We recently had the good fortune to nab an hour with Mark Docherty, Customer Marketing Manager at Autoglym to talk on our podcast. He's worked there for a whopping 19 years rising from Process Technician to Customer Marketing Manager for their professional products range. This journey took him through different departments yet marketing is where Mark has remained for the last 10 years, so ultimately - he's doing something right. Currently working on the trade side looking after the Autoglym product portfolio, Mark recently helped to launch a range of antiviral products in direct reaction to Coronavirus. We wanted to get the scoop on how he and his team adapted in such a testing time, why he's such as car buff and how they've been taking advantage of newer marketing platforms such as TikTok to reach a wider audience.
Mark, you’ve been at Autoglym for 19 years, which is quite amazing. I’ve known you for a long time as a friend and I don't know anybody else who has actually been in the same job for 19 years. Congrats on the recent anniversary!
It's a very, very long time as you say, somebody could have been born, grown-up, learned how to drive and be off to university or while I've been working for the same company!
A lovely thing is, whenever you talk about Autoglym you have a real affinity and passion for the brand. And that always comes through - even in social situations. So tell us how you started with the company?2
Autoglym is a large, UK based car care company. In short, we make lots of liquids, potions, waxes, creams - anything you need to make your car look as good as new all over again. Like many people who fall into a career, it was completely unplanned and totally by accident. I finished my A Levels, dutifully went off to university and was reliably informed by people that you don't need to do any work in your first year at all as all of the work happens in the following years. I took this advice completely to heart and actually did no work whatsoever in my first year, including not bothering to turn up for any of my interview exams either. I was then told that I wasn't a member of that university anymore! So I needed to go out and find a job.
A temping agency organised for me to do some work at Autoglym. I was working on the factory floor, putting lids on bottles and bottles in boxes and boxes on pallets etc. and did that for a few years. I then got the opportunity to move into quality control, running that department for a couple of years before moving over to customer care. This then led me into marketing and events, actually going out on the road and talking to people face to face about the products, answering their questions and basically being a bit of an evangelist for Autoglym. For the last ten years I've been in marketing, a bit of B2C mostly, and in the last three years it has switched to B2B. A new challenge for me as it’s a different customer set to work with, but I’m really enjoying it.
The feeling you get when your new Autoglym products arrive in the post!
On your social media you tend to post a lot of things about Autoglym and I’m always convinced that you spend most of your days like at racetracks. Is that an accurate depiction of your job, or is it just classic social media highlights?
There's definitely a bit of classic social media highlighting in there! When I was in the PR and events team, I was paid to go and hang out in the pit garages with world racing teams, go the other side of the velvet rope and get to sit in all the cars and do all sorts of fun things in the name of work. I think that really did foster and entrench my love of Autoglym!
How do you think Autoglym has built such a loyal following over the past 55 years?
We've got a lovely loyal client base, which is amazing. I think one of the secrets for fostering brand loyalty is nothing unique to Autoglym but works for all businesses. That is to really listen to your customers, spend time with them, find out what their pain points are and then develop products and services to help. Although it's a lot easier said than done. When you start to listen to your own opinion or you think you know what your customers want, you can go off in the completely wrong direction and spend a lot of time and effort developing something that people don't actually want.
Across all the three divisions and all of our products, I think there's three things that have played a huge part in our success. The first is probably speed and ease of use. We engineer our products so that they are very easy and simple to use. As a marketer, I spend a lot of my time writing instructions on the back of label copy - poring over every single word and trying to pick the absolute perfect way to convey how to use this product and get the best of it - knowing full well that most customers will never even read the back of it. They may well be like, ‘Oh, this comes in a spray bottle, it says to use on the interior of your car, I'll just spray it all over the place and hope it goes okay’, and you have to assume that this is going to happen to a certain degree. So we build this knowledge into our easy-to-use technology which helps people feel that they can tackle these cleaning tasks themselves.
The next difference is that everything we do brings about change to a surface in terms of either cleaning it, making it shiny or perhaps not so shiny. So it's all about the quality of finish. That's the other thing that we want to make sure that we build into the price, that all products will produce the finish we say they're going to.
Mark displaying the Autoglym 'muck in' mentality
The last one is probably cost per use. We are a premium product; we select premium ingredients to go into our products, we make them to an incredibly high standard - we're an unashamedly premium positioned product. As a result we're not always going to be the cheapest on shelf, but the products are going to last longer and you're going to get a better finish overall. I hate to make the analogy between Fairy Liquid because as you know, I'd never suggest washing your car with washing up liquid - it's not a good thing to do! But as with Fairy, it's not the cheapest on the shelf but it lasts a hell of a lot longer. And it gives a fantastic result.
