May 31, 2021

Behind the Scenes at a Brand ReBoot

Mark Evans photo

by Mark Evans

Posted on May 31, 2021

In March 2020, top UK insurance brand Direct Line went ahead with a planned reboot of its successful brand. With a continued focus on the messsaging of the brand as "fixers", the character of Winston Wolf was replaced with a group of superheroes.

Host Will Francis quizzes Mark Evans on their decision to change something that already worked, and how it panned out during a pandemic. They also look at why brand is so central to everything you do online and how it is perceived by your public, stakeholders, and your employees. 

Mark Evans is also behind the podcast, The Places We'll Go Show



Will: Welcome to "Ahead of the Game," a podcast brought to you by the Digital Marketing Institute. This episode is a big Q&A where we explore an area of marketing through a leading industry expert. I'm your host, Will Francis, and today I'll be talking to Mark Evans about his work heading up marketing and digital at one of Britain's most recognized brands, Direct Line Insurance. We'll talk specifically about a brand reboot, fronted by iconic animated characters launched just as the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and how he navigated that. Mark is the managing director of marketing and digital at Direct Line Group. Having joined in 2012, he's overseen the transformation of their brands and marketing approach, including the multi-award-winning reinvigoration of the much loved Direct Line brand. Mark himself has been awarded numerous industry accolades in recognition of his marketing and leadership talents. So we've got lots to learn from him today. Mark, welcome to the podcast.


Mark: Yeah, great to be here, Will. Thank you very much. Lovely intro. Thank you.


Will: Pleasure to have you on, and like I said, I think my job is to download all that you know in the time that we have.


Mark: Fine, I'll do my best.


Will: So, okay, this campaign, just let's set the scene a little bit, this campaign that launched in March 2020, just tell me a little bit about that and what you aim to achieve, how it was different from what you've done before, and exactly what it looked like for people on the receiving end.


Mark: Yeah, sure. And I'm very conscious, you'll have some people listening who aren't from the U.K. so I'll just try and give a bit of context. Direct Line is the leading motor insurance brand and one of the leading general insurance brands in the U.K., very long history, used to be a very famous brand, went through the wilderness, had a reboot in 2014 with the Winston Wolf Fixer Campaign, which has won Cannes Lyon and IPA Gold and all sorts. And was really an odd one in that it had a gangster, the Winston Wolf character from "Pulp Fiction," as the metaphor for an intent for insurance company, which is odd because insurance is a low trust sector. But actually, his fixer credentials were a great metaphor for our intent, in fact.


So yeah, so when we came through to 2020, we changed it all again. And I think there were a lot of people who were quite quizzical as to why the heck would we have changed something that was still working so well. And I guess it comes largely...and I'll describe a bit about what the campaign was. It comes largely from the fact that we did have one strategic wrinkle in our campaign approach. But also we had a belief that better was possible. The strategic wrinkle was that we would use Harvey Keitel's Winston Wolf to declare our brilliance as to why our insurance is better and worth buying, and so on. But we never had a comparitor. We couldn't say that we were better than something else. And so if you like, there was a bit missing in this strategic setup, which it didn't impact the effectiveness of the advertising, but that was what led us to the other thought, well, maybe there's something even better available. And also, we'd use Harvey Keitel for quite a while and we couldn't use him in all media.


But we didn't have to change but we chose to because the philosophical point is never believing that you've got the best, that there is always better available. And I suppose there's a strong linkage, for example, to competitive sport, if you take like a Steve Redgrave, who's won gold in five Olympics. If you think about the great sporting teams that have endured, they're also quite humble and register that you never sussed it, you never cracked it. And so what we did is we did really go right back to the drawing board with the existing agency, we didn't do a pitch, it was with Saatchi & Saatchi and went in search of better. And b came in the guise of this notion of that, "We're so good at fixing problems that we're putting superheroes out of business." It's a very, very simple thought, as ever, took a long time to get there. But it's now a truly epic campaign where we're beating Donatello, obviously, from the Ninja Turtles, and Robocop that many people will know, and also Bumblebee, one of the transformers, to the chase in terms of fixing a customer problem.


And what that allows us to do in a slightly hyperbolic way is to demonstrate that we're better than something else. Okay, it's not a direct reference, but people get the hyperbole, and therefore, it has a lot of reward and comedy and humor. And so it was really as much as anything, that appetite to go again, register that there's always better available. And in that exploration process, once again we're quite fortunate, to really deliver the gold.


