This week Little Grey Cells meets Ben Rhodes, brand director at Phoenix Group. We learn how Phoenix Group are prioritising purpose, their move towards decarbonisation, and how childhood dinner conversations were Ben’s marketing sandpit.
What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?
Ben> Growing up in a small business family, every conversation at the dinner table during my childhood was about the family firm… how to grow it, staff problems, managing costs, winning new customers, my Dad’s crazy ideas to sell more stuff. I didn’t realise it at the time but it was my marketing sandpit.
What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?
Ben> We’re scaling our function from scratch in a business that has never had a brand presence, but has the ambition and wherewithal to be a leading corporate brand impacting the lives of millions of long term savers. Managing expectations, consistently executing with excellence, and delivering tangible step changes, present unique challenges all on their own.
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?
Ben> There is a certain kind of magic that only happens when you get one to lead to the other. I view data as the bedrock. It enables us to find the insights that can drive our actions and our storytelling – this might result in high impact social advocacy on the issues we care about, or inspire our creative partners to elevate the brand through truly engaging and arresting brand building activity, and brilliant creative work.
The Metaverse: are you ‘in’, ‘out’ or ‘not sure’? And please tell us why.
Ben> I am sure there will be commercial value at some point, but at the moment I am happy to wait for a last mover advantage.
How is your approach to marketing affected by times of economic turbulence and increased cost of living?
Ben> Times of change often invoke changes in consumer attitudes and behaviour. Sometimes accelerating long term trends too, with surprising speed. My approach is to gain sustainable competitive advantage when possible. Taking time to listen to the customer and observe their behaviour, so that we can adjust our proposition, positioning and share of voice accordingly, often provide the foundations for continued growth.
How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?
Ben> I am a big fan of getting the basics right and delivering consistently distinctive brand experiences to customers, but I also recognise how critical it is that the team look outward for inspiration. Through customer research, social listening, training, and attending events, they will get exposure to new and diverse thinking and practice. The team will only deliver consistent excellence and progress if they are as focussed on the world outside the company’s front door, as they are on doing the simple stuff brilliantly.
What role does your company’s purpose and environmental strategy play within your marketing strategy?
Ben> As a purpose led business and the largest asset owner in the UK, everything we do is guided by our purpose of helping people secure a life of possibilities. We are building our brand around being that future focussed, customer centric business. This is as much about using our size and scale (one in four adults in the UK have a policy with us) to affect real change, as it is in convening the industry to deliver the decarbonisation required to reach net zero across our £270bn of assets under administration.
How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?
Ben> I learned early in my career at MasterCard, when I worked on the Priceless campaign, that storytelling is the key to great communication and brand building. Oftentimes the best brand advertising inspires the story in your consumers own mind. When they can make it their own, it takes the brand to a whole new level of salience.
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?
Ben> Tendering for a new creative agency is a significant process for any marketing function. My preference is to do it as infrequently as possible. Not only do the preparation and pitching stages require a huge amount of focus internally, but the on-boarding and acclimatisation within the business is an extensive process too. There is a real cost to the marketing function too.
My approach is to run a lean process with a select group of likely partners. Throughout the process I want to understand how the agency goes about solving a business problem, whether we have good chemistry, and if they can demonstrate creative clout. The best agencies do this knowing they may win a multi year contract that should allow them to recoup their pitch costs.
From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2023?
Ben> 2023 is year two of our brand build programme. In 2022 we relaunched Phoenix Group as a purpose led business with a new identity, and started to tell our story and build awareness of our brand with key specialist audiences. In 2023 we will continue this and scale out to broader more mainstream audiences through a high impact integrated marketing plan. It’s delightfully ambitious, hugely stretching and I can’t wait to get started. The sooner we do, the sooner we can help the millions of people in the UK who aren’t saving, or can’t save, enough for their retirement to have better longer lives.