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RSA’s Natalie Whitty on Why Agility and Thoughtfulness Are The Perfect Partners


Purpose is the marketer’s north star as she helps guide one of the world’s oldest insurance groups navigate a time of great change

RSA’s Natalie Whitty on Why Agility and Thoughtfulness Are The Perfect Partners
As brands’ marketing needs evolve, in-housing is becoming an increasingly appealing avenue for marketers. From full-service agencies and content studios to hybrid models that allow brands a more a la carte approach, there are many ways to approach in-housing. ‘Inside In-housing’ is a feature series created in partnership with OLIVER (the pioneer of the in-house model for brands), in which marketers explore the different opportunities and challenges of modern-day agency models.

As one of the world’s oldest insurance groups, RSA occupies an interesting position in the landscape. On the one hand, that longevity and heritage is a great calling card in an industry where reliability and a strong foundation are important for customers. On the other, as customers’ needs become more complex (and the past two years have been, at the very least, complex) the brand needs to be sensitive and responsive to users’ evolving needs. Add to that a new owner (last year RSA was acquired by Canadian insurer Intact Financial Corporation) and it’s clear that the brand’s marketing and comms teams are juggling interesting questions at a pivotal time.

Natalie Whitty is strategy, communications and marketing director at RSA - focusing largely on the business side of the insurer’s offering - and from her perspective, the heft that comes from being a business that can trace its roots back to 1706 is invaluable to the brand.

“I think it’s the same as you’d expect in any industry where you are working for an organisation that has a lot of history. Perhaps for insurance, that feeling of longevity and reliability is more associated with the product that we sell. In general terms, the fact of that long heritage has an association with it of building trust. With insurance, that is obviously a key factor in terms of what our customers are looking for. The fact that we have endured many crises and we’re still here, we’re still standing and we’re strong - those are the sorts of things that they [customers] aspire to.”

But that doesn’t necessarily result in a stale and stagnant approach to marketing - far from it. Relevance is key: “As a marketeer, you have to make sure that your campaigns and messages will feel authentic in the context of what people’s experience of your brand is likely to be in the day-to-day. But also, building on your strength is always a good place to start, rather than trying to invent from scratch something which perhaps doesn’t feel intuitively aligned with who people believe you to be.”

Thankfully, what Natalie and her team - and her counterparts on the consumer side of the business - have is a sense of purpose that drives every decision.

“I’ll just start with a personal perspective: when I’ve sought to work for an organisation, I’ve always wanted to feel some connection to what they do and to believe that there’s a social value in the work they’re doing,” says Natalie. “That core ‘reason to be’ of insurance is to make sure that it’s not possible for anyone to lose everything.”

Natalie continues to explain just how deep and how far across the organisation that sense of purpose goes. “People are very driven by that purpose. Whether that’s in our customer contact centres or in other parts of the organisation, it’s really about making sure that we have something which is finely tuned to customers and will support them when the chips are down.”

Since joining the fold with Intact, Natalie has been impressed by its mission ‘to help people, businesses and society prosper in good times and be resilient in bad times’. That idea of prospering in good times - taking the risk to start a business or go on holiday - brings a proactive but realistic positivity to a sector whose key products are often viewed as grudge purchases.

But talking of resilience in bad times, there’s no way to avoid the fact that the Covid-19 pandemic was a really bad time for most of RSA’s business customers. For Natalie and her colleagues, like marketers across the board, a global pandemic on such a scale was a situation they’d never had to deal with before. But rather than headlessly rush, the team was careful to make sure that its responses were measured, appropriate and genuinely helpful.

“That agility was so critical, but what I think we really learned was how important it was that agility went hand in hand with thoughtfulness. In the early days of the pandemic, we saw a few campaigns or marketing executions that fell really flat. I don’t think any of us could forget the group of celebrities singing Imagine,” recalls Natalie.

“There was a point during the pandemic where there was so much going on and RSA was making hundreds of decisions a day that could impact customers, but we really made sure that we put the right governance and engagement from across the business in place, so that we continued to consider all angles,” says Natalie. “It’s just a really good example of how you marry that pace with making sure that you don’t sacrifice collaboration and dialogue. Everything’s always simplest and quickest if you do it by yourself, right? But actually, it’s really important that you recognise where you sit in a debate and the context in which you make decisions.”

Having come through what we all hope is the worst of the pandemic, the team is turning its agile thoughtfulness to new challenges. For example, how it can ensure that its various go-to-market brands and corporate identity are both cohesive and flexible. One example Natalie raises is the group’s perception as an employer and how that marries with how it shows up to customers. “It’s just thinking in that holistic way about who we are and what we need to emphasise when we talk about ourselves in different contexts to make us compelling - whether that’s as a place to work or a place to buy from.”

In terms of changes in the broader marketing landscape, there’s no doubt that there’s a lot for Natalie and her colleagues to keep track of. With proliferating platforms with an insatiable appetite for content, it could be easy for a marketer to be overwhelmed or feel that you need to do everything. Again, Natalie has a balanced view - that thoughtful agility comes into play once more. 

“I think the need to generate content and be responsive and engage with an increasing array of platforms is something that any organisation needs to think about,” says Natalie. “I don’t think - this is a personal view and I’m sure there will be people in my team who don’t necessarily agree with me - brands should feel pressure to be on every single platform. You have to choose where you show up and where you play, based on what you think is right for your brands and the customers that you want to engage with, the stakeholders you want to engage with. I think it’s important to be thoughtful and not feel like you have to be at every party.” 

“But I do think that it is true that in a world which is less physically high-touch and much more technology-first, you need to feel relevant, and you need to feel like you move at the pace that people need you to move at, whether that’s a business or an individual. Your social presence and the content that you generate does need to reflect that.”

“Again, it’s making sure that you have that thoughtfulness to accompany that responsiveness.”

And looking more internally at the marketing team’s set-up, Natalie says that the team is fairly lean and that there’s no substantial in-house capability on production. Instead, Natalie focuses on making the most of relationships with external partners.

Natalie’s advice is that working with external partners and really empowering them to do their best for you is about clarity and not necessarily approaching them with an existing assumption about the best solution to a problem. “Set clear objectives, bring external partners close to the business problem, not just your planned marketing application or response,” she says. “The briefs that you’re going to get the most out of are where you set the challenge, you don’t say: ‘this is what I’m planning to do, can you provide the assets and collateral media buying to support it?’.”

Looking forward, Natalie is eager to get stuck into the meaty challenge of really defining the marketing and communications strategy for the business’ new era. “RSA is eight months into being part of a new group. We’re really ambitious in that context. My focus is on making sure that we have the right marketing and comms attitude, approach, the right investment and ways of working that can really put us at the centre of driving that ambition and delivering it,” she says. “It feels like quite an exciting moment.”

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Categories: Finance, Insurance

OLIVER, Fri, 11 Mar 2022 16:43:42 GMT