I love Marketing, it’s not just my chosen career, it’s something I am endlessly passionate about given its focus on people and communication connections.
I love mutuality as a business model and concept, and I have had the pleasure of working for a few good Mutuals over the years. I love that there is a real ‘people & fairness’ streak running through the very core of it.
I love Rugby league, it’s a great game to play and watch – a true working class game with passionate supporters and a sense of community around the clubs.
Last week I read an item in a magazine and a blog that sparked a few connections, despite my irritation with the article headline. Let me explain …
Let’s start with the Rugby Football league. An august body of men, who, I have no doubt, are passionate about the game I love, but I have some concerns about how this manifests itself. I will declare my colours early. I firmly believe that Rugby League has a strong heartland and that it is firmly a three counties game: Cumbria, Lancashire and Yorkshire. I know that is not fashionable, but the money spent in Wales, France and London attempting to embed the game is considerable, and would in my view be better spent supporting the heartland. I was once asked why I spent so much time practicing an element of my game that I thought was weak. The coach reminded me what my strengths were and that they were why he picked me as a hooker not a winger. Good advice, the skill I was looking to improve was not part of my ‘day job’.
Would I sooner have a Cumbrian franchise in Super League than in France or London, frankly yes? Would I sooner that Bradford and Salford had been supported earlier and more positively than have a franchise in Wales, frankly yes. Even as far back as the 1930s the RFL were trying, disastrously, to extend into London. I mean no unkindness to the clubs or supporters in those non heartland areas, but for me Rugby League is a Northern British working class game that is beloved in those three proud counties. I’m proud of that. I think that is where the future lies.
So to Mutuals; the synergy starts in the geography … Yorkshire especially with its prudent burghers of days gone by was the hotbed of mutuality, I worked for the Leeds Permanent and Halifax Building Societies. Alongside them were many more: Leeds & Holbeck, The Yorkshire, Bradford and Bingley and I could go on and on. Like the Rugby League teams in those same towns these were solid, safe and dependable – frankly a little bit unexciting and all the better for it. They sponsored Rugby League teams; they had brass bands affiliated to them. They employed a lot of people and improved communities by their presence and financial prudence.
In common with Rugby League, the mutuals (not all of them, I do appreciate that) tried to grow beyond what had made them strong. They tried to become banks. Those that did have now largely disappeared. That is sad, but strikes the same chord in me as Rugby League expansion. They ignored some important heritage lessons about why they were successful in the first place. They forgot what and who made them strong: the local communities who supported them, and good solid plain prudence… and tried to become something else. Sound familiar?
The passionate writing about Salford RLFC by Louise in her blog was one prompt, the other was a quote from the Mutuals Forum 2012; “Mutuals need to raise their marketing game”. The article contends that the marketing of mutuals needs to improve. I bristled I admit that! Then I read on and the article did make a lot more sense.
In short the marketing forum discussion pointed to a simple fact that I think is at the heart of my concern about Rugby League and the failure of some mutuals: The engagement with customers is poor. Karl Elliot the CMO at Engage Mutual Assurance hits the nail on the head “ … we spend ages trying to redefine mutuality and we get lost in all that.”
I think this is spot on: sometimes simply reminding yourself what made you strong in the first place is a healthy sense check on development. Don’t get me wrong Rugby League and Mutuality need to be relevant in todays society to survive and prosper, but a core lesson for me as a Marketer, a lover of Mutuality and a Rugby Leaguer is that sometimes the sprint for change and ‘newness’ should be checked to make sure the communication and connection with the people that gave you ‘permission’ to grow by their support is still strong, you need those people to remain engaged, they are our best, most passionate advocates, we must check back to them every now and again to make sure they are still with us.
I for one will try my best to remember that.
16 December 2012