Nikita Mishra
May 8, 2023

The CMO's MO: From marketing to magic, Manulife's Melissa Henson looks up to Disney for inspiration

One of the Philippines' most prominent marketers, Henson reminisces about her all-time favourite brand campaign that instantly went viral and why.

The CMO's MO: From marketing to magic, Manulife's Melissa Henson looks up to Disney for inspiration

The CMO's MO: 9 questions with dynamic APAC marketing leaders, insights and personalities revealed. 

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A powerhouse in the insurance industry, Melissa Henson has made it her mission to cut through the jargon and make insurance simpler and more accessible for the ordinary Filipino. In her eight plus years of tenure at Manulife, she’s kickstarted the insurance giant’s digital transformation in the region even before the pandemic; the unprecedented health crisis and shutdowns gave the push in the right direction. Today, Henson’s team ensures that even the most sophisticated life insurance policies can be bought online with a few clicks and the help of virtual assistance.

A member of Campaign’s 2022 edition of the Power List, we chatted with Henson to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing the insurance industry in the Philippines, the importance of sustainability, and her love for the magical experiences provided by Disney. 

1. What are the three biggest marketing challenges for your brand right now?

Insurance is perceived to be expensive and considered a luxury in our region. To a large extent, Covid changed that notion. So, our challenge is to make our products more accessible and affordable. We introduced 365 Ready Plans, a product suite that offers accident or life insurance coverage for as little as P199 (USD4) per year.

Financial literacy remains to be a work in progress in modern Filipino society. The World Bank found that only 25% of adult Filipinos are knowledgeable on basic financial concepts. Through Peso Smart, we expand our efforts to empower students and communities by teaching them the basics of money management. In addition, through our Every Day Better series, we share life hacks that can inspire more Filipinos to make smarter financial decisions. 

As Filipinos embrace a hyper-digitalized life, we regularly enhance our digital tools and services, like Manulife Online, and Manulife iFunds, so we can provide more seamless service to our customers. 

2. 2023: survive or thrive? Elaborate.

Thrive, for sure. It’s been a slow re-emergence from the pandemic in the Philippines, but I believe this is the year for us to bounce forward. After three long years of Covid, we’re enriched with insights and lessons and coming out more resilient, creative, and capable. 

Captures from Henson's recent travels

3. Where are you investing your marketing budgets this year? In what areas are you increasing or cutting spend?

As consumers shifted to a digital lifestyle over the past few years, we also made that pivot as a brand. As a result, heavy investments will continue to enhance customer experience and adapt our products and services to address the customers' evolving needs and aspirations.

4. Give us one example to convince our readers that your brand is walking the talk on sustainability. 

Last year, we launched our most significant community investment as part of the Manulife Global Impact Agenda, which serves as our guide as we work to impact change through key social and environmental commitments. Our Impact Agenda is anchored on three key interconnected pillars: empowering sustained health and well-being, driving inclusive economic opportunities, and accelerating a sustainable future. 

To drive this in our market, we have partnered with three NGOs, namely Gawad Kalinga, Corazon Sanchez Atayde Memorial Foundation (CSAMF), and Haribon Foundation, who share the same values and have the knowledge, expertise, experience, and track record to effect positive change. By collaborating with these NGOs, we are confident that we can maximise engagement with our sustainability programs and make an impact on the communities that we serve.

5. Trendjacking the metaverse train: is it for your brand or not?

We have a wait-and-see approach. Filipinos are open to leveraging new tech, so there is interest from the customer. However, as a life insurance provider offering a life-long value proposition, we are still examining the opportunities here and how the metaverse can help us enhance customer value and transform financial services from how we know it now.

6. What kind of a CMO are you? Answer using maximum three adjectives.

Analytical, empowering and transformational.

7. What’s your favorite brand campaign that you participated in or wish you had?

The digital campaign to celebrate Manulife’s 110th year in the Philippines in 2017. This was done with several films highlighting different relationships, as ours is a business built upon trust and life-long relationships. The first video we released – Stand Up – was viral in the first few hours, and it still remains a favorite among marketers. This campaign was a departure from how we had been marketing previously, and used storytelling like we’d never experimented with before. It will always be one of my personal favorites.

8. Name another brand (can’t be yours) with an amazing customer experience that you really admire. Why is it great?

Henson's marketing team at a recent screening of Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 3 in Manila. Manulife Philippines has also announced a collaboration with Disney for this theatrical release

I’m a huge Disney fan for life. I’ve read a lot about how they deliver magical experiences to guests. And I admire how cast members commit to providing their signature customer experience and are empowered and energised to make the magic happen everyday. As a brand, Disney is a great example of culture and values that make the organisation's vision come to life.

9. What keeps you up at night as a CMO?

The thought of doing things differently tomorrow.

Campaign Asia

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