August 8, 2014

Net // Working: Joby Russell, Marketing Director at

In this instalment of Figaro Digital’s series of profiles on the UK’s most influential marketers we catch up with Joby Russell, Marketing Director at He tells us about’s rebrand and explains why, contrary to popular belief, growing online engagement shouldn’t be a digital marketer’s first priority 

What does your role as Marketing Director at involve?

First and foremost it’s about getting lots of customers to’s website. Everything else surrounds that. 

What qualities – personal, technical and creative – does a role like this require?

If you’re the marketing director of a price comparison business you have to be digitally proficient, comfortable dealing with very big numbers and also comfortable spending lots of money. You need a good eye for creative in advertising and a strong appreciation of brand management as well. 

What do you think will be the most significant challenge facing marketers in your sector over the next year?

A continuing challenge for our sector is trying to find points of difference other than through advertising. Each of the big four price comparison sites act in very similar ways to each other, apart from in their advertising. 

What steps are you taking to differentiate from other price comparison sites? already has stronger points of difference than getting a free meerkat toy or the relentless nature of’s branding. We’ve launched lots of new tools, things like QuickQuote, where you can get a car insurance quote by simply typing in an email address and a number plate. That said, there is a constant challenge in coming up with new, differentiated ideas and coming up with advertising which is going to drive a response. 

What was your first job in the marketing industry and how have things changed since then?

My first job was at National Express, the coach company. How have things changed since then? I used to spend a lot of my time designing leaflets and posters for shops. That kind of printed literature doesn’t exist anymore – it’s all in an app. 

Looking back over your career, is there any one project or campaign that you’re particularly proud of?

The one thing I’m particularly proud of is rebranding is probably the first of the price comparison sites to have rebranded away from the original icon of the business. Brian the Robot was brought in about a year ago and replaced a dancing woman with squiggly hair and googly eyes. This advertising character, Cara, had been our logo for years and years and she was quite fondly thought of. It was brave getting rid of her and starting again. 

The big thing with the rebrand was getting people on board with it internally. Brian the Robot is just an icon at the front of a more meaningful change within our business: doing things in a more innovative and inventive way. 

How do you foster innovation at

We’ve spent a lot of time talking with other departments in the business about the brand. We were the first price comparison site. People take it for granted now that you can compare any insurance policy – but this was invented by The rebrand was about reminding people internally that we were the pioneers and innovators. This has encouraged people from across the business to introduce new ideas, from augmented reality apps to mini robotic Brians. 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt from your time working in marketing?

There have been a few. First, always having a point of view. It’s a copout to say ‘I’m not sure about that’ or ‘I could go either way’. In truth, you’ve got to pick. 

The next thing is that there’s a lot of talk about data but I tend to go with gut instinct and use data to supplement that. 

Also, you need to continually do stuff. Don’t stand still. Even if you’re just one per cent sure about what you’re doing, do it. It creates a rhythm which is more enjoyable to work with and is more effective. Don’t ‘umm’ and ‘err’. 

Which other brands’ marketing strategies do you admire and why?

One brand I’m really fond of, although they could be delivering a few more audience numbers, is Channel 4. The Channel 4 brand and product are really consistent with one another in a way that is often not the case. What Channel 4 stands for is seen in its programming, seen in its marketing, and it’s been doing this for years. 

What do you think is the most overused buzzword in marketing? 

The one I hear a lot at the moment is ‘engagement,’ and I’m not really sure what it means or why it’s of value. You hear this all the time: “We got lots of engagement with that Tweet.” So that’s 20 people favouriting a Tweet and about three people responding to it. If you look at all marketing publications I don’t think enough time is spent on the core components of marketing: how do you establish points of difference? How do you position a brand competitively? A lot of those bedrock disciples of marketing tend not to be discussed in favour of talking about engagement. We often forget what is really important.