Interview with Ben Rhodes, Group Marketing Director at Royal Mail
Ben is an experienced and senior business leader with a track record in delivering growth in B2C and B2B businesses.
Ben has proven expertise across all major marketing disciplines from insight generation and proposition development, through pricing, brand strategy, and delivering positive ROI through marketing communications activity (advertising, digital, social, CRM and PR).
Ben Rhodes is the Group Marketing Director at Royal Mail. He is responsible for all marketing in Royal Mail and is currently focused on deploying a new website and eCommerce shop platform, group brand strategy and consumer brand campaign supporting the new business transformation strategy.
Your Journey as a Marketing Professional.
At the beginning of my career, I spent a decade working in advertising agencies. I started in the studio initially proofreading and artworking. After realizing I liked the industry but didn’t have the craft skills to be creative, I moved into account management, eventually working at McCann Erickson leading a number of the UK and pan-European businesses. I was lucky enough to work on brands such as Microsoft, AMD, Intel, JP Morgan, Johnson & Johnson, Tiffany, and many more household names.
I loved working on the supply side in my 20s. By my 30’s I wanted to do more than just the advertising. It was at this point that I moved to MasterCard. My first marketing role was to launch the Maestro debit payment brand into the UK. From there I took on increasing responsibilities on the credit side of the business running the Priceless advertising campaign in the UK & Ireland, and at one point across Nordics, Baltics, and Iceland. I was lucky enough to launch contactless payments in the UK back in 2008. Key to my progression as a marketer was the exposure to commercial strategy development and other forms of marketing activity such as sponsorship. Under the tutelage of some great marketers, I was able to learn new skills in commercial marketing, such as understanding how we made money and what segments to target for profit growth. I also learnt the power of consistent branding and how to activate sponsorship assets. This enabled me to develop and run highly successful commercial activities.
For all the sponsorships, overseas travel and TV shoots, etc, after 5 years I yearned for more. It was at this point that I was approached by Royal Mail to join them as Head of Brand Marketing & Communications in preparation for their IPO. It was a role in which I would lead a large team, and help to drive the modernization agenda at one of the UK’s largest companies. After close to a decade at Royal Mail, I have progressed to Group Marketing Director and moved beyond communications to covering all our marketing and digital activities in the UK including social media, websites, CRM, advertising, brand management, data analytics, and market research. As a £7bn UK operation, we operate across a variety of categories and to a wide range of customer segments – B2B and B2C. It has been and continues to be, a fascinating transformation journey of one of the biggest and most trusted brands in the UK.
What are the primary marketing channels you have worked on? What will be your advice to young marketers on each of these channels?
I have worked across all marketing channels in my career. From a spend perspective, I suspect TV has been the main one. In many ways, it is much more straightforward than modern digital channels. My advice is to young marketers is to really learn about how the channels are used and consumed by your customers. Where they fit into their lives, and how they interest them. Get into the process of how they work, and understand how to test them to improve performance.
What are some of the important marketing software that you have used and found to be really useful for your company?
In today’s world operating with key platforms is vital. In the digital space getting the right audience management software in place is vital – especially in a GDPR environment.
As an enterprise business, much of the business estate (Oracle, SAP) is managed within our technology business. I have a team of experts who lead on our martech. We use Taelium and Adobe Target as our primary tag management and digital analytics tools, alongside Decibel Insight for understanding customer journey behaviour. Eloqua is our ESP. We have recently migrated to Magento for our online shop.
A few observations:
- There is always a trade-off between point solutions that are fast and cheap, versus enterprise solutions that tend to be more scalable, integrated, and expensive. Long term you need to ensure that you have a coherent system architecture.
- You have to keep on top of technology developments. We have recently deployed voice skills and chatbots to great effect with our customers.
- Contractually, you need to be coherent with your platform and service providers. For example, if you want your website to be dynamic and easy to change, it is critical this is balanced against stability and security.
Which companies, according to you, are your competitors. How do you differentiate against these?
There are too many to list really. At one level we compete with other domestic and international carriers such as Hermes, Yodel, FedEx, DHL, and UPS, on another level we compete with other media channels such as print, radio, TV and digital. Our strategy relies heavily on our brand as our differentiator. For a variety of reasons, we will never be the cheapest in the categories in which we operate. As such having a strong brand is vital to our commercial success.
Our brand is built on our service delivery. In practical terms this means the postie walking down the street every day. Making sure that we deliver a customer and brand experience that is consistent is vital. How we manage our distinctive brand assets – uniform, postboxes, fleet, the website is critical to ensuring we reinforce our brand recognition and salience. Marketers often get tired of things very quickly. The key to differentiation is to find something to stand for and consistently reinforce that. For Royal Mail that is all about going the extra mile for our customers – making sure they get their delivery no matter where they are or what the weather is. In many ways, our best day is when it snows. Britain stops, but Royal Mail keeps going.
Your 2 line advice to people entering in the marketing domain.
Be inquisitive, be commercial and be customer focussed. The most important aspect a marketer can bring to any business is the outside-in perspective. You need to be the voice of the customer. Also, always remember if it was easy, someone would have done it already.