How having a hybrid in-house and agency model keeps AXA agile

For larger campaigns and campaigns that require video assets, they are still managed by AXA’s panel of ad agencies.

AXA’s hybrid model of putting its in-house and agency marketers together in a team has been successful in helping the Paris-headquartered financial services firm become more agile in the digital space, says the brand’s top executive in Singapore, Léo Costes.

The Frenchman holds two roles in the company, where his merit includes taking charge of the retail business for AXA in Singapore as managing director and the data aspects of the business as chief customer officer.

In his two-year tenure as managing director, Costes has strengthened the brand’s in-house marketing capabilities to manage campaigns throughout the year. His team of eight people work with at least two of AXA’s agency marketers on site to do everything from creation and production of digital and social assets, copywriting, and PR to out-of-home ads for tactical and smaller campaigns.

“We have moved from what was usually a marketing plan that is defined once a year, at the beginning of the year with big campaigns, to planning for campaigns that are much more granular,” he explains to The Drum.

“Where we have a campaign that is planned for the quarter, we need to have a lot of agility in the way we allocate the resources. Hence, we need to have the capability in-house in order to accomplish a certain aspect of the initiatives.”

He continues: “For instance, when we launch new products on digital, we are not talking about months now to launch, we are talking about days and weeks at the latest. We need to be able to react very quickly. When we launch a campaign, what we now try to do more and more is to launch the campaign based on insights and on data. Which means that the marketing team needs to support and to be involved very early on into this type of activity.”

For larger campaigns and campaigns that require video assets, they are still managed by AXA’s panel of ad agencies, including the likes of Publicis Singapore, The Prosecution Film Company and Kraftw5rkz, which worked on its latest campaign, ‘Rewrite the Rules’.

“We wanted to develop video assets that are fully localized in Singapore,” explains Costes, in reference to the campaign, “and hence we needed to work with an agency in Singapore that has the capability to shoot a video that can be used on different platforms such as YouTube and so on.”

AXA’s hybrid model is not unlike the partnership between Unilever and WPP that was announced in 2018, which sees the holding network's agencies work with the startups under the FMCG giant's Foundry programme in Singapore.

Unilever hopes the collaboration will lay the foundations for the marketing services ecosystem of the future and bring key external marketing expertise, in-house.

According to a source, the partnership is just beginning to take shape in 2019, a year after the announcement, with marketers from Mindshare, Wunderman Thompson, Ogilvy and Kantar that work on the Lux account, for example, moving in to sit with the startups at Unilever Foundry.

Forming brand partnerships

As a fan of the hybrid model, it is no surprise that Costes is also keen to form more collaborations and partnerships with brands. He does not see the likes of Grab, Singapore Life and Alibaba’s Ant Financial, which have launched financial services and insurance products in recent times, as competitors to legacy brands like AXA.

“The question is, are we seeing just a distribution disruption? They can distribute, but do they have a strong balance sheet in order to provide an insurance product? Or are we seeing a full disruption, where we see those platforms creating insurance companies on their own?” he asks.

“The insurance industry is a very capital-intensive business and I don't know what the full strategy of those companies will be. But even in the first scenario, do we want to be this intimidated? I'm not sure.”

Costes, however, acknowledges it creates an opportunity for AXA to form and develop partnerships with these up-and-coming brands because it is ‘too late’ for AXA to compete head-on against them.

“We have the know-how in terms of product manufacturing and servicing of the customer. They have the technology reach to the consumer. So why not develop a partnership with those companies in order to reach out to the consumer?” he asks.

“That would be my approach, which is somewhere in the middle. Yes, we are being disrupted, but now is the time to develop, as well, a new type of partnership with those companies.”

On its part, AXA has developed a channel called affinity where it distributes its insurance products not only through traditional agents but through other brands as well. That is in line with its vision that insurance is not a product that people specifically want to spend time buying, according to Costes.

“If you buy a flight ticket, you have the option to purchase travel insurance with just an additional click. Customers don’t always want to spend time buying travel insurance as a standalone product. If you buy a new car, your insurance should come very easily with the buying of the new car,” explains Costes.

“That means we can distribute the insurance product differently, and we need to work with other brands more and more in order to do joint marketing activities regarding our products.”

Turning challenges into opportunities

The Frenchman believes marketing in the financial industry needs to be involved right at the beginning of the cycle of the development of a product and not at the end, where marketing comes in to just package and market the product on the market.

He admits this is difficult because the industry is traditionally heavily regulated and very technical, which meant that along the way, the industry has lost focus on the consumer journey by failing to break down complex products. He wants AXA to lead the charge to put the consumer back at the center of everything.

That means, for example, developing products based on consumer needs, that are targeted at specific segments. Costes is optimistic he can pull this off and is banking on using data to help him to know more about a consumer and their behaviors, in order to be able to reach out to them in the most efficient way.

“Today, when you look at the digital space, people are used to getting what they want, whenever they want, and wherever they are. In insurance, we need to be able to do the same. The one size fits all type of message does not work anymore, which means we need to be able to target our customers very precisely, at the right moment, at the right place,” he explains.

“For that to happen, we need to know them, and then we need to be able to have a very segmented and targeted approach with our customer. We have the tools to do it because we have developed a full CRM marketing capability beginning of last year. But now we need to increase the capability in terms of analyzing the data, segmenting the markets, reaching out to the customer. And after that, measuring the impact of what we do.”

For example, before launching a campaign, AXA assesses the needs of the customer, why are certain products important to them, along with other key facts, in order to better cater to the customer.

“That is what we have done recently for critical illness product. We launched a study to understand why this product is important, what is the stat on the market today, how many people are covered, how many people are not covered, and so on. So that will be, for me, the two really big opportunities: data and silent marketing,” he adds.

For other financial services firms like MSIG, which The Drum previously spoke to, its approach is almost similar, where it wants to be more strategic and creative in its messaging, positioning and targeting.

This is part of The Drum's Marketer of the Future coverage for 2019. You can read our coverage here.

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