Profile: Common interest - Mike Hoban, Customer and brand marketing director, Scottish Widows

Mike Hoban might have contested the recent Liberal Democrat leadership battle had his life taken a different path.

On leaving York University in 1987, the outspoken marketer was set to work for a Lib Dem MP, but was forced to find another job when his prospective boss lost his seat. 'I ended up in marketing. It wasn't a plan, it just happened,' he says. 'But things happen for a reason. Whenever I have changed jobs, something brilliant has happened as a result.'

Hoban, 40, has never lost his love for politics. He has advised both former Lib Dem leader Paddy Ashdown and MEP Emma Nicholson, and stood for Parliament twice: in 1992 and 1997, when he nearly won the Bridgwater seat.

The close-run Bridgwater election says much about Hoban's ability to engage with the public. Before being selected to fight the seat, he had had no connection with the West Country. 'I lost by 1700 votes. The Conservative MP Tom King got 20,000 and I got 18,300.'

Hoban is fascinated by people's lives. 'I'm one of those people who goes into the pub and listens to others' conversations.' The pub was also where he met his boyfriend three years ago; it turned out that they lived only four minutes away from each other, and they have been together ever since.

Professionally, he aims to get who-ever he works for to see things from the customer's perspective, and he is not one to compromise his opinion because of the audience. 'I've always been able to say I told them what I really believe,' he says. 'Lots of people compromise because of business politics and that's where you make mistakes.' He concedes that this approach has made him some enemies. 'I have probably burned more bridges than I ought to,' he admits. One of his proudest achievements during his last job at Barclays was getting Barclaycard advertising back on TV, which he describes as 'a bit of a battle'.

'He remains loyal to the consumer even in a hostile environment,' says Tracy Miller, senior brand creative manager at Barclaycard. Another former colleague, Barclaycard brand advertising manager Stuart Green, adds: 'He was the first person at Barclaycard who was truly inspired by customer insight.'

Hoban claims his experiences growing up in the North-East have affected his adult perspectives. He spent his teenage years working on a market stall, in a betting shop and at his local greyhound-racing track. 'Coming into the marketing world, which is a bit ivory-towered, having seen the world outside makes you keep it all a bit more realistic.'

He feels financial services still have some way to go to deliver on their marketing promises, and sees internal marketing as key. 'Marketers need to understand that they've got to get it right for their company's staff, so they can get it right for customers.' To this end, Hoban encourages staff to email him. 'I will always respond and I will always go and talk to them, because I think it's really important,' he says.

He is less than complimentary about his former employer's attempts to bring staff on board. 'When I'm developing marketing activity, I sit with staff and go through it with them. I don't mean in big groups where I tell them to put up a big sign saying vote for this,' he says, referring to Barclays' group brand and UK banking marketing director Jim Hytner, who said that he had a 96% positive response from the bank's staff when he consulted on its current 'Inventive spirit' campaign.

'I think the Barclays advertising is insulting to the staff. It's juvenile. It shows them as geeks who can't get anything right. What I want to do is create a campaign that is as much aimed at our internal audience as it is at consumers.'

Hoban is confident that 200-year-old Scottish Widows can take up this baton. He is developing ads with Leo Burnett that are due to break in September, and is relishing the challenge of being judged 'against a standard that is much higher than in financial services. Everybody smiles when you mention the Scottish Widow. What I want us to do is to turn from a masterbrand into a superbrand.'

CAREER HISTORY

1987-1989: Marketing trainee, rising to assistant brand manager, Bisto and Saxa, RHM Foods

1989-1990: Brand manager, Cockburn's Port, Harveys Wines and Madeiras, Allied Lyons

1990-1993: Product manager seasonal, rising to senior product manager, Club, Jacob's Bakery

1994-1997: Project consultant, rising to senior consultant, PDP International Group

1997-2000: Marketing manager, stationery, rising to marketing manager, WH Smith Retail

2000-2001: Marketing director, rising to management board, Boxclever

2001-2003: Head of customer insight, knowledge and strategy, rising to head of customer insight and brand strategy, British Airways

2003: Marketing and strategy director and board member, Scottish & Newcastle Retail

2004-2005: Head of customer strategy, rising to head of brand and customer insight, Barclaycard

2005-present: Customer and brand marketing director, Scottish Widows.

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