Direct Line’s managing director is stepping down later this year, but before he does, he lifts the lid on his ‘Little Grey Cells’, how a happy accident led him to a career in marketing, and how the leading Insurance company cultivates a culture of personal development and external influence within its marketing team.
What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?
Mark> In truth it was a very happy accident. After university I was all signed up for a graduate career in finance but was made redundant literally before I’d even started the job. Second time around I did much more research and discovered marketing as a thing. What attracted me was the fact that its foundations are in understanding what makes people tick – their needs, aspirations and dreams. It is a very humanist thing and that escalates up into helping an organisation to bring the customer to life, the outside in and the future forward.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?
Mark> In the insurance sector new regulations in January 2022, combined with the impact on our supply chain of Brexit, Covid and the Ukraine war have turned the market upside down. Hence, more than ever before, we are having to do more with less. This means we have had to up our game even further in terms of commerciality and creativity. Of course the two are intrinsically linked and hence we have put a lot of effort into our headline campaigns in Direct Line ‘We’re on it’ (Superheroes) and Churchill ‘Chill’, which have landed really well.
In parallel we are making a big step forward in terms of personalisation and data-driven marketing. This is an often over-talked and over-claimed capability but we are in the process of systematically building out our martech stack across our agile squads to make the most of the huge amounts of first-party data that we have.
Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?
Mark> It's an “and” not an “or”!
The challenge for marketing leaders is to build a whole-brained marketing team. I am a big advocate for the role that neurodivergence plays in breakthrough thinking, and for me this provides a lighthouse for the need to have a wide variety of brains in the team that can collectively bridge art and science. In the end brilliant creativity well planned, implemented and commercially evaluated isn’t rocket science.
The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’? And please tell us why.
Mark> It’s still at an exploratory phase but I am “in” - with the caveat that we are still fuzzy in terms of a common definition of what it actually is. For some it’s synonymous with NFTs and for others they question whether it even requires AR/VR. Hence we have a long way to go but what seems clear to me is that for many it will allow them to achieve enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfilment in a way that the real world cannot and so the latent demand will drive the technology and infrastructure over time.
How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?
Mark> At the heart of this question is the need for curiosity and a growth mindset. One of the best bosses I ever had said that curiosity is the most important skill in any decent marketer’s toolkit and that there is a transformative insight lurking around every corner - you’ve just got to be curious enough to find it!
Translating this into practice across the team means that we have a strong learning culture with emphasis upon an individual's ownership of their own personal development. We are also always hungry for external stimulus whereby our agencies play a key role to challenge us and keep us fresh
What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy?
Mark> Our intent is to be a force for good in an industry that isn’t always seen as one of the most trusted. Hence we aim to be at the progressive end of all aspects of the ESG agenda.
A good example is our recent ‘Making electric easy’ campaign where we aim to play a catalytic role in helping people to transition to elective vehicles. Our concierge service has helped many consumers in a way that is perhaps unconventional for an insurer, but it aligns perfectly with our overarching intent and also our desire to be more useful in peoples’ lives
How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?
Mark> Storytelling has been and always will be crucial to cut through the clutter of the media landscape today. There is an abundance of work that explains the way that our brains make decisions (the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute and How Brands Grow, System 1, Thinking Fast and Slow) and it is clear that memorability is boosted by an engaging story with distinctive features and characters.
This is at the heart of our ‘We’re on it’ superheroes campaign. It’s very hyperbolic (that we are better at fixing problems than fantasy characters!) but the metaphor is spot on and it makes for really engaging advertising.
Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?
Mark> There is a balance here. Selecting a new agency is a massive decision not to be taken lightly and so the process needs to be thorough. At the same time it is a massive drain on agency resources, particularly if the process is elongated.
Hence my perspective is that it is best to run a short and very professional pitch process. That means having a really precise brief, extremely clear and transparent selection criteria, to avoid holiday periods, and quite rapid timescales since work always expands to fill the time available. This, combined with clear and honest feedback to all pitch participants, hopefully achieves that sensible balance.
From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2022?
Mark> As outlined it’s a challenging year for us but we have launched bold new campaigns across Direct Line, Churchill and Green Flag and as we look ahead we have a strong diversification agenda to stretch our brands to be even more useful in customers' lives. Watch this space…
Mark Evans was interviewed By Tim Healey (Little Grey Cells) on behalf of Worth Your while (wyw.agency).