Aon CMO: Employee, executive cultural shift needed for content marketing success

Risk management and insurance broker's head of marketing talks through the internal challenge of launching Connect, its new digital content offering for clients

Aon’s marketing chief says the launch of a digitally-fuelled content marketing program is not only transforming client engagement, it’s also improving staff collaboration.

The risk management and insurance broker launched the ‘Connect’ online portal in April to better communicate with large corporate customers and prospects around risk management issues. Aon has about 160,000 clients across Australia, from micro businesses to large corporates.

Aon head of marketing, Andrew Gordon, said its new content approach highlighted the consumer brand experiences and expectations that are now firmly entrenched in the B2B realm.

“In the B2B segment… we’d started to see the behaviours and what large corporate wanted from us align with consumer brand expectations,” he told CMO. “These customers are using their experiences with a consumer brand as a benchmark, along with their technology demands – they’re all connected, using tablets. We felt this trend had heightened over the last 12 months.”

To better understand what customers wanted, Aon conducted interviews with 200 of its largest clients. The first area of improvement was content relevance.

“When we talk to our clients, they want us to talk at an industry-level and not just talk about risk, but the implications around their specific industry,” Gordon said.

“The other thing is that as someone working in a larger corporate entity who is responsible for risk, our audience want us to make them look good as a professional, and provide them with tools and analytics they can present in the firm to highlight and show importance of risk. So again, tapping into big data came through.”

It was also apparent clients were happy to engage digitally, Gordon said. “We have historically run annual events where we’ll get more than 80 people, but these clients want more intimate events and they’re actually open to interacting with us through webinars and digital platforms, rather than only face-to-face,” he commented.

Arguably, however, the biggest learning was that Aon shouldn’t try and own the conversation about risk, but facilitate it, Gordon said.

“When we bring in other brands and their perspectives, that experience becomes more well-rounded – it’s less about selling something and instead delivering a customer experience,” he said.

Just under six months later, Aon launched Connect, a registration-based portal for the Australian business community. Gordon said the ambition is to have about 30 per cent of content developed internally, with the remainder supplied by partners engaged in risk management, not just insurance.

These could be organisations well-versed in regulatory or economic risk, for example, or who can provide content with a “human interest” component to them, such as natural disasters, brand and reputation, cyber risk and food contamination, he said. In particular, he noted banking, legal and technology firms as key partner targets.

“It’s about becoming a more open brand by recognising our strengths and weaknesses, and by bringing in other brands to contribute,” Gordon said.

Content on Connect includes thought leadership articles, webinars, industry benchmark reports such as Aon’s annual risk survey, and data-driven information around specific industries as well as costs of insurance.

A significant proportion of the build and design work for Connect was outsourced to agencies, as was social media support. Aon then appointed a full-time professional copywriter and now has 30 people across the Australian, Singaporean, and London operations contributing content.

Getting executive and company buy-in

According to Gordon, one initial and significant hurdle was getting internal teams to think about content differently.

“We starting selling our people the story and once they understood the vision and what we wanted to achieve, they got excited and that’s when engagement started to happen,” he said.

There is also recognition that technical experts need support to craft the right content, Gordon said. Thanks to its new approach, content now takes days, rather than months, to create, he said.

“It’s less about opinion, and more about facts supported by analytics, which is not something we were great at doing in the past,” he added.

What has also been important is spreading the theme of connection through the organisation. Gordon’s team has set-up a working group for Connect which he claimed is “pay to play – you have to earn the right to sit at the table”. Currently, 300 staff have registered for the group.

“There was an internal campaign to share the compelling story around content and Connect,” he continued. “We need to get people enthused around content, so we’ve also invested in some of our subject matter experts to gain skills in this area and as a result, we have more engaged employees.”

But Gordon admitted it took months to overcome friction with the executive team.

“It’s a big step change,” he said. “One of the key selling points, though, was being able to track the impact of our marketing spend. Historically, it was very difficult given our sales cycle can take three years to demonstrate a return. Using the portal, we can now identify who is accessing the site, which prospects are coming in and what content they review, and it gives leadership more confidence in what we’re doing and where the prospects are in the sales funnel.”

Another big cultural shift was moving away from print. As a result of Connect, about 90 per cent of Aon’s print materials have been dropped, including event and sales brochures, quarterly and technical updates.

“That comes down to building people’s confidence in not having glossy brochures to take to sales meetings,” Gordon said. “We’re trying to move to is helping people have better conversations, and you don’t do that with a brochure.

“With our big clients, sales staff are now going in and putting our value proposition around thought leadership thanks to Connect. And they’re going in with pride.”

To date, Connect has attracted 1300 members, nearly double what Gordon expected given its target prospect list of 1000 clients. Of those registered, 30 per cent are in CFO roles, 37 per cent are the CEO, and the remainder are heads of risk.

“We have a much better balance of stakeholder and client accessing our content whereas historically we only attracted the risk manager,” he said.

Other metrics being used by Gordon to gauge success include how many prospects and suspects engage with Connect and with which content. “Then it’s about tracking that around revenue,” he said. “It’s when they tender the risk and insurance program that we really understand the value of the content.”

Next on the agenda is capturing client feedback and integrating that with the content strategy to make the experience more interactive, Gordon said.

Follow CMO on Twitter: @CMOAustralia, take part in the CMO Australia conversation on LinkedIn: CMO Australia, join us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CMOAustralia, or check us out on Google+: google.com/+CmoAu

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