CMO interview: TAL's Alexis Denby shares the forensic approach behind her marketing strategy

Life insurance giant's general manager of marketing reveals the scientific career than led her to marketing, and how TAL is striking data partnerships as part of its plans to personalise life insurance for customers

Tal's Alexis Denby
Tal's Alexis Denby
  • Tal's Alexis Denby
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Marketing wasn’t Alexis Denby’s first pick for a career. Cutting up dead bodies was.

That’s just one of the surprising insights the TAL general manager of marketing revealed to CMO in a candid interview about her brand vision and roadmap for the long standing insurance company.

The insurance giant, whose moniker stands for ‘this Australian life’, is on a mission to shake up the insurance market and get better acquainted with everyday Australians, and Denby is helping to lead the charge. Before making her mark in life insurance, however, Denby was dedicated to pursuing a career in forensics science.

“I am a scientist by education. I studied forensics science and spent many years cutting up dead bodies, and while doing that, I worked at a call centre in sales at Telstra,” Denby tells CMO. “I decided at the end of my degree that I didn’t want to wear a lab coat for the rest of my life, and was luckily offered a graduate program within sales and marketing at Telstra. And that started my love affair with marketing.

“I have always been creative and loved drawing and painting, and from a science perspective, I’m quite analytical and scientific in my approach to things. For me, marketing was the beautiful balance of both of those things. That’s how I fell into it.”


After Telstra, Denby worked for GE Capital, rising to digital marketing director, before joining TAL as the general manager (CMO) of the direct business, leading both direct owned and partner brand marketing functions.

Over the last six months, her role has broadened and she is now responsible for all marketing distribution across TAL. Denby says her remit involves overseeing all marketing functions except brand.

“We go to market through several avenues. We market ourselves as TAL to advisers, and financial advisers then on-sell our products. We also go to market direct with several brands,” she explains.

A life insurance specialist for over 140 years, TAL insures more than 3.7 million Australians. In 2015, it reached a new milestone paying over $1 billion in claims. The group looks after marketing for Insuranceline, as well as marketing and distribution of life insurance for several partners including Qantas, nib, NRMA and Virgin Money. Denby is also responsible for marketing its comparison website, Lifebroker.

Looking back over her time at the company, Denby highlights the launch of the TAL brand direct to market 12 months ago as a major accomplishment.

“We created a unique life insurance purchase experience for the middle market segment of Australia. And we’ve taken the TAL brand to market from a direct perspective,” she says. “That was super exciting for us. We created a whole new business around that.”

The move to go direct to consumer is pivotal for the company’s future growth plans.

“We’ve never had a key focus on building a brand in the minds of consumers because we’ve always gone to market through partners,” she continues. “But it has become incredibly important for us in an industry that has a lot of mistrust. We wanted to create a brand that’s trusted and relevant and driving positive change within the life insurance industry for consumers.”

Building blocks

Denby’s mission over the past three years has been to transform the business and modernise marketing functionality and operations.

As part of this marketing transformation, TAL took on marketing automation in partnership with Adobe. The Marketing Cloud was implemented to deliver what Denby calls “nirvana personalisation,” which sees an industry moving towards personalised pricing and personalised product solutions.

“It enables us to be multi-channel. It enables us to control marketing campaigns and be agile when delivering those, and to test and learn,” she says. “It really optimises our personalisation. Previously, all of our campaigns had been automated through IT. If we wanted to make any changes, it was really cumbersome and took a really long time.”

The adoption of marketing automation tools - and similar moves by her marketing counterparts - means today’s marketers are relying on tech platforms like never before, Denby says.

“Earlier in my career, I didn’t even know who sat in IT. I didn’t know anyone in IT - and now, most certainly, our stakeholders are the IT function,” she says. “Hand-in-hand, we are delivering personalisation and delivering relevancy through technology platforms such as marketing automation. It is not so much power, but power in collaboration between IT and marketing.”

Today, TAL has end-to-end quoting and application capability for all brands that are direct to market, which Denby labels a “sort of first” for life insurance.

“As an industry, we are certainly a laggard when it comes to digitisation and technology. The life insurance industry is unique in the fact it is definitely ‘sold and not bought’,” she says.

“There was always this assumption that it needed to be a traditional TV, telemarketing model. And if you allowed customers to do their own research and purchase on their own straight through online, then there wouldn’t be a need for that. Certainly, insurance is still ‘sold and not bought’, but there are certain segments of the market that do want to do it on their own and to do that digitally. We are now meeting the needs of those segments.”

Denby acknowledges purchasing life insurance has not been easy or simple. She suggests it’s this outdated notion of ‘sold, not bought’ that has caused the overall industry to lose focus on the end consumer.

The pursuit of data

One of the key elements of delivering on this is data and insight. And to help, TAL is focusing on partnering with external data sources, such as Data Republic. The marketplace provides a platform where TAL can exchange de-identified data with other organisations and build propensity models to create more relevant acquisition activities.

“From a lifecycle perspective, we collect huge amounts of data as a life insurer when we underwrite policies so throughout acquisition stage. How do we leverage that data to create really brilliant experiences for our customers whilst they hold a policy with us? That’s another key focus for us,” she says.  

“I was taught very early in my career that it’s no good having observations and just looking at data. The only way we can be great marketers is to actually drive actionable insights out of those observations and, in order, to do that you need to be analytically minded and understand numbers and data.”

What’s clear is that a basic knowledge of technology is just not good enough anymore. “You really have to understand technology platforms and how they can drive relevancy and optimisation from a marketing perspective in order to be a really good marketer,” Denby says.

Projects on the boil

As someone who “doesn’t just observe data, but demands insights from those observations, and drives change off the back of those insights”, Denby is eager for the next chapter in the company’s martech journey.

In her efforts to ramp up the customer experience, plans this year include a continued focus on embedding marketing automation in terms of change management and driving return on investment.

“It is all very well to implement a technology stack and spend 18 months doing an enterprise project to do so, but it is a completely new capability that needs to be learned and developed within the marketing area,” she says. “Embedding that requires the right resources, training, support, and processes in place with IT in terms of technology updates and any changes required. And then making sure that within marketing we have the right structure and processes in place to leverage the technology that we now have.”

Meanwhile, over in the B2B space, Denby’s work involves delivering on the proposition taken to market last year, which was enabling growth for advisers.

“They are going through an incredible amount of change with regulatory reform, so we are supporting them and enabling growth through various initiatives such as new product launches that we’re taking to market for them to diversify their product offerings,” she says.  

Additionally, TAL is exploring the use of machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) in order to boost product advancement. “We’re looking at Web chat and machine learning around creating better online experiences for customers or prospects.”

At an industry level, Denby expects to continue breaking down barriers and working to remove complexity that remains heavily entrenched in the insurance market.

“For me, and my team, being custodians of insights and of the customer, the goal is to make sure we are demystifying life insurance, that we are driving complexity down and creating real simplicity when it comes to product development and messages in market,” she adds. “We need to ensure that consumers understand the value of life insurance, as we shift from a ‘sold not bought’ market to hopefully a ‘bought’ market.”

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

 

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