Marketing movers & shakers: Michelle Brogan

Estimated reading time
10 minutes
4th March 2021
Author: Karla Rivershaw
Posted in: Customer insights, Strategy & planning

In our fourth edition of The Movers & Shakers of Marketing, we catch up with Michelle Brogan, Head of Go to Market at Allianz Partners. Michelle reflects on her career to date at Allianz, her team’s response to the pandemic and she looks at the year ahead, examining the biggest challenges that marketers will need to overcome, as well as the greatest opportunities for us to take advantage of.

Can you tell us about your role in Allianz Partners?

Joining Allianz Partners about four years ago, my initial role involved building on the digital marketing function for Allianz Care-branded products. Allianz Partners entered the International Health Insurance sector about 20 years ago, selling health products to large corporate clients, and since then, it has grown to become one of the largest players in the market.

The consumer business grew organically off the back of the corporate business. We had so many large corporate accounts and there were individuals within those accounts who would sometimes leave their employer and move to another job but wanted to keep us as their international health insurer.

We immediately saw an opportunity to grow our consumer business further. That’s where I came in, building on our direct digital marketing capabilities to drive increased volumes of leads for the direct sales team to convert. We run display ads, paid search, SEO optimization, email marketing and affiliate marketing.

We have conducted lots of customer research to understand online shopping behaviour and product needs. This research has influenced how our online quotation tools are built and how our products have been designed with the customer in mind. A combination of our digital marketing activities along with working closely with direct sales has seen our consumer direct business grow by over 150 percent over the last four years.

I have recently moved into an expanded role within Allianz Partners, leading the Go-To Market team. One of the areas I want to focus on is improving our marketing and lead generation capability within the B2B side of the company. We plan much more intent-based marketing and personalization.

Up until now, we have been fishing with nets using a mass marketing approach. We want to become more targeted and start fishing with spears. It’s a new approach for us to take. We want to start looking at our key accounts and create personalized campaigns which really resonate with their needs.

So, for example, if we are pitching to an oil and gas company, from the pre-sales process all the way through to renewal, everything should say, “Allianz Partners is the international health partner for oil and gas”. Ultimately, we want to create some stickiness because I think 2021 is going to be a really tough year for business, as the real impact of COVID-19 plays out.

How does Turtl fit into all of this? 

When I first joined Allianz Partners, our online product pages contained some product information, a lot of which was in PDF format which the customer had to open to read. This format was archaic and out-of-date in the digital world. I brought in Turtl, an intuitive content software that has transformed our digital content into a slick online magazine, which in turn has delivered a much more meaningful and impactful online reading experience.

We started using Turtl to create health guides for our monthly Health Matters newsletter which we send out to our entire membership base. Health Matters is a combination of preventative health information as well as value-adds to enhance our core product offering and support our members.

Prior to that, unless our members actually made a claim, they were not actively engaging with us throughout the customer journey from purchase to renewal. This was a missed opportunity for us and a big driver in our decision to launch the newsletter.

In addition to the ability to create interactive content, there is data behind the Turtl software, allowing us to drill down into the analytics to see who our audience is, track their engagement, how much of the content is being read and geographically where they are located.

These analytics help us to better optimize our guide for the following month – for example, adding in some additional polls or perhaps a video to help increase engagement. And as we optimize, we can see the click-through rates going up.

Talk to me a little about your company’s Covid-19 response. 

We were aware there was something happening in China quite early on. Our colleagues there were asked to work from home; and we anticipated that something similar was going to come our way in Europe too.

A couple of weeks before we went into lockdown here, our IT department tested whether our teams would have the capability to work from home. For that test, 40 percent of our employees were working remotely, and our systems worked just fine, so when the work-from-home order came from government, we were confident that our systems would enable remote working for everyone.

To help with communications at the time, we organized a steering team to ensure our brokers, group clients and members knew we were there for them. Many of our members were stranded in countries they were visiting, due to governments closing borders and lockdowns, which were outside of their region of cover. In response, we temporarily expanded the terms of our normal cover to support them. Extending the period of cover for emergency medical treatment for those trapped outside their normal region of cover, from 6 weeks to 21 weeks.

We started a COVID-19 webinar series consisting of a panel of experts discussing a variety of COVID-19-related topics. This worked particularly well because, although there was a lot of information available publicly, people wanted their information from reliable and trusted sources.

For our very first COVID-19 webinar, our Chief Medical Officer explained what COVID-19 was, what was true, what wasn’t true, and what people needed to do to protect themselves. The feedback from members was really positive, particularly in response to the live Q&A session at the end. And our members were delighted to have the opportunity to ask our Chief Medical Officer anything they wanted.

We also ran different types of mental health webinars, essentially providing a support mechanism for members. In addition, we had lots of questions coming directly from our Brokers who were supporting their clients along with those coming from webinars. We took all the questions that were being asked and created a really invaluable COVID-19 FAQ Section on our website for people to refer back to.

