PHD and eatbigfish launch episode two of their podcast series

How does a brand reclaim its challenger status?

In the second episode of PHD and eatbigfish’s podcast series, Overthrow II: Challenger Strategies for a New Era (a spin-off of their 2019 publication, Overthrow II), host and founder of eatbigfish Adam Morgan speaks with Kerry Chilvers, the brands director at Direct Line, and Hugh Cameron, chairman at PHD UK, about how a brand that has lost its challenger edge in a changing category can revitalise its challenger status and brand proposition.

How does a brand reclaim its challenger status?

When Direct Line first hit the scene back in 1985 and founded direct insurance, it was known for being one of the original challenger brands in the sector. Fast forward 30 years and the marketplace looked quite different. With the introduction of price comparison sites in the early 2000s, insurance had become a commoditised category, completely transforming the way consumers interacted with insurance brands. Amid the transformation, Direct Line had lost its way and its strong brand identity.

To overcome this, the brand needed to present itself in a new and changed world. The task ahead? To land a new proposition of products and services that had substance, and to win back its challenger brand status.

In September 2014, to reposition its brand personality, Direct Line launched a new advertising campaign, ‘The Fixer’, featuring Harvey Keitel reprising his role as Winston Woolf from the film Pulp Fiction. In addition, Direct Line announced its new brand proposition: ‘We’re on it’. This was the catalyst that drove reappraisal for the brand internally and externally, and helped get Direct Line back into a challenger position.

Reinstating challenger status

A year preceding the launch, Chilvers explains on the podcast, a huge amount of insight work had taken place to help inform the overall marketing strategy – from customer research, attitudes, behaviours, segmentation and internal focus – to uncover a key insight: choosing an insurer was not all down to price. In fact, people just wanted an insurer that worked and who would quickly get them back to where they were before. This became the core insight that drove the overall marketing campaign and brand strategy.

Next, the issue of substance needed to be addressed. Direct Line knew that their target market is savvier than ever and that this couldn’t just be an advertising campaign that showed empty promises. The brand needed to demonstrate excellent customer propositions and show customers first-hand what Direct Line meant by ‘fixing‘.

Direct Line took a bold and decisive move – it handed control over to the customer.

When the campaign launched, the end line asked ‘Can your insurer do that?’ which held Direct Line to account. The brand understood that if it wanted to use such a bold statement as part of its brand image, it needed unique service claims to back it up. The service claim that launched at the outset was: ‘Direct Line will repair your car in seven days and, if the deadline is missed, the customer will receive £10 for every day it’s late.‘

At the start of the campaign, Direct Line was repairing only 35% of cars within seven days and knew that to launch such a claim compliantly, it needed to repair over 70% in the same timeframe, ultimately amounting to thousands more cars a week. To make sure Direct Line could fulfil this claim for the customer, a guarantee was signed and compensation was on offer. That degree of control given to existing customers really appealed to them and helped draw in a larger customer base.

Internal or external, which comes first?

Morgan turns the conversation to Direct Line’s internal perception at the time, asking whether it is important to get the internal culture right ahead of such a huge external campaign launch or whether is it better to put the external stake in the ground first, galvanise the organisation and then give the employees time to catch up.

Chilvers elucidates that launching internally and externally at the same time was essential. In fact, she says, the external launch was as important internally, if not more so, to help build belief that Direct Line could be taken to greater heights and win back its challenger status. There was a lot of work to be done internally, such as turning the customer service reps who speak with customers daily into heroes and true believers in the overall concept that Direct Line is ‘a fixer’.

To be a leader, Chilvers concludes, you have to be a role model that is willing to take the same leaps you want your business and people to take – and you need to do it visibly. Leaders should be prepared to set the standards that they want others to follow.

To hear the results of Direct Line’s campaign and just how successful the brand was in returning to a leading market position, listen to the second episode of ‘Overthrow II: Challenger Strategies for a New Era’, which is available on Spotify, Google, Apple Podcasts and Audioboom. To purchase a copy of Overthrow II or to find out your challenger type, click here. To read about episode one, click here.

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