1. What inspired you to pursue a career that embraces marketing?

From about the age of 12 I developed a real obsession with 1980s marketing and was really fascinated by TV advertising. Quite often I would get more excited about the adverts than the TV show itself. There are so many that I still remember to this day - Yellow Pages JR Hartley, Carling Black Label, Hamlet, RAC Knights of the Road, Smash Mash etc.  In particular, work by the likes of Sir John Hegarty mesmerised me - particularly the Levi’s series.  To this day I still refer to a lot of his work with my team.  So from a young age I knew I wanted to pursue a career in marketing, and took on a graduate role in the Direct Marketing department of Midland Bank (just before we rebranded it to HSBC!). This was mainly focused on audiences, data, segmentation and so on (banks were one of the biggest Direct Mailers of the 90s), but from this I went on to more broader roles within Marketing to where I am today.

2. What are the biggest challenges currently facing your marketing team?

I think like a lot of companies that have adopted a hybrid working model, maintaining a good culture within the department, and business as a whole, is proving to be quite challenging. Before the pandemic, the office was buzzing and vibrant and the culture was palpable.  Conversations and ideas, or just socialising, was organic and that is a huge part of the special sauce of Confused.com.  Post Covid, over the past 2 years almost, the team are now able to choose as and when they work from home.  This is great for focus and productivity, but does have an impact on the organic nature of collaboration, which is important to a successful marketing function.  As a department, we knew this had to be addressed and so we now have dedicated ‘marketing days’ each week which means that everyone has that face to face time, and a chance to create more of these moments.

Another challenge I’m sure we share with many other businesses is competitor activity. In the price comparison space we are definitely seeing a lot of marketing warfare - every time you get an edge, there’s always the chance for a competitor to close the door. It’s a constant need to stay one step ahead, and so it's about identifying what sets you aside from them and leveraging that in your marketing activity. 

3. Science vs Art: With scientific data-driven marketing at one end of the spectrum and genius creative ideas at the other - which side do you lean towards?

Quite often you see companies or marketing departments focused on specialising in one or the other. And this is partly because data driven marketing is getting more complex (with multiple measurement systems) and therefore could be perceived to be more accountable and valuable when it comes to marketing spend. But there is also the issue that many people are misguided in valuing data over creative marketing.  I truly believe that they are equally as important as the other - in fact, you can’t have one without the other. 

Having been in the industry for 27 years, I was working in marketing departments before Digital Marketing became a day to day reality.  As it was more widely adopted, I absorbed this into my career, so I have the benefit of developing an in-depth understanding of both this and creative marketing.  I understand the importance of utilising data driven insights in informing creativity. And they both have a crucial role to play in different stages of the customer journey.  I also think it’s important for anyone new to marketing or progressing in their career to also find a way to gain experience in both areas, even if they specialise in one, as having this broader understanding will definitely help to better inform their strategy.  

The best analogy I give to my team is that of the funnel - Creativity develops impact and brand distinction, broad targeting can amplify that impact.  This happens at any time in the buying cycle to nurture awareness and consideration.  When the customer is in-market and moves into the buying cycle, their intent is very high for harvesting, but it’s the awareness you nurtured that improves that ability to convert versus your competitors.  I know it’s simple, basic marketing but I’m amazed at how many are “forgetting” it.  I see a lot of businesses that try and build a brand in the PPC auction and then hit a sales ceiling and ask “so how do I widen this funnel?”

4. In marketing, when is it ok to rely on A.I. and when do you think you definitely ‘need a human’? 

There is definitely a role for artificial intelligence in marketing, particularly when it comes to simplifying repetitive processes or top level analysis. But for a marketing strategy to be successful you really do need the creativity that only a human can provide. Even in data or performance marketing, there’s certain details and complexities that you wouldn’t get from AI. That said, AI is also developing very quickly, so it’s important that we keep on top of it, as who knows when they may be beneficial! This is something I am always pushing within my teams, as there are some technologies out there that could play a crucial role in what we do - and again, it’s all about competitive advantage.