Will: And so that must have been quite, kind of, exciting to find something that felt right with Saatchi and start to launch that. But then this quite scary global event happened, this pandemic hit. Was there ever a point where you thought about holding back the campaign, or was it too late to do that and you just had to go for it?


Mark: Well, yes, we were committed. Actually, you just made a point, which I would flag around excitement. You know, you're very lucky if once in your career you're sat in a room with an advertising agency and you just know that there's something brilliant in before you and you get the hair standing up on the back of your neck. I think that often happens no times at all, for a marketer. To have that once is really fortunate. To have that twice, on the same brand with the same agency, I think is pretty, pretty rare. Normally, you wouldn't even reconsider a campaign that's working extremely well, without a change in the agency, or a change in the leadership, or the change in the market context. So two hair on the back of the neck moments is really...I'm very blessed. And it does lead me to think that a lot of great advertising development is instinct-based, it is what gets you excited. So I just wanted to labor that point because I think for people thinking, "What's the point of this podcast?" I would really strongly advocate that if it gets you excited, there's something in it, follow your passions, follow your instincts.


Will: Yeah, I'd like to dig into that, actually, before we then get onto the logistics of it because I think that is one of the great mysteries still of marketing is creativity. And then of course, in recent years, there's this idea that through digital channels, like data will do all the decision-making for you. But we know that creativity is still the driving force behind great memorable campaigns, right?


Mark: Yeah, 100%. And I think know, I've used the expression of being away with the digital fairies. I mean, that's not to say that digital and data aren't incredibly important. But they're not at the expense of the core idea, which signifies what a brand stands for in the world. And I think that it's that human touch in combination with digital and data, which makes the day. And I'll use a very, very simple example, which is that if your what brand stands for, as carried through your advertising, is so easy to get for consumers that it's also so easy to get for your staff, then I believe it's very possible to get to this virtuous circle where every day your staff know how they need to show up for your customers and the brand lives through every single touchpoint. And that connection doesn't even get started when you're talking about data and digital, your staff on the end of phones, or WhatsApps, or web chats, they don't get that, they don't see that.


But visceral, exciting, challenging advertising just gets people going, and gets staff going, gets customers going. And so yeah, great, great creative will live forever. And of course, let's not forget that TV is a long way from being dead as a medium and has had a bit of a renaissance through the pandemic, but it is still the way to hit a mass audience with a big idea to drive momentum for a brand. And in many ways, the more things change, the more they stay the same.


Will: True. And like you say, it's the sort's the art and the science. And it's the data and the insight together with great creativity. And so I suppose you may be curious there, was there an insight that that creative idea was based on? Did Saatchi come to you with an interesting insight that they'd identified?


Mark: Well, this is the, sort of, the bit that surprises many people, which is that, in the end, we kind of had a one-word insight or a one-word platform that, again, was enduring. So the strategic platform remained the same, we are fixers, and that's what really defines our reason to be and how staff need to show up. And when people say, "They're on it," you just kind of know they're gonna get something done. And we said, "That's really the spirit of the brand." But ultimately, we're fixes. And that carries through into the current campaign as well. And it's one of those ones, I think Winston Churchill said, "I'd have written you a shorter letter if I had more time."


Back in the day in 2013, it took us a year really to get everything so distilled down that we had the confidence in our analysis and our thinking that we could really write a one-word brief as a trigger for the creative process. Now, of course, we had a lot more than that. We had all the personas and all the blah, blah, blah. But ultimately, the platform of being fixers made it really inescapable for everybody what sort of advertising we wanted to have.


Will: Yeah, absolutely. And so yeah, how did the situation of the pandemic, how did that affect the, kind of, rollout, the delivery of the campaign?


Mark: Yeah, well, I think we were lucky and landed jam side up in that we launched literally in four weeks before the U.K. lockdown. And if you remember back...I mean, that might seem like that was a bit of a racy decision. But back then, I think we were all still in denial about how quickly it was gonna come here, how quickly and severely we were gonna lock down. And I remember the day that we left the offices, which was actually one week before the full U.K. lockdown, I stood up in front of the whole team and said, "Now's the time to get your stuff and go home. And this is a two-week pilot that we're talking about. But we may not see each other for a couple of months." And everybody looked at me like I was an absolute idiot because they were like, "What's this guy talking about? A couple of months? No, no, no, we're going home for a couple of weeks." And here we are 18 months later, you know, it seems. Well, not quite, but it will be probably by the time we get back in.


