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Six Road-Tested Tips for Driving a Marketing Department

CMO Spotlight: Ann Davids, Direct General Insurance

By Published on .

Ann Davids.
Ann Davids. Credit: Direct General Insurance

Word-of-mouth is the holy grail of marketing. Think about the last time someone made a recommendation to you, be it a restaurant, a cold remedy, or a local tailor. Chances are, you followed through and were pleasantly surprised. Because you trusted the person's opinion, their recommendation was guaranteed to carry a certain level of quality.

The same can be said for advice from the winners of each year's CMO Club Awards. When one of these marketing leaders gives insights into their work, you know they're road-tested. So, today, enjoy the travel tips of Ann Davids, SVP and CMO of auto and life insurance company Direct General Insurance. As a recent Corporate Social Responsibility Award winner, Davids has a few tricks up her sleeve as to how to drive marketing down new roads, from customer service to employee buy-in. Take notes, and follow her lead.

1) Give employees a road map

Let's start internally. By now, we know that any initiative from the marketing department is more likely to succeed with employee support. Being open with the blueprints of your initiative is one way to spark genuine interest, Davids says. For example, when her department began rebuilding a new consumer-facing app, they framed their plans in the hallways of Direct. "We basically ran our own internal campaign, and it got people excited and raised intellectual curiosity," she says. "It really created momentum. People wanted to work on the initiative; they're thinking about value they could add in advance of being asked."

2) Learn the local language

When delivering a message to consumers or building an app like the one just mentioned, Davids explains it's important to always communicate on consumers' terms. "We try to just always speak the customer's language," she says, noting that many companies tend to revert to their own jargon. "Auto and life insurance can be very complicated," she says. "So we try not to speak insurance but speak plain English to our customers in a way that they want to hear it and can receive it well," adding, "And keep it simple."

3) Go off-road every once in a while

While simple is effective, adding a little something extra to the consumer experience can surprise and delight. At Direct, Davids and her team launched a campaign called #PleasantSurprises. She acknowledges that, like many of us, purchasing insurance can be confusing and, well, just not fun. "We try to have added little surprises along the way that make it easier to do business with Direct Auto and Life Insurance," she says. "And we've seen this campaign resonate well with our customers."

4) Move at the speed of traffic

When it comes to deploying campaigns, however, Davids says it's important, again, to listen to your customers. At Direct, innovating doesn't necessarily mean adopting each new marketing trend, since its customers are still heavy consumers of traditional media. "What I consider state of the art is knowing when to jump on a trend vs. waiting," Davids says. "Our customer is still telling us that they enjoy other mediums, as well as digital … so we've been careful in how we transition to digital. We are transitioning, like most brands, and so far our testing has confirmed our pace."

5) Consult your fellow travelers

In pursuit of a great customer experience, Davids warns marketing leaders to not neglect their professional relationships and networks. "You've got to find people that you connect with," she says. "If you make investments in these relationships, they will be valuable. There's nothing more valuable to me than my network and the mentors I've had over the years." She credits the CMO Club with growing her network, as well as her 20 years in marketing -- and her ability to show up. "To really have a successful network, I think you have to be there for others," Davids says. "You have to be open to different challenges that come along, in work as well as in your personal space, and be willing to share what you learned from those experiences."

6) Know when to pump the brakes

As marketers, we often seek control over the entire customer experience, and sometimes, the business itself. However, knowing which one should command your attention can make or break your efforts, Davids says. "We spell success with our ability to put our foot on and take it off the gas, knowing what other parts of the business needs at times too," she says. "There were times when we would press harder and times that we would let off a little bit. Whatever the initiative or resource need was." Being sensitive to the flow of business pays off, Davids says. "I think we earned a lot of credit for that in not just being marketing savvy, but being business savvy."

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