In fact, the company’s chief marketing officer, Pauline Png, goes so far as to use the word "happy" when discussing the brand's mission, and the same word appears in its advertising tagline: 'Where happier matters'.
“Most people think of insurance as something that’s boring, and that dealing with issues like claims will never be a happy experience,” she told Campaign Asia-Pacific late last year. “But that’s our message to the market: that things happen in life but when it does, the insurance part can be a positive experience.” Png admitted landing that message is a tall order, but one DirectAsia is determined to fulfill.
Founded in Singapore in 2010 and launched into Hong Kong in 2012 and Thailand in 2013, DirectAsia is a direct-to-consumer online operation. Its primary business is auto insurance, and it has ancillary lines in travel, personal accident, healthcare and life.
In 2013, it was reported that the company had gross written premiums of US$25.3 million, employing 140 across its three markets. Png shared that the company currently has more than 100,000 active clients, with the bulk of them in Singapore.
The decision to take such a bold stance in differentiating itself from other providers followed the company’s acquisition from the Whittington Group by global specialist insurance group Hiscox in mid-2014 for a reported US$55 million plus an earn out over four years.
At the time of the announcement, Hiscox said it had “significant plans” to invest in the business, which it said would complement its existing direct-to-consumer retail offering. That investment commitment has granted DirectAsia the breathing room and resources required to reposition itself.
“Before, we were very focused on tactical marketing, centred around the pricing of our products,” said Png. “But now we’re taking a step away from this and focusing on building our brand.”
DirectAsia as a brand now strives to be trustworthy and approachable, with concrete articulation of its benefits.
Building a brand and purpose
The company launched its first major campaign in October last year, unveiling a new brand purpose "to deliver a more positive experience when it comes to insurance" and visual identity as part of a "multimillion-dollar campaign" across Singapore and Hong Kong.
While unable to disclose a concrete figure for spending on the campaign, Png said that it cost more than US$1 million in Singapore alone. The campaign also rolled out in Thailand early this year.
“This is our move to humanise the brand,” she added. “While our products might not be the cheapest in the market, we’re moving forward with a value proposition of price plus service.”
Lowe and Partners worked on the campaign for DirectAsia, having been awarded the account by Hiscox, in November 2014. The win marked the first piece of integrated business won jointly by Lowe and digital division Lowe Profero in Asia since the acquisition of Profero earlier that year, with the scope covering regional brand, digital, activation and experiential marketing.
Png said the team has a close working relationship with all its agency partners, with Initiative and iProspect also on its agency roster.
In the case of Lowe and the creative work it does for the brand, it boiled down to the desire to do distinctive work.
“We wanted an agency that was excited about the journey they would be taking with us,” she added. “Lowe demonstrated that they were willing to ride along and eager to do different work and were energised by the brand.”
But this brand campaign is but a first step in a direction that holds its fair share of challenges, with the biggest one being the need to break free from industry legacy.
DirectAsia embarked on market research last year with Lowe as part of its efforts to better understand what it stood for and identify target market segments.
“There are the early adopters, who are confident and knowledgeable about their financial needs,” said Png. “They are willing to take risks and are in control of their decisions and have a sense of joy in making the right decision. These are the customers that would gravitate towards what DirectAsia has to offer.”
The other group finds matters of insurance complex and can get overwhelmed by the amount of information available in the market.
“We have to engage these customers and their baggage of experience with different legacy players in the insurance space,” said Png. “Most of us only hear about the bad news, and that remains top of mind for many, there’s a lot of distrust with the industry.”
While the chances of one company single-handedly changing things is of course on the low side, Png said that at the very least, it's a start.
“We also hope that other players will continue these efforts to make the insurance space an easier one for consumers to understand and navigate,” she added.
The key to the execution of the company’s brand purpose, is consistency in both the company’s internal processes and external customer experience journey.
After 20 years as a marketer, Png is a big proponent of the power of brand and business when aligned in purpose.
“To get both loyal customers and employees, the business needs to be meaningful in its pursuit and not just be about selling something,” she said. “And the brand purposed must be reflected throughout.”
The team’s focus for the coming year will be centred on working to deliver its promise of positive experiences, and work is underway on tightening processes in sales and services departments, with retraining and reinforcing the brand mission.
And while it is executing mass-marketing campaigns to raise brand awareness, it is also seeking to engage with vehicle owners a lot more, via more targeted channels.
About 50 percent of its lead generation comes via its website and other digital channels, and the company is working to improve the customer support and service experience with its in-country call centre operations.
“We will be doing a lot of partner tie-ups with relevant online niche media to reach our target audience,” said Png. “And also more on-ground events such as participating in car road shows and events to sign up new customers.”
With existing customers, the team is focused on building brand loyalty with consistent communications in managing relationships.
“We want to delight our customers with random acts of happiness,” she added. “For example, instead of a renewal letter for their car insurance, we send them or their car rather, a birthday card. That’s what we’re having a lot of fun brainstorming over now.”
These acts, said Png, will be on top of the functional layer of customer support that the company delivers.
“We are re-looking the entire process from start to finish,” she added. “And will be doing another in-depth study of key segments this year to get an even deeper understanding of our customers, which will not only inform our marketing approach but also product development and the crafting of new services to serve them better.”