Q&A with DirectAsia CMO Pauline Png: Insurance advertising does not have to be based on fear

Pauline PngFormer Procter & Gamble marketer Pauline Png joined DirectAsia at the beginning of 2015 as CMO. She has just led a rebrand and a new ad campaign that promises to be the insurance company ‘Where happier matters’.

In this Q&A with Mumbrella Asia’s editor Robin Hicks, Png talks about why the company rebranded, breaking the mould of fear-based insurance advertising, finding a brand purpose, experimenting with programmatic and why mobile marketing hasn’t worked.

DirectAsia recently rebranded and launched a new ad campaign. Why?

Our advertising previously [from 2013] used a Robin Hood character as our brand hero. And while it helped us stand out and be different, something we’ve always tried to be, people didn’t connect with the character. They didn’t understand its relevance.

A DirectAsia ad from 2013:

What was the insight that led to the rebrand?

Where happier matters print workWe found through research that our brand perception was centred on a value proposition. As a result, we were attracting a value conscious customer. But we wanted to stand for something else, not just price. We wanted to create a brand purpose. We looked at what the customer was telling us. People tend to think of insurance as a necessary evil that is complex and stressful with hidden terms and conditions. Historically, the reality is that people may not have had a good experience with their insurance provider.

As an insurance company, we wanted to talk about a brand bonding with people, but that’s challenging. It was a case of trying to get closer to a customer who doesn’t want to get close to you.

Insurance usually comes into play when something bad happens, and the sector’s advertising has played on that fear. And when someone didn’t have good experience when they claimed, insurance was always the bad guy. As a challenger brand, we thought the experience could be happier; we wanted to portray a more positive experience when dealing with an insurance company.

The new ad for the Singapore and Hong Kong markets, created by Mullen Lowe, which was appointed together with digital partner Lowe Profero in November 2014, launched in October this year.

As a relative newcomer to the industry [DirectAsia launched in 2010, and was acquired by British insurer Hiscox in 2014], we’re a bit more nimble, and can service customers faster. And as a direct business, customers come directly to us rather than through a middle man. In terms of brand purpose, we believe that the insurance experience can be a happy and positive one.

DirectAsia operates in three markets now, Singapore, Hong Kong and more recently Thailand. How are you approaching advertising differently in Thailand?

The Thailand ads are, well, very Thai! We’re running two ads in that market, one focused on price, another on value and service. The acting in the ads is quite funny. The proposition is that when you have an accident you’ll be attended to within 30 minutes.

DirectAsia Thai TV ad, featuring a desktop computer on the form of a DirectAsia consultant, created by ad agency Monday. 

Here’s another TV ad for the Thai market, that begins with a car accident and a DirectAsia consultant who takes the form of a mobile phone.

What changes were made internally in line with the rebrand?

We looked internally and made significant changes. When someone calls us, instead of being put on hold or passed around, we have a single claims specialist that follows through the call from beginning to end. So the customer doesn’t have to repeat themselves. We gave ourselves the challenge to deliver that operationally. We also wanted to introduce a mindset change. We wanted to make the organisation more customer focused, and so we did some retaining to re-energise and refocus the business.

Where are your call centres?

They are all in-country, one in Singapore, one in Hong Kong, another in Thailand. Our call centre staff have to go through insurance tests on top of the normal service training. And they don’t follow a script.

What’s the response to the campaign been like so far?

We’re tracking the response from a brand perspective, and we’re looking to see a shift to a more service-led brand, and I think that will truly emerge in January. But it will take time. We’re talking about promoting a more positive insurance experience. But a challenge we face is the perception of the industry overall.

Then there’s the direct response piece. We’re seeing a lot more searches and requests for quotations. Sales have increases among higher premium customers. These are the customers we’re looking for, who value service more than a pure price-seeker.

To what extent have sales increased?

The campaign has only been going for eight weeks. In Singapore, we’ve seen a single digit percentage lift in sales, in Hong Kong we’ve seen a double digit lift.

