Cover Story: Doing Direct Differently1 Mar, 2013 By: Thomas Haire Response
Ameriprise Auto & Home’s website is a key cog in the marketing machine for the direct insurer. As digital marketing has grown, so has Ameriprise’s footprint in the space.
“Direct is all we know. It’s how our business was born and continues today,” says Lisa Jossart, vice president of marketing and marketing alliances for De Pere, Wis.-based Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance, a division of Ameriprise Financial. “Direct response and direct marketing has gotten a bad rep from some over the years. But in the insurance space, it’s come a long way. There are so many direct insurance companies like ours, and it makes sense. We can offer great pricing with lower overhead. But our marketing is as much about the initial relationship we establish selling a policy as it is about retaining the policy.”
Jossart knows the ins and outs of Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance well after spending 20 years with the company in a variety of roles. The company deals directly with its clients — there are no agents — and all marketing efforts are centralized on direct outreach or outreach through key business partners.
“We’re a bit unique within the Ameriprise enterprise,” Jossart contends. “We’re one of just a few direct businesses and our advisors are very hands-on and face-to-face with clients. But we do leverage our parent brand. The reputation that comes with 118 years in the financial services industry supports us. However, a lot of folks don’t know that Ameriprise offers this kind of personal line insurance.”
Getting the word out is up to Jossart and her team. One of her key players is Jill Fochs, senior marketing manager, who will be presenting a case study about Ameriprise’s social media marketing aspects during Response Expo 2013, April 2-4 in San Diego. Like Jossart, Fochs has been with the company for some time (15 years to be exact). That commitment to the business seems to foster great products, great client service and committed clients — 90 percent of Ameriprise’s clients renew their policies.
Know Your Role
Jossart learned the Ameriprise Auto & Home Insurance business from the ground up, joining the company 20 years ago, when she was just a year out of college.
“I came in as a salesperson,” she recalls. “I went through all the training and education to get my insurance agent license and a certificate of general insurance. I sold these products for about two-and-a-half years.”
From there, she moved around the company, working in operations, client services and the company’s call center. “I wanted to get into the company’s leadership,” Jossart says. “I managed service reps in the call center for a couple of years and then manager a sales team for another year.”
But in 1999 — a time that Jossart says the company’s prospects were often current clients or their families — the laws changed allowing financial services players to move deeper into the insurance space. This was the moment for Jossart, though marketing hadn’t been her expertise.
“We were moving into an affinity business model, with partner businesses offering our products to their customers, among other new outlets,” she says. “But the role I was offered was completely undefined beyond ‘Let’s add some partners and pursue new business this way.’”
Jossart’s role has expanded to responsibility for the acquisition and development of new strategic alliances and partnerships; strategic oversight and relationship management of existing alliances; a multi-million dollar marketing budget and all direct marketing initiatives including offline, online, interactive and social.
Today, key partnerships with other trusted marketers are doing more than helping drive new clients to Ameriprise Auto & Home. They’re creating a combined strategic advantage for all involved.
“If you think about what we do here — our model — it’s about building relationships,” Jossart says. “The knowledge I gained over those years about how the whole company works has helped us. I manage things holistically, and I know it’s our job to establish an entire relationship with our customers.”
Handling Customers With Care
The biggest change in Ameriprise’s direct outreach during Jossart’s time at the helm has come with technology. “In 1999, when I came into the role, we used direct mail very heavily, and we would even direct fax quotes,” she recalls. “But the interactive play has grown tremendously. We find that we’re best positioned for success if our marketing calendar is robust across all channels. We have a huge presence on the Web across various sites with banners, in E-mail and our social media play is getting bigger. We find that’s where we can really personalize the messages.”
That’s not to say Ameriprise has left direct mail behind. Jossart says it still plays a key role but that “it’s not getting less expensive.” However, a major key to the company’s success as a direct insurer is its work in affinity partnerships.
“Direct and affinity are one in our marketing. Our business model leverages the brands of our partners and alliances,” Jossart says, naming companies like Costco, Ford Credit and Progressive Home Advantage. “Since we have no people in the field, we have to do well in our direct channels to compete. We’re in the business of ‘borrowing’ relationships. Costco, for instance, has strong relations with its members, so we try to complement that.”
Fochs adds, “We work collaboratively with those partners here — they’re part of our team. We rely on them to help discover what channels make the most sense for us in their businesses.”
Ameriprise Auto & Home’s most recent campaigns have sought to capitalize on its direct efforts and partner branding by doubling down on social media. The company is promoting what it calls its “Handle With Care” culture.
“It’s about how we treat our prospects and customers at every touch point,” Jossart says. “And social media is such a great place to tell that story. People are looking there for advice, expertise, other testimonials. It’s a fun but challenging channel.”
The opportunity for the Ameriprise team to respond directly to prospects and clients is also a driving force in its social media work. “We’re able to respond where we think we should or need to, even when something’s gone wrong for a client,” Jossart says. “We didn’t have that opportunity in the past.”
Fochs says the “Handle With Care” philosophy is about creating and fostering a culture. “It’s at the core of how we handle each and every interaction we have with our customers,” she adds. “Social media allows us — as a direct insurer — to keep in closer touch with our customers, building a more personal relationship than one might expect with their insurance company.”
Jossart says the testing and tweaking direct campaigns allow remains crucial to Ameriprise’s success. “Using modeling and analytics, we target new customers and clients for retention as best we can, while managing costs,” she contends. “When you’re competing with every other insurer’s offers, pricing is a great hook, but the customer cares about more than price. Our direct campaigns help us get deeper with our customers.”
Of course, like any experienced marketing executive, not every campaign Jossart’s run has been a winner. But the setbacks have been consistent in showing one deficiency. “Typically when we’re not as engaged as we should be with a partner’s line of business, the campaigns struggle,” she says. “It’s about building a campaign that the partner tells us will be compelling and relevant to their customers, based on their own knowledge.”
Still, Ameriprise does rely heavily on its own tracking and analytics resources to tweak campaigns and turn those learning experiences into new success. “When we can, we try to develop a unique model for response rates for each marketing scenario,” Jossart says. “When we have partners with strong relationships with their members — members or customers who have a lot of loyalty — it’s not odd for them to see our offer in conjunction with their trusted partner.”
Those partnerships are not limited to avoid other insurers, either. “We’re a home insurance underwriter on the Progressive Insurance platform,” Jossart says. “Yes, we compete with them on auto insurance, but we have a great relationship with them that’s been fostered for a long time.”
Incredibly, the vast majority of this work is done in-house by Ameriprise Auto & Home marketing staff. “We don’t have a lot of agency support,” Jossart says. “Our group has a broad range of experience, and we’re also working closely with the marketing teams of our partners.”
When Ameriprise does reach out for vendor support for some creative or digital initiatives, Jossart says, “We try hard to make sure they understand our business model, our high standards and expectations.” ■