Q&A With Esurance CMO Alan Gellman

Born in Digital, Esurance Has Data at Its Core

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Alan Gellman, Esurance
Alan Gellman, Esurance

Unlike most insurance companies, Esurance was born during the data-hungry digital era in 1998. So it's no surprise Esurance CMO Alan Gellman's marketing division and the rest of the Allstate-owned firm employ its rich customer data not only for marketing but for customer experience and product development. That approach has led to an innovative pay-per-mile offering for customers in bicycle-friendly Oregon, where some drivers own a vehicle but often choose to commute on bike or by public transportation. It's also evident in the company's website, which uses algorithms to prioritize coverage options displayed to potential customers.

"Data and the use of information is the heart and the core of our DNA at Esurance," said Mr. Gellman, himself a cycling enthusiast with a penchant for self-quantification. "My friends tease me about how data-oriented I am even with the bike."

As Esurance was an early adopter of search marketing, the provider of auto and homeowners insurance has incorporated non-traditional channels like Twitter into its marketing efforts. For this year's Super Bowl, the company complemented a pre-game spot with a Twitter sweepstakes, automatically entering people into a $1 million giveaway contest when they retweeted the firm's tweets.

"We've been doing this a long time," said Mr. Gellman, noting that Esurance was among the early big spenders on Google AdWords fifteen years ago. "We really were born this way."

With a background in CPG at Kraft General Foods from 1988 to 1993 and ConAgra from 1993 to 1998, where he was responsible for brands such as Swiss Miss and Breyers ice cream, Mr. Gellman is careful to remember that ultimately his work must serve the customer. "It worries me we get so deep into talking about data and analytics … we forget that it's human beings we're looking to serve better."

Ad Age talked with the Esurance CMO about how his CPG background informs what he does today, about the insurance provider's approach to data, and about diversity in hiring, an issue of personal significance to Mr. Gellman.

Ad Age: You had a lot of experience in CPG marketing in your earlier career. How does your CPG background compare to your approach to data analytics and research and its applications at Esurance?

Mr. Gellman: What CPG has always excelled at is putting the customer at the center and thinking about what it means to deliver on the customer need. Similarly, Esurance was originally built to address a customer need -- the need for an online insurance company. Where we differ from CPG is that Esurance has enormous access to data that contains rich information about our customers and prospects. That in turn, gives us insights to develop services and products to better serve them.

Ad Age: Esurance was an early adopter to search. How has that helped inform current strategies?

Mr. Gellman: Two things have differentiated Esurance from day one: we were founded as an online insurance company and set up as a data-driven organization. The core of who we are started in search and is how we continue today. We apply those same skills of leveraging search in its infancy to all forms of marketing including digital media, social media, content, etc. We continue to use the principles of optimization to accelerate new ideas that work and shift direction when there are better uses of our resources.

Ad Age: How did data collection and analysis factor in to Esurance's recent Super Bowl marketing?

Mr. Gellman: We are a major brand in the insurance category, but people aren't as familiar with Esurance as they are with our major competitors, who spend far more than we do. So, maximizing awareness of our innovative offerings for customers is important. Our strategy of both bookending the game [with TV ads] and creating deep engagement throughout the game gave us the flexibility to develop a real-time integrated experience that we wouldn't have gotten with a more traditional approach. For the sweepstakes component, we chose Twitter as our primary platform because it's used for real-time conversations and has a low barrier to entry. It also allowed us to target specific topics and measure our engagements to see which content performed better, allowing us to amplify those that had the greatest potential. Overall, we leveraged insights and knowledge across our marketing functions to create a powerful program.

Ad Age: You also use data in your personal endeavors. You've tried a variety of fitness tracking devices over the years. What did you grow out of and why?

Mr. Gellman: My love for collecting data at work definitely spills over into my personal life! I've experimented with devices such as the Misfit Shine, which I liked because it's waterproof -- but ironically I lost it kayaking -- and the Jawbone UP24, which had a great sleep tracking feature. Now I track everything on my smartphone and through Strava, the cycling application. I'm passionate about cycling and am able to track a great deal of information with Strava to help me set goals and continue to push myself.

Ad Age: Diversity hiring is an important issue for you personally, as the parent of a daughter you and your wife adopted across racial lines. Tell me about Esurance's approach to diversifying staff.

Mr. Gellman: Diversity in general is important to me. That includes ethnic diversity, different mindsets, geographic location, cultural background and personality types. And having a diverse work population creates more value for your customers.

One of the reasons I'm proud to work at Esurance is because of the company's emphasis on diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Our Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Council, is comprised of associates of all levels and office locations, working closely with our senior management team to drive diversity efforts. We also have Employee Resource Groups, which brings together associates with a common interest to promote professional development and community outreach opportunities. Those include groups like ePride, eBility, and EVETS to name a few. Personally, I learn so much from the diverse perspectives we get from our associates.

Our parent company, Allstate, also does this very well and has been publically recognized for their commitment to diversity and inclusion. We're proud to follow in their footsteps.

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