How RACQ is pivoting marketing to suit members facing a crisis

GM marketing and digital talks through how the purpose-driven brand has pivoted on member insights and community support during the latest crisis

RACQ has repurposed funds allocated to the cancelled Motorfest 2020 into a $100,000 donation to the University of Queensland’s COVID-19 vaccine research program. It’s just one of the steps the brand has taken to support community and members and pivot its marketing approach during the current crisis.  

RACQ GM of marketing and digital, Renee Davidson, told CMO the banking, insurance, roadside assistance and travel provider has very much put its community hat on to respond to the current crisis environment. 

“Financial hardship is a significant part of things from a banking and insurance perspective, and supporting those who have been impacted by COVID-19. But we also have always played quite a big role in the community and we are looking to now do that in a number of ways,” Davidson said.  

“We have a lot of work going through our RACQ foundation, and we’d been hoping to do some exciting stuff there. But what we were aware of was a lot of people in the community were looking for a way to contribute.”

RACQ and its members had made significant, well-received contributions during the recent Australian bushfires. But with UQ just one of many organisations approaching the Queensland-based business looking for support in the face of COVID-19, strategic decisions needed to be made to know exactly where RACQ should put the emphasis.

Davidson said another factor was ensuring business continuity. “As a Queensland brand, we play an important role when it comes to the level of people we employ in the state, and the flow-on effects of that on suppliers and so on. We were focused on ensuing the business survives and thrives through this time, but also that we are supporting staff and suppliers,” she explained.

So her team turned to RACQ’s research arm to ask members how they’d like the company to support them during this period, and what expectations they had in terms of the brand’s community contribution during the COVID-19 crisis. Supporting UQ Research not only allowed members to play an active role in finding a vaccine, it’s something that also directly helps the Queensland community and RACQ partners heavily reliant on tourism for their livelihood.

And thanks also to the accompanying vocal support of RACQ CEO, David Carter, UQ has now been able to secure further funding and meet its fundraising targets.

“It became clear on multiple layers, supporting UQ was something that met community expectations as well as internal business aims to play a role and activate more community support,” Davidson said.

Three-phase brand assessment

More widely, Davidson detailed a three-phase approach being taken by RACQ’s marketing team to respond to the COVID-19 crisis. The first has been the resilience piece, ensuring members and the community can connect with the services they immediately need.

“In many ways, insurance, banking and roadside assistance are all essential services, to ensuring members can access those service has really been phase one,” Davidson explained. “We’re now in phase two, which is that community support piece. UQ is one of those. With RACQ foundation, we’re also helping behind the scenes with groups like Meals on Wheels. Those services have been heavily reliant on seniors to delivering that, and during this period they just can’t. Looking at helping those is key, and we’ve played a role there.”

Renee DavidsonCredit: RACQ
Renee Davidson

Another key task in this interim phase has been reaching out to members. One focus has been on those most likely in isolation, and providing care calls. Davidson said this kicked off prior to the Queensland Government’s own debut of a care army.

“We’re very well aware we want to ensure banking members can still access services. For those senior members for example, what we wanted to make sure of was they had support to access systems and digital channels,” she continued. “We were able to reach out in the early phases to give guidance, potential training and ensuring access to debit cards, and so on.”

Related: Kmart and RACQ are two brands leading the CX charge: Forrester

CMO50 profile: How RACQ's Renee Davidson sees marketing's strategic role

RACQ’s branding execution has also been based on recognising these phases. “This has moved so quickly – the suddenness and shifts we needed to make,” Davidson commented.

“A perfect example was our roadside campaign. We had to review all creative and channels in market given the dramatic shifts in behaviour. We had campaigns in market either featuring a family on vacation, or a birthday party for a young child in a park.

“The first phase of social distancing meant the family vacation wasn’t viable; then next thing was we weren’t allowed to be in groups in parks. So there were big changes to messages in market both in terms of visuals, as well as making sure they’re relevant in this time.”

Since then, Davidson said four campaigns have been turned around in under 48 hours.

“It’s not just getting messages out, but the agility we needed to have internally and with partners to review existing campaigns, work through messaging and options we have,” she said. “Looking at how to get new footage out to market has well and truly been a challenge while working through business continuity ourselves.”