It must have hit you quite hard and I suppose you felt a sense of responsibility when members of your team had to be furloughed and everything changed so quickly.
Absolutely. We have three commercial divisions broadly. And two of those sort of turned off or slowed to a trickle almost overnight, so when the car dealerships were closed no one was buying new cars really anymore and there were all time lows across the industry. That meant no new cars and we weren't not selling any life shine products to dealerships buying car stock and preparing it for resale. The upside was that with everything being closed, it meant everyone was stuck at home with nothing to do. So people did their gardens up and they spent a lot of time washing their cars as well. So where two things might have slowed down, we saw massive growth in the DIY ranges.
Unfortunately we still had to furlough some of our team which was really hard and weighed heavily on our leadership team. There was a feeling of responsibility to make sure the business was in the best possible shape and condition so that we could welcome those people back at the appropriate time. In a way it was quite a fun time - there were good times to be had in it as well, because with a reduced team people were doing a lot more roles than usual and it almost felt like a start up. We had to make fast decisions and react to them straight away and things happened in a very quick and agile way. So it was actually quite exciting and brought about a lot of cross functional work that might not have happened otherwise.
You mentioned that things felt a bit like a startup and that new processes moved quite quickly. So what happened, what did you do?
We had to do a lot of guesswork. One of the things we were fairly certain of was that in March, everybody wanted to buy hand sanitizer and nobody could get hold of it. So we thought, we've got the gear and the equipment - we should be able to turn our hand to what the public needs and wants. So the first thing was hand sanitizer. We've always tried to be good with our corporate social responsibility so as part of launching the sanitizer we allocated 20,000 units to local good causes in our area. I actually went out like a sanitizing Santa, I loaded up the back of my car with thousands of bottles of sanitizer and went and delivered them to like old people's homes, hospices and charities who were distributing goods.
This sparked a session of identifying sanitising and cleaning needs that we expected would happen in the COVID and post COVID world. We made the assumption that as sanitising was going to be around for a while people would need to do this more so than ever, and it was going to have to make its way into vehicle preparation routines in a way that wasn't there before. We embarked on a project to fast track about 11 products through which we're just coming to the end of and we've done that in about six months. That’s an unheard of speed of moving things through our business; it would normally take a year and we might push through maybe four or five products. So to do that so fast and with a reduced team as well has been outstanding.
As a brand ourselves we’ve looked at how to change our messaging, how to cut through the noise and change things up. We've been looking at TikTok - not actually using it necessarily as a Bright social platform, but the notion of the way that TikTok videos look and taking some inspiration from what people like and how we can almost piggyback on that trend. Has TikTok been something Autoglym has ventured into?
Every now and then we will just decide to sort of run an experiment ourselves and set up an account and do something new in marketing under the radar just to see how it goes. And if it fails, then it fails. But if it works, you can then take that into senior management and say look, we've had a shot at this and it’s gaining some traction or allowing us access to this segment of the market which we were struggling to reach otherwise. So with TikTok, you know, I'm 38 now, I don't think I'm TikTok’s target audience. To me it seems to be a lot of synchronised dancing. But if they're going to be the consumers of tomorrow, if they're going to be people that are 15-16 now they're going to be 17 next year, learning to drive and they will be getting a car. So if you can get in with them early and at least make some cool content then that's ideal.
My colleague Danny has taken to TikTok like a fish to water. He’s out there creating all the stuff on his drive, as we’re all still working from home. So Danny's having to make all this stuff at home on his own with his own car. This weirdly lends itself to TikTok as I think if you do things too professionally on there, it always looks like just another brand trying to do something too polished. It’s grown well and we’re now at about 20,000 followers, which is pretty cool. That just started almost like an under the radar experiment, which has become an important comms tool to us now.
My final question if you could choose a dream car, because obviously, we know that you love cars, what would it be? But more importantly, who would you be taking along for the ride?
There is this really small 1950s Ferrari called a 166 MM Barchetta which means I think ‘little boats’ in Italian. It's this tiny open two seater car, just stunning to look at. It's got a great two litre V12 engine in it - they only made about 40 of them and it's just this beautiful car on wire wheels. So I think although this isn't my definitive answer, I'd say to drive in that particular car could be great fun in the sunshine through Europe, perhaps an Italian coastal route. I think my wife Kate and I would have a wonderful time doing this, perhaps taking a small break from our children for a few days driving around Italy in this beautiful car.
Podcast produced by Let’s Talk Video Production.
Written by Victoria Heyward
Meet Vic, head of all things Brand and Marketing at Bright. Some might say she has an unhealthy obsession with celebrity and Arnold Schwarzenegger (please refer to our team video) but what can you do when you look that good in camo gear? Vic ensures that the company culture is not just felt within the Bright HQ but also radiates out to our clients.