Marketers Who Matter: Women In Digital

by Gill Ingram Figaro Digital

The marketing industry is taking great steps towards diversifying its output across all levels, both internally, and reflected in the creative outputs of marketing campaigns. The past two years have seen the gap in numbers of men versus women in high-responsibility roles shrink. In 2015, men were twice as likely to be a director, and four times more likely to be CEO or MD of a company (Axxom Media, 2017). That gap has shrunk by half, but there is still a long way to go. Figaro Digital spoke to four women who are making waves in their respective fields, to discuss their motivations, experience, and their thoughts on the direction of the industry in 2018.

Dr Nicola Millard, Head of Customer Insight & Futures, BT

There are not many within marketing who can claim to have ‘futurologist’ in their job title, but BT’s Head of Customer Insight and Futures, Dr Nicola Millard, is one of them. With a doctorate in Human Computer Interaction, she is charged with the strategy and forecasting of BT’s dedicated innovation team, and researching how the multitude of innovative developments in the digital sphere will affect the future of work.

“I work for a technology company but I’m a psychologist, and interestingly, my research often shows that digital innovation isn’t always about the technology. I think one of the rationales for having someone with softer skills in an innovation organisation, especially when you have such a technical focus, is to think about people. I’ve learned over the years that you can drop technology on people but that doesn’t mean they’ll use it. They have to be persuaded that it will actually help them.

“My philosophy is that our purpose as an organisation has to be wider than just the technology, and I think we can see echoes of that across the industry at the moment. We’re asking questions about the responsibility of social media companies, the ethics around AI, the consequences for the future of work. All of these thigs are powered by technology, but actually echo across a lot of fields like psychology, economics and politics, and this is where innovation becomes really interesting.”

FD: How has customer experience evolved during your time at BT, as consumers and organisations become more digitised?

NM: “Consumer habits and behaviours have a ripple effect on the organisations that serve those consumers. And consumers like to be in control, we see that they like self-service on digital, and now have access to lots of tools and information they didn’t have before. This changes the relationship between consumer and organisation, and often cuts the organisation out of the conversation entirely. Our contact centres are changing phenomenally, because consumers aren’t calling with simple enquiries anymore, so you get the emotive and complex issues coming through to human contacts, which is a good thing.”

FD: Do you think this desire to self-service and cut the brand out of the equation signifies a lack of trust between consumers and brands?

NM: “I don’t think it signifies a lack of trust at all, I think its signifies that tools are more powerful and we’re putting them into the consumer’s hands, and providing they’re easy to use, I think customers will use them. The level of brand trust you can enjoy as an organisation often depends on what sector you’re in. But customers do cut brands out of the conversation and increasingly ask advice from each other; they don’t necessarily believe marketing or branding messages. Often, they’re asking their friends. That’s a challenge because social media is the ultimate in consumer control, and as a brand it’s very difficult to control that messaging. My response to it is to just try and deliver fantastic customer service; that’s ultimately the only control organisations have over what people are saying about them. Giving people simple tools, being easy to contact if something goes wrong, and being able to rectify issues and problems does seem to generate loyalty. Customer experience is still very important, and that will echo out into what people are saying about you as a brand.”

FD: In times of great disruption, what motivates you and your team?

NM: “Times of disruption are fantastic for innovation teams. When the going gets tough, you have to get innovative. And innovation doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t even have to involve technology, it can be as simple as an idea that reinvents a process, or the way you train people. I think we’re in a period of huge uncertainty and disruption, which are the perfect conditions for innovation.

“Of course there is risk in innovation. But it is about experimenting; how do we think differently about business problems, how do we apply new technology to them? The beauty of things like Cloud, is that you can innovate in a fairly low-risk way, because you can buy a Cloud service and if it doesn’t work out you haven’t got vast amounts of equipment that are wasted. You can just say ‘that didn’t work, but we’ve learned a lot’. But of course, you do need a culture that’s willing to fail.”

FD: How do you think technology-focussed brands should be expanding their talent pools to safeguard the future of work?

