Ask the expert: Go buy some MarTech!
An interview with Direct Line Group's Mark Evans, part II
Here’s what Mark had to say…
Phrasee: How has the world of insurance changed during COVID-19?
Mark: In many ways, nothing has changed for the sector in that people still want protection and peace of mind for when things go wrong in life. As long as people seek fulfilled lives, there will be inherent risks and, if anything, the pandemic has heightened the awareness of the risky world that we live in.
Most insurers have worked really hard to provide support and flexibility to respond to the fact that customers are under greater strain, especially financially. I’ve seen good communication and empathy at an industry level in order to help customers to navigate through. But it’s a bit too early to see if and how the needs of customers will change. For example, will people travel or commute less when the dust settles? Some things are clear though, not least that there will be a big economic shock and hence providing good value will be crucial. That’s why we are really proud to launch our Direct Line Mileage Moneyback program that enables customers to get money back if they drive fewer miles than they had anticipated at the time that they took out their policy.
Phrasee: How has your marketing team had to adapt to the changing circumstances of the pandemic?
Mark: At a company level, we set out our four main priorities at the very beginning of the pandemic:
- To look after our people
- To look after our customers
- To keep thinking long-term
- To act in the nation’s interest
These priorities enabled really rapid decision-making across the organization and were equally applicable for the marketing team. Consequently, we got everyone home about a week ahead of the curve, and have worked hard to support homeworking. We put a huge focus on providing useful communications to our customers about how we were trying to help them (as opposed to the less useful CEO emails and letters that many sent out). We also maintained our nerve on our spend and campaigns, and we proudly created a Direct Line Group Community Fund that donated £3.5m to over 200 charities helping over 200,000 people affected by the impact of the pandemic.
“Standing still really equates to running backwards.”
Mark Evans, Direct Line Group
Phrasee: Do you think this is a good time to invest in new technology? Why or why not?
Mark: 100%. These are Darwinian times, and this is no time to reduce the throttle on delivering change to better meet customer needs. Insurance sits at the confluence of driverless cars, electric vehicles, connected homes, machine learning, AI, robotics, blockchain, etc., and is therefore ripe for disruption. Hence there are only two choices – disrupt or be disrupted! That’s why, despite the challenges of virtual working, we pushed ourselves to deliver a number of flagship change projects in 2020 in the belief that standing still really equates to running backwards.
Phrasee: How is Direct Line Group implementing AI in its marketing?
Mark: We are still in the development phase. We have used AI to good effect within direct-to-consumer communication messaging and also within our paid-for-search acquisition activities. We are still in the process of upgrading some of our core systems, and so we haven’t yet been able to utilize AI holistically across our CRM infrastructure, but that will come. We have however launched a new brand, Darwin, which has at its heart machine learning-based pricing.
Phrasee: What benefits has AI brought to your team?
Mark: The benefits vary depending upon the use case. In some cases, we have seen better results but in others, the results are at parity but we have saved time and effort. In general I think it’s important to have a test and learn mindset and be open-minded on what the benefits of AI might be.
Phrasee: What do you think marketers in the insurance industry can expect in this new year?
Mark: 2021 is going to be just as challenging as 2020 with the impact of Brexit and a post-COVID-19 recession, and we can’t forget that we still have a long road ahead before we can declare victory over COVID-19. We also have the FCA’s Pricing Practices remedies to navigate through, which will require enormous effort and energy. Consequently, insurance marketers are going to need to be highly resilient.