NatWest’s Margaret Jobling on her success balancing purpose and profit

As Marketer of the Year, NatWest Group’s CMO Margaret Jobling explains how prioritising both purpose and profit can transform the effectiveness of marketing.

Photo by Lex Guerra for Marketing Week

Effective marketing leaders can come from all sorts of backgrounds, but it’s safe to say very few can claim a PHD in laser chemistry.

For Margaret Jobling, NatWest Group’s CMO, her early days as a scientist are just one notable element of her career and achievements to date. Newly crowned as Marketing Week’s Marketer of the Year, sponsored by Tag, the CMO has grown brands, championed marketing effectiveness, helped to push sustainability up the agenda of the industry, and guided up-and-coming marketers as a mentor at the School of Marketing.

She was also named ISBA president in July, with director general Phil Smith calling her his “first choice” as successor to Moneysupermarket CEO Peter Duffy.

In the two years since she joined the banking business, she has also transformed marketing at NatWest. Her mission has been to drive a reappraisal of the brand and give it real purpose, both internally and externally, exemplified in the launch of the bank’s new creative platform ‘Tomorrow Begins Today’.

From a brand perspective, the platform has boosted awareness and consideration among key segments – including under-35s and small businesses – while market share has grown in core focus areas, such as youth mortgages. Awareness of NatWest’s advertising among 18- to 49-year-olds has risen after each campaign execution, according to YouGov BrandIndex.Wickes, Aldi and Starling Bank win big at the Marketing Week Awards

NatWest’s marketing is also performing better commercially, with return on investment up and cost per sale down. The group generated £187m in profit during the third quarter, with the bank claiming to have delivered a “strong financial performance” amid a challenging market.

For Jobling it all started at FMCG giant Unilever, where she first worked as a research scientist. Assigned to a special project alongside a marketer looking at how to accelerate product development, she discovered a love for working with and understanding the customer.

“I did all of the prototyping and she did all of the concepts and then we’d go and co-create tests with customers, and I absolutely loved it,” Jobling tells Marketing Week.

“I loved listening to customers, talking about products and how they helped them. So I said I wanted to move to marketing. I wanted to be a marketer.”

It wasn’t the easiest transition to make. At the time, nobody at Unilever had ever moved from the research team into marketing, with the former deemed to be lacking in the necessary creative skills. However, Jobling got her break and became a senior brand manager at Dove, staying in the FMCG industry until 2014. 

That year she took another enormous leap in her career, pivoting entirely away from the consumer goods world and instead stepping into the utilities industry with Centrica and British Gas.

[Purpose] becomes your galvaniser for decision making and gets everybody walking in the same direction.

Margaret Jobling, NatWest Group

Her reason? She wanted to get closer to the customer relationship, which in FMCG is owned instead by the retailer.

“[In service industries] the brand is everything. If you think of energy companies or financial services, it’s every time you walk into a branch, it’s every letter you send, it’s every telephone call we make,” she explains.

“I was really interested in how marketing operates in that space where it’s much bigger than TV advertising. Actually, what your brand stands for and how you bring that to life is as important inside the business as it is with your customers, because our people are our brand. And so brand experience and customer experience has to sit right on top of each other.”

While the core principles of marketing are always the same, the touchpoints, levers, data, insight and ability to drive change in a service business is “totally different”, Jobling adds.

“It’s a totally different way of marketing… that I was really fascinated by, because I think marketing has got a much bigger role to play in that environment.”

The power of purpose

Having started her marketing career at Dove, a brand renowned for its mission to help women develop a positive relationship with beauty, it’s perhaps unsurprising Jobling is an avid believer in the power of purpose to drive a business and build a brand.

When she joined NatWest in 2020, CEO Alison Rose had laid out a brand new purpose for the business, to “champion potential, helping people, families and businesses to thrive”.

However, the concept of brand purpose has been under increasing scrutiny over the last year. Unilever in particular has faced high profile criticism from investors over its focus on growing brands through purpose, with major investor and fund manager Terry Smith of Fundsmith Equity Fund labelling it “ludicrous” and blaming it for the firm’s lacklustre performance during the previous year.

However, for Jobling, purpose is key to being an effective marketing leader. Every business needs a “north star” to not only build a stronger relationship with customers, but to “galvanise” decision making and build direction within the business, she argues.

Photo by Lex Guerra for Marketing Week

“Our CEO laid out a very clear purpose, and I think the role of marketing is to really illuminate that purpose in the world of the customer, but also in the world of our internal people. Because when we market, it’s as important for the people who work in the organisation as it is to the people that you’re trying to talk to externally,” she explains.

According to Jobling, one thing which “kills” businesses is “proliferation”, where everybody within the business is focused on something slightly different, and infighting arises as teams battle over which is more important.

“[Purpose] becomes your galvaniser for decision making and gets everybody walking in the same direction,” she says.

In a post-Covid world, creating a rallying purpose within a business is more important than ever, Jobling adds, as people are more consciously assessing their life choices and what they want from their place of work.

“Salary is important, but you don’t jump out of bed in the morning saying, ‘I want to sell 1,000 current accounts to customers’,” she explains.

“I want to help customers feel that they’re more in control of their money. That’s exciting. That’s a problem in the UK today. People don’t have savings and they’re not planning for the future. Kids leave school not understanding money. We as a brand and a business have got a massive, important role to play for society.”

When purpose really has grit is when you have to make some tough decisions.

Margaret Jobling, NatWest Group

Businesses which don’t have a north star purpose become “functional” in their exchange with customers and employees, Jobling warns.

