Aviva marketing director: our job as marketers is simple, but that doesn't make it easy

Aviva marketing director: our job as marketers is simple, but that doesn't make it easy

Keeping things simple invariably pays off, but means really address the underlying problems a brand is facing, writes Aviva's retail and brand marketing director

Digital has always been at the heart of my marketing career. I started off in travel, working at lastminute.com – arguably the UK’s highest profile dot com start-up. 

At Tesco I was responsible for developing the online grocery delivery service for the biggest retailer in the country. At healthcare provider Babylon, we had aimed to use technology to transform the way patients interact with their doctors. 

And now at Aviva, we’re using digital to change the relationship that many customers have with the financial services industry.

So I’ve always been a digital marketer. But that doesn’t mean I’ve always done digital marketing. For me, the challenge has always been how to connect with customers in a digital world – not just how to connect with customers using digital channels.

Balancing act

Marketing has always been a blend of the arts and the sciences. That hasn’t changed. In fact, in a media landscape where customers are bombarded with messages from multiple channels and devices at every hour of the day, I’d argue that the art of great creative is more important than ever.

That said, I’m a big believer in applying the scientific method to the art of marketing. Start with a hypothesis, work out how you can measure it, then test, learn and repeat. Test, learn, scale and repeat. 

We used to only apply the scientific method to digital channels – paid search, conversion rate optimisation, eCRM and so on. 

Now we apply exactly the same principles to every discipline and every channel.  It doesn’t mean we’re afraid to try new things – quite the opposite, in fact. We just look to the data to try and understand how our idea (hypothesis) plays out in the real world.

A question of culture

In a pure play digital business like lastminute.com or Babylon, this kind of thinking tends to be second nature. In a larger organisation with different institutional DNA, however, embedding these principles requires introducing a new mindset. 

As my career has evolved, I’ve become increasingly interested in the organisational and cultural aspects of marketing.  How can we create a culture where everyone is data-literate, but still produce great creative work? 

How can we organise the marketing function in a FTSE 100 business to be agile and nimble, but still operate within the restrictions of a regulated sector like financial services?

Keep it simple

The best people that I have worked for have always managed to make things simple, and that’s something that I’ve tried to do myself. Investing time, money and effort into making things simple always pays off. 

Of course this doesn’t mean only investing in simple things. And unfortunately, simple doesn’t mean easy. In fact, it’s nearly always harder to address the simple things, because it forces you to address the underlying problems, not just the symptoms.

Simplicity demands that you really challenge your processes to remove ambiguity. It requires you to address the fundamental issues of people and structure – do you have the right talent and the right organisation design?

And inevitably in today’s world, it means thinking about technology. Is your data fit for purpose? Are you across the technology platforms that you (and your agencies) are using to create, test and measure campaign activity? 

Are you reporting metrics that matter? Do you know the technology vendors and the colleagues in the IT team who are leading those programmes?

Making things simple can be infuriatingly complicated. The time it takes to get things done can be frustrating, and I’ve tried to learn how to change gears – to know when to push something through, and when it’s better to take the slow and steady approach. 

Speed can be your best friend and your worst enemy 

Too slow and you struggle to build momentum. You end up trying to justify a checklist of minor tweaks, and wallow in the reasons not to do things, rather than learning by doing. 

But if you’re always operating in rapid-fire mode, you’ll fly past the insight, fail to build legacy and leave a trail of pain in your wake. The key is to recognise when to go for it and when to apply the handbrake.

To me marketing has always been the most exciting place to be in business. It’s where the organisation is closest to the customer, and customers are where any business ultimately stands or falls. 

Today’s customers are more demanding than ever, but fundamentally, the principles of marketing are timeless. Get the right message, to the right person, at the right time, in the right place. It’s not complicated. But that’s not the same as saying that it’s easy.

Tom Daniell is retail and brand marketing director at Aviva, and a member of Campaign’s Power 100

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