Why learning to drive a bus could transform your marketing career.

Written by Quentin Crowe, our Chief Learning Officer

Digital marketing has changed the role of the investment industry marketer for good. We now have extensive data to underpin our decision making. But there is a trap B2B Marketers too often fall into – relying on data at the expense of empathy. Ultimately there is no substitute for actually meeting the end investor or consumer. Try walking in their shoes, or as in this story, learn to drive a bus.

Many years ago, an insurance company tasked me to develop a marketing strategy targeted at the 70,000 professional bus drivers in the UK.  The insurers’ data suggested that bus drivers make better (read lower risk) car drivers.  The hypothesis went something like this – bus drivers drive big vehicles. Therefore, they should have better spatial and hazard awareness than average drivers, making them a lower risk when driving cars.

My marketing challenges – find a direct channel to this market and develop a compelling proposition. 

Where to start?  By chance, I had the opportunity to drive a bus.  What an eye-opener!  Much more potent than I expected, a bus requires considerable forward-planning and a radically different approach than driving a car.  You are driving with your mirrors as much as looking forward.  In subsequent more structured lessons, I also learned to appreciate bus drivers’ mindset and how they felt about their professional lives.  The best drivers are proud, consummate professionals.

By chance, I also met Jack, a senior trade unionist representing the drivers. Given that Quentin is not exactly commonplace in the trade union movement, an improbable friendship formed.  Jack introduced me to many drivers, their social clubs and their hobbies, notably darts.  Spending social time with drivers gave me a fascinating insight into their lifestyle and mindset. 

At the time, the regional bus companies were entering private ownership.  Drivers wages were falling in actual (not just real) terms.  It was clear that in some companies, management was exploiting the demise of union power. In short, the drivers felt undervalued.

This investment in time with drivers and earning their trust gave me two key insights – first make them feel valued and second treat them as experts.  We used this insight to help my creative team achieve the impossible – a campaign that appealed to both management and drivers. 

We presented a road safety campaign to management, which they were happy to endorse.   At the same time, we appealed to the drivers’ latent anti-establishment by encouraging graffiti!

We collaborated with two road charities.  The added credibility gave the PR team a platform to work their magic with the then Roads Minister launching the initiative.   The real creative genius though was to use a poster campaign encouraging drivers to submit expert driving tips in a graffiti style. The winning entries formed a winner’s poster.   Meanwhile, all collateral encouraged professional drivers to seek car insurance quotes.

The resultant award-winning campaign generated seven figure revenue with extensive press coverage in the trade publications and national dailies. I was even interviewed on Radio 5 live.  My employers, at last, took marketing seriously and not long after they promoted me to marketing director.

So even though this was many years ago, the lessons remain.  Marketers are more privileged than ever.  We now have almost unlimited data at our disposal, but to create a compelling proposition, you need to empathise.  Feel our end customers’ pain, understand their anxieties and learn what motivates them.  Investing time with your target audiences will help you develop compelling, profitable and sustainable propositions, even if you have a name like Quentin.

Digital marketing has changed the role of the investment industry marketer for good. We now have extensive data to underpin our decision making. But there is a trap B2B Marketers too often fall into – relying on data at the expense of empathy.

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