April Cover Story: A Clear View

Photography by Nick Fancher

The average consumer doesn’t think about us until they have damage,” says Renee Cacchillo, senior vice president of customer, brand, and technology for the Safelite Group, a multifaceted auto glass and claims management service organization based in Columbus, Ohio. “But if we can connect with them in some way — when there’s no issue — we can still build brand preference. When they need you, they remember you.”

Do they ever. Honestly, if you’ve listened to the radio or watched TV during the past decade, the company’s two-line jingle — “Safelite repair, Safelite replace.” — is likely wedged somewhere deep in your brain. But the company — a subsidiary of global vehicle glass repair and replacement giant Belron — is much more than just that catchy little tune.

Safelite is a marketing machine that Cacchillo calls, “Nationally powered, locally driven.” But it’s also a marketing machine that, she admits, was late to the digital revolution.

“We were primarily a single-channel company in 2010 and didn’t start truly building our digital presence until 2013,” Cacchillo says. “We’ve had great success in growing that segment, as now more than half of consumers come to us through the digital channel, by choice.”

That’s not to say that Safelite has left its offline marketing efforts — the ones that built the company’s following — by the wayside. On the contrary, Safelite’s new TV campaign — dubbed “Save the Day” — bowed in January and is enjoying great success.

Cacchillo says the company’s internal team — working hand-in-hand with its agency partners — has created an omnichannel marketing operation that combines the best in branding, technological know-how, and a customer focus that is second to none.

Safelite's Save the Day
“Saving you time … so you can keep saving the world.” So says Safelite’s current “Save the Day”
campaign, led by a 30-second TV spot and supported by various digital elements.

A Silo-Free Safelite

When she joined Safelite in 2011, Cacchillo carried more than 20 years of retail and consulting industry experience with her. From time with Bob Evans to Mimi’s Café Restaurants and from Bath & Body Works/Limited Brands to Hallmark and Dillard’s department stores — as well as five years of experience at Accenture in leading large-scale system implementations and change management — she’d seen a full range of marketing and operations challenges and successes.

“I went into retail directly out of college, working in analytics and buying,” she says. “Working in retail department stores, with a large team of people and the transient nature of the work gave me my work ethic, and the understanding of dealing with customers on an everyday basis.”

Cacchillo says her time with Accenture helped develop her “vision and strategy skills.” She adds, “I learned the ‘art of the possible’ — how to dream up a solution and then find comfort in putting the right pieces together. It was totally cross-functional, and I got to see the inner workings of many multinational companies.”

Upon joining Safelite, it seemed to Cacchillo the business provided the perfect opportunity to bring those concepts and strengths — retail work ethic with leadership vision and strategy — together.

After all, Safelite is — at its core — a service business. Led for the past decade by Thomas Feeney as president and CEO (a 30-year veteran of the company), Safelite re-emerged after a Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2000 and was acquired by Belron in 2007. Today, the company — founded in 1947 in Wichita, Kan. — has more than 7,800 MobileGlassShopsTM and stores in all 50 states, making it the largest auto glass specialist company in the United States — serving more than 6 million customers each year.

Safelite Group also operates Safelite Solutions, which provides complete claims management solutions for the nation’s leading fleet and insurance companies, and Service AutoGlass, a national provider of wholesale vehicle glass products, as well as installation and repair materials and tools. Together, the three businesses employ more than 14,000 people in the U.S.

After holding a variety of leadership positions in operations, digital marketing, and advertising for the company, today Cacchillo leverages the company’s core competencies in more acutely aligning the customer experience, marketing efforts, and technical enhancements.

“I’ve long focused on how to better Safelite’s customer experience, both for new customers and existing clients,” she says. “We can bring that to life by leveraging our brand and technology.”

The idea of combining those three areas — customer, brand, and technology — was one that Cacchillo was behind from the get-go. But that’s not to say it came without challenges.

“By removing the silos, we believed we could get things done faster,” she says. “We could prioritize our messaging and our spending to make sure that all of our marketing efforts remained customer-focused. Those priorities would then flow through the entire customer experience.”