So huge disturbance. But four weeks prior to lockdown, we went live in a big bang way. And we were committed, and therefore, we had to do a lot of modification along the way. But we were live. And that's why I say we're lucky because if it had happened four weeks earlier, or if our launch date had been four weeks later, who knows, frankly, who knows where we'd have been? Because this wasn't a production that we could have done virtually, or it would have taken a long time, it would have took a long time to get back into production. So who knows where we would have been? But yeah, I mean, tremendous amount of effort to reorientate. I mean, at the most basic level, the media planning, the outdoor was shut down, cinema was gone. How do we reorientate ourselves? Because we were in the build phase of trying to reach our reach and frequency targets and we couldn't really turn back. And also some slightly unfortunate things.


So we'd done some brilliant internal communication. I'd never heard anything like this before we did this where we did it outside our building. So it was in the media space around our offices, as people came into the building, reminding them pretty bluntly that they are the real superheroes, beautiful work. So a couple of weeks, and then we just switched it off because nobody was coming back in the offices anymore, it would have been completely lost on them. So there's a bit of a tragedy in that we didn't get to do all the bells and whistles we wanted. Some of them came back a bit later. But in the end, thankful that we got it out of the gate, out of the blocks, and got most of the creative away and did reach our frequency targets and could build from that platform.


Will: And so how did you bring...because it's quite a cinematic campaign you got. Yeah, like Robocop and Donatello from "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," Bumblebee from "Transformers." It's about as big and glossy I think as a campaign gets. How did you bring that into digital channels, places like social, even PPC?


Mark: I mean, I think it was pretty straightforward to be able to take that concept through, and we couldn't use all of the visual imagery everywhere. But if I think about some of the outdoor stuff that we did manage to do in the end, I mean, they are instantly recognizable characters. And when I think about System 1 and System 2 and all the learnings that System 1 specifically talk about, about character, incident, and place, character is so crucial in advertising. You know, we've got Churchill as a brand, which leverages a British bulldog. Winston Wolf was an archetypal gangster character, Robocop, Donatello, and Bumblebee are characters. I think characters give advertising a way in. And I would say I'm a big fan of character-based advertising. I have to note that I worked at M&Ms back in the day, that I was pretty heavily involved in 118 118. I wasn't there at the very beginning, but was, sort of, holding the reins of the advertising for 118 118 for a couple of years. And there's just something about the way our brains work that we have greater acceptance and memorability as associated with characters.


Will: Hello, a quick reminder from me that if you're enjoying our podcast series, why not become a member of the DMI so that you can enjoy loads more content from webinars, and case studies, to toolkits, and more real-life insights from the world of digital marketing? Head to, sign up for free. Now back to the podcast.


Okay, so it was successful. But how do you measure success with a campaign like that? What sort of metrics are you looking at?


Mark: Yeah, so I mean, how many people have seen our ad and how many times? So is it actually reaching people? So is it driving awareness? That's the start point. How many people are contacting us via social? Is it getting picked up? Are we getting earned media, as in people were just forwarding for themselves? And are people contacting us with interest in our products? So those are, sort of, the obvious lead indicators. I would also say that, of course, we do pre-test our advertising. So we don't go in blind. So there's a lead time process within which we do robust pre-testing. But I suppose the real crunch comes in terms of is it driving sales? And is it driving the long-term brand tracking measures?


So it's a very, I would say, comprehensive suite of metrics. And I'm very fortunate that we've got some great people in Direct Line. And I'll probably call out Carl Bratton as well in terms of the marketing effectiveness suite that we've got. So that we track and measure pretty comprehensively. I fell into marketing back in the day. I graduated doing economics, I'm much more data rational and much more science than art. And therefore, I've always felt it's really important to be hot on the numbers. And I think also, that's how marketing can get credibility, or maintain credibility with boards and execs and so on. So yeah, we have a whole bunch of measures. But we would know if it was a dud before we ever got there. It's the pre-work, which means that we're not guessing and don't have the nasty surprises, and maybe some nice upside surprises. But you really don't want the downside surprises because that's brands and careers that are in the trash.


