Jennifer Lemming, 2nd VP of Creative Excellence at Aflac, and Courtney Pierce, Director of Marketing at Brightcove, discussed the evolution of the Aflac brand, various channels being leveraged to communicate the brand, and the integration of the company’s value proposition into this messaging.
Courtney Pierce: Jennifer, can you start by giving us some background on yourself and your career?
Jennifer Lemming: I started my career at a sports marketing agency in Atlanta called Lang & Associates, primarily focused on our largest client, Coca-Cola, both in the U.S. and internationally. I attended business school at Vanderbilt and, from there, went to 3M where I was responsible for new product development. Then I went to Yahoo! to work in international marketing in more of a direct marketing role. From there, I moved onto a start-up in the boutique wine e-commerce space and then returned to Atlanta to work for DS Waters, doing primarily direct marketing. Finally, I arrived at Aflac, where I’m responsible for creative excellence, which includes all of the media advertising, digital sponsorship and Hispanic cause marketing.
Aflac is approaching its 63rd anniversary, making it one of America’s most historic and loved brands. Can you talk about how the brand has evolved in recent years?
The duck icon was introduced in 1999 to improve brand recognition and has been successful at accomplishing that. We then introduced messages to better explain the product by positioning it in relation to major medical insurance. More recently, we have been moving from explaining the functional benefits of our products to the emotional benefits experienced for policyholders by making the duck himself a policyholder in our 2013 “Duck of Work” campaign. In our “Physical Therapy” TV commercial, it’s explained that he doesn’t have to worry about expenses and can focus on his recovery. That’s at the heart of the value proposition for our products, and this messaging is working to improve consideration by evolving the conversation on our social channels from affinity for the duck to true understanding of and advocacy for our brand through a shared experience with the duck.
“There are several changes that are moving us toward evolving the way we communicate our message: the fragmentation of media and content consumption, the evolving sense of humor of the younger audience, as well as the changing landscape of healthcare reform for both employers and employees.”
In terms of your customers, do you feel like younger consumers are where the opportunity is, or is it more older workers?
Aflac’s products are relevant for all ages and generations, but older audiences understand the value better since they may have experienced an unexpected health event or accident. While many of our products are important for millennials, they may not understand why our products are relevant at their life stage. Since millennials will make up 50 percent of the workplace by 2016, it’s more critical for us to demonstrate why Aflac’s products are important for them by positioning our value proposition in ways that are meaningful to them.
It sounds to me like you’re working towards finding that balance between education and entertainment for the younger consumer.
Exactly. There are several changes that are moving us toward evolving the way we communicate our message: the fragmentation of media and content consumption, the evolving sense of humor of the younger audience, as well as the changing landscape of healthcare reform for both employers and employees. Because of this, we are constantly challenging ourselves to evolve the humor represented in our commercials that will keep the message relevant, fresh and new. We are expanding our footprint in media through new channels like online video, social and addressable TV. In addition, we are changing our messaging to inform our audiences of why, now more than ever, Aflac is an important product to offer your employees and have as a part of your benefits portfolio.
Some would argue that digital marketing has taken over as the most effective and widely used tool in connecting with today’s tech-savvy consumers. How has Aflac transitioned into the digital marketing space?
Our traditional marketing (print and TV advertising) continues to be an important part of our media mix. We have transitioned into the digital space by using SEO, search, display, webinars and social digital channels. The digital space enables us to continue the conversation and make our message more fully integrated across multiple media. In addition, it allows us to be more targeted in our messaging exposure to get the right audience—whether it’s the consumer, employer, brokers or even our field force—to the right content on our owned channels, like our website and social assets.
We also use our cause initiatives to test and learn. We became the largest event for GetGlue when we provided donations to the Pediatric Cancer Center for each check-in on GetGlue during the Macy’s parade in 2011. These types of activities have enabled us to learn with a relatively small investment while contributing to a good cause. Aflac has donated over $70 million to the Pediatric Cancer Foundation. Digital extensions are a great way for us to get the message out about the importance of donating to this cause to audiences that we couldn’t reach before. In 2012, we hosted a Twitter party for the effort and were able to capture the attention of some celebrities. This type of exposure is great for the cause and allows us to learn and apply that knowledge to our other Aflac promotional initiatives.
