The Post Office on swapping tactics for strategic transformation

Chief customer and marketing officer Louise Fowler explains how she is driving radical transformation at the Post Office aimed at making marketing more accountable, efficient and digitally savvy.

Over the past 10 months the Post Office has embarked on a radical transformation project that has seen the marketing team evolve from a tactical, product-led function to being strategic, digitally-focused and customer centric.

To achieve this goal, the Post Office has halved the size of its team, slashed the number of campaigns it runs by 95% and brought marketing closer to the wider organisation which spans six business units, 120 different products and 11,500 branches serving 20 million customers annually.

Leading the transformation project is Louise Fowler, interim chief customer and marketing officer, who joined the Post Office in July 2016 to lead the strategic repositioning of the brand and improve the marketing department’s profitability. Fowler’s background includes leading marketing and digital transformation projects at consumer brands such as British Airways, Barclays, the Co-operative group and First Direct.

READ MORE: Who should lead digital transformation?

Alongside rationalising the marketing activity, Fowler’s key priority at the start of the year was to restructure the team in order to drive greater efficiencies.

“Before I joined [the Post Office] there were 140 people in marketing, when I joined it was about 80, it’s 42 today,” Fowler explains.

“The marketing team has been through a lot of change, but it’s been quite incremental – moving reporting lines, and a few changes here and there. We went through a complete restructure, total redesign and everyone had to indicate if they wanted to apply for a role or not. So the team is probably half new, half pre-existing. All people that were here before January are in new roles.”

We can’t afford to do big budget brand advertising and I don’t think we should. People know us, so we want to help them understand why we are important and relevant.

Louise Fowler, Post Office

Speaking at the Festival of Marketing (5 October), the Post Office CMO explained how she collaborated with marketing consultancy Oystercatchers to drive a wholesale shift in thinking with a view to create a sustainable, self-reliant marketing department.

Rather than being “quite ivory tower, doing lots of brand things”, Fowler’s vision was to bring marketing closer to business strategy.

“We were kind of like an internal agency. People would come and say ‘I’d like you to print me a poster that says this please’. So not really a strategic marketing team that’s adding value to the business. Very product led, very tactical, very much about selling stuff now for return on investment immediately,” Fowler says.

“What we’re trying to turn around to is being much more customer facing, proactive, directive, telling the business ‘I don’t think you should do that. You should do this instead and we can help you solve that problem’. And much more strategic.”

This approach has extended to the way the company interacts with its agency partners. Despite having “very sizeable relationships with some really fantastic agencies”, the Post Office was not managing these relationships strategically or asking its agencies to be truly accountable, according to Fowler.

“Our agencies now are much more part of the team, they come to our performance meetings, they bring reports and tell us what they’ve achieved. The inside outside line has blurred very much since we changed the relationship,” she adds.

The transformation project is building on the decision taken last year to bring marketing and digital together by developing a single funnel tracking customer journeys both on and offline. Fowler was keen to move away from the old methods marketing used to measure success – such as awareness, consideration and click-through – which she argues did not represent a “proper return on investment”.

READ MORE: What does ‘digital transformation’ really mean?

All marketing and digital delivery is now carried out centrally and managed by the marketing ops function, with marketing and planning functions also sitting in each business unit.

Going forward, the key priorities will be to increase brand relevance, ensure the marketers are using data to add value, explore new digital technology and institutionalise a customer culture across the wider Post Office organisation.

Fewer tactics, greater purpose

Leaving the tactics behind, Fowler is encouraging her marketers to create a narrative about the Post Office based on the relevance of its social purpose, which is to ensure that nobody in the UK is denied access to key services.

“We can’t afford to do big budget brand advertising and I don’t think we should actually. People know us, so we want to help them understand why we are important and relevant, and why we can give value. It’s about creating that narrative, not just selling tactical products all the time,” she explains.

“Everybody loves us and thinks we’re really important, for somebody else. So we need to make sure what we offer is relevant for everybody.”

With 95% of the UK population living within a mile of a Post Office, Fowler is proud to work for a brand everyone in the UK knows, and also has an opinion about.

“How depressing to work for a brand that nobody cares about or is really functional? It’s a real joy to work with something that people are really passionate about and have an opinion on, and understanding that opinion and thinking about how you harness it,” she reflected.

“I don’t think I could derive joy working for a brand that doesn’t mean quite as much. Wouldn’t we all be upset if the Post Office wasn’t there in one shape or form?”

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  • Julian Pratt 16 Oct 2017 at 9:04 am

    Facsinating insight. Looking at a similar transition in our network of organisations.

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