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Post Office CMO on balancing digital and legacy marketing strategies

legacy brand marketing legacy brand marketing
Photo credit:

Tom Page 

Peter Markey and the Post Office featured on Hot Topics' top 100 retail marketers list, and in our interview, he discusses the digital balancing act he has had to negotiate.

When you have a legacy of over 300 years, it can be a challenge to convince consumers you’re a brand with modern values and relevance.

Perception is a key, and often overlooked, element to any marketing strategy today and if left unconsidered, can affect the success of current and future campaigns.

Which is why Peter Markey, Chief Marketing Officer at the Post Office, had to carefully consider what his company’s role was, in the eyes of their consumers, in order to structure their legacy brand strategies.

“We have done a lot of work to understand what the Post Office brand stands for, and about a year and a half ago, we recognized that we are here to help customers get life’s important things done, quickly.”

This is the message that’s been placed at the heart of every marketing campaign since its conception, according to Markey, which has been personified into their advertising “super-customer” character, Simon Bird.

“[Simon] communicates to people what the Post Office is all about by acting as a real customer, who is affected directly by his experience with our brand: you see him transform when he visits a modern, bright branch, positively; for example, in the travel campaign, he ends up rollerskating through Barcelona…”

The campaign is meant to tackle directly the perception of the Post Office being a legacy brand, and by association, slow, time-consuming and not modern.

This puts companies, like the Post Office, in a difficult position: they have to create legacy brand strategies that match the tone of their past whilst showcasing their digital abilities.

“We wanted a campaign to prove how our business was changing; the historical view people have on us needs updating.”

That being said, there are certain advantages that legacy brand strategies can utilize to better navigate the choppy waters of customer experience through digital channels.

In an almost paradoxical sense, whereas some consumers view historical companies as older and less advanced technologically, others view them with a heightened sense of trust.

Which is important: trust is a valued commodity in marketing because it improves the likelihood of engaged and repeat-return consumers.

This dualistic mindset needs approaching with caution if a marketing campaign wants to appeal to both camps, as Markey explains.

“It’s very important to utilize the history of a business; we’re one of the UK’s most trusted and loved brands which is something to hold onto, but we are also working hard to improve our image of our services being harder to use than, say, supermarkets.”

He goes into more detail: “Over the past couple of years we have modernized 5000 of our stores, which represents about half of our estate and we will soon be the UK’s biggest retailer on a Sunday, after we take over Tesco, whilst many of our services can now be done online. A lot is changing.”

This closing sentiment is echoed across the entire retail marketing industry, regardless of whether you are using legacy brand strategies or not.

As the opportunity that digital channels, such as mobile, social media and other online platforms, present to consumers develop, brands will need to react accordingly or face falling behind.

This requires companies to look at what they offer, how they offer it, and by how much they benefit both organization and consumer.

In Markey’s case, their transition to modernized branches has already had its required effects.

“Our branches are seeing great interaction now because of these improvements, and in particular, our financial services arm that sells mortgages, credit cards, and others, are present in hundreds of Post Offices with dedicated specialists.”

Similarly, their online position has also seen “brilliant engagement” but enforces the point that these strategies were all generated out of “simplistic starting points”, reverting back to their initial rationale of ‘who are we, and what’s our point?’

“Straightforward, key messages are an important aspect routinely missed – one trend we’ve come to see is how our customers hate clutter in a campaign and comment on when something is clear and simple, which is a powerful insight.”

Another trend within digital marketing in particular, is the consumer demand for mobile-enabled services and products.

A combination of changing customer demographics, ever increasing mobile penetration, and higher digital literacy rates has forced a sector wide scramble for mobile-first strategies.

The Post Office is no different, according to Markey, and has even created several ‘concept branches’ in order to measure and analyse new digital marketing strategies, in real time.

In one of these branches, in Kennington Park, London, “…we have made it so that people can check into the queue via our app before they arrive, which has been particularly well received.”

The Post Office have also introduced a travel money card – a debit card equivalent to use abroad, replacing traveller’s cheques – which connects to the app, linking to your bank account so you can access it at all times.

Other features also allow consumers to “…view your nearest cash machine, wherever you are in the world, provides exchange rate data and information on the country you’re in.”

However, the most important thing for their legacy brand strategies is how it has affected their demographic of user.

“The download rates have been impressive, but the app has also attracted a younger audience who otherwise would never have usually thought to use [Post Office].”

Within the fiercely competitive market of retail, brands are turning to mobile in particular to, at the very least, retain current customers; winning new customers, especially the younger generation, is certainly the overarching aim for this industry.

“As a result, the mobile channel is definitely on our radar, and now we’ve got to grips with the basics, it’s become a core element of our strategy – mobile-first is a true mantra for us now.”

These digital strategies, and others, all form part of the plan by brands to improve the customer experience or journey.

It’s a concept that’s been within the tech hemisphere for over two decades, but only started to gain traction as companies needed further ways to differentiate themselves from competitors.

As a result, customers have become the trendsetters, leaving retailers to pursue.

There are many ways a brand can do this; Markey’s concept branches, like the one in Kennington Park, are all led by customer experience teams who are able to take lessons learned within each of the stores, and make appropriate changes.

“We are able to redesign branches and train colleagues differently, almost as soon as we learn something new – I would argue now that [customer experience] is now as important as running a brand campaign through TV or otherwise.”

That could be because people now have pocket, portable and personalized TVs on them at all times, and marketing spend needs to be redirected to reflect consumer habits.

However, it’s still important to remember your legacy, albeit a 300 year old one.

New, innovative, strategies will be developed all the time, and only by knowing “what your brand’s role has been, and will be, in your customer’s eyes, will you be able to choose the most relevant marketing techniques.”