Why do you think there’s been a difference in sales lift in Singapore and Hong Kong?

It could be because the brand’s been here [Singapore] for five years, and in Hong Kong for three. The old proposition is more ingrained in Singapore, whereas in Hong Kong we’ve been talking about service slightly earlier.

What media channels have been used, and how do these compare between markets?

TV is the main awareness driver, to introduce the brand character. In Hong Kong, we’re using a lot more outdoor, with giant billboards around the tunnels connecting the islands.

We spend half of our budget on digital, and we’ve been testing on YouTube – trying out advertising on the platform while we’re not running TV, for a clean comparison. We’ve been trying to be more targeted and using more retargeting.

Next year, we want to do a lot more engagement activities to target drivers as part of our happier drivers campaign.

We’re also renovating our premises in line with the brand proposition, and moving all of our staff into the same building. We want to make our employees happier. We don’t just want this campaign to be a corporate communications initiative, we want it to run throughout the company.

What about programmatic advertising?

We’ve only started very recently, and we’re testing and evaluating it with Lowe Profero. We’ve also started using Doubleclick to see which areas of our online advertising are getting the most traction. This, I find to be one of the biggest challenges in marketing ROI. We’re trying to get a clearer picture of which levers are leading to the conversations we need to be having.

We can track our customers by first or last click. We can make sense of that, because we can link whether they made a purchase or not. But if they come online and then decide to call our call centre it’s trickier to track them. We need to get better at linking the on- and offline worlds together.

Are you using a disclosed or non-disclosed model for programmatic? In other words, do you know the margin that your agency is making on each trade?

No. But I will ask.

What about your experience with mobile?

Mobile is good for consumers getting quotes, but transactions are happening elsewhere, on desktop computers. We have found that while mobile gives you a lot of traffic, conversion wasn’t as strong on mobile as on desktop. So mobile has a role as a research tool and for social, but when it comes to making a purchase, I think people are afraid of making a mistake on mobile; they feel that they have more control over a mouse on a desktop machine. It’s a trust issue, and that varies by market. In Thailand, 90 per cent of our business comes in via calls, whereas 50-60 per cent of our business in Singapore and Hong Kong is online.

What do you expect most from your agencies?

We always treat our agencies as partners.

Clients always say that…

But it’s true. We bring agencies in from the very beginning, at the research stage, to help shape strategy. From there, we collaborate. I think Lowe really enjoyed the process [of DirectAsia’s rebrand]. They felt like they owned the brand, we gave them plenty of leeway. Creatives were given the opportunity to do something different. Creatives like that. They were motivated by a fresh brief. We’re not a big brand with giant budget, but I think we were inspiring enough as we were doing something different.

What’s your view on the role of procurement in marketing?

We don’t have a procurement team here. P&G [where Png worked previously], which has a responsibility to shareholders, does. So it’s a matter of just talking to the agencies and working together to get value from them.

Our company has 200 people across three countries. When a company has a lot of different brands and different departments, you need it [a procurement department, but each department controls all the procurement decisions.

We do value a premium service that comes with strategy. There’s a mix of strategic involvement and doing the work. We have an in-house creative team, people who can do adaptation work. We use an agency [Mullen Lowe Singapore] for the thinking, we try to get the day-to-day work done in-house. And we do also use smaller boutique agencies, for instance for resizing ads for magazines.

Which other agencies do you use?

AKA Asia for PR, Initiative for non-digital media, and iProspect and Amnet for digital.

What sort of marketer would you say you are?

I started off with P&G in beauty care marketing, straight from university. Then I moved on to marketing health supplements. Now I’m in insurance. Every place I go, I want to be purpose-driven and see how a brand can add value to a customer’s life, even if it’s only in a small way. I don’t believe that one brand can really change the world – unless you’re a brand with the scale and tech of Facebook or Google. But in your niche you should be able to make a difference. That’s what motivates me as a marketer.


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