Marketing Interview: Joby Russell, Purplebricks

As part of our Marketing Interview Series, we spoke with Joby Russell (Chief Marketing Officer at Purplebricks) to discuss the Marketing landscape and future developments in the space.


UP: What are your roles and responsibilities, and how are you measured?

JR: I started out in 2014 as CMO when Purplebricks was a regional UK business. I was tasked with, and was successful across, a number of different areas of the business from developing brand, increasing acquisition, and helping grow the business into a national player.

Following our rapid growth, we floated in December 2015, but our ambition was never going to be limited to the UK, so we started to focus on international expansion. In order to do this, we hired some brilliant marketing people to supplement the UK team and I relocated to Australia to form part of the management team down under.

The Australian market is very similar to that of the UK and, as such, we followed a comparable set of marketing and business models that were very successful for us. In September 2017, after a year and a half in Australia, we decided to also set up operations in the U.S. and try the same approach, and that is where we are focused now, along with our new businesses in Canada and Germany.

Purplebricks wants to offer every customer an amazing experience at every interaction, so we are all about innovation. With that in mind, reflecting on my role, nowadays it is mainly focused on building new products, assisting the international teams and creating capability. Day to day, it’s about being a partner and helping the teams on the ground.


UP: Purplebricks has developed a lot over the course of your time there, how have key interactions you’ve had within the business changed over time?

JR: When we were very small, the management team was extremely close-knit and everyone had regular, and sometimes intense, contact with one another and in fact it’s really not dissimilar now, despite being so much bigger. During this time, my closest dealings were probably with the Finance Director and CEO, as well as the NEDs and Chairman who were all very involved in offering guidance as we grew.

My most constant relationship during my time at Purplebricks has probably been with the founder and real product visionary of the business, Michael (Michael Bruce, CEO). We as a company have always been focused on customer experience and building our capabilities for this from the ground up, something which Michael, Kenny (Kenny Bruce – Global Sales Director and Co-Founder), myself and the other senior managers have worked closely on, from different ends of the Marketing-Product spectrum from the beginning.


UP: When Purplebricks started out, did you, and do you still, consider yourselves a challenger brand?

JR: I suppose we’ve always thought of ourselves as a challenger brand, but we’d never articulate it in that way. It’s important to not advertise our brand in a way that’s combative or opposed to the traditional way of doing things as this can create animosity with consumers. This is particularly important in our sector where 90% of the market is still held by traditional estate agents so we really wanted to avoid that. I think a lot of challengers have fallen into the trap of defining themselves against something without offering a truly credible alternative: we offer an amazing alternative. Remember, customers have been using traditional estate agents for decades, they want to try new things but don’t want to feel like they have been stupid in the past.


UP: Moving on to talent, what is it that you look for when hiring great people?

JR: In order to be successful at Purplebricks, it’s very important that you fit in with our distinct culture and this really comes from our founders Michael and Kenny. What we value is intelligence and competency coupled with an intensity and restlessness when it comes to business.

In Marketing, and in a lot of other areas in the company, we’re not really in the vain of hiring overly analytical, research-heavy deep thinkers. That’s not to say we don’t use data and analytics to help make decisions, because we definitely do, it’s just that what we really look for are quick, innovative individuals. We know that the business will look very different in, say, 2 or 3 years, but that continued restlessness will always be key in my mind.


UP: How about culture, how do you maintain the culture you want?

JR: Fostering a sense of community within Purplebricks happens from the off. For example, when new people come on board after two weeks training, the team above, below and around takes them on a great evening-out together.

As a very field-based organisation, we have to work hard to make sure that we’re always working as one and on-message. We do this by putting together two inspirational company-wide conferences a year where everyone can be informed about the current status of the company and our direction.

For the senior team, I think one of the key aspects of our continuous agility is the fact that we really have hardly any internal meetings when you compare us to big corporate firms: conversations are impromptu and to the point. This has been the case from when we were a small organisation right up to today.


UP: Ending on a more speculative note: what do you think are the key trends in Marketing now and for the future?

JR: There’s an emerging sense that digital marketing won’t be able to fully replace the traditional marketing models, which I definitely think some people speculated would be the case for the last 15 years. Short term thinking can lead to over-investment in the digital side and a devaluation of traditional brand building marketing. I foresee a much more even split emerging in the future as brands realise they’ve stunted their long-term growth by over investing purely in short-term often digital channels.

Another side effect is an over investment, or over dependence, on customer acquisition. The downside of this is not enough of a focus on brand and leaves you hooked on acquisition and missing out the emotional connection with the customer. Once the customer is emotionally connected, the cost of sale and cost of acquisition lowers and loyalty increases. I get that it’s harder to measure but it’s an important trade off.

Next, one of the big challenges facing marketing is reaching customers through the sheer level of fragmentation of channels, paid for and earned. No one machine or model can help navigate all media all the time to maximise response, not even clever programmatic platforms, so experience and consumer understanding reigns supreme.

Consumers are also carrying out increasing amounts of research into products prior to purchase. That means companies will have to put in more time and investment to understand and take advantage of the changes in this landscape. All marketing teams have limited time and limited budget, so cracking this code is key to continued success.

InterviewCatherine Adams