As U.S. Tax deadline April 18 approaches, Intuit software is bound to get a workout. The maker of QuickBooks and TurboTax serves over 42 million customers worldwide, and is seeking a larger share by focusing on new technology. The company recently showcased new tools that integrate machine learning, virtual reality, and voice-activated digital assistants into bookkeeping and tax preparation.
Some tools, such as machine learning, are already in use this tax season, and in the days leading to April 18, Intuit is already testing technologies it will launch for the next tax season. The company has held a focus on emerging technology in the last 18 months and now has over 100 patents, only 30 of which in production today, said EVP, Chief Marketing and Sales Officer Lucas Watson, who joined in 2016 from Google.
Velocitize spoke to Watson about the importance of focusing on marketing fundamentals, and how technology can turn DIY into “do it with me.”
Velocitize: Why is Intuit launching all these new technologies?
Watson: From the moment I walked in the door there were conversations going on all through the company about creating visions of where we wanted to be. We could look around and see the rise of assisted experiences like Google Now, Google Home, Alexa, and chatbots.
It all comes back to this common mission, trying to deliver three simple benefits: more money, no work and complete confidence. The technology you’re seeing is a manifestation of trying to deliver on that same promise: a better tomorrow than today. But lots of teams have been working a long time.
Velocitize: You mentioned joining last year, replacing Caroline Donahue. Was it a challenge to come from outside the company to replace a longtime Intuit executive like her?
Watson: First, I think it’s a great positive. If Caroline had a job for 21 years, she must have done a great job. Most CMOs last about 3 ½ years. I take that as a good sign that company is well run and that Caroline did a great job.
It’s less about challenges and more about opportunities. One of the big ones was that I was excited about the opportunity to work on QuickBooks to become a global brand, instead of a U.S.-driven brand. We have a pretty solid geographic footprint today, but I don’t think you would call us a global icon as a brand yet. We have to do the last mile around compliance work to make sure our product works in the local market, but QuickBooks has great potential to serve small business owners and self-employed people all over the world.
The second is: Intuit as a company and as a brand is not as well-known as some of our peers — like Microsoft, PayPal, Adobe, Google, and Facebook. As we move to this world of the cloud, we move to one Internet identity profile, we start to create the linkage between our products. As we start to develop a platform, all of a sudden, there is a whole bigger need for who is the company behind these cornerstone brands.
Velocitize: You mentioned small businesses and the self-employed. You have new products for both. Is that a conscious pitch for the growth areas in the economy?
Watson: Absolutely. There are over 700 million self-employed workers in the world. It’s the fastest-growing segment in the workforce. They have tremendous unmet needs and they sit at the intersection of consumers and small businesses, which we serve with QuickBooks and TurboTax. So the opportunity is a huge focus for us.
Velocitize: Those areas require personalization. You came from Google, which supports open sourcing many of its products. Is this a focus you brought to Intuit?
Watson: Being a trusted open platform is crucial to our future. You see evidence here today: integration with Google Calendar, Google Maps; we have American Express making loans to customers, we have Earnest making student loans to customers out of TurboTax.
We absolutely hope to innovate and solve customer problems faster than we would be able to do if we did it all ourselves, by leveraging the expertise of American Express to create small business loans and combine the data of Amex with QuickBooks to make a better loan decision, or making it easier for a customer to log their time and their hours on Google Calendar and send an invoice from their calendar. Those are examples of we see huge potential to market, where we can solve customer problems faster than we could by ourselves.
Velocitize: Did you make many changes in the marketing functions when you joined?
Watson: The company is incredibly strong, so there wasn’t a need for tremendous change. We’ve done a couple of things. One (change) was on our global expansion: We have gone faster in the U.K., Canada, and Australia. We have invested more aggressively since I’ve joined. We were probably not giving them enough oxygen.
On the same side, we have slowed down a little and gone back to our foundational thinking for our business in Brazil, France and India. These are markets with great potential, but we’ve actually slowed down a little bit to do the foundational consumer understanding — what we call product market fit, design for delight — to ensure that we design truly great product in those markets, before we scale the marketing and the sales and everything else.
That was one key change, and the other one I didn’t drive it as much as Greg Johnson, one of our lead marketers for TurboTax. TurboTax had historically been a do-it-yourself tax solution. But the whole campaign that we launched this year with Humpty Dumpty and David Ortiz and all those great ads introduced SmartLook, which all of a sudden, through the power of video technology, brought an assisted experience to help you have confidence that you’re doing your taxes right.
There’s all of a sudden this category — if you want to call it that — of “do it with me.” I can bring it to my accountant, who can do it for me, I can do it myself, and now there’s something in the middle. It’s creating a new category that hadn’t existed before, powered by technology. It’s allowing us to move more market and serve more customers than we could have served otherwise.
I would hope a year from now, we could come back and say Intuit, Mint, TurboTax, and QuickBooks are doing great work and they would be on par with the great brands of the world. We have to keep the foundations of great marketing fundamentals, attract great talent and attract great agency partners. We have the potential to become a hothouse for brand building in Silicon Valley because we are customer driven.