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Everest: 2014 IPA Effectiveness Awards Shortlist Interview

A strategy of making incremental “1%” improvements, including to the brand’s media strategy and website, helped deliver a profit ROMI of £2.74 for every £1 invested.

Everest-Playing-the-Percentages

Q1. When and why did you decide to launch a campaign?

BH: “To be honest, this wasn't really a campaign for us; it was something much more than that. When Better Capital acquired Everest at the beginning of 2012, it set a very clear agenda; we needed a fresh approach that would transform marketing’s performance and enhance profitability.”

JP: “The convergence of new owners, falling appointments (for Everest sales consultants) and increasingly aggressive competitors demanded action. Our response wasn’t just a campaign, it was a strategy that forced reappraisal of everything we were doing – from our TV creative to media spend distribution – and has shaped every decision we’ve made since.” 

Q2. How did you feel about the original brief?

BH: “The Better Capital investment approach is to invest in brands where substantial value can be created without the assistance of market conditions. The very nature of private equity is that it is fast paced and dynamic, but it also sets really clear objectives which gave us focus. It was an exciting time for the business.”

JP: “What Better Capital charged the business with was undoubtedly demanding, but at the same time provided real focus. And you could sense the clarity and energy in its brief, fortifying everyone’s resolve across the business. What really caught our attention was the ambition – it wasn’t asking for a short-term fix or spike in sales, but a long-term growth trend.”

Q3. How hard was it to get the campaign signed off?

BH: “It was so easy to be confident in our approach that it was never really a question of whether this was the right thing to do or not holding us back. More like a question of how could we do more of it, and how could we do it faster!”

JP: “One of the great things about working with Everest is how agile it is. And our strategy was designed to leverage this agility – going after 1% improvements (with compelling evidence) to minimise the risk involved and simplify decision-making. More often than not the challenge put back to us was how quickly we could make it happen.”

Q4. When and how did you first know that you had been successful?

BH: “The marketing environment here at Everest is highly commercial. We watch the numbers on a daily (sometimes even hourly) basis – everything from sales and appointments down to our website performance metrics – and we're not exaggerating when we say we're looking for immediate changes. So it was pretty easy to spot we were making a difference from early on. But it was probably not until about six months in that we could actually start talking about a ‘growth trajectory’ out loud.”

JP: “The commercial culture of the business means you often see the impact of what you’re doing almost immediately. The daily reports we see give us a pretty good idea of what’s working and what’s not working, and are good enough proxies to inform most of our decision- making.

“But we then use econometrics (which we first did after six months) to unpick and understand better what has caused what; and to help us isolate and quantify the true impact of marketing.”

Q5. What was the biggest challenge in demonstrating the effectiveness of your work?

BH: “It was relatively easy to measure the impact of individual changes. What was harder was assessing the compound effect. There was a ‘greater than the sum of its parts’ equation at work that we couldn’t quite see, which, of course, econometrics would subsequently reveal.  However, patience is not one of our strong points.”

JP: “The biggest challenge was disentangling all the levers we were pulling. Our whole approach was rooted in making lots of little differences, and being more interested in the aggregate effect from making these changes simultaneously. This meant we had to rely on econometrics to isolate their individual impact."

Q6. How did this campaign compare to previous campaigns by the brand and competitors?

BH: “Our ambition at Everest is to re-write the rule book for this sector. Generally speaking, the marketing approach for the industry is very traditional.  For instance, we know door-to-door canvassing still drives the majority of sales for a good portion of our competitors. We led the way on TV; and now our use of channels, effectiveness evidence, and testing have raised the level of sophistication again.”

JP: “We took Everest back onto TV in 2008 which was a game-changer for the business, but this time we had no equivalent ‘silver bullet’. And our remit from Better Capital gave us no room for any high risk plays. It demanded a completely fresh approach. We had spent a long time holding on to being ‘the best’; now we put everything into proving we’re better where it matters, and by earning it 1% at a time.” 

Q7. What lessons did this campaign teach you?

JP: “As an industry, we spend a lot of time talking about ‘big ideas’ (and more recently ‘big data’), but we proved in what we did that doing lots of small things – the one per cent improvements  – can be just as powerful. And we’re getting pretty good at finding the ‘1%s’.”

BH: “We have learnt a lot of lessons on the way, but there is one for me that stands out from all the rest – there are way more one per cent improvements out there than you think! Every time we found one, it would point us to even more.”

Q8. What were the low points/high points of this campaign?

BH: “This may be another consequence of private equity, but we're a very difficult team to satisfy. Whilst the progress we were making was clear (and gratifying), it was also frustrating because we knew there were more opportunities out there than we had the time or the resources to exploit.”

JP: “Despite being ahead of where we initially predicted, missing hitting our 2013 growth target of 100k appointments in a year by (ironically) 1% was probably one of the few low points. One of the real high points for us was seeing the ‘1%s’ philosophy start to infiltrate the rest of the business.”

Q9. What would you do differently if you did this campaign over again?

BH: “Hindsight is obviously a wonderful thing, and in this position it’s easy to say that we could have been bolder and got to where we are even faster. But having said that, doing that would have probably gone against our whole philosophy and might not have worked. So it’s hard to see us doing anything differently.”

JP: “We made the best decisions we could with the information available to us at the time, so it’s hard to see how we would have done anything dramatically differently. And even the things that didn’t quite work out as planned were important learnings; learnings we couldn’t have achieved without doing what we did.”

Q10. If you could have worked on one, other IPA award-winning campaign over the years which would it be, and why?

JP: “This is the first paper I have written for the IPA Effectiveness Awards, so right now I would take any of them!”

BH: “The opportunity we have at Everest is unique. I wouldn't swap it for anything else.”

Last updated 04/09/2014

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