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‘I’m not in the business of entertainment’: Royal Mail’s marketing director on why the industry needs to start acting more commercially


By Katie Deighton | Senior Reporter

February 27, 2017 | 5 min read

Royal Mail’s director of customer marketing believes marketers need to start thinking – and talking – more commercially in order to properly handle the risks of their business, which in turn can lead to greater rewards from the c-suite.

royal mail ben rhodes

Measurable KPIs are key to Royal Mail's marketing strategy

In a previous life Ben Rhodes may have put Bonnie Tyler in a Mastercard ad (one of the standout “really stupid” risks he’s taken throughout his career) but now he advocates a more nuanced, logical style of marketing. He also makes no bones about the purpose of his department and career, which is ultimately “the business of making money”.

“It might be a dirty word in some marketing departments but that’s really what we do,” said Rhodes at MC&C Media’s latest panel event, Managing Marketing Risk. “One of the things I’m very clear on with my marketing managers is making sure they’ve got KPIs that ladder up to the commercial objective, and not having KPIs that I cannot draw a straight line between them and money in the bank.

“You see a lot of marketing out there – especially in the social media channels – where you just go: ‘Yes, it’s entertaining but this isn’t an art form and I’m not in the business of entertainment’.”

By aligning marketing targets more closely to the broader goals of a business, marketers will begin to see their language use change, Rhodes believes. Swapping buzzword terms like “engagement” for “risk”, “opportunity” and “testing” may also come with the added benefit of a closer relationship with the top levels of company management, even if it’s on a semantic basis.

“The board talks about sales, market share, revenue, cost, profit progression,” explained Rhodes. “Marketers talk about ROI, impressions, brand…and unfortunately [and these terms aren’t understood by] the accountants and lawyers who tend to run most of our businesses.

“If you can’t use the language and talk in the way that business talks about growth and risk, what tends to happen is marketers and their department are viewed in a certain way. Budgets are arbitrarily cut and you are boxed into a corner.

“I think one of the things that all marketers need to think very, very carefully about is how they portray the role of marketing in their business. It comes back to confidence: if you haven’t got the confidence of your CFO or the MDs you work for, and you’re talking a different language, you’re going to find very quickly that there’s going to be internal pressures that are going to stop you from doing what you need to do.”

Royal Mail

Of course one of the biggest changes marketers are bracing themselves for is Brexit, which with all its current uncertainties skews risk management in a new light. Royal Mail unsurprisingly hasn’t taken a stance on the matter but for Rhodes, even the political, financial and bureaucratic upheaval on the horizon can be managed pragmatically within the business.

“There’s been a lot of emotion running around and there’s been a lot of irrational chatter around,” he said. “But actually people are talking with their wallets. They’re spending money, they’re investing in things and they are continuing to grow. We see that in our business, and we also see that with all our customers and what they’re trying to do. When you cut through all the noise there’s a lot of great opportunity out there.”

Royal Mail is making sure these opportunities are as wide open as possible to itself and its B2B customers by helping them “set out their stall in a global marketplace”, forging links to Spain, the US, China and other countries where the brand’s iconicity holds most weight.

“I don’t think we’ve relooked at our marketing strategy after the vote,” Rhodes added. “It hasn’t really had a massive impact in terms of the way we market. We’ve got a fairly concrete plan on how we perform and how we want to grow; the things we need to sell are the things we need to sell, so we’ve just kept on going.”

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