Interview: The rebrand of Aviva from Norwich Union, concluding on 1st June 2009, gave the two hundred year old company the chance to assess and remould the public perception of the brand. I took some time to catch up with Ellie Mickleburgh, Head of Global Marketing Strategy at Aviva and discuss her thoughts on brand identity, customer loyalty and more.
It's good to meet you Ellie. Could you start us off with a little bit about yourself, your background, and about Aviva?
Well, I'm currently the Head of Marketing Strategy at Aviva, a global position which means I'm responsible for what we are trying to achieve in marketing and communications across all of the markets that Aviva covers and ensuring the strategy delivers towards our business objectives. I've been working in marketing at Aviva for just over six years now, starting off in the UK business unit before taking a regional marketing position working across Europe. Following this I moved into my current global position just over a year ago. Prior to joining Aviva, I worked in the travel and leisure industry.
In terms of Aviva, we are the world's sixth largest insurance company and the UK's largest. We're an organisation with over 36k employees and over 45m customers around the world.
One of the themes that we will be covering at Loyalty World this year will be around the evolving customer. In your years as a professional how have you seen the customer change?
The key change for us is the way in which customers interact and make decisions. That's been the main change I've seen whilst working in the insurance industry. Coming from a service background, customers have always been at the heart of the service companies I've worked for. The way that customers are interacting with companies generally has changed over the last 10 or 15 years in terms of how they make their purchase decisions, the high levels of experience they expect and the fact that they want to get much closer to and have more direct contact with the companies they choose, particularly since the development of digital media.
What this means for the insurance industry is that customers want a lot more information directly, that they've become more thoughtful about how they use their money and what insurance means for them, and they are becoming more engaged in the decision making-process as to which insurance companies they're choosing as more of them buy direct and expect a good service experience. In previous years, customers' decisions have primarily been price led, whereas now customers are getting increasingly savvy and they're looking for a good service experience. Whereas previously they would have only been choosing on price, they are now less likely to choose the very cheapest option and instead find one that is both good value and also able to deliver the level of service that they expect. They ultimately want to find a company that they can engage with and trust to deliver.
How has Aviva dealt with this change in what the customer expects?
As with every other company in the world, we are absolutely putting the customer at the heart of our business. If I could have a pound for every time I've heard people at conferences talk about that, I would probably be a billionaire! Fundamentally it's about making sure that you are personalising your business and service to each and every customer. We have a strategy which is based on serving each customer and their needs through a promise of one satisfied customer after another. We don't just look at huge segments of customers, but we recognise each individual customer wherever possible.
This is something that we in the insurance industry are particularly able to do, because we are pricing individually for each of our customers, we have individual information for each of our customers. What we at Aviva are now trying to do is get an understanding of the way in which we can use the information this most effectively for the benefit of our customers. Whilst we have the data available to us now, it's about how we make use of that information in the future.
One of the topics that is being raised a great deal at the moment is that of data driven marketing. Many marketers are concerned about need for analytical skills, despite their non-technical backgrounds. How have you dealt with this internally?
For us, marketing is very much a combination of the art and the science. In a world of prolific data we can sometimes be blinded by it. So for us it is about getting the balance between the data we do have and what we can realistically do with it. As many of the large companies find, technology can sometimes get in the way of providing the solution. It's also about not forgetting that we have the art of marketing available to us, and using some of that creativity to be more human about how we use the data to the benefit of our customers.
Do you have a close working relationship with your IT department, or is it quite fraught as in many businesses?
Due to the complexity of our business, we have, as with many large businesses, data compatibility issues. The things we would like to do, the ambition and vision we have for our data, is not always able to be realised by the technology. So we do work very closely with our IT teams within each market, and have gradually over time been finding solutions. Where we do not find complete solutions right away, we tend to use a sticking plaster approach of putting the data together so we can provide a better solution for our customer as quickly as possible, however we go about doing it. As technology moves very quickly, we've been increasingly joining up with our IT teams to ensure that we are not just using technology for technology's sake, and that we are actually using insight to provide something that the customer does need. We are also looking at how customers want to use the technology, and ensuring that we are providing those solutions to customers, even if they do cause technical struggles internally.
How are Aviva using social media to drive customer loyalty?