Last year we launched a Happiness Campaign which is also being rolled into this year. We teamed up with a Happiness Expert who is helping us to create a series of articles and videos, and we’ve created a Happiness Calculator to help people take ownership of their own happiness.

We have been very proactive on social media too, providing information around how to social distance and how to wear a mask. Over time those messages have evolved into nutritional fitness information, since we have all been over-indulging. Now we’re in the third wave, we’re again following the trends and pulling out content that plays into those trends to keep our social channels current.

We also had our first digital broker conference recently which went really well. We hired a professional moderator to do some live Q&A sessions. The Communications Team put a huge amount of effort into creating the content; we even worked with The Economist on a whitepaper. The feedback from our brokers was excellent; they really enjoyed it and found the content to be both strong and valuable.

All of these activities were an opportunity for us to let our customers know that we will look after them. The feedback we have been receiving from both brokers and clients has been that they felt supported, and that it’s worth paying a little more for a premium product like Allianz Care.

A man opens emails on his laptop and smiles

How did your sales team specifically adapt to the transition of becoming more digital? 

It was definitely an easier transition for marketing than it was for sales, as we were already used to using tools like WebEx, unlike the sales team, as their approach had always been face-to-face meetings. Good relationships are key to sales.

When COVID-19 hit, it took some time for the sales team to transition to digital tools and connect with Brokers and Clients using these tools. Like everyone else, we have had to change the way we conduct business overnight, including running webinars, online events and conducting online meetings instead. There’s no doubt COVID-19 has accelerated our move to being a fully digital company.

You spoke about your plans to move to a more intent data model. Can you go into a little more detail about that? 

We have started to build out our account-based marketing approach to better serve our brokers and our clients. We want to help protect our existing accounts through the renewal process and to identify new accounts. In some markets there tends to be a lot of clients who regularly switch between insurers and a few of the other major players as well.

We will identify accounts in the markets which are currently active and looking for health insurance products. We will target these accounts with personalized messaging and communications which are relevant to their industry sector. This will enable us to generate new business leads and be very targeted when our sales team engages with them. Also, we will personalize our messaging in the renewal cycle. This type of marketing approach requires full engagement from sales and marketing to work closely together.

So, let’s switch to 2021. What do you think this year has in store for marketers in general? 

Well for us, 2021 means being digital by default. So, when we’re going out to market, the main focus is on how to deliver something digitally, before considering whether we need to print hard copy materials.

We’re starting to create more content in Turtl too because our sales teams are remote, and we want to build up their capability and content via a digital toolkit to help them get their deals across the line.

As I mentioned earlier, we’re also going to be doing more account-based marketing.

We’re looking at how to accelerate that for 2021. A couple of months ago we were just talking about doing a pilot. There was no immediate urgency. Now, given the challenges COVID-19 is going to bring, we are accelerating the program.

Looking forward, what would you say are marketers’ biggest challenges? 

One of the biggest challenges we’re seeing is maintaining high retention rates for our portfolio. Most of our business renews in January and February each year and because COVID-19 really only affected us in March last year, a lot of our portfolio had already renewed. So, from a sales perspective, we haven’t felt the full impact from COVID-19 in the health business.

Like other businesses, we have customers who have been badly impacted by COVID-19, in industries such as travel, oil and gas, automotive and entertainment.

Some of the considerations as we are in renewal season are:

  • How badly impacted are our clients by COVID-19?
  • Have they had to reduce their workforce?
  • Has their budget to buy health insurance been reduced?

All of these things could potentially impact us, from reduced contract sizes right the way up to losing customers completely. It’s more important than ever to support them, their employees and provide a range of added value.

On the new business side, one of the trends we’ve seen in the last year since COVID-19 hit, is that clients aren’t switching insurers as frequently. But that’s probably more of a safety measure. People don’t want to switch insurance providers in the middle of a pandemic in case they then won’t be covered with their new provider. So, we’re not expecting clients to switch too much this year.

These are challenges we must face as a business and of course it’s our job in marketing to figure out the best way to tackle the headwinds and continue to drive both renewals and new business opportunities.

What would you consider the biggest opportunities for marketers? 

Definitely the biggest opportunity for us is moving into the digital space at a much faster rate and with much higher buy-in. We would never have been able to accelerate the way we have without the pandemic, as it has made it a necessity for everyone.

2021 is going to be a challenging year. Sales and marketing are really pulling together to try new marketing approaches to better serve our brokers and clients, and to enable us to hit our targets.

As a business, we have very strong relationships with our brokers, and we want to build strong engagement plans with them too. Brokers are integral to our business and we want to stay as connected to them in 2021 as we were in 2020. I believe we now have the expertise, propositions and the digital know-how to do just that.

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