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BW Businessworld

Marketing in the COVID Era — Driving Brand Loyalty in Financial Services through Data & Technology

To understand the marketing strategies of companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, BW Businessworld organized a round-table discussion with the Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) of some select organizations from the BFSI sector.

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The COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant challenges to all walks of life. For some businesses, the road ahead could be filled with uncertainty. Strategies, processes and engagement tactics may have to be altered in order to get through this current scenario. The leadership of companies have to ensure their organizations sail smoothly through these times, Marketing is closest to the consumer from a behavioural and insights perspective, and is thus often the breeding ground of innovative ideas. 

This roundtable discussion was designed and conducted by Ed Nair, Consulting Editor – Technology, BW Businessworld. He started out by posing the question of what companies may be doing to keep their most valuable consumers close, and this pointed mostly to loyalty programs that drive these relationships. Companies in industries such as retail, airlines, banking have adopted loyalty marketing in a big way, and most of the market seems to be focussed on programs that award and administer the redemption of loyalty points. 

Sanket Raina spoke about Experience-driven Customer Loyalty in the financial services. Going forward he foresees customer loyalty management evolving from transaction driven loyalty to experience driven loyalty. “Loyalty programs do not need to be redefined - they have to continuously evolve as an entity. Loyalty is ever changing and there are different levels of it to be addressed in every business. Loyalty programs have to be dynamic to keep bringing new aspects to customer engagement so that consumers keep returning. As businesses move towards higher levels of digitalization, there will always be hygiene service deliveries that always have to be performed 100% of the times and then loyalty programs can kick into delight their customers. This understanding is often overlooked. In the insurance sector, loyalty programs are now more and more about the experiences we provide to customers. Experience is the way forward as they bring in an emotional connect and address a relevant need gap in the consumer lifecycle”.

Taking the discussion forward, Mr. Ashish Tiwari, Sr. Vice President - Marketing and Digital, Future Generali India Life Insurance elucidated that delivery of customer satisfaction is crucial to brand loyalty. “Customers make an informed choice of continuing our services or not multiple times over the product lifecycle in our industry. Hence, it is very important for our industry to be continuously in touch and remain focused on delivering the right customer experience. The loyalty for a life insurer is to make the correct experience delivery for the customer, being very transparent about what is being communicated. Insurance marketers are bound to follow the regulation, but loyalty is triggered by walking beyond regulation and delivering exceeding customer expectations all the times. The basic of customer satisfaction starts with a simple act – bringing simplicity in your communication. The second factor after simplicity to impact the customer loyalty is the ongoing meaningful engagement with the customer - going beyond just renewal follow-up. It’s about telling customers truthfully and simply what is in their best interest.”

Shiv Tiwary, CMO, Reliance Nippon Life Insurance Company Ltd. discussed the implications of recent trends such as regrouping of channels and less of physical buying on the marketer’s mandate. He also spoke about the corresponding change in the way customer loyalty would be viewed by marketers in the New Normal. “Loyalty usually manifests in repeat purchase behaviour and a Loyalty Program institutionalises it. Loyalty programs create a smart way for marketers to offer inducements and align their systems to influence buying behaviours to enhance customer lifetime value. The challenge with Loyalty Programs today, is that, they are highly replicable and of late, have lost sheen because they no longer distinguish the brand or create unique propositions for customers. The waning influence of Loyalty programs therefore requires marketers to step back and evaluate customer stickiness from first principles.

In the classical sense, loyalty is an exalted state of one-ness that creates reciprocity of emotions. In the digital world, this is very much happening and brands can adopt distinct personas that reflect those of individual customers. Integration of behavioural science and modern-tech makes it possible for brands to present themselves in a way that they resonate with customer at an individual level, without losing their identity at an overall level. In the context of the post Covid world, the breakthrough moment for a brand would be the time when the customer starts to see a part of him/herself in the brand.”

Mr. Hariharan Mahadevan, SVP & Head - Strategic Projects, Analytics and MIS, ICICI Securities Limited discussed the aspect of data readiness and his approach to creating customer data platform. Loyalty is a two-way confidence building activity. It’s not the only way to look at customers, it is also how customers look up to you. Building a Customer Data Platform is a journey and the whole idea is to create a client map that includes transaction behaviour data, demographic data, creating homogenous micro segments to provide personalized journeys, experiences, content to enhance lifetime value. Deeper insightful data is intelligence which in turn helps us take necessary action. If sufficient knowledge is not present to transform data into intelligence, it is a wasted exercise. This effectively means that it is important to capture both structured and unstructured data and use it effectively to enrich customer experience.

Mr. Vyom Upadhyay, Head - Data Science & Analytics, ICICI Bank highlighted, “Machine Learning (ML) and Artificial Intelligence (AI) are important tools for the Bank to take decisions on all key customer facing matters such as marketing, customer engagement and customer experience. ML is deeply embedded into the customer management process. The biggest use case of AI and ML in marketing for the Bank is analysing all the interactions, transactions and profiles to provide unique offers and services to the customers. Our digital platforms are enabled by a host of AI and ML algorithms to provide customised experience to our customers.”

Subhasis Ghosh, Joint President & Head Marketing, Kotak Mahindra Life Insurance Company discussed customer identity programs for the modern marketing organization which deals with various aspects such as CRM, customer data platforms, marketing automation stack, and such, mostly discretely. “I am committed to my customer and my customer is committed to me for all of 20 years in a 20-year policy. For every customer we get at least two sets of data - the customer’s data and that of the nominee. To drive persistency, we need to rightly assess the data every two years because the income profile of customer would have changed with new obligations or new liabilities. When the customer takes up a new liability, it is for us to upsell to cover for the liability.”

Being a marketing leader Mr. Chakradhar Reddy Gampala, Head of Digital Transformation & Analytics, TATA AIG spoke about the challenges in planning, evaluating and buying and ways to handle it. “Ecosystem partnerships are developing in the business. The insurance industry is going to move to a digital ecosystem. Customers may or may not want to come and directly buy insurance in the process of something else. As insurance marketers, we will have to continue to make the brand relevant to the customer. It is an uncharted territory but unless we build a brand, we just become a manufacturer and a brand completely irrelevant to the customer”.

Adding to the discussion, Mr. Ashish Sinha, Managing Director, Epsilon – APAC & MEA threw more light on handling the current challenges marketers are facing. “Marketing is being seen as a revenue generating entity, not just for influencing revenue anymore. Brand salience and awareness need to convert to tangible business benefits. And this is where technology adoption can lay the right foundations for a brand, especially in the APAC region that is at the cusp of seeing all the advantages that technology brings to a business. We believe that most businesses haven’t yet crossed the threshold of business impact that the right tech stack can deliver for them.

Marketing strategies, brand engagement and customer experiences are constantly evolving as time goes and technologies are developed. But the next phase of evolution is perhaps the most challenging. But with innovation and perseverance, businesses will be able to adapt to the “new normal” as they always do.


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