But, coming from the customer experience side, Cacchillo adds, “Adding responsibility for the brand was a change, but adding our technology team was the biggest change. Customer expectations of our technological capabilities have changed, so getting — and staying — up to speed with those desires has been crucial to our success.”

Safelite Repair

Channel Repair, Segment Replace

In the current era of multichannel, performance-based campaigns, the idea of bringing together customer, brand, and technology under a single banner shouldn’t seem so novel. However, to see it in action — not only that, to see it in action at a business that has been somewhat old school in its marketing tactics until the past half-decade or so — is revelatory.

Cacchillo says, though, it makes perfect sense given where Safelite was coming from in the past five-to-seven years.

“The majority of Safelite’s customers file through their providers,” she says. “But for many insured auto drivers, maybe the cost of that replacement glass is less than the deductible? That’s what we know as our consumer segment — those who did not go through insurance — and that segment started growing, so we decided to go after it. Safelite started really focusing on and building this segment in 2010. At the time, consumers didn’t know any particular company in the category. And if they did know one from their own experiences, they didn’t remember the brand.”

As Safelite began reaching those consumers, the company began a focus that it continues today: on its functional benefits. “Those benefits build a stronger bond with customers, one that lasts longer,” Cacchillo says. “How can you work with us? It’s easy. How can you communicate with us? However you want. We see getting that message out to our target markets as a way that we can become a more meaningful brand — as our current campaign puts it, we can help customers save their day.”

How that messaging gets out has evolved immensely since Cacchillo joined the company, however, as Safelite has become a more digital-driven business. “If you want to see how we’ve evolved with our customers, watch our customer interaction,” she says, harkening back to the company’s shift from a single-channel marketer in 2010 to its current iteration — and pointing squarely to its shift into digital three years ago.

“Today, we work hard to personalize interactions for our customers on whatever medium they want to use,” Cacchillo says. “We work hard to make sure our net promoter score (NPS) is world-class and that the feedback we receive regarding our digital efforts is even better than that earned through traditional channels. We use web chat, SMS, IVR — you name it. It’s about making sure that a customer’s expectations — whatever they look like — are always met or exceeded with the material and content they need in that medium.”

She says that Safelite uses the full array of digital marketing — pay-per-click, SEO, email, and more — in alignment with its continuing offline marketing efforts. It’s also active on social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and its own blog. 

The company also recently performed a market segmentation study, focusing on five key customer segments. “We did well — and over-skewed in one segment, which wasn’t surprising given that our creative tied to it well,” Cacchillo says. “Our ads tend to place us in the family experience — including our current ‘Save the Day’ campaign. The segmentation study allowed us to find out which media they’re connecting with — which will allow us to better find them where they are and improve our media buying strategy.”

The “Save the Day” campaign, centered on a 30-second TV spot featuring a grandfather out with his three grandchildren for the day, launched just three months ago. “It’s going really well,” Cacchillo says. “Two KPIs (key performance indicators) we track closely in everything we do are consumer preference and remaining top of mind. With ‘Save the Day,’ both metrics have improved year over year. However, we understand that to improve our top-of-mind results, we can simply buy a ton of media. That’s why it’s important to balance that with preference. A customer’s preference lasts longer, as long as their experience matches their expectations.”

Asked about the company’s efforts with online video — digital marketing’s growing leader — Cacchillo is forthright. “We’re still working on it. We tried to make a leap a couple of years ago, but we jumped in too fast,” she says. “We were still asking questions that we needed to answer before we make a bigger splash: ‘Should it just be the commercial online?’ That didn’t work. It’s the area where we’ve struggled the most. But, we do need to get in and figure it out — now.”

Safelite’s YouTube channel currently features an array of its 30-second TV spots, mixed with some behind-the-scenes videos, stories about top customer service leaders working for the company, and other messages. It’s a bit of a mish-mash, but Cacchillo says, “It’s important for us to break that code and keep trying. One thing I believe: you can’t create content for online video that’s also designed for other purposes. It must be specific to that channel for consumers to want to interact with it. We’re investing in it a little more each year.”

