Manulife Asia CMO on nabbing agency talent to build up internal design team

At a time where the customer is on multiple devices at any one time, experiences and interactions trump brand promises. The challenge for brands in this environment, Francesco Lagutaine (pictured), chief marketing and experience design officer at Manulife Asia explained, is finding new ways to drive brands in the social psyche and earning a space in the consumer’s “consideration set”.

“The world is complex and customer interactions are becoming an essential differentiator, particularly for financial services. Companies that want to win in this game need to take direct ownership,” Lagutaine explained.

As such, having the right talent is crucial for success, which is the reason why Manulife is "building an internal design team and hiring talent out of agencies".

He said, "This model is less about the traditional servicing relationship and more about a partnership of equals."

For Lagutaine, people are more important than the institution when it comes to agency-client relationships. Currently, the brand works with several specialist agencies across Asia from traditional communication and branding agencies to digital and design shops. The company declined to comment on the names of the agencies.

“It’s essential for us to have the right working chemistry with agency talent that can really push our thinking and who can work in a collaborative partnership with us,” Lagutaine added.

Finding good marketing talent

When it comes to finding good marketing talent, Lagutaine said that this was a significant challenge across sectors. This is because the external environment is undergoing dramatic change. This comes as the core of marketing is shifting from consumers (the broad market) to customers (specific users). As such, understanding of experience design, data modelling and observational research is needed in this new world.

We need to develop our people and attract talent that is comfortable questioning all the things that have made them successful and are both willing and able to develop new skills.

Wearing multiple marketing hats, Lagutaine’s current remit includes developing a comprehensive brand and customer experience strategy that is aligned to the global priorities, built on customer intelligence and ramp up the research and analytics function. He is also responsible for developing the digital strategy of Manulife, in alignment with regional, country and technology priorities.

When asked about the challenges of marketing insurance in Asia, Lagutaine said that the market in Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, is facing a massive protection gap having the highest proportion of un-insured or under insured, individuals in the world. He said:

Customers are struggling with an industry that historically is more complicated than it is intuitive.

Manulife’s focus hence lies in looking at the “enormous opportunities” which Asia brings. Using Singapore as an example, Lagutaine explained that the government’s encouragement of the use of technology and data is pushing the insurance industry to drive value proposition and distribution for its customers.

“This is a catalyst for insurance companies to reassess what we do, how we go to market, and will improve the quality of our products and the way customers choose to interact with us,” Lagutaine said.

Cutting through the clutter

While there is no “silver bullet solution” or “copy-and-paste” approach for brands to stand out, Lagutaine explained that being relevant should be at the core and that comes from a deep understanding of the customer.

“Products and services need to be intuitive, simple and designed from the customer’s perspective. Customers need to decide when and on which platform to engage with us,” Lagutaine said.

For example in China, Manulife introduced WeChat claims, which enabled customers to use WeChat to submit claims. It has also reduced the time its customers’ medical claims are processed to within one day.

“Although we are making progress in this area, as an industry, we have a long way to go,” Lagutaine said.

Artificial intelligence is also something which the company is interested in, as it provides the opportunity to personalise its customer relationships at scale. Currently, the trends which Manulife follows most closely which it views to have the greatest impact on its business – is how people live their lives. This includes a customer’s saving patterns, attitudes towards their families, how they look after their health, the value they put on financial stability and their technology usage and preferences, Lagutaine explained.

However, brands need to carefully tread the line between being personal and “creepily intrusive”. Even though data is safe, brands need to be mindful about data privacy and using customer data to predict and influence their choices.

“This is so that we don’t cross the line from being surprisingly helpful to creepily intrusive,” Lagutaine said.

When it comes to data and brand safety, Lagutaine outlined two main issues, the first being using the power of data to create value for customers, and the second is safeguarding a customer’s data. He explained that the first issue is in many ways harder to crack, as it ventures into new territories.

Meanwhile, the issue of data safety is of critical importance for Manulife. It is seen as a largely technical solution, and the brand challenges itself everyday to ensure it is constantly evolving customer data protection.

“It’s about managing how the almost infinite availability of data affects our business and value propositions. We need to keep in mind how it is changing the way we build and service our products and – importantly – how this will directly benefit our customers,” Lagutaine said.