Will: Well, I'm interested in that idea of pre-testing. I think a lot of particularly digital marketers who haven't worked in above the line so much have a sense that that happens but don't really know how. Tell me how you would pre-test a huge campaign like that.


Mark: Yeah, I mean, there are various ways. I mean, the most obvious thing to say is that we show people the ad and measure their responses. But there's a lot more to it than that.


Will: So, sort of, small sample groups or...?


Mark: Yeah, I mean, actually reasonally big. And this is, of course, the thing that, actually, testing has not been impacted by the pandemic because a lot of testing was now moving to online anyway. But the thing to say about pre-testing adverts is it's as you can imagine, it's how do people answer a questionnaire and so on. But the other key bit that was probably emerged in the last 5 or 10 years is the use of implicit techniques. And this is back to the System 1 thing, this is how does the brain respond almost subconsciously to advertising? And it's the way that implicit works is the speed of response to a stimulus that determines how strongly the message is being established in the customer's brain. And we use a company, a methodology called LUMA. And that allows us to benchmark against those metrics, against the top 10 most successful and high-performing...10%, sorry, of high-performing ads globally, which is a pretty high bar, but that's our benchmark. And ultimately, we probably wouldn't launch anything unless it was clear on most of the key metrics versus that 10% benchmark.


But this, again, is the science, you know, not to say that marketing is in any way painting by numbers. But the science and professionalization of the function is really there for all to see. The bit that's lagged, and may come back to it, is marketing as a function per se still is a bit light on qualifications and still, in itself, people can fall into it. And I think, actually, we're still on the journey to really professionalize the function.


Will: Yes. And just to pick up on your mention of System 1 and 2 there, you're referring to the idea popularized in a book by Daniel Kahneman, "Thinking Fast and Slow," which is a great read, by the way, for any marketers or anyone interested in psychology and how the brain works. Basically, his model divides the mind's processes into two systems, System 1, which is the brain's fast, automatic, intuitive approach, and System 2, which is our more analytical side where we really think about things very deliberately, we reason things and work them out, right?


Mark: Exactly that, yeah. I mean, with hindsight, I would have loved to have done a psychology degree because I think that's...I mean, marketing is a lot about what makes people tick, what makes consumers tick. And then also what makes people tick to deliver what consumers actually want if you take my meaning. But, yeah, so, ultimately, our brains are pretty...obviously, you know, we've been going a while, are pretty sophisticated. And wherever possible, we will make decisions autonomously without really thinking about it. You don't think about tying your shoelaces. And that's very efficient. And it saves space and energy and prevents overheating for the system to do stuff, which is where you have to think a bit more deeply and make really conscious decisions, the knotty, noodley, not obvious things, not autonomous things.


Apparently, and I don't know if this is exactly right, System 2 thinking requires eight times more energy or produces eight times more heat. So if we have to think about everything that we actually did, our brains would literally cook. So it's an efficient way of decision-making. And the reality is that many of our brand choices are somewhat autonomous, are stored memory structures that make us more amenable. And I always have know, I wouldn't say it's an argument, it sounds a bit dramatic, but an argument with my mother who says that, "What really do you do in your career? Because nobody pays any attention to those adverts, do they?" And then I say, "Well, yeah. Well, why did you buy that?" "Yeah, I don't know, I don't know. It wasn't because of advertising." "Why then?" And then when you actually trace back, of course it's advertising because otherwise, she wouldn't have been aware of it, or sought it, or been willing to pay a premium for it maybe. So I think understanding the way the brain works is important and recognizing that a lot of brand choice is actually autonomous and subconscious.


Will: Indeed, and that's why above the line and TV advertising will remain important because it's about being present in the cultural landscape, and present with a certain message or brand personality or brand identity, right, so that people feel something about your company as well as know something about your company, I suppose. And yeah, I could talk to you all day about that because I'm also definitely an armchair psychologist. I think a lot of marketers are, I think that's just one of the things that attracts a lot of us to the career is its interest in trying to make people think, feel, and do certain things with messaging, right?


