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CMO50 2016 #26-50: Renae Smith, AIA Australia

  • Name Renae Smith
  • Title Chief marketing officer
  • Company AIA Australia
  • Commenced role February 2015
  • Reporting Line CEO
  • Member of the Executive Team Yes
  • Marketing Function 52 staff, 7 direct reports
  • Industry Sector Financial services/life insurance
  • 2015 ranking New to CMO50
  • Related

    Brand Post

    Renae Smith’s proudest moment in the last 12 months as a CMO was championing the cultural transformation within AIA Australia to become customer experience-led.

    “This was primarily driven by AIA Vitality, a member engagement blueprint and digital experience roadmap that has led the way in terms of the cultural and organisational transformation, and helped to define the role of marketing within the business,” she says.

    Life insurance has traditionally been ‘set and forget’, and providers have struggled with low engagement. AIA Vitality is about creating a more relevant and meaningful relationship with customers, Smith says, by creating shared value between the insurer, its customers and its partners.

    The health and wellness program is based around using behavioural economics to incentivise policy holders. Ultimately, this lowers their risk profile and allows the insurance group to pass on benefits like rewards and offers.

    AIA Vitality is also an example of how the group is moving to design products and services around the preferences of customers, their experiences, and how they want to engage, Smith says. The blueprint identified a number of critical organisational enablers, such as a sound governance structure, aligned people strategy, clear performance metrics and a central local database. A central database, meanwhile, allows AIA to track insights, develop segmentation profiles, develop predictive analytics and build the enhanced triggered communications program.

    “To support these capabilities, we are building up skillsets in the marketing team, particularly around customer insights and digital,” Smith says.

    The results so far have been positive, with lapse rates for AIA Vitality members up to 53 per cent lower than for those people not on the program.

    “While we are still only two years in Australia, we are seeing some early indication of the positive impacts on claims and expect that the long term impact will be significant,” Smith adds.

    From the CMO50 submission

    Innovative marketing

    A key part of the Vitality strategy was to move to a mobile-first member experience. This resulted in the launch of AIA Vitality mobile app in July.

    The objective of the mobile application is to enhance the level of engagement with AIA Vitality members by putting them in control of how and when they engage, Smith says. For example, members can download Boost Juice vouchers as a reward for completing their weekly step goals through their devices, rather than via email.

    The AIA Vitality app was created using a design thinking approach, and delivered via an agile methodology. The project is run across multiple IT vendors, including AIA’s local IT team, Discovery in South Africa, and the AIA Group Office in Hong Kong.

    To date, active users are up by 51 per cent, and total sessions up by 89 per cent. Screen views have also risen by 84 per cent, and the time users spend within the app has increased by 16 per cent.

    Data- and technology-led approach

    Data and technology-led insights are integral to the AIA Vitality program, which is led by the marketing team at AIA Australia. To date, Smith says it’s leveraged customer insights to help uncover and define behavioural and health segments of members and understand how they engage with the program differently.

    These insights have then been used to inform segmentation strategies for engagement and enabled the development of programs, including its member communications and digital experience, to be insights-led.

    “Our email communications are continuously optimised through A/B testing, and we are developing a recommendation engine to prompt a personalised ‘next-best action’ for each member, which will contribute to improved customer engagement,” Smith explains.

    Customer-led approach

    Becoming customer-led is an organisation-wide initiative spanning across digital and technology capabilities to structure and culture. Under Smith’s leadership, AIA developed a multi-horizon customer-first strategy to take the business from primarily a product and distribution focus, to being customer-led. This was presented to the board last year and endorsed.

    “It’s not just the end policy-holder we are talking about here,” she continues. “When we talk about customers, we’re also talking about our advice partners and superannuation funds as well, given that we are channel-aligned.”

    Smith says her team is now mapping out customer experiences to identify key moments of truth. She’s also recruited a head of customer marketing and expects further changes to the team as sophistication grows.

    Fostering capability

    Over the last 18 months, Smith has set out a new vision and purpose for the marketing team centred on becoming more customer-centric and insights-led. A number of external appointments have been made, helping upskill existing employees at the same time.

    “However, it is also important that we balance strategic marketing capabilities with industry capabilities,” Smith says. “The life insurance industry can be a complex one to understand for people new to the sector, so we have launched monthly lunch-and-learn sessions to lift the life insurance industry capabilities of the team.”

    As an example of the more agile marketing function approach being taken, Smith says her team has moved away from traditional 12-month plan of marketing activities. Instead, marketing is deliberately breaking projects into much smaller pieces, and taking an ‘agile’ delivery approach.

    “Effective marketing teams need to be able to do that, because our industry is changing so often, and what might be relevant for customers today could be redundant by tomorrow,” she says.

    The organisational rhythm of the team has followed suit and now includes daily stand-ups and huddles, rather than formal meetings. As a team, marketing has led cultural change to improve collaboration across by reducing email usage, helping break down barriers across teams and projects. This has primarily been driven by having an approachable leadership team and the introduction of face-to-face Fridays, where the team is encouraged to meet directly with around projects and activities.


    As a business, AIA has to get to the end customer via a channel, be that an independent financial adviser or a superannuation fund. This means it’s often two or more steps removed from that direct point of contact.

    “In addition, we don’t own a distribution network which means we have the added challenge to convert our channel partners before we can get to the end-customer,” Smith explains. “So, as a default of how we as a business operate, we have to be creative as a part of our strategy to better engage with our customers, but it’s also something we are trying to foster too as a skill set.”

    Also, in the absence of a sizeable budget, marketing has to be creative in how to deliver the business objectives efficiently, she says. One example Smith highlights is building out a health and wellbeing community with partners and like-minded brands. The community will be a dynamic, evolving offering and will cross digital platforms, sponsorship, events and ambassadors.

    “By leveraging each other’s assets to create shared value for all involved and importantly, make a positive impact on the lives of Australians,” she adds.

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