, we very quickly, were able to help clarify that confusion in the media first and get people the right information as fast as possible.

We updated our “Know Your Options” site, which was a website that was somewhat on the shelf from the last economic crisis. We updated it and we sent people there to show them what their actual options are when they’re in trouble, either from a rental standpoint, or from a homeowner standpoint. It really didn’t matter. There’s different impact depending on if their loan is a Fannie Mae loan or if they’re in a Fannie Mae financed multifamily unit. Even if they weren’t, we were giving them the correct information and the help that they needed during this time to help them get out of that crisis.

In this campaign that we launched called “Here to Help”, this is where we really leverage the capabilities we built. We built them in the B2B context, but we are now using them to serve a new audience, which was consumers, who we really didn’t have that outreach to in the past.

So revamping our website, employing the cloud based web analytics, we launched a consumer facing Fannie Mae app, which again, we found over 50% of people are coming to our website on their phones. So we said, “Well, let’s give it to you in an app form.” We built corresponding lender facing content to push it out through. We built a customer content portal that we call Max to enable the free flow of information and the push of that information.

In the end, we know there is more to do. As we shift to support more of a consumer side and begin to offer more B2C support to consumers through this crisis, which is which is continuing and beyond, we know that the consumer expectations in the digital channels are very high. We’ve got to really step our game up to meet them.

Quartz Network: Do you have certain tools, certain platform, surveys that you are using to measure not only the success that you’re having with your clients, but also the new needs that they may be experiencing during this time?

Steve James: It’s a great question. Again, something that we didn’t have the ability before. We didn’t even know who was opening our email when I joined five years ago. Now, we’re using Google Analytics. When people come to our site, we’re looking at what are they looking at. What are they clicking on? How long are they staying? What videos are they watching? What content are they downloading?

We, obviously, pop up surveys to figure out if they getting the information they need. Then, we’re figuring out if they’re not, what are those open spots? And what do we need to change? We’re constantly adapting and doing new things. Again, this is all in the consumer space, so that we can react, and very quickly change and update things that they’re asking for.

One of the things consumers said very quickly is, “Hey, does Fannie Mae have my loan?” We didn’t have a loan lookup tool. We very quickly worked and put a loan lookup tool in place.

Then, they said, “Okay, I got my loan, but who’s servicing my loan? I don’t even know who to reach out to.” Again, we built a lookup tool for that, and very quickly put that into market so they knew who was servicing their loan. So being able to measure, understand, and then adapt very quickly is important. The tools we put in place over the course of the five years enabled us to do that.

Quartz Network: What’s next for Fannie Mae? What are your goals for the upcoming years?

Steve James: Having made this shift to helping educate consumers, we know that we have a fragmented brand presence online. We have a lot of different things out there. We need to figure out how to unify across platforms, especially as we focus on this much deeper consumer education, both for rentals and homeowners.

With this focus, of course, there’s more work on the MarTech journey. It’s never really done, is it? We need greater personalization. We’ve done some personalization, but from a consumer perspective. We really need to personalize much more based on their needs, their abilities, and what they’re coming in for.

We talked a little bit about the research and the insight capabilities we have, but we obviously need even more. We need to be able to marry that with our data, and figure out how to use our data in a way as people come in, and we get more of that data to help new consumers who come in and target specific segments,

A big thing that we don’t think about and didn’t think about as much from a B2B perspective is we really have to build a powerful, consistent brand experience across channels. We really have to think about that one click up from what we’re doing from a B2B perspective.

Then, I mentioned the data flow, but getting that data in, fully measuring what we’re doing, figuring out the marketing ROI, and figuring out what we’re accomplishing, and what we need to change. Those are some things we’re seeing.

For us, in the crisis, and as I thought back on the MarTech stack journey, it’s never really done. That’s why we call the MarTech journey. It’s a journey. You don’t actually get somewhere. You keep working but you’re always on that journey.

I know many companies as they think about their capabilities, they’re using 25%, 35%, or 50% of the capacity. One of the things that we’ve really strived to do is to work to utilize as much as we can out of those capabilities. For me, a big lesson has been don’t try to build it all at once.

Five years seems like a long time, but there’s a lot of work in that. If we had built it all at once, we really wouldn’t have been able to spend the time to get the true value out of each of the stack of capabilities. It takes time, and more importantly, continued effort and attention. We’re still trying to figure out how do we get from 75% utilization of capability to 90, always looking and working on how we do more.

Quartz Network: What are some final pieces of advice that you have for companies that are just beginning their digital transformation journey and some key areas that they should focus on?

Steve James: The biggest piece of advice is back to looking at this as a journey, taking it in steps and stages, and fully utilizing the capabilities that that you’re bringing in. I mentioned the the sales teams, and how long it took for them to get comfortable with Salesforce, for example, getting them so they instantly input what happened in a customer meeting on their phone. It took a long time to get there.

Don’t expect it to happen overnight. You’ve got to put the effort in. As you talk to some of these MarTech companies, they’ll say, “This is the great output you can get, but you’ve got to put the work in to make sure you get that output.” It’s absolutely critical.

It’s not plug and play, and these things work perfectly. You’ve got to figure out how they work the best in your organization. Then spend the time with the different parts of the organization to see how they can help and what part they can play.

I would tell everybody to prepare for a journey. It definitely is. Don’t think, “I’m done,” because you’ll always find something else to do to continue.

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