NM: “There are some very interesting discussions around how we don’t need to just concentrate on STEM in terms of education and skills; we need to look at STEAM. I don’t call myself a scientist or an artist; I consider myself to be interested in both. But if we can bring people who are good at telling stories into the technology sector, that will play a very important role. Start-ups often have the best stories. Having not just the technical skills, but the ability to articulate effectively, is hugely valuable, and that means we need a more diverse set of people in technology than we do currently. We know there is a diversity problem in technology. Gender is one obvious example, but we also need to think about how we bring these very different disciplines into the sector. As a psychologist in technology I’m quite unusual. I hope that at some point in the future that will become completely normal.”


Rachel Carrell, CEO, Koru Kids

With a background in digital health, Rachel Carrell is transforming the accessibility of childcare in London for a new generation of working families. Originally hailing from New Zealand, Carrell moved to the UK as a Rhodes Scholar, earning a DPhil in Development from Oxford University. After six years at McKinsey and Company, Carrell became CEO of two different healthcare companies, including the world’s largest online doctor’s service DrThom, which she built from 200,000 to 1.2 million paying patients in the UK, Ireland and Australia. After having her first baby, she realised just how stoppered the childcare industry was, with no one innovating to simplify, unite, or reduce the massive cost of the service. “I had a lot of friends, particularly women, who had carved out great careers by that stage, and we were all trying to figure out how it was going to work, maintaining our careers and also having the lives that we wanted,” explains Carrell. “At that stage I was working in digital health, which is such a vibrant sector, with tons of investment and innovation. I assumed childcare would be the same, and I was really surprised to find that there was such a huge gap in the market.”

Koru Kids is a comprehensive, multi-faceted service, that brings together families to share the services of a professional nanny, keeping costs down and giving the nanny a pay rise. After unprecedented interest, Koru Kids has expanded into after-school care, training university students as nannies for older children. These innovative ideas bring childcare up to date, catering to modern family needs and providing parents with a flexible childcare solution. Taking on the resourcing, professional vetting, payroll, and the training of student nannies, Koru Kids has taken ownership of the service to simplify what can be a complex and stressful process.

RC: “The old structures of childcare assume that parents are holding 9 to 5 jobs, and so nurseries have 6pm pickups. If you’re working in a corporate job in London, you’re not finished at 6pm, let alone able to pick the kids up by then. Not to mention that the average cost of a nanny is £37,000. New parents generally don’t have that kind of money, having taken a year out of work on low maternity pay. I saw all of this and couldn’t believe that no one was innovating in this space. That’s why I set up Koru Kids.”

FD: What is the most disruptive characteristic of Koru Kids, and what are the implications of this for working parents?

RC: “Our mission is to be a tech enabled innovator, to see how things can be fundamentally structured differently. I didn’t want to just do a little fragment of the service, I didn’t just want to have a website that connects parents and nannies. My experience in digital healthcare has shown me the importance of having an end to end service. The last thing a working parent needs is to have to pull together a load of disparate services. We do the payroll, the contract, and we’ve created an online community. The aim is to have a comprehensive, seamless service.”

FD: How has your experience in digital health shaped your approach at Koru Kids?

RC: “I was able to bring in a lot of my experience from digital health; performance marketing disciplines, content marketing teams, all of the bread and butter stuff.  The processes are all quite similar, the scale of budget and target customer are completely different. But it’s about how you structure things. I’d already had the opportunity to make mistakes, and I learned a lot that I could bring into the creation of the service.”

FD: Are there any challenges in reaching an audience which are, as you’ve acknowledged, so incredibly busy and tired?

RC: “It’s actually surprisingly easy to find parents, because they self-identify as a group. Mums in particular do so much online research, and join social media groups to do with being parents. In comparison to something like an asthma service, which we had in my previous role, it’s much harder to find that audience, because an asthma sufferer could be anyone, any gender, any age or earning bracket. They don’t spend every weekend going to asthma club. But parents actually do spend time in that way. So it’s a very different ball game.

“The challenge with marketing to parents is that there’s a lot of really great content being produced for them already. The ‘confessional mummy blogger’ has taken off in the past few years, with the kind of honest, funny content that’s really popular. It’s obvious to us that we’re not going to cut through by just talking about parenting generally, so we had to be quite specific about our area of expertise. There’s a huge appetite and interest in anything to do with childcare cost. UK parents spend the second most on childcare in the OECD after Switzerland, so it’s a huge pain point, and people find our insight on that really useful.”

