INTERVIEW Sue Helmont, Marketing Director at AIG, on the multilingual marketer

Key points

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Alex Sword


The Financial Services Forum

Marketers need to be able to communicate with two audiences: an internal one and an external one.

For Sue Helmont, Marketing Director at AIG Life, the life insurance arm of AIG, knowing how to talk to the customer has to be coupled with speaking the language of business internally to achieve buy-in from the wider C-suite.

Sue herself bridges this gap due to her dual presence in “roundtable” and “square table” discussions, as the manager of her marketing team and a leader of the business who must make decisions for the benefit of the whole organisation.

She argues that it’s crucial for marketers to form relationships outside the marketing department, including with the finance department. This makes it easier to bring these colleagues on board with more risky marketing ideas, making them more of a “step of faith” than a leap.

“You need to understand the metrics that are important to the business. Nobody at the executive level is interested in Twitter likes, so you don’t report on that.”

Another reflection on the language of marketing comes from Sue’s time outside of financial services, working at KCOM, effectively the incumbent telecoms provider and equivalent to BT in the Hull city region.

She moved there after several years working at Aviva, in what she calls the “rarified” world of financial services, where customers are generally highly informed.

“Knowing your customer is crucial,” is what she learned from KCOM. “Some of the terminology which was used in the industry around broadband and wi-fi was not necessarily understood.”

A major recent success in AIG’s marketing has been the Max campaign, built around a video of a child hearing for the first time.

The video was taken by an AIG customer who took out critical illness insurance and was able to use it to pay for their son’s cochlear implant. The video went viral and saw Max’s parents interviewed on national TV channels.

The campaign highlights another language marketers in the financial services sector need to be able to speak: that of emotion. With insurance in particular, an optimism bias can kick in where people avoid buying insurance due to not expecting something bad to happen.

Sue says that insurance marketers need to understand that there is space for both the rational and emotional approach, but that “emotion drives action”.

“Rationally, we all know we should have a will, but you can ask at a marketing conference for a show of hands and not very many people have them. We all know we shouldn’t smoke – never was there more data to support the health implications of smoking.”

Rather than “shouting facts and figures”, marketers need to be able to “dial up the emotion that engages you to do something differently and change your habits”.

However, she adds that the “difficult thing for marketing is the fine line between using that in a genuine way and being accused of emotional blackmail.”

This is why heartfelt and genuine stories, such as that of Max and his cochlear implant, can have such power.

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