TSB’s recently departed digital marketing and ecommerce director Stuart Brann is not afraid to admit that 2018 has been tough, following an IT meltdown in April which saw thousands of customers locked out of their accounts.
He joined the bank following its split from Lloyds Banking Group, tasked with driving growth at “the UK’s largest challenger bank” and migrating accounts to an IT system created by its new Spanish owner Sabadell. But given it is now thousands of customers and £250m lighter, it’s fair to say things didn’t go as planned.
“This has probably been the most challenging time in my career,” he says, speaking to Marketing Week in September while still in the role. “How do you motivate staff who are going through probably the worst possible few months they’ll have to deal with?”
A performance marketing specialist, Brann’s interest in the field was sparked by the final module of his marketing degree, on direct response. He is no stranger to its challenges, having worked at a number of high-growth startups and at US private investment firm The Motley Fool immediately following the financial crash in 2008.
“The market had just crashed so the only way it could go was up. It was definitely a challenge but at the same time it was the perfect opportunity [to attract new investors].”
After leaving The Motley Fool he swapped finance for travel, joining the UK team of French travel site Voyage Privé before moving to cashback website Quidco, where he was again tasked with driving growth and for the first time was responsible for both acquisition and retention. That’s something he has done in every subsequent role “because it’s impossible to effectively grow a service or a company without having that entire ownership”.
We’ve still got a lot to do to fix what is broken and we still need to put things right for our customers. Those are the two main focuses the team and I are working on.
He describes his “big break” as landing a role at Barclaycard where he helped launch the brand’s now defunct deals website Bespoke Offers. While he is proud of the product itself, he describes its failure as one of his biggest disappointments.
Brann continued his financial services journey by joining Hastings Direct just after the brand’s IPO. “I had a conversation with the ex-CEO of Barclaycard, a guy called Gary Hoffman. He told me what they were doing at Hastings and it ticked that box of being high growth, but it was also nearer where I lived so I thought it might give me a better work-life balance.”
During his one-year contract he helped grow profit and customers by more than 30%, and that achievement has provided a handy springboard into his most recent challenge of doubling TSB’s current account market share and new business lending.
Brann is due to start a new role in January.
First taste of performance marketing
Future Publishing, group acquisition marketing manager, 2005-2007
“Subscription marketing was a great way for me to understand how you drive response and the importance of data, and using really clear performance creative. It’s given me a solid foundation for my career.
“I went through three and a bit years at Future and decided that I wanted to have more of a focus on digital. Although Future was trying to progress and become more digitally focused I wanted to work for a pure-play digital business so I could really challenge myself.”
First foray into digital
Fish4, e-CRM/user acquisition manager, 2007-2008
“At the time, Fish4 was the largest and fastest-growing employment site and on paper it seemed a really exciting proposition.
“Unfortunately during that period there was the financial crash and lots of startup companies struggled, particularly ones that had difficulties in raising capital. Fish4 had a really difficult time, hence why my time was quite short.
But even in that short space of time I managed to pick up far more [knowledge] around digital acquisition, email and basic digital channels, so it [was still useful].”
Turning challenge into opportunity
The Motley Fool, UK member acquisitions, 2008-2011
“The Motley Fool offers investment advice for the average person. It’s not for rich people. It’s about empowering people to take better care of their money and lead them towards financial independence. Coming out of the stock market crash, it was a great opportunity to help the company set up in the UK and for me build some of the skills I needed.
“It was definitely challenging converting those who had been burned [by their investing experience] but there was also a whole new market of young people who were worried about their money and wanted to know where they should be investing. They were looking at return on investment, so it was a great time for us to try and grow that business.
“It was a digitally-focused role but using whatever acquisition channels I felt appropriate, so it gave me far more autonomy to grow. This allowed me to start testing new channels that I hadn’t had under my remit in previous roles, so radio for example, even telephony – back in the day when you could call people up.”
Launching a brand in the UK
Voyage Privé, head of UK acquisition marketing, 2011-2012
“Voyage Privé is a French-based business and one of the largest travel brands in France. So although it was launching its UK entity we had the financial backing and support of a large parent company.
“We grew from quite a small base when we launched to a couple of million subscribers in the space of my tenure. It was rapid growth, which challenged my core foundation in performance marketing knowing how to acquire customers – not only paying consumers but businesses which had memberships as well.”
Taking ownership of the customer
Quidco, head of marketing, acquisition and retention, 2012-2014
“My job was to come in, deliver the growth plan and help the business towards either an IPO or a sale. The acquisition side has always been my bread and butter but I then took on CRM to really build out that full customer view, so how you not only acquire customers but retain them and take them through the whole lifecycle [thereby] increasing their value.
“It completed that picture for me. Since then I’ve only moved to roles where I have control over both sides because it’s impossible to effectively grow a service or a company without having that entire ownership.”
Learning to influence change
Barclaycard, new customer acquisition and performance marketing director, 2014-2016
“I was involved in the launch of Bespoke Offers which was a digital marketplace. It was a highlight initially, although it was also a low-light as it closed relatively quickly after launch.
“We’d never launched a digital business from inside a bank before; it was the first time that had ever been done, so that was a massive tick. But because the bank wanted to launch the product in the traditional banking way – it was treated as a financial services launch rather than a digital launch – quite quickly it struggled.
“The reason I think Barclays was such a big break for me, though, is because of what I learned there. I learned how to operate in that matrix-style organisation to get things done and that’s probably one example where actually I kicked myself for not knowing how to influence that change initially. By the time I left I was well versed in it but initially I didn’t go about influencing it in the right way.”
Balancing performance and brand
Hastings Direct, head of brand, CRM and performance marketing 2016-2017
“Hastings Direct had just IPO’d and needed to achieve high growth targets so the board could get its earn-out. My role was very clear – come in, help it achieve those growth targets and keep growing the brand. Up until that point I hadn’t really had ownership or accountability of brand marketing and it’s something I quite liked within this role.
“It was challenging in that it was a new skill set to pick up but at the same time the principles remain the same. I had some very talented brand people within the team but I thoroughly enjoyed trying to find a happy medium between the performance demand for the business but also the role of the brand in helping generate that performance. It was that balance that I really learnt and took away from that role.”
The biggest career challenge
TSB, digital marketing and ecommerce director/head of commerce, 2017-November 2018
“The migration [of IT systems] has been my the biggest challenge so far. It has really tested my leadership skills. In the past I’ve managed teams of 10, 20, 30 people but here it started off at 25 and has grown to the best part of 55 through the course of migration as we’ve brought in new contractors and new elements to support it.
“We’ve still got a lot to do to fix what is broken and we still need to put things right for our customers. Those are the two main focuses the team and I are working on. We’ve got the foundation, the basic functionality that our customers will expect and at the same time how do make sure we put right everything that went wrong?
“Once that is complete then we’ll start looking at how we’ll grow the brand and our acquisitions. We’ll be launching new products and services. There’s a big thrust in the market for business banking, so how do we start launching that as a proposition?”
This interview was conducted in September while Stuart Brann was still digital marketing and ecommerce director at TSB
Stuart Brann’s CV
Digital marketing and ecommerce director/head of commerce
Head of brand, CRM and performance marketing
New customer acquisition and performance marketing director
Head of marketing, acquisition and retention
Head of UK acquisition marketing
The Motley Fool
UK member acquisitions
e-CRM/user acquisition manager
Group acquisition marketing manager