“I’ve always said the first thing to go is your heart, then your head and then your feet. So if you don’t have heart in your business and feel like you’re emotionally engaged, I think it’s very easy to turn people’s head with an increase in salary.”

Internally, NatWest Group is now starting to get its “swagger” back, she claims, with more confidence and pride in the business as a result of the new purpose and the Tomorrow Begins Today platform.

Tough decisions

The problem with purpose is people mistake it for “fluff”, and a reason for brands to do “nice things”, Jobling says. Real purpose is about managing stakeholders and making difficult decisions to support the business in the long term.

“The mistake is it [purpose] is seen as a nice, soft thing, and I don’t think it is at all,” she says.

“When purpose really has grit is when you have to make some tough decisions… Ultimately, we’re a commercial outfit. So how it’s used, how it’s embedded, how it’s driving decision making, and how do we hold the tension in the system. You try to keep everyone happy, [but] there are trade offs within that. How do you make your decisions with a very clear lens on where you’re trying to get to as a business?”

One challenge NatWest faces as part of its purpose drive is its approach towards climate change. It’s a passion point for Jobling, who has previously said advertisers have a “massive responsibility” to drive behaviour change.

For a banking group, being on the right side of the climate crisis and becoming part of the drive towards a more sustainable future means challenging decisions around where and in which companies to invest money. Nevertheless, Jobling is adamant that NatWest will play its part.

“We have to help the UK transition on climate… We can play a massive role. Money makes the world go round, where that investment goes, what it goes in… and we’re a critical part of that,” she says.

“And we’ve got 90 million customers, so we can play a really big role in being helpful, useful, relevant and help educate on what that transition looks like.”

Overhauling effectiveness

Continuing the theme of tough decisions and prioritising business goals, Jobling turns to the work she has done to overhaul NatWest’s approach to marketing effectiveness over the last two years. Reflecting on when she joined the business, she says the marketing function wasn’t “commercial” enough, adding: “We didn’t feel like a retail business.”

In her view, marketers cannot achieve credibility in a business without being able to articulate the value marketing brings.

“Unless you can talk the language of the business as a marketer, you’re not credible. We need to be talking to our commercial business partners and saying, ‘We’ve spent £10m on your business, this is where that £10m is showing up’,” she says.

“If you can’t, you become a cost on the line rather than a revenue generator… Marketing will always be seen as the colouring-in department.”

Origin for me is a massive, disruptive, industry-breaking thing, and bringing the platforms, the advertisers, the agencies together and building that model out will transform how we spend money.

Margaret Jobling, NatWest Group

Jobling has overhauled everything from data to technology to dashboards at NatWest in her efforts to bring more commerciality into the brand’s marketing function, beginning with bringing in more control of its data.

“First of all, the thing that anyone has to do is get control of their data. Whether you insource it or not, you need oversight and control, and we had little oversight and control of our data. A lot of it was outsourced to agencies,” she says.

NatWest has also in-housed its econometrics, brought its technology together to create one cohesive martech architecture, and put practical tools like performance dashboards in place to ensure people have the right benchmarks to measure success against.

For Jobling, it’s all about putting data at the heart of decision making and driving a “performance culture”.

All these measures have helped the business build capability to “work through every pound we spend,” she explains. “Which as an outcome has driven a lot of trust and credibility in the function. We’re now seen as a function that does deliver, that we should be investing more in.”

Educating marketing

But a “performance culture” doesn’t mean forgoing brand investment, Jobling is quick to clarify, with NatWest now up to a roughly 60/40 split for brand and performance marketing investment. She advises marketers to set a three-year vision for their brand as a view of what their efforts are building up to.

However, to realise the true potential of marketing, the industry needs to do more to revolutionise measurement, she says.

“If you think of the complexity, nobody has really cracked top to bottom attribution modelling. That’s still a problem in the industry. We know 50% works, you don’t know what 50%,” she explains.

“So constantly learning and figuring that out I think is a job for us all as an industry to be credible.”‘Keep it simple’: Camelot’s Keith Moor on the secret to being an effective marketing leader

One of the reasons she took on the presidency at ISBA is to support the progress of Origin, the body’s cross-media measurement initiative. Origin is part of a global initiative to better capture the value of advertising across different media. 

“Origin for me is a massive, disruptive, industry-breaking thing, and bringing the platforms, the advertisers, the agencies together and building that model out will transform how we spend money,” Jobling says.

“That will be transformative for marketing, absolutely transformative, because it cracks the biggest problem today. You’re comparing apples with pears with grapes and bananas, and you can’t get a really clear measure on effectiveness per platform. So that is exciting.”

No regrets

Reflecting on her career so far, Jobling says there’s nothing she would have done any differently, even where she’s made mistakes.

“If you said to me, where have I learned the most? It’s when I screwed up. And actually that’s one question I always ask in an interview – what’s your biggest screw up? If people say nothing, I say you haven’t tried hard enough,” she explains.

Certainly, she would never look at going back to FMCG: “When I genuinely look at the work in the industry, service businesses are doing much more interesting things, because they’ve got the data.”

At NatWest, having transformed the business’s approach to marketing and improved the function’s credibility, her goal now is to take the Tomorrow Begins Today platform and run with it.

“This is a marathon not a sprint,” she says. “I think it’s the start of exciting journey. We’ve put a lot of the foundations in, we’re working differently. We’ve built trust and credibility. We’ve got the platform. But now actually, we need to really go, ‘how do we turbocharge all of that?’”



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