Direct Line’s Evans: IoT’s Impact On Insurance Will Be ‘Transformational’

Mark Evans believes in the power of transformation. He has been marketing director at Direct Line Group as it reinvented itself to focus on customer need, as communicated through TV ads featuring “Pulp Fiction’s” iconic Winston Wolf character.

He now believes technology advances and new data streams are on the verge of starting a new era of digital transformation. So we began by asking him how he thinks the financial service business will be affected once the houses and cars it insures start talking to one another.

Evans: When you think about the data that’s going to start becoming available from connected homes and autonomous cars, you get a sense of how Direct Line can transform itself from a traditional insurer to take a broader role in consumers’ lives. It’s going to be transformational.

Autonomous driving features are progressing rapidly and have the potential to revolutionise driving as we know it. Tesla has claimed that it will achieve fully autonomous driving capability by the end of the year and will wait for legislation to catch up. We want to take a lead role in accelerating the advent of autonomous features and are involved in MOVE-UK—a government-backed consortium that has this as its remit.

You can imagine a world where fewer people own their cars and, instead, order them like Uber, but the car that arrives is a driverless car. This concept of robo-taxis may seem far-fetched, but there are many who believe it is a question of when rather than if. Clearly, this would have huge ramifications for insurance, and provide an opportunity to move beyond insurance and get involved as a service provider.

CMO.com: That would mean being an app-based, go-to brand for transport. What are you currently doing with mobile as preparation?
We’ve recently launched a new mobile-only brand called Shotgun, which is an app for new drivers in their first 1,000 miles, when, sadly, they are many times more likely to have an accident and kill someone or be killed in their car. It monitors their driving and rewards safe behaviour with a range of bonuses. We are hoping that, through gamification and incentivisation, we can eventually reduce the number of deaths on the road in the first 1,000 miles to zero.

We’re also behind Fleetlights, which is a really fascinating project. It’s a prototype app that lets you hail drones to light the way ahead of you. They hover over you, whether you’re driving down dark country lanes or walking down poorly lit pathways. It’s a highly symbolic project as we look ahead to a world where insurance moves from a process of restitution to a service of prevention.

CMO.com: Direct Line recently became the first to use OpenSlate brand safety tools in video advertising. How have you been affected by the safety, transparency, and viewability issues that have dominated industry discussions?
Clearly, no brand wants their advertising to not be viewable and would want it to appear in front of the right people at the right time. There have been too many ugly examples recently of bad advertising placement to be complacent on this issue.

However, the key to all this is our partnership with our media agency MediaCom and with publishers like Google. In general, we, as an industry, need to step up and work together to make sure our ads are appearing where we want them to. At Direct Line Group, we’re committed to working in genuine partnership with MediaCom, whereby everything they do is working towards our mutual gain since they share in the commercial benefits when we beat our plans. This also relates to brand safety and, therefore, we are really proud to be the first brand to deploy OpenSlate.

CMO.com: You sound very positive about how agencies and brands can work together. What about the role marketing can play within an organisation?
I honestly don’t think there’s ever been a better time to be in marketing. There’s been this perception about marketers not making it to the top, but that’s not so true now. Marketing is growing up, and there’s even evidence that CMOs are overtaking CFOs to make it to the top.

Digital is behind the turnaround. Marketing used to be seen as just a creative cost centre, but along came digital, and, suddenly, everything was measurable. For the first time, the CMO could go toe to toe with the CFO. We’ve got the metrics to talk in business terms. The board doesn’t care too much how well-shot an advert is or what message you picked out for the latest digital campaign. They just want to know what it cost and what it delivered. With the advent of digital, marketers are able to have that conversation.

CMO.com: It sounds like IoT data and new mobile services are on the verge of transforming Direct Line again. Tell us about the transformation five years ago that turned the insurance brand into a customer-centric household name.
Five years ago, Direct Line was a brand in decline—we had a burning platform. It wasn’t enough of an advantage for consumers to just keep on saying we’re not on price comparison sites.

We had to rebuild the brand to mean something for the consumer, and the answer was hiding in plain sight—the focus should be how much easier we can make it if someone has to make a claim. The industry standard is that it might take weeks to get a car back from repair—that wasn’t good enough, so we made it seven days. Similarly, the industry standard was that it would take days to get a lost or broken phone replaced. It took a lot of reworking, but we got there.

Using Wolf, the character from “Pulp Fiction,” as our spokesperson was, clearly, a creative leap, but he is perfect for our intent to be fixers. We’re the only insurance company to ever win an IPA Effectiveness Gold. Since launching the Wolf campaign, we’ve seen a 53% increase in quote enquiries for every pound we spend on a campaign. We saw a 31% increase in new business growth last year.

CMO.com: As you take the next step and look to IoT data to steer your next transformation, what thoughts do you have for the role of the senior marketing executive? Could code not replace them, as well as a car’s driver?
The good news for marketers is that our profession is quite far down the list in terms of the probability of replacement by robots. The role of marketing is a blend of art and science, whereby data and technology are providing more tools but not displacing the core skills to manage the overall marketing mix.

That’s why I’m a firm believer in neurodiversity, which is the appreciation of divergent thinking driven by dyslexia, autism, dyscalculia, etc. Marketing, as a discipline, is being challenged to be ever more data-driven, analytical, rigorous, and left-brained, whilst retaining right-brained creativity and intuition. Everyone’s brains are wired slightly differently, and it’s a tall order for any individual to straddle both of these thinking styles, therefore, it’s marketing, as an overall function, that should manage this balance, and neurodiversity definitely has a role to play within this.

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