Mark Evans, Managing Director of Marketing and Digital at Direct Line Group, will be chairing the Best Use of Data category of the 2020 WARC Media Awards. Here, he talks to Chiara Manco about Direct Line’s agile approach to changing times, the benefits that a consumer-first model can reap for businesses, and what a successful data-led campaign looks like.

Describe your role.

I lead the Marketing and Digital teams across the business and sit on the Exec Committee. We have a large portfolio of brands and, in recent years, we have moved a lot of capability in-house, so the function is a broad church. We have a top-notch leadership team, so my role is mainly to create a context and culture that supports the team.

How has your role been impacted by COVID-19 and lockdowns?

After the initial crisis-management phase and adapting to a virtual way of working, it has been largely about accelerating our agile ways of working. When lockdown hit, we were on the cusp of a head-office-wide roll-out of a fully cross-functional agile operating model, so whilst we had to pause the restructure itself to later in the year, we have nonetheless hugely accelerated our delivery model.

What approach has Direct Line Group taken to remain relevant and support consumers during this time?

We didn’t ditch our core brand campaigns as some have, since we felt they were still powerful and relevant, and that has turned out to be a good decision. However, we have massively increased our ‘navigational’ customer communications, i.e. an unprecedented volume of emails, letters and web changes that helps customers understand what has changed and what is available to them as we try to help them through this time.

What have you learned from this phase and how do you see Direct Line Group's communications change in the post-lockdown world?

Our purpose is to be a force for good and this crisis has given us an amazing opportunity to bring that to life. It has shown us that when we genuinely put the care and interests of our customers first, we will do well. This is seen most markedly in our NPS scores, which reached record-high levels, despite the considerable operational constraints that we have faced.

As a digital business, what advice would you give to brands looking to be visible and distinctive at a time when lots of businesses are pivoting to digital?

Whilst our customer interactions are massively skewed towards digital channels, our communication is much broader than that and balances across web and more traditional channels. We find that integrated campaigns delivered simultaneously across multiple media channels are most effective at getting our message across.

You are chairing the Media Awards' Best Use of Data category. What do you expect from this year's entrants?

We are obviously looking for rigour and fresh insight, but I’m really hoping to see entries that have flipped conventional wisdom in different ways.

As new apps and services have emerged to monitor the spread of COVID-19 – such as the NHS's Test and Trace – we are faced with a privacy conundrum: do you think we will have to become more comfortable with more organisations having more of our personal data, for the sake of the community's safety?

The direction of travel is towards a strengthening of privacy legislation. We are living in a pandemic, so I think it is reasonable that the government has the latitude to take action that is in the interests of the nation’s health. However, I don’t see this as a panacea towards a new direction, and that has to be a good thing since consumers’ trust in the appropriate use of their data is fragile.

Share an example of a campaign – not from Direct Line – that used data in a way that has impressed you recently. What was about it that stood out?

I really like the dynamic NHS blood donation campaign. It didn’t’ draw upon the most bleeding-edge data techniques, but it was much more relatable, localised and real-time than anything that has been done before to drive donations, and apparently has really shifted the needle.

What advice would you give to those considering entering the Best Use of Data category?

Go for it, these awards are a great accolade!

The WARC Media Awards will close for entries on 23 September. Click here to enter your work in one of the Awards' four categories: Effective Channel Integration, Effective Use of Tech, Best Use of Data and Effective Use of Partnerships & Sponsorships. Entry is free and there’s a prize fund for winning work.