Mark: A hundred percent. Yeah, I really fell into marketing, which is one of the reasons why I say I think it should be professionalized and people should know more about it and plan better. But, yeah, I mean, ultimately, marketing done well can change people's decisions, it can also change their lives, it can change the fortunes of a business. But I'm just gonna leap on something you said there, think, feel, do. I'm a massive advocate of that as the really...the piercing brief for any piece of communication. And by any piece of communication, I mean when I'm going into a meeting, what do I want people to think, feel, do? When I'm doing a presentation, what do I want people to think, feel, do?


And also in my communication. And it's a really simple and accessible way, just to get to the nuts and bolts of what it is you're actually trying to achieve in any given moment. I'm not saying you necessarily need to do it before every conversation with your wife, husband, or significant other, but short of that is really, really powerful. And I don't hear people talk about it very much. But I am a big fan of the really simple think, feel, do.


Will: Same here. I think yeah, absolutely. Every campaign, you should be filling that out as a three-part form, or whatever, in your head at least. Okay, and just thinking about the rollout of this campaign. Did you utilize any new platforms, any new technology, new trends at the time when rolling that campaign out, particularly digitally?


Mark: Well, to some extent, as I mentioned, some of our best-laid plans was somewhat scattered by the world turning on its head. I mean, in some ways, I've already said it, but one of the more interesting innovative things we did was to externalize our internal comms. But some of the more clever outdoor ideas we had were scattered. We did do a mega TV exercise. So there were a number of TV firsts. But the reality is, you know, we were in scramble mode, right from the get-go, to make sure that we, well, maintain the trajectory, but also maintain the confidence in the campaign when one of the first questions that came up with a pandemic, at an exact level was, "Is this a time to be advertising?"


So this is where really we put a lot of our focus in doing reassurance, reminding, and building confidence that no, this is not a time to throttle back. This is absolutely a time when we need to keep going. And I think those advertisers that almost stuck to the knitting through the early days of the pandemic were rewarded. Don't get me wrong, some sectors, it was just not a thing because the travel sector just literally stopped. But at the margin, I think those advertisers that held firm are the ones that have had a better pandemic, if you like.


Will: Yeah. And you did mention something about employee marketing, employee communications, and I think that's something that you've done. We spoke about it before this a little bit I think. Talk to me about that, because that's quite an interesting idea because I've seen it so often where external communication is great and the employees just aren't bought into it. So you obviously tried to really, kind of, address that and do something about that. Tell me a little about that.


Mark: Yeah, it's interesting because at Mars, I spent 10 years at Mars, we didn't do a whole lot of that because there were so many brands in the stable that you couldn't...if you got employees revved up about every single brand repositioning or new campaign, nobody gets a day job done. But in our case, we do have a relatively small stable of brands, and Direct Line really is the hero brand. It's the name above the door and it's the spiritual, sort of, DNA of the company. And so in 2014, we did some pretty interesting things, I think. We got people to dress up as Winston Wolf and had black-tie parties and stand in silhouettes like you're putting your arm around Harvey Keitel, and so on. And had him record a message to our staff, which is quite cool.


Now, all of that, we learned, really got people engaged. And so when people were serving our customers, it just meant that extra little bit of pride, or discretionary effort, or push to action. And so we wanted to recreate that with the change in their campaign, we didn't want to lose that engagement, that bond. And so yet again, in this case, it was a slightly different approach was to say, "They're not superheroes, it's you who are the superheroes." Which was the mirror to the consumer advertising, which was saying, as a brand, we are better than those superheroes. So there was a very obvious congruence, but literally, as you stepped over the door front into the building, over the threshold, it was there on the floor and in the windows and all that so you could be reminded of what it is we're trying to do. And I think that stuff is understood and valued, even that we're bothering to care about what our staff think about our advertising. I think it, sort of, holds it all together, in fact.


Will: Well, the customer experience is what people hear when they pick up the phone, or what they get back in an email, or a web chat message from your staff. So if those staff do have pride and they, you know, feel like they're doing something important, that will come through in the customer experience. So it seems like investment well spent.


Mark: Yeah, it's a funny thing. But I mean, there's a small question about appropriateness. And so you know, using a gangster in your advertising, is that appropriate? And we were very happy with that. Obviously, we had the notion of superheroes. Yeah, it was our health workers who have been called superheroes. And so we had a few questions on the internal communication mechanisms, feedback systems, you know, "Should we be talking about superheroes? When isn't it? They're nurses." And my wife's a nurse. And nurses, and doctors, and so on, who were the real superheroes.


