Rory Sutherland interviews Ellie Norman, CCO at Manchester United

Mail Unleashed Transcript

Ellie Norman and Rory Sutherland

Rory: Hello and welcome to this edition of mail unleashed brought you by Marketreach. In this series of programs, we will be interviewing some of the world's leading CMOs , that’s Chief Marketing Officer for normal people about their careers and, in particular, their relationship with the mail medium, and this time we got a particularly fabulous candidate in the shape of Ellie Norman. Ellie was the Chief Marketing Officer globally for Formula One, and you'll probably see a theme emerging here. She's now the chief communications officer for Manchester United, where as part of their executive leadership team she looks after the health of the brand off the pitch. For those of you who are huge football fans, don't expect a great deal about football because I'm actually from Wales. I don't know anything about it, okay. It's not really our thing, so anybody who's turned up here looking for a kind of conversation about football, probably skip over to YouTube now, but if you're interested in marketing, I’d definitely stick around. So just to go back a little bit before Formula One, was there a sporting theme emerging even then?

Ellie: So, sport came late in life, and I started actually way back when actually I left school at 18 and started in, back in the old days, Rory, a below the line agency. And actually, my first client was automotive in Honda, and then I actually moved to Virgin Media.

Rory: So those are two of the big industries. The car industry has always been historically a fairly big user of mail, and equally IT and particularly anything subscription based. Anything with recurring payments.

Ellie: Yeah so, for Honda, all of these are the dealer communications, the kind of brochures, fundamentally how we're going to drive test drives and get that sort of sign up, and at Virgin Media we were looking at attribution media mix modelling and therefore the relationship of where I had direct responsibility alongside my peers where they had the direct responsibility for mail drops door drops and DM and therefore that was really fantastic actually to really start to understand how that mix had to work together.

Rory: I can see exactly what happened, which is you went car industry, which is high dudgeon decision, then of course Virgin Media, which again is you know sign up get something installed, fix an appointment, and then of course the two are beautifully combined both in terms of media and cars. When you go to Formula One, so you've got a beautiful kind of syncretic career, where everything is parlayed into something more. Most direct mail was fairly transactional, and then what happened 10, 20, 30 years ago is people possibly under the influence of people from advertising coming into direct marketing. Also, I think the different brands that suddenly big car brands being a perfect example, suddenly it actually got good at the emotional side, and it got good at premiumisation, and it got very good at saying things, which brings me to your piece, which is a Cunard piece of direct mail.

Ellie: That's right. It is. So, I think similar to what we've been talking about from an emotional point of view, there is something that is still so rich and powerful in a tactile piece in front of you. So, I thought that sort of Cunard example, I mean this is high end luxury purchase. It's not like you can kind of go and do a try before you buy, and so actually how are you bringing in that experience and that level of quality in all of those kind of details, so that you can almost be sort of teleported into this and what it will be, and straight away I think your brain starts to kind of fire off and start to imagine what it would be like to have this experience. Now I my personally have never been on a cruise, but when you are looking at something like that, already I’m like okay so…

Rory: I'm already mentally invested in it.

Ellie: Yeah like, wow, what would this experience be like?

Rory: Yeah, what that says as being sent that, is that the launch of this ship is patently a big deal. This is actually highly newsworthy.

Ellie: For me, really again thinking about fundamentally what do you want to do. You want to announce a new ship. You want people to sort of take a cruise on that ship, to be thinking about how can you take elements of the ship out to where your sort of potential audience is whether that is a new audience to cruising, or whether that is an existing audience,  it's fantastic, and that sort of piece of direct mail had everything that I imagine the ship has instilled in that, so actually from the weight of it, opening it up, the materials, the sort of embossing, the attention and the kind of craft, but also the effort that you take as an end user to actually kind of opening it out, the interaction of taking out, and so it's this journey of discovery of some of that detail that could be missed unless it's brought your attention, so the architecture what you start to find in the ship. It's making you feel like ‘I can start to imagine what this experience might be because of the care and attention and craft that has gone on to bringing this out to me.

Rory: And, actually when you think about it, I’m a big fan of the behavioural science inside of reciprocation bias. It’s not really a bias; it's a natural human instinct. You are actually giving a present of value to one of your valuable customers. Now it's likely that creates the slight urge ‘well you spent $5, $6, $8 sending me this. I at least owe you some commensurate amount of attention and return all the way up to booking a cruise’. And so, you are actually generally giving your customers something you know of actual lasting value and something that there's something in this case I think they'll want to keep. David Ogilvy famously described direct mail as his first love and secret weapon and also described himself as a sort of voice crying in the wilderness about its virtues. I think I'm fairly optimistic that we'll start to see something of a kind of renaissance because apart from a very simple fact not enough people are using it, and that presents us with opportunities. My kids get really excited if they get a piece of post. It’s as simple as that. Are you similarly optimistic?

Ellie: I am actually. I think everything has wonderful cycles, and we've seen the cycle with print I think more broadly magazines newspapers still play a role. It comes back to the and not the or. And I think there's a huge opportunity with actually how mail will evolve. I mean one of the rules I have with myself is if you've been somewhere for dinner to a friend for dinner, that warrants a written card. If maybe you popped out for a drink, a WhatsApp is OK.

Rory: My analogy is always that if you are invited to one wedding on the same weekend. One wedding the invitation comes by e-mail. The other one comes by post. Go to the one you’re invited to by post because the other one probably has a cash bar.

But anyway, thank you all very much for joining us and just to say that if, like Ellie Norman, you'd like to climb aboard with direct mail, then the place you need to visit is simply Thank you very much for joining us. See you next time.