As Koru Kids continues to expand, Carrell is transforming the face of childcare, a triumph both for the digitisation of a previously old-fashioned sector, and for the parents who benefit from the service. Keeping human needs and human responses at the heart of the business, Carrell has created a phenomenon which acts as a partner of families, seeing them safely through the choppy waters of childcare and securing accessible, professional care for an growing demographic of families.


Tess Mattisson, Director of Marketing, Choice Hotels Europe

As the Director of Marketing for Choice Hotels Europe, Tess Mattisson has a remit which covers a variety of diverse franchisee brands, including Comfort, Clarion, Quality, and Ascend Collection, with over 400 hotels across the UK and Europe. Bringing experience from a variety of digital roles, Mattisson is a regular speaker at events across Europe, discussing the importance of digital as a core pillar of business strategy.

“I’ve been in hospitality since 2007, and I think I’ve always been drawn to this industry because I’m a people person. My work isn’t about the hotels or travel, it’s really about the people, and I think that has been the most inspiring thing for me. One of the most inspiring leaders I’ve had was the first one I worked with that shared my belief in people. He promoted me to the role of marketing manager, ‘not because of what you do, but how you do it’. That’s when I understood that it wasn’t about skills or my experience but the approach, and that’s why I’m obsessed with asking why as part of my role, and challenging how we can do more and go further. Of course, working in hospitality means we can offer a great Guest Experience, but at the end of the day, my inspiration needs to be bigger than that.

FD: Is there one lesson that has particularly resonated with you throughout your work in digital?

TM: “The main thing I’ve learned is that our approach isn’t about digital strategy. I don’t do digital marketing, I just do marketing, and nowadays marketing is digital, it’s something that needs to be incorporated for any business to succeed. But on the other hand, digital is not the ‘be all end all’. Providing a great experience will always depend on an alignment between digital capabilities and human decisions. It’s not analogue vs digital or online vs offline. It’s about finding an ecosystem where they both can live, but with an appreciation of digital as a key contributor.”

FD: In times of great disruption, what motivates you and your team?

TM: “You are allowed to make mistakes – the ‘fail fast and learn’ mentality. You can try out things that you’re not 100 per cent certain will work. Fifteen years ago you would have one shot to produce ‘X’. Today I can build, measure and learn, I can afford to fail, and failures will actually be insight for my next problem. This is not only a great motivator, but it’s this approach that is driving the pace of the whole industry. It keeps me on my toes, and makes me want to be part of what’s going on, and take my team on that journey too, and see them grow in their roles.

“To some extent I can agree that marketing is no longer as picture perfect as it used to be, but what we’re forgetting is that it’s not about the execution, it’s about the insight that you get from the execution. The information you gain from what’s not working is equally important as what you learn from what is working. Digital allows so much more collaboration between teams and disciplines.”

FD: The travel and hospitality industries are facing an uncertain few years. With the social and political changes that challenge the landscape of marketing, how do you see brands innovating within this space?

TM: “I personally believe that we have to change. Because it’s not actually about us changing, it’s about how consumers are changing, and if we want to be part of their decision making process, we need to adapt to their behaviours, not force them to adapt to ours. We’re good at mapping the customer journey, the touchpoints and the micro moments, but this is all our perspective. We don’t look at the whole ecosystem. The customer doesn’t care about our competition. They care about us adding value to them. The companies that will really succeed in the future are the ones which are bold enough to try things outside their comfort zone for the benefit of their customers. I think that it’s harder for bigger brands. We have 6,500 hotels worldwide, and we need to make informed decisions about our approach across our franchises. But brands like us can move the needle for the entire industry. We need to be bold and let the consumer drive our development and our direction, not the other way around.

“That being said, there are huge risks associated with jumping on board with relatively new technologies. We are fortunate that we can afford to find the balance, try new projects, and find out if they work or not. But at the same time, the ones that make us and our franchisees successful are our guests. We should have a greater focus on their behavioural change than our business strategy change. The most important thing I impress on marketers is that digital isn’t changing anything. If anything, it’s an opportunity for us to interact with people and add value. Digital is the enabler of the strategy, it’s not the strategy itself. It’s people-centric, insight-driven and outcome-focussed. These are the tools that enable us to explore that and do better in those areas.”

Digital provides opportunities for brands and consumers to connect and understand each other better. As Choice Hotels continues to grow and delight consumers with its range of products and high-quality customer experience, digital plays an ever-increasing part in bringing the consumer’s needs to the fore, and inspiring marketers to design an experience that nurtures travellers from planning to purchase.