I think that this is a really interesting topic, particularly for us at the moment. Insurance tends to be seen as quite dull, quite boring and something that people don't particularly want to engage with. But if you actually ask people about insurance, everyone has got an opinion on it and a reason for choosing a particular company. When you begin to talk to people about insurance they do tend to get quite emotional, because at the heart of it, insurance is protection and peace of mind, protecting everything that you love and everything you have. In a crisis that can suddenly be very important.
Whilst on the face of it insurance can be quite dull, when we start to talk to our customers there is quite a bit of emotion and it is actually quite a social topic. So when we started to look at the way we engage online, we were initially quite hesitant because we weren't sure if people would want to engage with an insurance company. But as we set up our blogs, our Facebook page and our content, we are finding that people do want to engage and that they do have strong opinions about insurance. We're really happy to connect with them, help them and have a conversation. For us it's a continual learning curve around how people want to talk about insurance online.
Have there been any real restrictions on the sort of content you can experiment with online?
We have tended generally to be more experimental than many insurance companies, for example we produced the first TV ad which addressed the topic of life insurance by talking about death directly. We do have guidelines and regulations that we have to follow. Any employees operating on social media in an official capacity are well trained. We do have to be careful. But if we take social media, it is really the same as any discussion environment. So for us the normal, sensible rules apply although we are learning as we go. Nevertheless, we are keen to empower our employees to take on the trust of representing the company.
There was an interesting example recently of O2 reacting to the recent network problems with a degree of humour. Do you think this is a good example of using social media well, or is it a case of a brand taking the relationship with the customer too far?
It's an interesting parallel to draw. I was actually one of the affected customers, along with millions of others, so I do have some personal experience of the incident. Ultimately it really depends on the brand. O2 do have more flexibility with the type of relationship they have with their customer as the relationship is one where they are continually connected to them. If you look at it from an insurance industry point of view, it wouldn't necessarily be so appropriate to use humour because of the serious nature of the discussions we're having with our customers. So, it is very much about recognising what your brand is able to do, and ultimately being true to your brand identity. If you are true to your brand personality you can then use that as a guideline to how you interact with your customers and build their trust. It is about maintaining the integrity of the brand and how you represent that through all your actions and interactions. Our CMO's favourite saying is "a brand is as a brand does" and that's the truth.
What advances do you think we're going to see in the next 12 months?
If only I had a crystal ball! We can't underestimate the speed at which the world is changing. The challenge that we're going to have as marketers, and the challenge for our customers as well, is for us all to keep up with the technology. Marketers really need to get a sense of whether customers are interacting with these new technologies specifically, or whether it is actually just us getting overly excited about something that people in the real world aren't that interested in. I think each different platform has an appeal to a different group for a different reason; it is up to us to understand how each of our customers wants to interact with us as these new platforms develop.
Do you think that the rebranding of Aviva gives you more flexibility and more chance to be innovative?
One of the intentions of the rebrand was really to give an understanding of the fact that we are a stable, global presence within the insurance industry, whilst also giving us the feeling internally of being one company. We were trying to use the rebrand to give us three different lenses. Firstly it was the nod towards the past and where we had come from, with a history going back over 350 years. It was also recognition of the present, the fact that we had all of these disparate brands that were actually part of one company and that we wanted to give ourselves a single identity. And lastly it was a view to the future and the fact that we were moving into a global world where cultures and countries are increasingly overlapping through the web and digital technology. The motivation for the rebrand was not in order to make us more innovative.
When you talk about innovation I think it depends on how you define the term. For us it's taking an innovative approach to our customers' needs rather than creating new inventions, and making sensible improvements that will give our customer a better service in the end.
What was it about the Loyalty World proposition that made you decide to speak at the event?
The reason that the Loyalty World event is exciting for me is to get the perspective of all the different industries on the one thing we all find the most important within our companies, which is of course the customer. For a long time now, companies have been focused on acquiring new customers. It has only been in recent years that we have recognised the fact that we need to make sure that our current customers are happy. I believe particularly for our industry, loyalty is becoming a byword for success. It will be the companies that are churning customers that ultimately struggle the most. We want to make sure that we look after our customers in the right way and provide a service that will ensure they stay with us in the future. For me that is the key driver for coming to the conference. To be surrounded by likeminded people from all different industries all talking about the topic of customer loyalty and learning from each other is going to be very powerful.
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