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Post Office CMO on how to market a 300-year-old UK brand

legacy marketer legacy marketer
Photo credit:

Charles Clegg 

Peter Markey, CMO of the Post Office, says that the customer experience bar has been set by the likes of Amazon, and it is now his responsibility to help his company catch up.

The number of ‘Marketer of the Year’ and other various individual awards that UK Post Office CMO Peter Markey has picked up during his career soared into double figures some time ago.

If you add it to the number of marketing ‘Power Lists’ he’s frequented and other gongs he and his teams have won for various campaigns you’d be forgiven for assuming Markey has a sizable ego to match that considerable talent.

On meeting him it is quickly surprising how down- to-earth Markey is. It’s rare that marketers possess Markey’s ‘every man’ outlook and approach. You could argue that this is a fitting persona for the top legacy marketer at the Post Office; a brand that runs deep in the DNA of every citizen in the UK.


HT: Peter, you’ve held CMO roles before but how does it feel to work at the top of a brand with such ‘national treasure’ status and legacy?

PM: It’s a real challenge. Because we’re a 300-year- old brand with 17 million people coming through the doors every week and with a huge suite of different products to sell, the danger is we could create something quite generic that’s based on what other people do. At the heart of avoiding that is the understanding of why the Post Office exists and what we’re here for as a legacy marketer.

We’ve done a lot of brand strategy work to identify our purpose; that is simply, to help customers get the important things in life done.


HT: How do you measure success as a legacy marketer?

PM: The most important measure for us from a customer perspective is – not Net Promoter Score, although NPS is very valuable – but customer effort. We use a customer effort score. So: ‘how easy was it for you coming into a branch or going on our website to do the important thing you needed to do? And that directly links to both cross-sell and revenue growth. The better we get at that score the more customers will consider us for a mortgage or savings account.


HT: How are you progressing it?

PM: We’ve done a number of things as legacy marketers. We’ve already transformed 4,000 branches out of 11,500. I’ve got a concept branch at Kennington Park, which is like a live test lab where we’re testing different customer flows and the customer journey. We’ve got an app where you can check in to your queue before you arrive in the branch. Use it and you’ll effectively jump the queue. So that’s being piloted right now. I’m really excited about technology and what it will do for us.

We’ve done some research work in which we put heart and sweat monitors on customers in one of our test labs and sent them through our customer experience to find the points of delight and pain.

There is a massive amount of change going on in the wider landscape of retail and digital experience. We have to stay in touch with what’s going on as legacy marketers.
The world moves around you so as much as you think and you know you are getting better yourself, through the eyes of your customer, it remains competitive. Take Amazon as an example. If you want something delivered today and are prepared to spend more money, Amazon can deliver that. The consumer view then is ‘why can’t other brands do that?’

The bar keeps getting raised on customer expectation and those setting the bar are setting the standard now that others need to either follow, regardless of sector or industry.


HT: Can you tell me about any new innovations that have come from this insight?

PM: Yes, we’ve launched click and collect for foreign currency and we are about to enhance it further by adding more availability with better timeslots on weekends. We’re the number one for currency in the UK which is great. A number of people would come into branch to buy currency but they’d do it at lunchtime and have to line up. We wanted to ensure the service was more on their terms; put them in control.

Another live example is something called the Travel Money Card which works like a pre-paid debit card. You come into branch to pre-load the card with Euros or Dollars or you can do it online. It comes with a clever app. It enables you to keep topping your card up when you are on holiday and also tells you where the nearest cash machine is wherever you are in the world.

Again, this is not about making the Post Office the sexiest brand in the world, we’re not trying to go up against Disney. It’s about giving customers a utility that’s more powerful and an example of how legacy marketers are trying to set the bar now on what you expect as a good customer experience.


HT: When we’ve talked in the past you’ve told me that at the Post Office there’s an understanding that you’re at the beginning of this journey compared to some of the more mature retailers. How does that determine some of the choices you make?

PM: We have a number of great customer relationships. We have three million customers in financial services alone who we know and with whom we have regular, positive dialogue and a really good cross-sell program and so on.

But we have a need to refine the way we work in order to move from transactional to relational. That’s the heart of the challenge as legacy marketers. People may come in every week, or they may come in once a year or once a quarter. I don’t actually know who that customer is at the moment and I want to. I want to know why they come in and whether we can do more to meet their needs or improve the service for them or, actually, whether we are doing a great job for them already.

I’ve got chunks of data around that, but
I haven’t got a full mechanic to really understand through data capture who those customers are. The closest we have got is correlating transactional data. That’s a fancy way of saying Mark’s come into the Post Office to buy his currency. I know that Mark is going on holiday. I therefore know I can talk to Mark about travel insurance. I know where he’s going because he’s told me and I know I have a great product which I can either sell him in branch or I can turn into lead generation by asking for his email address to follow up with a really good CRM program.

