How to transform a large life insurer’s corporate image into one of genuinely caring for people was the challenge faced by Aviva USA three years ago. The insurer’s chief marketing officer discussed with Charles Davis the strategy that was adopted and the significant success that it is now achieving.
When Aviva USA set out to redefine its corporate identity, it was well aware of its position as part of a global insurance giant. Rather than using its size as an impediment to hands-on service, Chris Jones, Aviva USA chief marketing officer, said that its recent advertising campaign, ‘Paper People’, represents the culmination of a global focus on “bringing humanity back to the life insurance industry”.
“The campaign was the last thing we thought about,” Jones said. “The first thing was how we build a distinct brand in what is a really cluttered industry – the way to get agent and consumer attention is to distinguish yourself in the marketplace.
“This idea is about so much more than an advertising campaign – it’s an expression of our company culture,” Jones stressed. “That’s why two years ago, before we started sharing our story with customers and agents, we began to change the culture here at Aviva.”
Defined as the ‘You Movement’, this internal transformation was born out of Aviva employees’ passion and commitment to be a different kind of insurance company. Aviva did global research that revealed that the leading need was being recognised as an individual rather than as a policy number, Jones said.
Not just in the US
That was the case in almost every market and across the globe, not just in the US, he says. The research also found there was a gap in what consumers expect of financial services companies and what they actually experience.
“So the cultural rallying cry became ‘how do we put people before policies’,” he said. “If you go around the globe, you’ll see similar efforts underway across the company. In Ireland, it’s ‘We’re Looking Out For You’. In China, it’s ‘Bringing Humanity to the Insurance Business’.”
In changes large and small across the business, Aviva is restructuring external and internal processes with an eye towards simplicity and transparency. Instead of using complicated explanations of products, Aviva’s website includes videos of real customer stories explaining life insurance and annuity products. Printed material has been rewritten in simple, customer-friendly and jargon-free language.
Agents have been organised into response teams, so that customers needing service will talk to familiar faces.
Blending the concepts of ‘You’ with ‘Humanity’, Aviva promises to bring what it calls ‘Youmanity’ to the insurance business. This means not only having outstanding products and services, but also by being different by exhibiting heartfelt empathy, Jones said.
Jones points to the insurer’s Wellness for Life insurance programme since 2007. Just as safe drivers pay less for auto insurance, Wellness for Life rewards customers for living healthy lifestyles by reducing their life insurance premium over time.
“We see Wellness for Life as the model for customer-centric products that meet the individual needs of every customer by building insurance around them,” he said.
The advertising campaign, launched through a series of national television ads featuring ‘paper people’, builds on the theme of seeing customers as more than a policy – or just a piece of paper. The paper people then transform into real people, which is how Aviva views customers.
“Like any campaign, we began by sitting down with our agency, BBDO Minneapolis, and asking questions,” Jones said. “But instead of focusing on a concept or an execution at the beginning, we asked ‘how do we let customers know we are standing on the same side of the fence?’ So we wrote a brief that detailed our core beliefs, our corporate ethos, and used that as the expression of our corporate culture.”
Reinforce the message
In the coming year, Aviva USA noted it will further demonstrate its ‘you-first approach’ to customers – through both product offerings and a commitment to charitable causes and social awareness campaigns. The company is already heavily involved in some of those – such as its global Street to School initiative designed to get kids off the streets and back in school – and will introduce new programmes in the weeks and months ahead.
The groundwork for the ‘Paper People’ campaign was laid two years ago, Jones said, when Aviva began a systematic effort to embrace a different culture.
Aviva USA kicked off the transformation with ‘You Day’ in June 2009 – a two-hour event where they laid out the concept in an ell-employee event. That was followed by another all-employee meeting in 2010 to evaluate how the movement was taking hold, followed by the September 2010 ‘Customer Immersion Excursion’ in which Aviva built a museum-like display of data, anecdotes from customers, recordings of actual services calls and the like, all designed to demonstrate how the change was taking root. Earlier this year, Aviva held an event called ‘Operation Agent Impact’ focusing on meeting agent needs.
Meanwhile, Jones and his team were busy making sure the corporate office was immersed in reminding the employee base of its newfound commitment.
“It’s everywhere in our workplace,” Jones said. “We have flat panel TVs communicating campaign elements everywhere, we have consumer segmentation studies with cardboard cutouts representing policies standing around the office, and we have pictures of customers, distribution partners, on giant poster boards all over the place, just to remind people why we are here.”
According to Jones, the results are felt throughout the company.
“We know from copy testing and from anecdotal evidence that it is working, and it’s really excited the agent sales force,” he said. “It enables them to tell people who we are – it’s a shortcut for the agent, really, and the emphasis on humanity nicely matches the attributes of successful agents anyway.”