But I think this is where our advertising was based on hyperbole. So we can be a little bit relaxed about that sort of thing. I mean, it's very obvious that getting to a broken-down car quicker than Bumblebee is in no way a reference to how the NHS is dealing with this pandemic.


Will: Yes, detached from reality, isn't it?


Mark: Yeah. And yeah, and I think, again, think about 118 118 advertising, M&Ms advertising, Churchill advertising, something a bit abstractly. I mean, there's a lot of rubbish advertising, which is just dull. And I mean, you'd be surprised at the benchmarks for this pre-testing we do. You think, "Well, God, if we're in the top 10%, I mean, we're really good. If I look at the top 20%, some of those scores don't look that amazing." I say, "Oh, my goodness, what's the bottom 80% doing?" And of course, that's a lot of the dross that we see all too often.


Will: Where I think a lot of people are making the mistake of marketing to System 2 in that they are just saying, "Well, it is not how much it costs rather than why you should care and trying to market to people's hearts, as you do, rather than just marketing to their, kind of. heads." You know.


Mark: Yeah. And in fairness, it may be that that's appropriate. And that is direct response advertising, performance marketing advertising, can be more literal, and focus more on price. And it's not wrong, I suppose it's really all about your ambition. And we set out a few years ago that we want our brands to be in that cadre of U.K. super-brands, and that set us a higher bar. And that's about leaving a bigger impression in any given marketplace. And therefore, it sets a different standard in terms of the nuts and bolts of true brand building, building for the future. And it's a cliche now, but it happens to be true, with the 60/40 rule, we absolutely subscribe to and believe that the long-term impact of brand building will serve us well, but also will benefit short-term performance, marketing, and cost of acquisition. So I think it's... and many CMOs don't get an opportunity to play a long game either because of tenure or because their context and standing in organization means that they don't get to break out of that straitjacket.


Will: It's hard though, isn't it, with insurance? Because, I mean, I've heard it called a grudge buy because it's a necessary product. So it's one that you kind just have to insure your car. But also differentiating between all the providers is so hard because ultimately, I mean, it's car insurance, it's quite a commoditized thing. So it's a real challenge. How do you specifically overcome those challenges of that sector?


Mark: Yeah, it's a good point. I mean, every market has its dominant characteristics. For us, price is very important, and that's somewhat because it's a bit of an invisible purchase, as you say, a bit of a grudge debt, you don't want to have to use it. I mean, you might need to have it, but you certainly don't want to have to use it because that means something's gone wrong in your life.


Will: And you're not on price comparison websites, is that right?


Mark: No, no, we're not. And the advent of price comparison themselves, price comparison sites themselves, has pushed the market towards price being the discriminating factor. But here's the thing, as people, or many people understand that life can be disturbed, and maybe have had, as they get older, more experiences where things have gone wrong or had a bad experience with an insurer. And it's a little bit of a case that people have come to realize you get what you pay for. And that's true of insurance of other sectors. And there is a reality, which is that cheap doesn't necessarily mean it's gonna be helpful, and it might even be hindering in your true moment of need.


And so the good news is that many people understand that you get what you pay for. And therefore, it's almost, sort of, an attitudinal segmentation divide between those who really don't think about anything else other than the cheapest, because they don't see a consequence of that. And those who get it...and obviously, there's a bit of blurring in the middle. But for us, thankfully, there's still many people who believe it's important to have good insurance, proper insurance. And this is where the role for differentiation comes in because through some of the propositions that we do, we can demonstrate that we offer actually really great value for money because...well, partly because we're not paying for the commissions on a price comparison website, or they wouldn't, sort of, talk about that as a consumer message. But that means we can invest in the propositions that we have to give a better service when customers really, truly need it.


Will: It's interesting, isn't it? Because I think about, it comes up a lot, you know, the idea that Simon Sinek popularized, the Golden Circle of...why in the middle. Like, start with why rather than someday hope to get to a why. So he talks about the fact that every business on the planet can tell you what they do, but very few can tell you why. And people don't really buy what you do. They buy why you do it. That's his whole thing, right? He's built his career on that, become very successful. Part of me struggles with it because I think it suggests, a bit like what you're saying, attitudinal segmentation. Is there a section of the population that brand marketing will never work on?


