Thursday, February 23, 2012

Importance of Technology for Marketers - Interview with Deepali Naair - L&T General Insurance

Importance of Technology for Marketers - Interview with Deepali Naair - L&T General Insurance
Deepali Naair is the Country Head – Brand & Corporate Communications for L&T General Insurance. She joined L&T Insurance two years ago to launch the General Insurance business in India. She has been instrumental in designing the brand strategy and e-commerce strategy for L&T Insurance.
As a part of our series on tech-savvy CMOs Paul Writer had a conversation with her.

PW: How important is technology for the success of the modern marketer?
DN: I think technology today is all pervasive and I don’t think we should even ask how important it is. To quote an example - the Indian population is 122 crores and today we have 75 crore mobile phones in this country. That means we have more than half the households or even population in this country using mobile phones. Reports suggest that the penetration of mobile phones in urban areas is already 100 per cent. Therefore when we are talking about a company like ours which is targeting adults, chances are 100% of my customers have mobile phones. Given this premise, we have developed database principles to manage our CRM platform keeping the phone number as the key dedupe logic. I gave you this example just to underline the fact that my consumer is changing - my consumer is becoming more technology oriented and I think a marketer has to follow the consumer trends. I need to use technology to not only reach the consumer but also to speak in the same language as the consumer.
Of course the pace of technology is very different than what it used to be earlier. There is a certain velocity that technology has today which we need to consider in our plans. The way we did things even 3 years ago has changed dramatically today. For example mobile phones which had about 30 percent penetration in 2008 has become a majority trend today. Similarly, I see a sea change in the technology solutions which were available three years ago versus the technology solutions that are available today. Infact I don’t think the technology teams or CIOs ever paid great attention to the CMO three years ago given their priorities then. That has changed; especially in BFSI, telecom and technology space where there is an explosion of data happening. And the CMO has to deal with it and probably some of the CMOs are developing their own solutions, without the CIOs. In last eighteen months I have seen changes at a lot of forums where CIOs and CMOs are sitting together. For e.g. I was invited to the US to speak at a CIO forum on what we are doing in the insurance space in India. I think everybody is recognising that marketers need to be very well equipped with technology. A good marketer will have pulse of the consumer and therefore you know you cannot evade technology at all.

PW: What are your current marketing priorities & how does that translate to technology?
DN: We are at the start up phase. Given that, I think building the backbone of CRM and Data & Analytics are two of my key priorities. Since I also look after e - business channel, having a strong technology backbone, a good web solution enabling call centre operations are the priorities.
There is a difference between being a part of this start up versus another start up where I worked a decade ago. At that time marketing priority was to get brand position, brand identity and brand communication right and that consumed majority of our time. Whereas here we did that in the initial 5 – 6 months itself and for the last one year the marketing team’s priority is to put these technology pieces together with collaborative efforts from the technology team.
PW: In your organization how has technology played a role in customer acquisition or retention?
DN: I would define the customer as end customer and the distribution channel. I would say it has played a very important role in guiding us in the way we envisage the whole solution for the customer. We have done few remarkable innovations for which we have received global awards like the ‘IT Leadership Award’ at the Asia Insurance Technology Awards and also the global ‘Celent Model Insurer Award’ for our ‘Enterprise Systems’. Let me explain by taking an example of service - When I say service it is not just after sales service but service in terms of pre and post sales experience and during sales experience which we want to manage for our distributors and end customers. There exists a practice of issuing cover notes for motor insurance prior to the issuance of policy document. We have done away with it because we have actually implemented instant policy issuance across the country in more than 1000 locations (based on PIN codes) with the help of technology. With this one example I can tell you that technology plays a big role in customer acquisition.
Retention is a day to day business. Retention is managing the pre and post sales experience of the customer for both the channel and end customer. We are a start up and the channel feedback / experience is very important to us. Some of our channels deal with multiple insurance companies and their informal feedback is that what we have done in the first few months is remarkable. We don’t use technology for the sake of technology but use it for servicing the channel and customer in a better manner.

PW: How has technology played a role in new product development, market expansion or other areas?
DN: I already explained the cover note example to you. There are several other areas where technology plays an important role in the way our distributors interact with us. We have an ecosystem which is on the web, we have an architecture which allows channels to come in and have faster service from us. That has improved efficiency right at the beginning of our business. We are of course experimenting with a lot of new technology for example the lead management system which is completely mobile based. If you are asking particularly about market expansion then technology has played a big role. We are capable of issuing policies anywhere anytime in more than 1000 locations (based on PIN codes). As on December 2011, we have customers across 1000+ locations in the country within 15 months of operations.
On product development or product management side, the experience will come over a period of time. We are building systems to ensure we are very good with analytics and data. We need to have data pertaining to minimum two years for the inferences to flow back into the product development process.

PW: How would you say the level of collaboration between the CMO and CIO in your organization was?
DN: Great! We both are best buddies and in a technology set-up such as ours, they have to be best buddies. Infact this is one of my favourite ideas that in today’s day and age if a company has to succeed, one of the key success factor is that the CMO has to be a little of CIO and vice versa. That means I have to do that extra piece of understanding technology solutions better and being able to explain my needs in technology terms. Similarly you need CIOs who think business first and take interest in understanding the needs of customers and business. So going forward the CMOs and CIOs have to work together in a cohesive manner.

About Deepali Naair: She has had an eclectic marketing career working in varied industries for the last 19 years. She gets invited regularly to speak on ‘Digital Media’ at various Seminars and Conferences. In April 2011, she was invited to USA, for a presentation on “Social Media in India”. This presentation was made to the insurers based out of USA.
Besides working full time, she loves to teach and has been a faculty at SP Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai for about a decade now.

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