Another effective marketing outlet is in Safelite’s major partner sponsorships with various sports franchises: Ohio State University athletics, Major League Baseball’s Arizona Diamondbacks, Boston Red Sox, and St. Louis Cardinals, and others. Safelite also works closely with its local outlets on messaging and on what works within those communities.

“We want customers to have the best experience from start to finish, no matter where they live or work,” Cacchillo says. “That’s why we listen to our local operations and allow them to make investments in communities. Whether it’s us working with Ohio State or a local shop investing in the local Little League, that community engagement drives positive results for our brand and our people.”

Safelite Youtube channel
Safelite’s YouTube channel is an active one, but Renee Cacchillo believes there’s still
work to be done for the company to call itself an expert in online video.

Test for Success

Driving positive results is Cacchillo’s job. If that was as easy as launching campaigns, driving partnerships, and ensuring top-notch customer service, however, Cacchillo would have a lot more free time. The reality is that the challenges marketers face in today’s environment continue to shift and expand. How does Safelite face those challenges?

“We do a lot of testing, especially of our TV creative, to ensure that the key messages are delivered,” she says, noting the company is a big believer in using focus groups before launching campaigns. “We look at their understanding of the brand elements and compare that to our control. It’s important to see if they get those key messages and hear that immediate feedback in their words.” 

Cacchillo says this testing goes all the way through Safelite’s media, mentioning a test of a pay-per-click ad “with two different images: our logo vs. our current superhero campaign image.” The goal? “Simply, which one will convert better. Without that, we can’t run the strongest integrated campaign possible.”

That’s not to say the Safelite team always gets it right. After all, what is marketing without those mistakes that become great lessons? Cacchillo shares a recent story of one such campaign.

“Last year, our team decided to break the mold of our usual look and feel with a campaign that was designed to speak to the growing technology in cars and our ability to be a part of that solution,” she says. “Nearly 100 percent of new vehicles now offer advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS). You know, they notify you of lane departures, or when you’re too close to an obstacle — as well as plenty of other features that keep you safe. Part of those systems now require windshield calibration that helps ensure all sensors work as designed. We have made the advancements necessary to provide our customers with the service they expect.”

However, as Cacchillo says, getting that message across could be “tough to communicate … in any media, in any ad.”

So, the team decided to go after “quality buffs,” as Cacchillo calls auto-tech fans, by shooting the ads in a style she compared to the 1999 movie The Matrix. “The creative looked amazing, and we had a team of people who were so excited about it,” she recalls. “There were a couple points along the way, though, where some of us got that nauseous feeling, where it just didn’t feel right. But, as it happens, when a team gets excited about an idea, we pushed right through.”

However, once the Safelite team got to the testing phase, that nauseous feeling returned. “The test failed,” Cacchillo says. “It was tough. We wanted it to feel different, but we couldn’t roll it out. So, as a leader, I had to pick up my team and say, ‘What did we learn?’ The answer: sometimes what you have — the creative you’re used to, what works — isn’t always that bad. The big thing, though, was that it was another reminder that when you fail, you have to fail fast — and then get right back to building the next success.”

Progress toward that next success comes with the help of a strong agency partner, Cacchillo contends. “When I took over, we didn’t have an agency partner,” she says. “What digital we were buying, we were buying it on our own, and our creative agency bought our TV and radio time through the scatter market. It was a lot of manual effort with little science.” 

So Cacchillo and the team made its first agency partnership in 2015. “We learned a ton from our first agency,” she says. “They helped us understand the total portfolio, from TV to digital.”

In 2016, Safelite shifted agency partners to Horizon Media. Cacchillo lauds their work. “They don’t just tell you what you want to hear,” she says. “They understand that we must improve our metrics, and while we challenge them, they challenge us back. They have strengths we don’t have. The partnership has been strong.” 

Renee Cacchillo Profile