Mark: Well, good question, I think yes and no. So in any given sector, there's definitely a chunk of people who are reluctant buyers or just don't care. But probably not across all sectors. And so it's probably quite sectorally specific. I remember actually having the conversation joining Direct Line many years ago. And somebody said, "You know what? I really don't know why we have all these brands, you know, price comparison website is where it's at. And as long as we can price brilliantly, we'll have a successful future." And I remember saying, "What shoes do you wear? What car do you buy? What car do you drive?" And they obviously were into brands.


And I said, "Well, why don't you believe that brand is relevant to insurance?" Because, of course, the thing is that they had never purchased insurance themselves other than through their own company. So they weren't really connected with the process that customers go through. So you know, the whole customer-centricity thing. But yeah, of course, brands are going to be relevant. And I think, in general, there are people who are, sort of, more into brands than not, but I do think it's very sectorally specific. And therefore, those who really don't care about some things will care a lot about others depending upon where they're at in their lives.


Will: And so, therefore, do you have, kind of, a marketing output that's targeted at people who only care about price?


Mark: Well, this is where you're going a little bit into brand portfolio strategy. So we have a number of other brands. So, for example, take Privilege brand. That was, at one point in time, headlining advertised above the line brand, Joanna Lumley and, right, other celebs. And...


Will: And just to be clear, these are totally separate brands that are within your group and to the consumer are separate insurance brands?


Mark: Yeah, absolutely. And they have lots of points of difference in the proposition. Truth be known, under the hood, some of them operate on similar systems and maybe have similar tools and processes running underneath and even within the marketing team, some people who work across brands. But ultimately, if you think about the fact that there are different needs, then our brand portfolio is really there just to help us, in a way, have more bites to the cherry or reach a broader range of customer needs. And so Privilege is very much focused around being there for those who are much more focused around price. And it stands to reason. I mean, it's probably no big expose in the world today that if I think back to pet care, you know, we had Cesar, Pedigree, Chappie, you had four or five brands that hit different price points. And that's very obviously a thing in supermarket shelves where going left to right, it probably goes cheaper. But that's also true in price comparison websites, and in general, that you have people who just have different affordability levels.


Will: Yeah, no, it's very interesting. I think, I mean, potentially any business can, sort of, employ a portfolio, a brand portfolio strategy to do that. Because I do think you have to recognize that people think in different ways, people care about different things. And it is important to segments attitudinally, as you talk about, it's interesting. It's not just for big brands, I think, potentially.


Mark: Yeah, I mean, there is a bit of a...I think you're spot on, you know, it's appreciating the different needs in the market, and therefore, finding a way to meet a broader set of needs is, sort of, fundamental. But the rub is it takes a lot of money to launch a brand and to maintain a brand. And so some of our competitors, an Aviva, for example, they're much more into a single brand approach. And to be honest, I think there's pros and cons. You know, 118 118, we didn't spin up a bunch of brands because we had that hero brand really motoring. So it's very conceptually driven for us. It was actually by acquisition, long before I joined, that we had the stable of brands. But I'm really glad that we do because it's given us much more optionality for now and into the future.


Will: Yeah. Okay. It is fascinating talking to you about this stuff actually. I could talk to you a lot longer, but I know our time is running short. I suppose I'd love to...just for our listeners who are trying to establish a brand, particularly digitally, most of our listeners are digital marketers. So what would be...if you had to distill your entire career into two minutes of advice, what would be your advice, your key piece of advice for someone trying to establish a brand in digital today?


Mark: Well, okay, so there are the unicorns, there are the Dollar Shave Clubs who go exclusively digital and build digital-only brands. But this is the thing in life, isn't it, you only hear about the successful ones, you don't hear about the tens of thousands of unsuccessful ones. So I'm pretty much saying that if you want to...even if it's a digital-only brand, you look at Google, Peloton, Apple, Microsoft, at some point in time, to build a mega-brand, TV does play a role. And I think even Dollar Shave Club, Michael Dubin did move into TV advertising at some point in time.


So I think the big rule of thumb is the 60/40, which is however you define your brand advertising versus your performance advertising is to have in mind that you do need to build a brand footprint, you do need to invest in messaging, which is beyond that immediate purchase cycle. And I think it was something that was always instinctively there. Back in the day when I was at Mars, we used to say you get two sales for every sale that was driven by advertising this year into subsequent years. But now, of course, Les Binet and Peter Field have done some brilliant work, which puts more science around that and they've even got, what should that balance be at a sector level? And so I think the playbooks are there. And if you want a long-enduring brand that you can say has a bit of legacy...if you don't want that, then fine. But if you do, that would be my biggest rule of thumb, and it's not a new thought, but I suppose I'm just putting myself in an endorser place for the work of Binet and Field.


