Rory Sutherland interviews Lis Blair, CMO, MoneySuperMarket

Mail Unleashed Transcript

Rory: Hello, and welcome to Mail Unleashed brought to you by Marketreach. It’s a series of interviews where we talk to some of the world’s leading CMOs – that’s Chief Marketing Officers for the uninitiated – in particular about their attitudes – changing and otherwise – towards the direct mail medium. And also talking about two or three pieces of mail which have in a sort of desert island discs way (30 secs) had a magical effect on their both commercial lives or indeed possibly their personal lives. And this week I’m joined by Lis Blair. That’s Lis with an ‘s’. It’s a common lesson in marketing that spelling your name in a slightly unconventional manner always aids distinctiveness and differentiation. And Lis is the current Group Chief Marketing Officer at Money Supermarket. Before that, she read natural sciences at Cambridge, therefore, bearing (60 secs) out my assumption that direct mail has a particular appeal to creative people who are a little bit nerdy.

Lis: Thanks

Rory: It’s probably fair, and I say this for myself, by the way. In that there is that undercurrent of science to direct mail. Whereas mainstream advertising seems to be entirely in the grip of fashions, the great thing about direct mail is that it does build on a body of pre-existing knowledge and experience. And then I think Lis has variously worked at – let me get this right – EasyJet, (90 secs) Audi, Bulb and I’ve missed one, haven’t I? Rapier, of course. So you’ve been agency side and client side and you’ve also worked in quite a mixture of different disciplines all of which for possibly different reasons have a particular reason to love direct mail. When did you first come across this? When you first left university, you got a science degree. Marketing may not seem the natural first step. What happened?

Lis: Well, I joined the Barclays graduate programme.

Rory: Ah!

Lis: I’d done a summer placement with them for a while in the Marketing department (120 secs), and then joined their graduate scheme focused on Marketing which sort of really just built that love. And as you say it was always about data led marketing, always about about digital data led. So, I was involved in the first online bank, and sort of iterations of that. That’s how old I am. But also, a lot around direct mail and having to be ruthlessly efficient with your spend and targeting to get the right message, right customer, right time. So that sort of thinking – the direct mail thinking – (150 secs) I agree with you that it’s super important in the applications that I’ve made to digital marketing as well. Some of those disciplines have been lost as things have become really cheap to send.

Rory: One great thing I foresee for direct mail in particular is because it’s disproportionately expensive, it should be disproportionately thoughtful.

Lis: Yes, and impactful.

Rory: And impactful. I completely agree. If you have a reasonably high lifetime value in the case of conversion, then actually the most efficient (180 secs) thing to do is not the cheapest. The most efficient thing to do is to do that thing that has the highest possible weight of conversion.

Lis: Yes. Absolutely and impact is a really important part of that.

Rory: And I think we’ve lost that in the digital age. I think we’ve confused efficiency in the short term with long term effectiveness. So where did you go after Barclays? I’m intrigued.

Lis: So that’s when I set up my own business for a while. So, I did a stint at Audi but I was running my own business to do that, so it was a really nice flexible way of staying in touch (210 secs) with what was going on and doing some different parts of the marketing mix. So, at Audi I got some great opportunities to deliver some really impactful and very high – well very expensive frankly – DM packs, as you say because of really high margin relationship products where you want to be able to demonstrate impact.

Rory: What was the first piece you’d like to choose as a piece that kind of opened your eyes to what direct mail can be at its very best.

Lis: Well, so, I mean I was going to talk about some of the Audi examples, (240 secs) but they would be super easy to talk about because as I said they were a really high cost per pack and it was an obvious thing that had been ingrained in the business for so long. The example I want to talk about was around the EasyJet invitations to Fight Club, which was our loyalty scheme which we launched because it was the first time Easjet had ever done anything that wasn’t email based marketing. You know it was genuinely different for the business to move away from digital. We’d identified a cohort of customers who were highly valuable to us and who we wanted to sort of put our virtual arms (270 secs) around and do our best to sort of engender loyalty. And retain that loyalty really so we built a loyalty scheme which was predominantly about making the inflexibility of the airline flexible for those customers. So, the gestures of goodwill that you would expect in a local retailer or someone who knows you and all of that stuff. So, things like being able to change your flight for free, change the name on a booking for free. Things that you would normally get a penalty for (300 secs) with the airline, this cohort of customers that we invited to take part in this, they were able to get some of those flexibilities. And to invite them we wanted to do something impactful, personalised, beautiful that was going to give impact, that was going to make them sit up and realise that they were special. And so, we designed a direct mail pack, as I say the first time for EasyJet, which was super important. It was signed by Carolyn at the time. It was laser cut, a beautiful paper weight. It was you know a (330 secs) black envelope with an orange cut out. I think we got the sweet spot right in terms of quality, impact, but not so expensive that I couldn’t get it signed off. But it did absolutely have the impact that we hoped for in terms of just being different. It thumped on the doormat, it made people read it, it made people open it and it…

Rory: And there was no charge for joining the programme? They were actually auto-enrolled in the programme. So how did you measure… in an (360 secs) organisation like that, how did you measure the pay back. Over time presumably?

