AGAINST THE TIDE
Beginning its corporate journey as a pioneer means insurance provider Direct Line Group has innovation at its heart. Brittany Golob examines how this ethos extends to its customer relationships
Thirty-three years ago, Direct Line was an insurance pioneer. The first to operate as a direct insurance brand, the company has since come to own a portfolio of brands under the Direct Line Group umbrella. Its current approach to communications blends consumer and corporate tactics to help the company build brand awareness, target its marketing activities, engage in responsible business and establish a cohesive PR strategy.
When the Direct Line Group underwent an IPO in 2012, its success relied upon its point of differentiation. “A big part about the story we have and what sets us apart from other insurers in the market is that we have a portfolio of brands and can meet disparate customer needs,” brands director Kerry Chilvers says. “Part of the journey we’ve been on as an organisation over the past three to five years has been to embed that properly.”
Chilvers’ brand team has focused on each customer segmentation and each brand within the portfolio to achieve better communications and positioning for the group. Comprised of both heritage brands and newcomers, Direct Line Group’s brand development plans are anything but simple. Each brand has a core personality and customer target that its communications are built around.
“What I love about my job is that people are weird and wonderful and very different,” Chilvers says. “For us, having the portfolio of brands allies us to play to those differences, rather than have everything at a mass market, generic level.”
That ethos benefited the company during the massive flooding that struck the northeast of England in December 2015 and January 2016. When the floodwaters hit, PR and operations officials from Direct Line saddled up the Land Rovers and an extreme weather lorry affectionately dubbed Charlie and took to the submerged roads. Helping those stranded and affected by the flooding, Direct Line Group customers and others made a difference to those caught up in the storms. The action earned Direct Line Group a bevy of PR and communications awards for its commitment.
But, for Chilvers and head of news Simon Henrick, the extraordinary feat was not so extraordinary in the context of the company’s positioning. “When we did the Direct Line brand and positioning work we asked, ‘What’s our role in the world?’” Chilvers says.
“We’re fixers, we put things right when they go wrong.” Its customer-centricity extends to other communications as well. When new products or offers are developed, the proposition is added to existing customers’ plans and communications are distributed in advance of the change.
But the insurance industry is not static and the group must, like its peers, prepare for the future. The changes in driverless and autonomous cars presents a quandary for all insurers and digital has been a major disrupter in the industry. Other players have put marketing spend and development investment into online platforms only to find them fall flat. For that reason, Direct Line Group focuses on digital and television advertising with support from an extensive research and insights programme to reflect sentiment.
Throughout its development from RBS to IPO to now an independent entity, the group has learned about the value of brand. “The thing that I’m most proud of from where we were four or five years ago to where we are now is that back in 2012, we had a portfolio of brands, but we didn’t truly understand the value of brand. The Direct Line reboot in 2014 was all about the customers. That is the role of brand in bringing that to life and having a clear brand positioning and understanding what our role in the world is,” Chilvers says.
The road ahead has twists and turns, but a strong brand and consistent approach to consumer and corporate communications may ensure that road will be smooth for the insurer.