Will: And you're talking about 60% of your, what, resource and your budget put into longterm brand building?


Mark: Yeah, exactly that. So for us, when we have Bumblebee charging around the countryside, we don't try and append the product-specific message. I mean, we can, sort of, nominally say, "Well, this is perhaps not into motor insurance." But we're really building the brand more than expecting a direct response to that advertising. So yes, it's money, putting 60% of the money into the outer years' impact.


Will: It's good advice. I mean, it's good advice for digital marketers because digital marketing can push you into short-termism. It can feel like, "Oh, great. Google PPC, social PPC, I can drive sales today." And then people can neglect long-term content marketing, long-term social media community building, long-term brand marketing, and as soon as you switch that PPC tap off, you're totally invisible again." And so watch out, definitely.


Mark: Maybe just a final point on that. I think EasyJet and a few others have said, "We switched off paid search..." I think Airbnb was the most recent, "Switched off paid search and didn't see any impact." Well, great, I'm really happy for you. But basically, you are synonymous with your sector. And so you're gonna get all that organic traffic nonetheless. Within motor insurance, I can tell you, if we switched off Google search, oh, my word, I wouldn't be around long. Because there's no doubt that in very, very heavily competed markets, you can't afford to not harvest that traffic. And there's a whole science and industry around that, of course. And so yeah, I mean, it's the balance of these things. And when I say 60/40, I'm not saying 100/0.


Will: Yeah, no, absolutely.


Mark: I'm saying 60/40.


Will: Well, thanks so much, really appreciate that, Mark. I feel like have learned an awful lot in a short space of time. Where can our listeners find you online?


Mark: Oh, good. Good opportunity for me to do a few plugs. So the first thing I'd say is on a Friday morning, we do a vodcast, I suppose, or a video show interviewing incredible people about life's journey, not necessarily marketers, but those who have achieved amazing things but struggle on the way and how they adapted and been resilient. So we've had...I mean, I've got Matthew Syed come out with Sir Steve Redgrave, Martin Sorrell, Paul Polman, loads of great people. So Friday morning, 8 a.m. UK time, but you can also check it out on my LinkedIn. And we've just had our 40th show. So as I speak now, interviewed Steve Hatch this morning, their VP for Northern Europe for Facebook.


So that's one thing. And the other final plug I'll make is if this is going out before September, which I'm sure it will, is for the marketing industry, I've got a big charity event with the marketing site and Stand Up to Cancer at Battersea Park raising money to beat cancer faster. It's a sprint-a-thon, which is 420 people sprinting 100 meters to break it to a marathon. It's been going about five, six years, raised over half a million quid. And if anybody's interested, just contact me because it's a great opportunity for businesses to have a lap team, 4 people running 100 meters, to be part of that effectively mega-sprint relay. And have a great day out and do something good in the world as well. So there's a couple of ways to connect.


Will: Oh, that's great. Yeah, definitely. That's great. Thanks, Mark. Well, thanks so much for your time, and your insight has been very, very useful. And yeah, thanks very much.


Mark: My pleasure, Will. Great to be here.


Will: If you enjoyed this episode, subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. And for more information about transforming your marketing career through certified online training, head to Thanks for listening.

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Mark Evans

Mark is the Managing Director of Marketing and Digital, Direct Line Group. He started his marketing career in Mars Inc and for 10 years worked on a number of their global brands across sectors and geographies. After senior roles at 118118 and HSBC, he joined Direct Line Group in 2012 and has overseen the transformation of DLG's brands and marketing approach, including the multi-award winning re-invigoration of the flagship Direct Line brand. 

He was voted the Financial Services Forum Marketer of the Year in 2015 and the Marketing Society Marketing Leader of the Year in 2018.  In 2016 Mark founded the Sprintathon in support of Stand Up To Cancer and is Chair of the Advertising Association’s Front Foot and Non-Exec for LearnEtAl. 

Mark brings to our Global Industry Advisory Council his world-class experience and passion for all things marketing.