What channels do you feel have been the most effective for you in the last five years?
TV remains an important media channel for us and helps us maintain our significant brand awareness scores. Audiences are consuming more content than ever before, so ensuring that we are where the content is consumed is critical. We are ensuring that our commercials are available for viewing on YouTube, video platforms like Hulu and through new alternatives for viewing like a beta trial with HitBliss. Social has been an important addition to our traditional channels by not only extending but also creating a dialogue with our customers previously unavailable to us. In addition, online display advertising and search advertising provide extensions for the TV advertising, particularly for mobile devices.
For our lead generation initiatives, we’ve seen great success in direct channels like DRTV and search. Our biggest challenge is not volume but quality, so a big part of our effort now is qualifying leads and establishing efficient processes for doing so.
I understand the challenge of funneling leads to the sales organization. We’ve worked with Sirius Decisions on implementing their lead waterfall best practices, and we’ve put a process in place to only send qualified leads to the sales organizations where there’s an active project.
Yes—to that point, we can generate a huge volume of leads through DirecTV, but many are not qualified. That’s disappointing to the people responsible for following up on the leads, and if we can’t get them to continue to follow up with the enthusiasm that will enable them to close the sale, then lead generation doesn’t really work. So we’ve set up a qualifying team at our call center, and before we send leads out to the field, we make sure they’re qualified. There’s a smaller quantity of leads, but a higher success rate keeps the motivation high for the program.
How have you customized your brand on both mobile and social platforms to better engage with your target customers?
The big benefit about online channels is the ability to engage with your customers. We are evolving our Facebook presence to create a dialogue with customers while linking the message to our value proposition. One example of that is a caption contest with images linked to the TV campaign to elicit feedback from our Facebook followers. We received the largest number of Likes and comments we’ve received to date from this effort. We are beginning to respond to customers with positive feedback who share their personal experiences and stories with Aflac. For mobile, we are taking a “mobile first” approach as we move to a new CMS platform for our websites, using responsive design to ensure that the content is relevant for the mobile channel.
One of the things we’re doing with social is evolving our Facebook page and content for the duck, but the question is whether we can change the conversation and maintain the level of visitors and engagement we currently have. I was told that wasn’t possible, that people are going to just leave and de-Friend us, but we haven’t found that. We’ve actually found more engagement as we start to insert our value proposition, and what we’ve used is the leverage of the TV. We get high awareness with our TV marketing, and if we link what we’re doing on social to that and start the conversation that way, it feeds into the value proposition in interesting and more entertaining ways. As long as we don’t take it too seriously, we’re able to get our policyholders, their agents, and the people that were on the page to engage in a conversation about our products or about Aflac, as opposed to, “I love the funny dog picture, so I’m forwarding that.” We’re evolving it right now, and we’re not 100 percent there, but it’s a test-and-learn thing. For instance, if we put some value proposition messaging in social, how many people will leave? If no one left and then we got a couple of Likes, then we should keep doing that. So we’re trying to make it a true business tool for us as opposed to just entertainment for entertainment’s sake.
Most CMOs today have trouble quantifying how their investments in social media are driving results. How have you been able to overcome some of these challenges?
We are a very data-driven company, and that impacts our approach to media and advertising investments. We have a test-and-learn strategy, which allows us to try things on a smaller scale to get support for larger efforts with a smaller initial investment as well as a better understanding of forecasted efforts. We use this to establish baselines for measurement. We also triangulate data with anecdotal information and feedback from our large field force. Excitement and enthusiasm for our advertising campaigns warms more doors for them and makes it easier for them to sell our products to prospects. In addition, we use media mix modeling to justify increases in media spend and channel allocation.
Traditional types of marketing can be just as hard to quantify as newer types of online marketing. For example, measuring the performance of a billboard on a highway is hard to do. In many ways, social media is your new online billboard. At the end of the day, if revenue is going in the right direction, do you feel like your social channels—while harder to track—are working for you?
Yes, and that’s important as we add in PR and social and put all of our paid, owned and earned media into our media mix model in order to understand the impact of everything as it works together.
“We are evolving our Facebook presence to create a dialogue with customers while linking the message to our value proposition.”
