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


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

“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


Not just in the

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’.”

Pull quote by Chris Jones, Aviva USAIn
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

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

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

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

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

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.”