Niche insurer Hiscox may have business roots going back 100 years, but Michael Barnett discovers much of its marketing activity revolves around raising brand awareness.
Annabel Venner, Marketing director, Hiscox
How is marketing viewed at Hiscox?
Marketing is growing in importance, but we need to back up everything we do with the business results and return on investment it has delivered. We have full backing for our spend because everyone can see and feel the benefits across our direct and broker business.
We have very strong values and culture and the marketing mirrors part of that. My boss, [managing director of UK and Ireland and group marketing director] Steve Langan, comes from Diageo and Coca-Cola. My head of research and insight, Juliet Constantine, is ex-Mars. We come with a different perspective on who our consumers are and the insight that we need.
How does the marketing task at Hiscox compare with your previous role as a marketing manager at Coca-Cola?
Consumers interact with Coke on a daily basis it is very fast-moving and high volume. In insurance we have a period of about four weeks a year when people are interested in purchasing. We have to be there at that time when interest is at its highest, but also understand the decision-making process of consumers.
The purchase points are massively different. You can pick up a can of Coke for 50p. Insurance is a much bigger investment. It is also intangible until you come to make a claim. That is when we need to deliver on what is effectively a promise on a piece of paper.
At Coke, I had a fairly good idea of how business was tracking throughout the year. With an insurance company, you might think you are having a good year, but there will be a point at the end of it when your customers will really need you. At the end of last year, when we had the bad weather, it completely changed the track of where the business was going.
What factors do you take into account when positioning Hiscox as an insurance brand?
In financial services, it is harder to create an emotional investment in the product than it is for consumer goods. We spend a lot of time with our customers, understanding how and why they buy a particular insurance product. It differs between a business insurance professional and a homeowner. Our home insurance customers are more likely to make a claim. The messages are different because their needs are different.
We are a niche insurance company. We are not mass-market, so for our business insurance there are key professions that we insure. A lot of our recent advertising has used the message that we are a specialist and that we understand you, what you need and the risks you face, and our policies are designed to reflect that. It is about the trust and the confidence that if you do have to make a claim, it will be alright.
How important is the claims process in the customer experience, and how involved do marketers get in this area?
Our claims philosophy is very closely linked with our marketing messages. A lot of what we put into our communications is down to the way we run our claims team.
Some of our recent advertising has been about the intelligent staff that we have who deal with claims. When people make a claim our philosophy is that we always assume it is a valid one. We had some initial advertising two years ago, which was about the amount of claims we pay out that other insurers do not.
How do you research the way customers buy and use your insurance policy products?
Our insight and research team runs a customer closeness programme. That might include breakfast meetings with our business customers where we get together with them for a couple of hours. The discussion is not all about insurance it is about understanding why they set up their businesses, what is important to them, and into that we will weave a conversation about insurance and about Hiscox.
We do a similar thing with our home insurance customers. We run regular brand tracking to see how our communications are performing, as well as undertaking customer journey research into that process. Who do they talk to? What is important? How important is this over that?
We run an ’always-on’ programme throughout the year because we know that recommendation is key for our customers. They often talk to people who will recommend Hiscox or have had a positive experience when making a claim with us.
How do you determine what mix of media you use?
We have moved away from the traditional ’awareness, interest, desire, action’ model in what we do. We look at the way people buy insurance and what messages they are looking for at key times. Our current media mix takes in television sponsorship, outdoor and press.
We then go to something that triggers customers to buy insurance. You have a funnel of about four weeks when they seek information. This is when direct mail is more important, if we know the renewal date.
We also send out newsletters to customers to keep them engaged with what Hiscox is and share stories with them. Online comes into play here, so we have a significant presence on comparison websites.
We also do display advertising around locations that we believe our target audience goes to for information. That point is critical, and once they have made the purchase it is also critical to make sure that they have a good post-purchase experience with us.
How have changes in the media industry altered the way you communicate with your audiences?You cannot just do television advertising any more. There are so many different marketing channels now that it is really important to understand who you are trying to talk to and how they are trying to talk to you. I do not think it is about brands having one direction.
In the past two years we have made great strides in owned and earned media, and there is still a huge opportunity but it is still quite hard to get people to talk about insurance. It was easier in my old world at Coca-Cola.
For a lot of people Hiscox is relatively unknown. TV sponsorship pulls in a particular type of person
Does direct mail still play an important role?
I cannot see direct mail going away, but you need to make sure that you are targeting the right people. This means data is massively important.
Our direct mail campaign last year was based on our IT customers. We spent a lot of time with IT consultants and looked at the profile of people we insured. We used that information to develop a creative brief. It was based on insight that people want to be certain they are insuring with an expert that really understands them.
We took that insight and developed a three-contact strategy for direct mail and more than doubled our response rates for that campaign. As a result, we have rolled it out across other professions, which has delivered equal success.
What purpose does Hiscox’s sponsorship of programmes on Channel 4 serve?
It is a very good fit in terms of the brand and what consumers think about it. The programmes that we picked documentaries about art and entrepreneurs were also a good reflection of what we are. To support the initiative, we also ran events at the Science Museum and the National Gallery.
We tracked that quite closely with independent research to look at the success of the advertising. It is often very difficult to pull out exactly how many sales our sponsorship of those six programmes across the year delivered. We did independent research and looked at recall among people who watched the programmes, their perception of the brand before and afterwards, and how much cut-through it got. We have just renewed the deal for 2011 because we exceeded our aims.
For a lot of people, Hiscox is still a relatively unknown brand. Those programmes will pull in a particular type of person that is well matched to our audience.
What are your future marketing plans?
We have already started planning for next year, and a large part of what we do will be communicating an overarching brand message, probably through the channels that best drive awareness. We may carry on with TV sponsorship, and outdoor has been very effective for us so we will probably continue with that.
As we get closer to understanding our direct consumers [rather than those who come through brokers], online and direct mail channels will be more product-specific because we can target a specific group of consumers who will probably want to buy from us direct.