Q&A: Direct Line’s Mark Evans on building an ‘Avengers’ marketing team

Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Mark Evans, Managing Director for Marketing & Digital at Direct Line, recently announced he would be stepping down to focus on his portfolio of non-executive roles. In this interview he reflects on 10 years as top marketer at the insurer and discusses some of his top pieces of advice for marketers.


FSF: What was behind your decision to step down and what are your plans for the next 12 months?

Mark Evans: In truth I really don’t see it as stepping down but more as stepping on and up. Moving into a portfolio of varied roles has been a few years in the making in that I have already accumulated a number of advisory and non-exec roles.

And so now I’m excited to be able to help even more people and businesses in this next chapter. For sure there will be bumps in the road, but I have no regrets to be exploring new possibilities. Specifically, in the next 12 months I will be gaining a coaching accreditation and I hope to have secured several more advisory and non-exec roles.


What changes that you made at Direct Line are you most proud of?

The underpinning to everything was restoring the capability and confidence of the marketing team. In the early days, the mantra was to “Find our Voice” and it was great to see the cumulative impact upon the organisation and our performance as we did so. There were halcyon days between 2014 and 2019 but it was all underpinned by a growing belief borne out of a confident but never arrogant culture.


Tell us about that ad – why do you think the Winston Wolf advert was such a hit and what did you learn from the experience?

Despite the fact that Harvey Keitel’s Winston Wolf character was a gangster he was the perfect metaphor for our intent – to fix problems fast! Also it was quite surprising and intriguing for insurance advertising and therefore it achieved cut through and was memorable. The main learning from the whole experience was that when the hairs on the back of your neck are standing up in a pitch process you should do everything you can to make sure that it becomes a reality.


What do you think have been the biggest changes in financial services marketing in the last 10 years?

I like to think that we have seen Marketing have an increasing strategic and more profound impact within Financial Services. If you assert that things like the global financial crisis and PPI were in part because the industry had lost its way in terms of putting the customer first, then hopefully we are now on an improving trend in that regard. Ultimately Marketing has and needs to continue to move from being perceived as a colouring in function to the function that brings the outside in and the future forward to ensure that businesses are sustainable based upon their ability to meet changing customer needs.


How do you see the marketing industry evolving in the future?

The more things change the more they stay the same. Yes new tools are becoming available in terms of data driven personalisation, machine learning and AI etc but ultimately the role of marketing will always be to find out what consumers need, challenge and influence their organisation to deliver on those needs, and to tell the consumer that their needs will be met. Beyond that, when I put my optimistic hat on, I can see that Marketing will become ever more influential simply by virtue of the fact that the pace of change in the world is accelerating and those companies that don’t invest in building strong marketing teams will succumb to Darwinian forces ever more rapidly.


What are your tips for building an outstanding marketing team?

Create an ambitious vision and build belief towards that, underpinned by a very deliberate pursuit of capability upskilling. The other thing I would emphasise is the need to build whole-brained teams i.e. a team that blends a mix of right brain and left brain attributes. There is a notion of the Da Vinci marketer who has the capability to be brilliant in both right and left brain. Personally I am more of the belief that you need to build an Avengers squad where everyone has very different thinking styles and its the mix and chemistry that makes the magic.


What would be your advice for marketers who would like to follow a similar trajectory to yours?

I wouldn’t necessarily advocate following my trajectory given that it has involved 4 redundancies along the way. But the common theme throughout is perhaps useful which has been to not take anything for granted, stay grounded, and to enjoy it!

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