If you had described the role which today’s current senior marketers inhabit to them at the start of their careers, it is unlikely they would have understood it (or perhaps wanted it). The last two decades have seen unprecedented changes to what was a mature and well-understood discipilne. Digital channels, big data and the social, mobile consumer have transformed marketing.
For individuals who welcome a challenge and are agile in how they respond, this has made their rise to the top as interesting as it has been dynamic. Pete Markey, who recently moved to TSB Bank as marketing director, told the audience at the DataIQ Summit that, “I love taking the walls off and challenging ways of working,” marking him out as having exactly the mindset required to adapt and thrive.
But for Markey, this viewpoint is not just a metaphor. While marketing director at Post Office, he took on the running of half a dozen branches in order to understand the customer experience. As he explained, “16 million people visit a Post Office every week and there was an opportunity to find out where we were not doing enough.”
Observing the way customers used these branches identified that the physical layout and design were causing stress. By taking down internal walls and using better signage and colour coding, Markey showed it was possible to achieve better business results. “Only 20% of customers were aware that Post Office sold things other than stamps. We got that up to nine out of ten and saw a 30% revenue increase for just £10,000 in cost. We created a new branch template from those data points,” he said.
Markey has always been drawn to businesses with sizeable customer bases. His career started at British Gas in the 1990s when it managed 19 million customers. Something else significant also happened there, he recalled: “I fell in love with data because it was easy, successful and there were clear rules.” At the time, of course, that meant mailing lists for direct mail and trying to improve on average response rates of 1% while waiting for six months for campaign results to arrive.
After “a random year” at the AA, he spent eight years with More Th>n, again using large-scale data for direct marketing. But with the dawn of the internet, things started to change and data capture, selection and targeting transformed the business model. Markey helped to engineer a customer journey which saw prospects landing on a comparison website receiving an outbound call within 60 seconds.
“The big difference was in working out how data could shift the marketing mix,” said Markey. “More Th>n was too top heavy with brand spend, but I was able to show that, by moving just 20% into direct, it would reduce cost per acquisition by 20% year-on-year and improve the brand metrics.” Success saw him move to a global best practice role for parent company RSA, setting up a marketing Centre of Excellence which delivered £5 million in incremental value.
He replicated that desire to “break down barriers” at Aviva, setting up a cross-functional team that embraced customer experience, marketing, proposition, pricing and analytics. The result was double-digit improvements in performance and employee engagement end-to-end.
For Markey, flexible organisational structures have to be matched with a personal willingness to change. "I now look for a changed mix of people. The brand role of marketing is now less needed - I am looking for a digital mindset that interprets data. The future will be more flexible team structures, not specific domain teams,” he predicted.
Sherine Yap, global CRM manager at Shell Retail, has had a career to date which combines moves between brand and digital roles with international moves. As a student in Asia, she earned a degree in PR, she cold-called herself into her first job then moved to work for Dentsu Y&R, an advertising agency in Kuala Lumpur.
As she pointed out, the world at that time was very different to they way things are now. “I got my first mobile phone at 21! And we talked about ‘above the line’ and ‘below the line’,” she said. After a move to McCann Erickson in Sydney, she experience a “massive culture shock” when a brand management job for Lotus saw her move to Norfolk in the east of England. Finally, she reached Shell and a London base.
“I have had five different roles at Shell in 12 years. It is very fast-moving and is always throwing up opportunities, so I have worked in recruitment, oils and lubricants, global promotions and now CRM,” said Yap. This latest role present probably the biggest challenge, she admitted. “I felt intimidated at first by people who understood data.”
This new breed of data-literate marketer requires different handling from traditional brand marketers. But Yap argues that, “I think I’ve brought a different perspective, challenging the data team when they don’t get the human dimension. You have to find the middle ground between marketing and data.” Even so, she has ensured there is mandatory training for all teams to ensure they understand core data principles, such as the difference between first-party and third-party data as well as the need for data governance. (Markey would no doubt endorse this, having had to stop one marketer at More Th>n from pursuing the “crazy idea” of emailing the insurer’s entire customer database when under pressure to hit a target.)
One major learning for Yap has been to recognise culture differences and the impact of diversity. She shared the story of being a junior account executive at a client meeting in Malaysia where she voiced disagreement with her boss, who promptly reprimanded her for showing disrespect. By contrast, when working in Sydney, Australia, she was actively encouraged to argue her viewpoint and speak up.
“You have to understand the culture you are working in and the people you are working with. In a highly-mobile working environment, it will encourage diversity by gender, race and personality type, but there are still different dynamics between, say, Europe and India,” she said.
Another issue she has been wrestling with is mastering the language of the data team and how to translate it for the C-suite. “They need to speak the language of finance and business or they will not get buy-in. They will just be ‘the data guy’ and the business won’t care what they have to say,” she said. That would risk missing critical insights, such as that loyal customers are worth ten-times more than non-loyal customers, underlining the importance of CRM, and that loyal customers who use the mobile app index higher for purchasing than non-app users.
That aligns with one of her key learning points to keep it simple. That is not always easy, such as when Yap was thrown into the deep end of data with a move to CRM. But as both she and Markey demonstrate, marketers who acknowledge the changing environment and respond flexibly can not only thrive, they can make it to the very top.