Mail Rory Sutherland interviews Tony Miller, CMO
Rory: Hello and welcome to this edition of Mail Unleashed brought to you by Marketreach. This is a series in which we talk to some of the world's leading CMOs about their own personal experiences, and specifically two pieces of direct mail, that have been, in some way decisive in their professional or personal lives. And today we've got someone with us who's definitely familiar with the business of putting magic through the post, in the shape of Tony Miller, who's previously spent time as head of CRM at Disney. Tony now is chief marketing officer of Weight Watchers, where he is responsible for managing the company's migration from being largely a face-to-face physical business to being what's now fashionably known as hybrid. Tony, welcome. It’s a pleasure to meet you.
Tony: Pleasure to meet you too.
Rory: Clearly, you’re not from around these parts.
Tony: What gave it away?
Rory: When did you cross the pond?
Tony: I crossed the pond back in 1999, for what was a two-year contract that turned out to be my life here in London.
Rory: Was that at Disney or was that a previous existence?
Tony: It was of previous existence. I was at an agency before I went to the client side. So, at the time I was working for a boutique agency that focused on the strategic planning and fundraising for not- for- profit. So really cut my teeth on direct mail and A-B testing and use of data then and they were opening a London office, which brought me over here to help set that up.
Rory: It was kind of a heady time that period because in a way it was a little bit like the British Invasion in that direct marketing and direct mail had always been very much an American specialism. There was a kind of what you might call a second coming of direct marketing.
Tony: I mean, yeah, absolutely. It was really where, you know, you really saw data insight, come to life first and foremost, and you really knew what return on investment was because you could actually track it really specifically and really have a platform or a channel now that we call it. To really engage in story tells.
Rory: I remember one ex-advertising copywriter saying this is like persuasion at its purest. You know, you have a sheet of paper, and you have a, you know, a consumer, and it's your job on that sheet of paper to persuade them to go from not doing something, to doing something.
Tony: Until people got their head around that you could be as creative, if not more with your sheet of paper or what goes on the envelope that actually is going to get people to open and test different teasers that would get people in or not was to me exciting and amazing.
Rory: And I don't think there's another medium which does that, you know. You know, many digital media, you know, can be effectively ignored without even noticing that you're ignoring them. You know, television you're not really expected to act. You know, you can't put a TV commercial in your toast rack and wait until the weekend to make a decision, all that sort of thing. So that brings me, I suppose, to your first piece of kind of desert island, direct mail. Which one are you going to discuss first?
Tony: I think I'm going to discuss... There's so many in my vault I think I could bring up today, but I'm going to focus on the World Vision gift catalogue that we created back in 2004. And the reason I'm focusing on that is for two things. One is it really brought to life for World Vision a different way to ignite giving in their customers and acquire new customers. And the idea around the gift catalogue was to take a traditional Christmas gift catalogue that you were say that we all got bombarded with and really elevate how you can give a gift at Christmas that is really meaningful to your friends and your loved ones.
Rory: There was a goat featured.
Tony: It was a goat that was on the front.
Rory: I don’t know what it is about goats that make them so.
Tony: It absolutely was, and we did research around it to understand kind of what would work the best on the cover in the goat won. But yeah, you could buy a goat. And so, it was a real, you know, I mean, it could stop people in their tracks, you know, how are you going to buy a goat for Christmas? So, it was a real game-changer, I think, one for World Vision in terms of like the revenue that came off the back of it, but also as a leader in how to change people's ideas around giving.
Rory: And I always remember thinking how genius that was because it was also framing, you know, one form of expenditure, the sort of £25 you might spend on some pointless plastic tat to give to a member of your family at Christmas.
Rory: With something that could make an extraordinary kind of life changing difference. And I thought that framing kind of anchoring thing where, you know, it took the language of affectively, you know, slightly pointless consumption.
Rory: And then translated that into what the money you spent the same amount of money could achieve if spent slightly more intelligently. I always thought that was utterly brilliant. It got quite a lot of PR coverage as well.
Tony: It got gold at that year's DMA.
Rory: Yeah, deservedly. Did you go straight from the third sector to Disney?
Tony: No, I went from third sector to commercial advertising and so just kind of jumped over the fence there but still with a digital and data first mindset. So, it’s always with kind of the direct mail element but going into the digital era, so worked with the likes of easyJet and Compare the Market’s database and CRM program, you know, back in the day.
Rory: So, you’ve kind of worked with the other than perhaps American Express, you've worked with all the sort of royalty of direct marketing.
Tony: Yeah, I have, yeah. Whilst at Disney I was fortunate enough to work with the DMA again. So, you know, that is close to my heart and always been close to my heart and feel honoured to be able to see a whole raft of really good use of mail examples in terms of what's the best and the best for the industry and what people are doing.
Tony: So, for my second piece of DM, I'd like to talk about the TV license.
Rory: Oh yeah.
Tony: And they brilliantly use DM in a way to get people to... that had a physical license still with TV and convert them to digital so that they could save money to put back into programming so that the heart of it was really special and a real concrete reason to switch But the mechanism they did, they used the QR code and they set up a almost a race – could you be the fastest person to kind of sign up using the QR code? So, they linked it to like a Guinness World Book record, which is brilliant.
Rory: I haven’t seen this yet. I need to see this.
Tony: You're probably already a digital license customer.
Rory: I was, yes. And this was a QR code as a response device?
Tony: Yeah. So, you ‘d bring a DM back and bring in the QR code. COVID’s done, you know, through the period of COVID, it's like you've had to kind of rethink how to connect with people. You know, from that physical to digital. And I think, you know, the QR code has come back and people are really understanding how to use the QR code and to import it into a DM as a response device so that you can actually get immediate response is brilliant. And actually, transitioned their physical subscription to an online subscription, which from a sustainability standpoint saves them ultimately money on management of that TV license that they can then put back into programing.
Rory: It’s interesting you mentioned sustainability, because occasionally, you know, you might hear the argument that direct mail is a less sustainable medium or has a greater environmental cost than the digital alternative. I’m not entirely sure that's true, in fact, because first of all, in terms of transmission it’s extraordinary efficient. And the other thing is that, as you said, papers are recyclable and it's not as if digital communications don't have a cost either.
Tony: Well, exactly.
Rory: I mean, spamming thousands of people things they don't read and filling up your Gmail, you know, endlessly with stuff that gains no attention.
Rory: That's not doing anybody any favours either.
Tony: You're absolutely correct. I think it kind of always ladders back to that efficiency and effectiveness I think, and you can use that across the sustainability side as well. You need to really look at the measurement of everything that goes into it to make your decision. And that's where I think, you know, DM actually has a right to be, you know, center stage in the marketing mix.
Rory: So, thank you, Tony.
Tony: Thank you.
Rory: Thank you very much for coming on the program. And it's been an absolute delight discussing some of the magic of direct mail and modern direct mail in particular, which I think is probably about to see a renaissance. And if any of you would like to discover, like Tony Miller, how you unleash the magic of direct mail, then all you have to do is go to marketreach.co.uk. See you next time.