Let’s move on and discuss paid earned and owned media and how these mediums have evolved over recent years. How has your marketing team been restructuring to respond to the evolving digital landscape?
We are constantly evolving. As thought leadership and channels like social have grown in importance, so has the need to have content managers on our marketing team. Consumer and employer audiences expect marketers to know what they want before they do and provide them with relevant, snackable content connecting them to our products. We have added a social media email manager most recently to our digital marketing team to meet the needs of these channels and are looking to add content managers as well.
We’ve seen the same thing at Brightcove. In the past year, we have hired a content manager who is responsible for managing our blog and our presence on LinkedIn and Facebook. It’s been a tremendous, positive shift for us, with the amount of content that is being produced and the impact it has had on all of our marketing efforts.
The biggest issue is culling that content into meaningful messages that are relevant to your target audiences.
At Brightcove, we have about 350 employees and at least 30 people in a marketing function. We find it a challenge to remove silos and make sure that we’re all interacting and driving towards a common goal. How do you handle this while managing a much larger department?
Yes, breaking down silos is always difficult. As you layer in cross-functional teams and matrices, it’s important to ensure that you maintain ownership and accountability so that everyone involved can own their individual contributions as well as shared success.
How are you leveraging video-enriched media to drive brand engagement?
We leverage video to extend the reach of our TV advertising by extending the message through webisodes linked to the TV campaign and testimonials for both business and consumer segments on our owned channels. We want our audiences to view the messaging in the format they desire, and online video has enabled us to do just that.
“…the meaning of our brand will evolve as the healthcare landscape changes.”
It sounds like there’s an opportunity to create different experiences or branded content, but right now you’re just leveraging the investments that you’re making for TV. Being that it’s a large investment, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be distributing it as broadly as possible across multiple channels.
Yes, we want to leverage our investment as highly entertaining branded TV advertising to as much media as available. We aspire to be an innovator and strategically approach new opportunities as they are available to us. HitBliss is a new way of consuming content in which viewers own credits to view content by watching advertising. We hope that this will prove to be another channel that will increase relevancy as only interested audiences will view our commercials, enabling us to be more efficient with our spend. We have also seen success with TiVo and adding in testimonial content to TV commercial viewers, which extends the message rather than just leveraging the same content to selected target audiences.
At the end of the day, how do you prove the value of your branding efforts and ensure that your overall marketing strategy is aligned with Aflac’s business strategy?
We prove the value of our branding efforts through measurement of awareness and consideration and understanding the impact of those metrics on sales through an econometric media mix model.
Beyond TV, what do you think is your second-best performing channel?
The media mix model indicates that all of our media channels are important at different levels of spend and shows us that an integrated mix, including print, TV, online and below-the-line activities, work together to make all channels efficiently generate the best ROI for our media spend.
So how do you foresee Aflac growing as a brand in the future?
I think the meaning of our brand will evolve as the healthcare landscape changes. People will be buying health insurance in different ways than they are right now, and what they have access to will change. Our brand will have to evolve to meet them where they are in different ways than how it’s experienced right now. That may take place through different sales channels and establishing more meaningful messaging about emotional benefits within the context of healthcare reform. The meaning behind our brand will stay the same; our core ethics and values aren’t going to change. But where we are in the marketplace, how people buy us and how they interact with us is going to continue to evolve, and we will meet that challenge by testing and learning as we go.
Jennifer has almost 20 years of marketing experience including sports marketing for Coca-Cola and various other clients, new product development for 3M, international marketing for Yahoo!, communications and brand strategy for a wine e-commerce start up and direct marketing for DS Waters. In her current role as 2nd VP Creative Excellence for Aflac, she is responsible for all consumer and B2B media and advertising, brand marketing, digital, philanthropy, sponsorships, Hispanic and event marketing.
Courtney Pierce has been helping B2B organizations increase brand awareness and drive demand for over 10 years. Currently, Courtney is the director of demand generation at Brightcove, a global provider of products that publish and distribute the world’s professional digital media. Her focus is helping to establish online video as a meaningful marketing and revenue generation tool for online businesses. Prior to Brightcove, Courtney was a senior marketing manager for FAST, a Microsoft subsidiary. Courtney has a B.A. in advertising from Xavier University and an M.B.A. from Northeastern University.