Ask the DM Expert Hamish Taylor
Focus on insight not data, brand guru tells marketers
“The big advantage direct mail has is that it makes it easy for people to take the first step. That’s a big part of persuading someone to do what you want them to do. On a TV advert, all you can do is to give them a phone number or a web address. You can go much further than that with direct mail”
Big marketing breakthroughs come not from crunching data but from gaining genuine insights into how your customer feels, argues innovation consultant Hamish Taylor
At a recent An Post Early Bird Club business breakfast, attendees were treated to an amusing and informative tale of marketing innovation by Hamish Taylor, a fast-talking turnaround king with a royal corporate pedigree. The P&G-trained Scot was Head of Brands at British Airways, CEO of Eurostar and CEO of Sainsbury’s Bank, all before he was 40.
Taylor’s message was simply this: customer insights provide a better platform for marketing decisions than masses of customer data. And the best way to come up with these insights is to look outside your own environment and pinch ideas from other industries or sectors.
While not dismissing the importance of good data Taylor felt businesses should avoid being a slave to it. More important, he argued, was gaining a deep insight into customer behaviour that could then be used to your advantage.
He gave several examples from his own career. One was Sainsbury’s Bank, where as the new CEO he faced the challenge of relaunching banking services into the grocery chain. The previous effort, which involved creating mini-banks in-store, had misfired badly. After commissioning research among customers, Taylor found that the mood shoppers were in when they go grocery shopping was all-important: people wanted to get in and out as quickly as possible. So he ditched the mini-bank idea and instead applied successful retail selling concepts such as gondola-ends and point-of-sale to the sale of financial products in-store.
“We realised that if we could create financial products that reflected the fact that someone was in a hurry and that were easy to understand then that’s how we would get the turnaround,” he recalled. Shoppers responded favourably to the new approach and within just a few months, sales of financial products had grown from £2.3 million to £23 million in just 50 stores.
Correctly interpreting the customer’s mood was again the key when Taylor engineered a turnaround in BA’s transatlantic business. When Club Class passengers were asked what was most important to them in a transatlantic flight, they said it was feeling fresh when they landed. The TV campaign running at the time had a very different slant though: the larger-than-average seat offered in Club Class. Building on Taylor’s research, the next campaign showed executives who had flown from New York to London arriving fresh and ready for business. Again, the new campaign had a positive impact on sales.
Taylor applied a similar approach when as head of Eurostar he was looking to boost the rail service’s popularity among leisure travellers. After carefully studying consumer attitudes, he decided to switch the focus from the comfort and quality of the trains – a big selling point with the business traveler but not the consumer – to the allure of the end destination, Paris.
"The point was that it was the magic of Paris that consumers were interested in; the trains were just a means to an end,” said Taylor.
If this all sounds easy, it wasn’t. Taylor’s new ideas were often met with fierce resistance from internal groups who argued that they knew the customer and/or industry better than he did. Thus, as well as understanding the external customer, another challenge facing marketers, he acknowledged, is how to find common ground with internal customers so they can see the value of what you are doing or planning to do.
“I’m a big, big believer that we marketers have got to get better at the internal selling of our message,” he commented.
In terms of marketing theory, Taylor is clearly not a fan of traditional ‘academic’ marketing, which dwells on marketing principles and theoretical constructs and overloads practitioners with convoluted jargon. “Marketing is no worse than HR or IT or whatever – we fall back on jargon. Our job is in fact very simple: it is to find out what our customers want and give it to them in a way that’s profitable. That’s not rocket science.”
So, you have identified a great insight and decided on your advertising message, how then do you select the best vehicle for getting that message across? According to Taylor, all the various channels have a role to play, but direct mail has one big advantage over other forms of advertising.
“The big advantage direct mail has is that it makes it easy for people to take the first step. That’s a big part of persuading someone to do what you want them to do. On a TV advert, all you can do is to give them a phone number or a web address. You can go much further than that with direct mail.”
But regardless of what channels you choose, ultimately marketing is about getting out there and doing it, Taylor asserted.
“At the end of the day you won’t know till you try it. So go out and give it a go and see what happens.”
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