Lis: Yes. Absolutely. We ran it as a pilot initially to see the behaviour change that it would engender. And I was really keen that it wasn’t just about the commercial terms. It was also about satisfaction, about engagement, about some of the research-based elements of that so that we were understanding the brand impact as well as the commercial impact. It did everything we wanted it to do.

Rory: So, you actually measured it both in emotional terms as well as (390 secs) transactional terms, and my guess is that it was a huge success.

Lis: Yes. It drove all the behaviours that we hoped it would in terms of retention and it actually deepened into customers wallets in ways that we perhaps hadn’t expected, and as I said then the halo effect on customers.

Rory: So, you actually noticed a greater frequency of travel and a greater…?

Lis: And these were already high frequency travellers, so we didn’t necessarily expect to get more of that.

Rory: But you just didn’t want to lose them, and actually you found that this had an actual uptick on frequency.

Lis: Yes. Absolutely. (420 secs) So, these were often sort of weekly travellers, who were weekly commuting from say Edinburgh to Luton or say London to Geneva, but actually we saw them start to book other things with EasyJet that perhaps they wouldn’t have booked before.

Rory: Ah so it was possibly business travel carrying over into personal travel.

Lis: Absolutely.

Rory: Which is really interesting. By the way that is a brilliant piece of psychology, which is that people will always say that I want to be treated well, but deep down we really want to be treated better than everyone else, don’t we.

Lis: Yes.

Rory: (450 secs) I mean the Audi packs – you said that you obviously love those, but you said that its slightly cheating because they had a huge budget. Well actually compared to a car purchase. I think there are some cars where effectively if you buy the car from new, you’re paying sort of 800 pounds towards the advertising of that car. So actually, a fairly high impact direct mail piece that costs a pound or two that is pretty successful isn’t really all that egregious in terms of how much that costs.

Lis: No that’s very true.

Rory: (480 secs) So, you know it’s always worth framing these things I think, but you said that was cheating because you thought those were high budget packs. What’s the other piece that you wanted to talk about?

Lis: So, it’s the Miscarriage Association – the cards that were generated by McCann so MRM. For me, it was a really brave way of tackling something that people just don’t talk about and making it really easy to put words in people’s hands. And a beautiful way of allowing people to reach out, (510 secs) so it’s something that I’ve personally experienced and you know so I know how difficult it is for other to work out how to face into it, acknowledge…

Rory: Who’s the target audience?

Lis: So, it was for friends and family of people who’d lost a baby.

Rory: Ah!

Lis: Who didn’t know how to tackle it.

Rory: Of course. Who didn’t know what to say.

Lis: Yeah. Which is the thing which people really struggle with the most, but to raise awareness for the Miscarriage Association, also rather than just sort of targeting or it’s really difficult to target people (540 secs) directly for that sort of a matter. So, I thought it was a really brilliant and insightful way of putting it into the hands of the people who needed it most in order to reach out to the people who needed the emotional support the most, whilst also raising awareness for the charity. For me, it was just a thoughtful, provocative and clever work. And ticked all those boxes for me.

Rory: It’s certainly interesting. I mean one interesting thing is (570 secs) that in sustainability terms, making things dematerial is assumed to be good for sustainability. I’m not sure that’s necessarily true by the way. You know two terabytes of Gmail full of spam as I said. The data centre doesn’t run on air. There’s also an argument which I would say is. This is an argument for direct mail but also for digital communications, which id what we really need is less but better.

Lis: Yes. I completely agree. (600 secs)

Rory: The problem with digital is that because its more or less perceived to be free, there isn’t much incentive to actually target or discriminate who you send to.

Lis: The scatter gun approach. I think the important bit for me will be balancing where we can get stronger impact, differentiation, stand out from our competitors by using tools like direct marketing as a balance in our overall mix Rory: You remember that case where the exclusive objective for EasyJet was to maintain a very loyal group of people. (630 secs) In other words, not to lose them.

Lis: Yes

Rory: And you had that unexpected and unplanned benefit which is that they also became more regular leisure travellers as a result of joining the programme. And the thing that worries me a little bit is that generally marketing works when it works well in more ways than we have anticipated and if we’re failing to measure more widely.

Lis: Well often they’re unquantifiable.

Rory: Well quite often they are. Simple salience okay will be quantifiable over time, but most of us will have left the job by the time the results come in conclusively. Or in some cases, we’re just not even looking.

Lis: I agree, and so you can’t always get it right, but certainly being able to try and have a rounded conversation around what it’s going to deliver in both the long term and the short term. Its delivers effectiveness and efficiency. Being able to deliver the commercial and the customer and the brand elements are super important.

Rory: Well Lis thank you very much for joining us today. Thank you, the audience, for joining us as well, and we look forward to seeing you at another episode of mail unleashed. And if you want to know more about how to turn direct mail packs perhaps into your secret weapon, all you need to do is go to Thank you very much and see you next time.