Fortunately, a majority of team members were on laptops, and a flexible work approach using Microsoft Teams helps. In addition, the recent rollout of IntelligenceBank’s marketing platform has given all RACQ’s marketing team access to assets digitally and the ability to share and monitor workloads.

Tuning in to member needs has been another vital piece of how marketing responds in-market.

“We had partners sharing a lot of insights both from research partners as well as agencies, helping provide insights early on. We also have a solid research arm internally,” Davidson said. “We reach out often to members to get a good view of how they’re feeling, sentiment. There are significant challenges, especially through the early phases of increased anxiety, and the shift we’ve seen in buying behaviour and channels. If anything, people have really maintained that focus on things like safety.

“We’re fortunate in the category we operate in that we’re community-led and an essential service. Banking is probably going to be more significantly impacted. We were in an incredibly rate-driven market, but these shifts in financial security have shifted people’s behaviours there as well. We need to help make sure people have the right products and that they’re not holding back from reviewing those products and ensuring they have the best value. It’s something for us to consider.

“Everything we have done has been driven by those two insights, and ensuring we’re supporting the community and members.”

Marketing's lot

Davidson saw RACQ’s heritage as a purpose-driven brand and mutual-based organisation, along with its track record responding to other emergencies, as a way to differentiate and position the brand. Nevertheless, she agreed it was a tricky environment for marketers to navigate.

“Not only has there been the suddenness to the COVID-19 situation, but the impact from an economic and social perspective and speed of those shifts has made this more challenging. How we make sure we respond to the market, understand their needs and make sure we continue to be present are the biggest things,” she said.  

“As marketing, we work across group functions. These relationships mean we’ve been able to respond, react and get campaigns and communications out to market so quickly. The only fear I have is an expectation from the organisation that this pace can be maintained.”

A specific challenge marketers face in this environment is the need to remain differentiated, Davidson believed.

“A lot of brands are in market with messages of support. But how do you stay true to who you are and ensure you have a clear message as to why your brand is relevant and what your business is doing?” she asked. “For us, it’s as been as much about having a presence in market, but also the communications we’re supporting our members with.”

A lesson Davidson’s team is already being taught is the level of communications required to members and the channels supporting these efforts. Emergency response management has been critical to tackling this.

“This [the COVID-19 crisis] is another layer on that. But if anything, it reinforces the value of knowing how we respond to the emergency, adding in layers such as the shift in messaging, communications and what isn’t relevant right now,” she said.  

Future marketing learning

As for what marketing can take from today to regenerate its marketing plans in future, Davidson was confident of innovation in its marketing efforts.

“We have had a couple of strong years – we had 1.3 million members when I joined, we’re now up to 1.8 million,” she said. “And it’s really hard to challenge a campaign architecture that’s working. Behind the scenes before this crisis, we had been contemplating how we evolve and transition marketing.

“This has given us a nudge to re-evaluate and push our approach further. And we’re going to have to be smarter. If we’re going into a period that is going to trigger an economic downturn, it’ll challenge the way we market. We need to be really smart about how we spend members’ money. So we’ll be looking for ways to reach members more effectively.”

Davidson said she’s also well aware of where the brand sees value. “We have a market mix model we’ve been rolling out. One challenge we have is the current situation is different and you can’t really apply market mix in the current market. But we do know it’ll bounce back. And as social distancing is relaxed, I think it’ll bounce back faster than we thought,” she said.  

“How do we make sure we don’t make short-term decisions that will have a longer-term detrimental outcome is a question that’s key to what we need to do to evolve.”

Regardless of what this looks like, it’s in times like these brands such as RACQ are able to respond and deliver on brand purpose, Davidson said. She also saw further product and services innovation on the horizon.

“We had been in the midst of launching financial well-being, but as it’s something members need right now and a good way to support them, we’ve been running trials with staff to make sure it works so we can get it out there,” Davidson said by way of example.

“This crisis brought to the forefront things we have been doing and pushing for internally. In times like these, where they’re really needed, you can make strong progress and further drive member engagement. Businesses are willing to take a little more risk, which is a positive out of this crisis.”  

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