Another example might be if Mark is coming into branch or onto the website to pay a telephone bill, it might be that we can save them money so we’ll tell them that we do mobile and if relevant, broadband too. So there are certain data points that allow legacy marketers to have a conversation that could help the customer there and then or allows us to start building that relationship.


HT: Sounds great, so what’s the next step as a legacy marketer?

PM: What I want to do is more of that on an industrial scale. I see brilliant examples like Mothercare (a UK retailer which specializes in products for expectant mothers and general merchandise for children). What Mothercare has done brilliantly with digital receipts is to capture data to then build a ‘mum and baby club’ – a great idea that builds loyalty and interaction and a conversation with its audience, especially less frequent shoppers.

It’s helping that business understand who visits every week and who visits less frequently, so it can do something powerful with the information.


HT: Does your deep-rooted history with the British people not somewhat protect you from some of the dangers that might befall other businesses?

PM: It’s not enough that, as legacy marketers, we have been here for hundreds of years. It’s not enough that we’ve served the community. Whilst these things are important to our brand history, showing our daily relevance is key. The tools out there that give you a more intimate understanding of customers are hugely powerful for a business like ours. We want to continue to dial up our relevance and give ourselves the chance to meet real, everyday previously unmet customer needs.

We’ve recently launched SIM-only mobile because why would the post office not do that? We sell e-top- ups all the time in a branch, so therefore people come to us to top up their, their SIM. Therefore why would they not come to us to buy a SIM?


HT: What is the challenge as legacy marketers of playing in a range of sectors with so many varied products aimed at different demographics and how do you ensure that the products you white-label from other providers align with your brand?

PM: I guess you’ve got two things here. You’ve got the things we do today and the things we could
do tomorrow. Thinking about the stuff we could 
do tomorrow, it will very much be on the back of the wealth of data we’ve now got.

On ‘today,’ it’s about recognizing and seizing opportunities but they have to fit. So again with mobile, there’s a clear customer need we’ve identified that we can go after. It fits because we do telephony already. I don’t see a day when we’re suddenly going to set up a florist or something. I think you would get a negative customer reaction to that quite quickly if the fit is unclear. The territories we are in have real credibility for us.

As legacy marketers, if you talk to customers about the Post Office in financial services, for example, we’ve helped customers with savings for more than 100- odd years. We previously had Gyro Bank before it was sold to Alliance & Leicester.

Aside from financial services and telephony, we’ve got vital government services we provide as legacy marketers and we’re still the number one provider of mails in the UK – our partnership with Royal Mail remains really important. We’ve just got to keep focused on the customer and their needs.


HT: How do you organize your website to ensure that focus on customer is kept intact?

PM: We’re about to launch our website rebrand
and within that we’ve organized our product set into really clear categories. We’ve used multivariate testing and some user experience research to help us build around the way customers segment their lives as opposed to how we think departmentally. So ‘your travel’, ‘your money’, ‘your home’ and ‘your car’.

It’s gone down well with customers because it makes sense for their life. So whilst there are still a fair number of products, with mortgages, credit cards, current accounts, savings, investments, mails, parcels and even fishing rod licences, it’s all built around how the customer thinks. The glue that sits above all that is, still this brand promise of helping you get life’s important things done.


HT: Pete, you’ve heard of the TruthAboutData campaign. What’s your Truth About Data?

PM: Great question. I think that data is potential. Data is more than just a pile of numbers and a load of customer records and names.

I’m not a big fan of the phrase, ‘big data’. I’ve heard it called big insights which sounds a bit better but still sounds like jargon. The whole thing is about greater intimacy with your customer. What excites me is the route legacy marketers are taking to unlocking that deeper relationship with your customers and the competitive advantage it brings. When we talk about data we’re actually talking about the future sustainability of your business.

That’s why we’re investing in analytics. We’ll do more with insight. We’re investing in understanding our marketing performance as well as also investing in our customer analytics more.

It’s changing at pace. What we know today is going to be different to what we know tomorrow. The insights I could get two or three years ago are better now. They’re cheaper, they’re faster, and they’re more immediate. They correlate more and take you deeper into understanding your customer than ever before. I’ve talked about it being a journey but it’s a journey where will you may never reach the destination.

You’ll reach success points along the way but the end destination is this continual state of learning and getting closer to your customer.

It’s blurring the boundaries between legacy marketers and business. We’re kicking the departmental walls down. The chance for marketing to influence the strategic agenda of the business is greater than ever, given what we know about our customers; about what we’re doing and how it’s performing; about what’s going on online and the broader landscape. It’s a very powerful combination for marketing to really help drive business success more than ever.