Michael Cook
May 20, 2016

AIG's APAC CMO on the insurer's approach to storytelling

Michael Cook, APAC CMO at AIG, outlines how stories and the right focus can help build an insurance brand.

Michael Cook
Michael Cook

We have a unifying aspiration at AIG. It’s a purpose that acts as an anchor for everything we do and allows us to assess our plans objectively.

Our aspiration is to be our clients’ most valued insurer. We aim to do that by reducing fear of the future and empowering our clients to address their future challenges.

This creates two questions for marketing: How do we deliver the outcome of being the most valued? And how do we build a culture that is best placed to achieve that reality?

Our solution is to bring the power of insurance alive, both internally and externally, through stories—stories drawn from the experiences we deliver.

Externally, we create new stories through partnerships. Recognising the world we live in today, we are partnering with Shawn DuBravac, chief economist at the American Consumer Electronics Association, to develop papers on the Internet of Things to demonstrate our commitment to innovation.

Internally, when we shared the story of a customer in Malaysia who contacted us when their shop flooded, we brought to life our aspiration by showing how we responded to that claim very quickly and the customer’s delight at the level of service and how it made them feel.

Our travel team also shares stories weekly with examples of the work we do to support our customers when they are travelling the globe. Each of these stories are drawn from, and told in the words of, our customers about our ability to solve problems, provide assistance and get them home safely.

In the commercial space, we talk about how people have responded to cyber risk and how that helps some of our commercial customers.

And critically, we share stories told by our people. We create stories within AIG by encouraging employees to connect directly with customers and then share their experience with the broader team. Visiting customers in their homes or inviting them into workshops are just two ways we connect and show how all parts of the organisation can contribute to the way we deliver on our aspiration.

This process is designed to help people understand and engage with our common ambition. It can’t be something that just sits on a piece of paper or remains in the boardroom.

We need to remember that even in this very dynamic and changing world, at the core of everything, are human beings.

Read more in the Project Reconnect series

It is also important that we do not approach the communication of our aspiration by focusing on our differences to competitors. Our brand has to be built on the similarities we have to our customers, the relationship that we want to have with them and what we offer. Relationships come from a series of meaningful and relevant interactions, not direct comparisons.

With the emphasis on stories, it’s no surprise that content has been a big focus over the last couple of years. The marketing industry probably has not been as thoughtful about content as much as it should—having raced onto different social media platforms, excited about new opportunities to connect, without having reflected enough on the content in the context of building a mutually beneficial relationship. Not all of us are guilty of this; however, examples of #brandfail are not unknown to us, and the industry can do better than that.

There is a role for brands to provide content or storytelling, but maybe we need to slow down and get it right. To do this, and to thrive in our organisations as marketers, there are three areas where we can focus.

Be creative and rational

We need to continue to develop our skill sets and demonstrate them to our organisations in different ways—ways that are both creative and rational. We still need a deep understanding of customers, built from observations, segmentation and customer experience feedback tools like NPS. And we also need to ensure we hold a deep understanding of the full value chain of our businesses.

This combination is important because you need to understand the numbers, embrace analytics as well as be creative about how you create messaging that connects with the consumer.

Think different, but stay focused

Today’s world requires us to adapt, but not lose sight of the things that matter. We need to be laser focused on the problems we’re trying to solve. Doing this stops us from being caught up in the latest trends just because they are exciting and new. New developments and trends are important; but we need to view them through the context of the broader problem we are trying to solve first and foremost

We need to move from a traditional way of working and thinking if we are to help our organisations adapt. Marketing used to be about linear message and campaign development, but increasingly campaigns sit within an ecosystem. For example, even if we run a campaign a certain way through particular channels, some customers may connect via social media or word of mouth and others might contact us in another, sometimes unplanned, way. Understanding this interconnected ecosystem will help us add value.

Provide context

Take the lead to understand the environment and provide context. Marketers need to stay connected—not only to what’s happening to our customers but also to what’s happening more broadly in the world in which we live. We then need to bring these trends alive and highlight for our organisations what’s staying the same and what’s changing. That’s especially important now that consumers will compare AIG not only to other insurers but also to other service providers like Apple or an FMCG brand that delivered a great experience or had great content on a Facebook page.

I have found this particularly relevant in the Asia Pacific region with its cultural diversity, rapid adoption of technology and ever increasing diversity of platforms and channels that we haven’t seen in other parts of the world—think Wechat, Kakao or Line, for example.

If we adopt this way of thinking, and ensure it underpins everything we do, we will deliver outcomes for all stakeholders: our people, our customers and our shareholders.

Marketers are well positioned to be strong contributors and have an authentic voice within our respective organisations and industries. If we get it right and deliver positive tangible outcomes, we will not need to keep building the case for marketing in our organisations as our actions will have taken care of that.

The WFA’s Project Reconnect champions how marketing and brands can be a force for good. The project intends to improve perceptions of the industry. Follow Project Reconnect @WFAReconnect.


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