The ability to attract and retain customers, with the in-depth knowledge it implies of the market sector, has traditionally played Cinderella to branding. But now its time has come, with many corporations promoting customer insight experts to top-level positions, says Catherine Turner
Supermarket group Morrisons and credit card brand Goldfish have both appointed data and analysis specialists to their top marketing posts, adding weight to the view that the powerbase of customer insight experts is growing.
Morrisons has appointed Angus McIver, the UK marketing director at Prudential, to its first board-level marketing role.
Meanwhile, RBS Insurance, whose brands include Churchill, Direct Line and Privilege, is understood to be appointing former Air Miles marketer Nigel Grimes as its first group director of customer insight with a brief to boost retention and cross-selling opportunities. Grimes is likely to be on the same level as marketing director Mike Tildesley and will not have to report to him.
Earlier this year, More Than owner Royal & SunAlliance (RSA) confirmed it was looking for a board-level marketing director who would also head its customer insight (MW March 15). Former AA and ITV marketer Clare Salmon was later appointed to its top marketing role. The financial services group, which had traditionally only invested in its consumer-facing brands region by region, is also believed to be establishing a customer insight team in a bid to become more customer-friendly and consumer-facing as a corporate brand.
McIver joined Prudential in 2003 as director of customer insight, reporting to the marketing director, having come from PepsiCo-owned Walkers Snacks, where he was vice-president of customer insight.
Martin White, a former direct marketer and head of co-branding at affinity card firm Accucard, is taking the role of marketing director at Goldfish (MW last week). The Discover Financial Services-owned brand was said to be keen to recruit someone with a customer insight and analytical background because of the specific challenges Goldfish faces.
An insider says that although the brand, which was launched in 1996, still has traction and “incredible recognition”, it has floundered as a result of a lack of investment.
The source says that Discover was aware of Goldfish’s intrinsic brand value, but wanted to boost its performance in data and analytics in order to recruit and retain customers. The card will be relaunched with a heavyweight marketing campaign this year.
He adds: “Goldfish as a brand remains strong, but so little has been done to recruit and retain customers – or even to let potential customers know it’s still out there – that that has to be its top priority. It needs to be brought back to life.”
Similarly, Morrisons launched a radical £450m brand makeover before appointing McIver. As part of the revamp, the retailer has already scrapped its 30-year-old “More Reasons to Shop at Morrisons” strapline, replacing it with “Fresh Choice for You”.
Morrisons has struggled to gain the traction of its rivals following its £2.9bn takeover of UK rival Safeway in 2003. The supermarket chain, say analysts, failed to bed-in the acquisition by overlooking factors such as Safeway’s predominantly southern – and southern-thinking – customer base, which contrasted with Morrisons’ overtly northern roots.
It must also battle rivals such as Tesco, which, with its Clubcard, has a wealth of customer data. Through customer data company Dunnhumby – majority-owned by Tesco, but run separately – it has data on 12 million Tesco customers and their transactions.
According to EHS Bran data and analysis director Amanda Arthur, Tesco never makes strategic decisions without referring to its Clubcard base. She says: “Over time it has reduced the amount it is spending on brand advertising in favour of mainly spending on targeted communications to customers.”
She says that she understands why insight directors are increasingly being handed the reins to companies’ marketing functions, particularly in sectors such as financial services and retail.
“If companies are happy in terms of the brand having reached the point where it wants to be, and there is very little extra ground to be gained by focusing in that area, then they will naturally turn to insight and the customer base,” says Arthur.
She adds that those which understand and invest in customer insight gain a clear advantage over rivals that choose not to. However, she warns that few manage it: “Organisations haven’t invested as much as they should have into insight – it is very challenging. Investment is needed to make change. Systems need bringing in. It is a massive task and it can take a long time. It takes a brave organisation to do so.”
As another agency executive suggests, while most client companies are aware of the value of customer insight, the huge cost of building internal teams is proving a barrier, as experts are in short supply.
This, he says, is being offset to some degree by offshoring, which could lead to a huge growth in the types and sizes of companies looking to customer data to gain a strategic advantage. “More and more companies are now getting their data processed in the Philippines or India, where it can be done for a fraction of the cost of the UK market,” adds the source.
But he warns: “The trouble is that you can have the best statisticians in the world processing your data, but unless they know what to look for you end up with just that – statistics. The real skill is in turning insight into something that can be used for marketing.”
That could be the reason Morrisons has turned to McIver – a man with both a marketing and customer insight background. Yet McIver himself argues that the real issue is not that of experience of insight, but of understanding. He thinks it should be just one of many tools in a marketer’s armoury.
“If you’re in a business that has to create relationships with customers, then insight is important,” adds McIver. “But I don’t think you have to have run an insight department to take on a big role. What’s more important is the experience of being a classic marketer.”
One necessity, says Arthur, is keeping the insight close to brand teams: “It’s a mistake for brand advertising to do one thing, based on a received idea of what a company stands for, without referring to its customers or potential customers and the value of them. To bring the two together is bound to make for a better marketing effort.”
Consultant Shelagh Regester, a former director at Arc, suggests one reason why insight – seen as marketing’s great white hope several years ago – fails is that gap between teams.
She says: “[Insight teams] often don’t attend the meetings where major initiatives are discussed and strategic decisions made, and are not embedded within the relevant business process.”
But perhaps the biggest problem when it comes to insight – and the reason why those who have experience in the area seem more employable than ever – is the sheer scale of raw, quantifiable and qualifiable data available.