5. How is your business 'Riding the Storm' of economic turbulence and increased cost of living?

In General Insurance, customers are seeing average premium increases year on year of about 20% - so the need for our services has never been greater.  

Our sole objective as a business is to help customers save money on their insurance, and so we are working extremely hard across all departments to make sure we’re getting better deals from our partners, generating as much advice and help as we can to help people through this time.  It’s important that we keep a clear focus on building and maintaining our brand awareness, so that people know we are here to help.

6. How do you adapt a business and marketing strategy to embrace the latest trends and keep ahead of the competition?

Throughout my career I’ve seen so many trends and channels and tools come and go. A lot of businesses I’ve seen and worked for have been quick to adopt anything new that emerges because they think it works better. But what I’ve realised is that the core principles of marketing will always be the most effective, and the trick is to adapt these to the challenge you are facing at the time. If you focus your efforts on making sure you are serving the needs of your customers in the most profitable way possible over attempting to jump on new trends then you’re more likely to see successful results.

7. What role does your company’s purpose and environmental approach play within your marketing strategy? 

Confused.com is a Net Zero business - we offset everything we do, including for our staff.  With our most recent advert shoots we really wanted to reflect this and for all of our productions we work now with AdGreen to make sure that we are following all of the right guidance and processes so that everything is running as green as possible. We also work with them to calculate offsetting the carbon once the shoot is complete.

8. How important is storytelling when maximising your customers’ engagement with a campaign?

We are very different to our competitors in that we don’t use mascots or character fame within our campaigns. So for us, storytelling and connecting with our customers is really important. Since 2018, we repositioned our strategy to leverage our purpose as a brand - to make buying insurance less confusing. And now our campaigns and creative assets are very much focused on a narrative which highlights how everyday life can be confusing, but insurance doesn’t have to be. 

We focus on putting customers' amusing “mind tickling” confusions at the centre of this narrative, which we feel is incredibly engaging as it is something every person can relate to. For example, how did the inventor of the clock know what time it is? These are all questions people ask, and we don’t know the answers to. But we have the answer to keeping insurance simple. We now have a very consistent message across all of our creative concepts, including our Emmerdale sponsorships, brand work, our confused.comic and Confused.com Rewards campaigns as well.

9. Creative agencies rail against the time and resource spent working on pitches to win accounts: is there a realistic, fair alternative to the pitch process?

I understand that the pitch process can be very expensive and time consuming for agencies, especially as there’s no guarantee of business at the end of it. But that said, the ultimate objective is for an agency and brand to find a long lasting relationship - it’s about finding the right match.  Advertising is a long game - it requires longevity. So going into a pitch process with a short term mindset is not an effective way of winning a pitch. No brand wants to be changing agencies regularly as it would completely mess up the creative vision they are trying to achieve. And so for me, the pitch process is an opportunity for an agency to show that they really understand the brand, demonstrate how they can take it further, and to ultimately find that perfect match for both parties.

10. From a marketing perspective, what’s coming up for your brand or business in 2023 and beyond?

We have a few exciting things coming up. We are continuing our partnership with Emmerdale and are launching a brand new set of creative idents to support this, which better aligns with our brand messaging.

We also have a new creative launching in the summer which we’re excited to share!

11. If there’s one thing you know about marketing it is…?

That it can’t be done without the team. Finding the right people and nurturing their talent is the key to success in any business. And this goes for external teams too. There are a lot of talented agencies out there. And when you find the right one, they become an extension of the team and are a huge contributor to your success.

Little Grey Cells is Tim Healey’s weekly profile interview platform where leading marketers share their valuable insights and experience, presented by Worth Your While.

Outsourced Marketing Director and best-selling author Tim Healey collaborates with senior marketers to help them have more time, less stress and clearer marketing strategies through his consultancy Shoot 4 The Moon Ltd. Book your meeting.

You might die tomorrow so make it worth your while. Worth Your While is an independent creative agency helping brands do spectacular stuff people like to talk about. wyw.agency.