The increasing importance of customer experience as a differentiator could herald a golden age of marketing, suggests Direct Line’s Mark Evans, who spoke to WARC as part of a series of interviews with CMOs from around the world for the Toolkit 2019 report.

What are you proudest of in 2018? And what’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned this year?

Unequivocally it was winning our 2 IPA Gold Effectiveness awards in October for our paper on Marketing Effectiveness. It was the culmination of several years of capability building within the team. Titled They went short. We went long, it demonstrated how we have developed a very rigorous approach to balancing short term performance and long term brand building. Previously we were the only insurer ever to win a Gold award but we are one of a very small handful of companies that have won 3!

The biggest lesson is that we are facing a long term talent crisis as the consideration amongst school pupils for a career in marketing is dwindling. It’s not all about qualifications, but in marketing, there's an absolute dearth, and the number of marketers who have any form of marketing qualification is actually quite low. I think this is something that we need to pay attention to, not least because the irony of marketing being rubbish at marketing-marketing.

Toolkit 2019

This interview is part of WARC’s Toolkit 2019 series

Find the full report here

How do you expect your category to develop in 2019? To what degree is it being disrupted?

With the advent of driverless cars, connected homes, IOT, blockchain, etc., insurance will continue to migrate from a process of restitution to a service of prevention. The pace towards this is likely to accelerate as both start-ups and established players continue to invest more and more funding into innovation.

What's the biggest challenge your brand faces in 2019?

Direct Line is back in growth and disrupting the insurance market but we cannot rest on our laurels. Others are keen to topple us so we need to stay focussed, keep innovating, and ensure that we stay 100% consumer-focussed. We need to stay curious. The world and particularly Britain is evolving faster than ever so it is critical to not make too many assumptions and never believe that we have sussed it!

What tech are you in investing in or scaling up?

We have a carved out test and learn budget which allows us to pilot emerging technology such as with our AR activity in Kings Cross in January. It's still an experimental phase. We stay media-agnostic and media-neutral, which means it depends on what's the marketing objective or even what's the business objective and/or is there a specific audience we're trying to reach?

It's about the outcome rather than the medium. There are a lot of people who are very seduced by emerging media but the key is in the balance. In many cases, brands lose sight of what actually works and gone away with the digital fairies.

It's a little bit like back in the day, 10 years ago, when the iPhone was invented, CEOs were demanding of their marketing functions, "We need an app." "Okay, what do we need an app for?" "I don't know, we just need one." "Really? Well, what's it going to do?" "I don't care. We just can't get left behind on this stuff." And so the risk is that you don't have a clear objective in mind when you're doing it.

What skills will you need to hire into your team?

Our marketing function is a broad church ranging from CRM, analytics, marketing effectiveness (arguably more left brain) all the way through to innovation, CX and comms (arguably more right brain). Hence we are looking for a blend of skills so that as a total we are a “whole brain” function. Therefore rather than being too prescriptive this leads us to hire people who are curious, have the drive to push their ideas through, and the teamworking and empathy to bring people on the journey. Our cultural mantra is to “Bring All of Yourself to Work” which means that we just want people to be the best version of themselves.

But I think the breakthrough, as a marketing function, is improved commerciality. It has two benefits: one is that it led to better results, but it also gave us credibility in other parts of the business. I think it's a credibility and belief-based thing that finance folks trust that marketers are seeking to create value and finding the intersection between what's valuable to customers and what's valuable to shareholders. In a sector where Marketing does not have full P&L ownership we need to be credible commercially, talking the language of the board, to ensure that we are never perceived as a fluffy “colouring-in” function.

I think it has to become more important because what everyone is waking up to is that the fusion between brand marketing and customer experience, particularly in the service sector, is critical. So a brand is everything that the customer experience covers, not just the products. But it's the build-up to it, what happens afterwards, the retail experience, everything. And so if businesses want to win, they need to stay customer-relevant or outperform on what customers really need. And if that's falling under marketing's remit more and more, then I actually think that this is sort of a golden time for marketing.

Do you expect your agency relationships to change in 2019?

We have a number of long term agency relationships and prefer to see our agencies as strategic partners. It stems from one of the Mars principles from my early career where it was genuinely believed that a mutual benefit is an enduring one. That doesn’t mean that we are not continuously reviewing how we work with our agencies but we try to remember that the grass is not always greener. In this way we tend to pitch when we come to a cross-roads point for one of our brands or capabilities where we need to re-set for the next 3-5 years.

In terms of in-housing capability we have several examples of a hybrid approach whereby we part in-house but also maintain some level of internal capability. An inherent problem of in-housing everything is that you can lose sight of what’s emerging in the outside world. We can't know the answer to everything – that’s where we have partners who are leaders in their field.

Will you be changing your media mix in any significant way?

We are constantly reviewing and testing our media mix but don’t currently have any plans to change it significantly. In accordance with Binet and Field’s 60:40 recommendation, TV still remains our most important media line. We have experimented with AR and podcasts in the last year with good effect but we try to keep our feet on the ground and fiercely maintain media neutrality.

Where are your biggest 'knowledge gaps' in terms of measuring the impact of your marketing investment?

We are confident that we are able to accurately understand the short and long term impacts of the vast majority of our spend. That is the main reason that we won and IPA gold and the Gold Award for New learning since the paper focussed entirely on the tools and techniques that we use to do so. However, as the media landscape continues to evolve the job is never done and so we keep pushing ourselves both in terms of new measurement techniques, but also in accelerating our cycle time to feed into our approach to trading.