What approach should companies take to building brands when they don’t go direct to consumer? For Andy Manson, CMO at Aegon, defining brand has to “start with what you’re here to do.”
Andy has a solid background in the B2B world, having been in his current role for over five years, and previously working at KPMG and Standard Life for four and 15 years respectively.
However, brand and the perception of the end-user of the service feature heavily in his thinking about his role.
On the one hand, he argues, “there is no point in Aegon existing unless we do a brilliant job for our 4 million end customers.” On the other hand, Andy says Aegon is “not a D2C business and doesn’t aspire to be, we want to work in partnership with employers and advisers helping them grow successful businesses.”
Defining the brand begins with what the business wants to achieve: helping customers achieve “a lifetime of financial security.”
“That translates into a product strategy: how can we build a customer-centric proposition through our platform that helps the end customer as they move in and out of employments and advisor relationships, to and through retirement. The brand manifests in supporting that.”
Andy adds that “it’s important that we as an industry realise we are here to serve the customer. Too often we get self-important, and think that all that matters is the financial outcome of your product, but it’s about how that product enables customers to live the life that they want to live.”
Customer experience is defined as a marketing outcome at Aegon. This means that while visual identity and tone of voice are important elements of brand, it is just as much about the 2,000 colleagues at Aegon and what it feels like for customers to interact with the business.
“If we can understand all of that we can develop a brand strategy that delivers against that.”
Andy says this is part of a wider evolution of the marketing function across the industry.
“When I joined the industry, advisors shouted at sales, sales shouted at marketing and marketing built stuff. No one spoke to customer services or technology to check that what was being built could be managed effectively. It was product design and feature-led. Now it is moving towards being about platforms and technology.
Within this landscape products are in many cases “fairly homogeneous”, says Andy, “so what matters is the experience and user journeys.”
Andy argues that the marketing function has to learn to think like engineers.
“Just like car manufacturers understood 20 years ago, a lot of products are common across the industry. A large proportion of components in an engine could be standard for all cars.
“That’s the journey that platform providers who operate multiple propositions have been on. Marketing functions have to build propositions and products in a way that’s industrially scalable, building common features once for all user groups.”
He notes that people became Aegon customers either by being recommended by an advisor or by joining a new company and being provided with an Aegon pension.
“The customer marketing challenge in both scenarios is how do I get them to understand what they’ve got, engage with it, value it and as a consequence do more with it.
“It’s about understanding the end-to-end journeys, and the marketing function owning that and creating frameworks that allow us to drive continuous improvement in how we do the basics.”
“At the heart of this is experience design and at the heart of that is the marketing function showing leadership across the organisation.”
He is open to both buy or build approaches to these types of capabilities.
“The first order question is what capability do I need within Aegon. There are a lot of things I can outsource that won’t impact, but the one thing I would never outsource is the customer outcome and everything associated with driving that.”
Promoting financial wellbeing
Previously, the pensions industry has been “byzantine”, Andy argues.
“The way we frame things is wrong – rather than scaring people, we need to get far more human in terms of encouraging people to accept and understand uncertainty in life, be optimistic about the future and focus on the next best action.”
A major reference point for Andy is a 2016 book called ‘The 100-Year Life”, which explains how dramatically people’s careers and retirements are changing due to increasing longevity and argues that the old model of 20 years of education, 40 years of work and 20 years of retirement is now obsolete.
“Our life will be characterised by constant transitions – it’s not educate, work then retire, we will be in and out of these stages throughout life.”
He says that this longer view of life requires a different view of a pension as supporting a “happy 100-year life”.
The broader move is towards talking more about “financial wellbeing”, which aims to take a more holistic view of customer satisfaction than simply the financial outcome of the product itself – which is “necessary but not sufficient.”
He says that the industry must continue to focus on actions to help customers make the most of their money but balance that with actions to help them be happier with what they have.
To set the right benchmarks for your financial outcomes – personal to you. To have a clear view of the role of money in your life – what gives you joy and purpose and critically to have a clear view of yourself in the future.
“If you’re a person who has no clear notion of the future, just a vague wish to be financially independent, it is not good enough – you need a clear understanding of what you are trying to achieve and what you want to be doing.
“If you can crystallise what that is you’re more likely to be able to relate to the money you have today. As you transition to retirement, you lose your identity as a wage earner and parent, so what is your renewed purpose for retirement? Put all of that together, and a happy Aegon customer will be someone who not just makes most of the money they have but are happy with what they’ve got.”
Never outsource the customer outcome
One new tool in delivering this more holistic experience is Pension Geeks, acquired in April this year. The company specialises in innovation engagement techniques to educate people about pensions, but with a unique model which emphasises engaging customers using ordinary language and giving people the permission to ask basic questions. It offers webinars, a 1 to 1 chat facility, a Netflix style video library and other educational content around finances.
As a brand, it has permission to do different things to its parent company, being more “wacky and anarchic” than Aegon which has to be a bit “safer” as it is the actual product, says Andy.
Once the next six months of implementation and standardisation is complete, Aegon will be able to offer this engagement tool as a service to its clients as part of the benefit package, as well as a standalone proposition.
For Aegon, a lot of services can be delivered through its app, launched around 18 months ago.
“The way consumers engage in apps is distinct from website and mobile, in terms of the frequency with which they use them and their engagement with nudges.”
He argues that winning firms in the industry will now be marketing led: “those which understand customer outcomes, channels, partners, technology and managing the trade-off between delivering customer needs and scalable propositions with digital delivery.”