Jess Stephens, CMO, TrustedHousesitters

An entrepreneur with two successful start-up exits, now CMO of TrustedHousesitters, the world’s largest house and pet sitting service, it’s not surprising that Jess Stephens is one of Management Today’s 35 Women Under 35. With experience at brands like Filofax and Smart Focus, Stephens is a vocal advocate of the sharing economy, and the ways in which digital can shape the way communities grow and connect.

“I’ve always been in digital marketing, and I’ve carried a piece of advice from my first role with me: ‘If you don’t know about it, go and learn’. So, after several years on the client side of digital marketing, I decided to go and do start-ups. After two successful exits, selling my own start-ups to larger companies, I’m now part of a third, where I’m responsible for transforming the way that we actively market and connect with our member base. I’m looking to take our already healthy run rate and go one step further – to become a movement, rather than just a company.”

FD: What is the most important trend driving innovation at TrustedHousesitters?

JS: “What you notice about successful start-ups is that they’re all championed by referral programmes. If you look at big players like Uber and Dropbox, their growth is all down to referral traffic. It’s more than just chucking around digital marketing budgets and hoping for the best, it’s the power of people sharing what you have. If you have a poor service or product, you won’t be able to convince your customers to do this for you. We’re lucky enough to have a great service, so for us fanning the flames of that referral programme is probably the best way to approach digital. This is our main focus for 2018. We have a 9.7 rating on Trustpilot from over 8,000 reviews, so how can we can involve those satisfied users in the growth of our brand?”

FD: How do you think the sharing economy is growing through digital, and what is TrustedHousesitters doing to stand out?

JS: “We’re one of the only members of the Sharing Economy UK Business Forum that truly expresses the sharing economy, as no money changes hands between the pet sitter and the owner; members such as Airbnb, for example, are still dependant on monetary exchange. We previously got a lot of coverage that missed the point a little bit, and said: ‘stay in this amazing location, BUT you have to look after Fido.’ Our message is actually: ‘go on this amazing retreat, AND you get to have these great pets for company.’ It’s a win-win for both the owner and the sitter. The owner gets to go away knowing that the sitter is there, giving them peace of mind. As a platform that is totally reflective of the sharing economy, we are unique.”

FD: Are there any industries that you can see really embracing the sharing economy in the future?

JS “You can’t put the sharing economy onto every kind of tool or service, but anything that connects people, car sharing platforms for example, I think will really take off. Through digital, we can connect anything that’s not being used with people who will use it. But of course, the sharing economy needs to be about a mutual community need, rather than a transactional service. An app which lets you find someone who will collect and do your laundry, for example, is not an example of the sharing economy, but often they’re classified under the same umbrella because they’re connecting people peer-to-peer, when peer-to-peer is actually very different. There are a lot of opportunities for the sharing economy to be embraced, but we have to clearly define what it is and what it represents.”

FD: What drives the team?

JS: “One thing we’re good at here is not chasing the next new and shiny thing, but focussing on marketing basics that will always be relevant: getting the right audience and creating the right message for them. We break up our channels into introduction, education, influencing, and converting. Different channels are great for different things, and I don’t think we have a silver bullet that will carry over into any other industry, because it’s so specific to our unique product. It’s not the tools that make the difference to marketing; we still have to know what demographics we are looking for, how we can influence those prospects, and how our customers want to hear from us.”

FD: What motivates you?

JS: “My entrepreneurial background is really helpful. Having completed two successful exits means people respect that I can deliver, and for that reason I think of myself more as an entrepreneur than a CMO. I encourage my team to think of themselves this way, as real entrepreneurial spirit is about the ability to be creative, act fast and fail well if things don’t go exactly to plan. In my day-to-day, I’m totally obsessed with the visual brand concepts as well as the data, and I’ve taken this approach to my whole team. We’re rooted in every decimal point of the data, and what motivates all of us is when we can turn a dial on a campaign and see the real impact we have on our community.

“Whether we’re letting people travel, or enabling pets to stay happy at home, people are having their lives changed in some way. We are so lucky to be creating something that really impacts people’s lives. Every time I read our reviews on Trustpilot, I’m reminded of why we do what we do. And I think without being a charity it’s the closest you can get to that feeling.”