Zurich’s Schulze Wants Marketing To Help Build, Grow The Business

Monika Schulze, global head of marketing at Zurich Insurance, talks about translating the importance of the customer to other parts of the business, the firm’s digital journey, and managing teams around the world.

Zurich's Schulze Wants Marketing To Help Build, Grow The Business

Monika Schulze previously worked in senior positions at Unilever, including as global vice-president for the Knorr brand, before moving into the insurance industry as CMO for Zurich Germany.

Now global head of marketing at Zurich, she is using her FMCG background to bring greater customer focus to the company—and the wider insurance industry. Monika keeps her finger on the digital pulse as part of the company’s innovation team, but she also believes in an integrated approach to marketing. I began by asking her about the biggest challenge she faces.

Schulze: The insurance industry has traditionally focused on sales teams and underwriters, and not so much on customers. But due to the digital world, and to a more informed customer, and to FinTech [financial technology companies] as challengers, this has evolved. In recent years we have managed to change our approach significantly, both as a company and as a marketing team.

That is why I joined the industry. I was specifically asked by the former CEO in Germany to set up a strategic marketing department focusing on customers, and to build up initiatives such as a customer database and customer lifetime value models, as well as carrying out market research to understand the main drivers when customers buy insurance, in both B2C and B2B. It has enabled the company to be much more data-driven than before.

CMO.com: How important was your FMCG background in achieving this at Zurich?

Schulze: If you look at the FMCG industry, the marketing teams are very customer-focused but also very data-focused, and when I was in that industry, I was also often responsible for profit and loss. If you look at the marketing and communications functions at Zurich, and across the insurance industry generally, marketing has traditionally been used to provide support—for events, for example—but this is changing. I believe we have to use the marketing function much more to build and grow the business rather than just in a supporting role.

CMO.com: What is the secret to achieving greater customer focus in the industry?

Schulze: You have to speak the language of your colleagues. I heard a recent talk at a conference about the need to speak the language of your internal customers. It made absolute sense to me. If I talk to the financial or business team, I can’t talk about needing to understand customers’ emotions. I have to say: “If I target the right customers and understand what they are saying, I can increase the business by x.” This is the language they understand. It is very important, especially as digital marketers, to translate jargon into something meaningful for other parts of the business. To achieve better customer focus, you have to ask: “What does it mean for the company?”

CMO.com: To what extent does Zurich see itself as a digital organisation?

Schulze: We are still on a journey. If you compare us to companies like Unilever and P&G, we are not spending that much money. That said, if you look at the media analysis, traditional channels work quite well and I think the trick is to have a good combination—look at your target customer and their journey, and then identify the best combination of media. In a traditional market like Switzerland, for example, TV is still effective, and you can achieve good results when you combine it with digital channels and paid media, especially if you want to engage the customer.

For B2B communication we have set up partnerships with LinkedIn, Bloomberg, and The Wall Street Journal, and combined that with Twitter activity, which works very well. Zurich is also quite active in thought leadership and we are working closely with the World Economic Forum (WEF), which also is very active on Twitter, giving us great reach.

CMO.com: How are you experimenting with other social media platforms?

Schulze: I am a big believer in focus. We have to get the social media channels we are currently using right first, and then we can extend. Right now, the numbers I get back from LinkedIn and Twitter look good, and I am happy with the customer journey. We may extend our activities in future, but I don’t want to do too many things at once.

In the retail space, our key focus is on developing social media platforms to support our agent channels. Our challenge is to get global content out to a local level and from local CMOs to agents. We are working together with companies such as Hearsay, which allows our agents to access a content library, select the content that suits them, and distribute it to their customer base, generally through Facebook. Results show that you not only increase the quality of the communication, but also influence business results and attract talents.

CMO.com: How important is mobile to your marketing activity?

Schulze: Mobile is everywhere now and is playing a more and more important role. The starting point is always the question about the target customer and customer journey. If we have good creative ideas, they need to be translated into the different channels the customer is using, including mobile.

I look at the type of customer and at my campaign, and then I identify what I need to do by channel, based on the data I get from the media agency.

CMO.com: As digital has grown in importance, how has the set-up of your marketing department changed?

Schulze: When I was a local CMO in Germany, I had a digital team and a traditional team. But I am a big believer in having everyone in one team and making sure you have enough digital expertise within that. In my experience, if you divide forces, everyone is doing their own stuff. It is a duplication of effort, and people think in boxes. You can avoid that if you have one team working on one project instead of having divisions.

I am a big fan of working towards a single objective. You write a brief and say: “This is what I want to achieve,” and you look at the target customer and the customer journey, and then you find solutions, instead of feeling that you have to do something digital and then something on TV.

That said, we have recruited a lot of people in the past few years who are specifically skilled in digital—not just digital marketing but digital KPIs and digital measurement.

CMO.com: What does your role at Zurich involve and how do you manage so many global teams?

Schulze: As a global CMO, it is important to set up a good relationship with the teams around the world and unite behind common goals. The starting point is the business objectives and what the CEOs in the countries need to achieve. Then we build marketing plans and join local and global efforts to achieve defined objectives.

I use technology and face-to-face meetings to communicate with the different country teams. You have to come together physically once in a while to establish emotional relationships—you have to see people, talk to them, and go to dinner with them. I can’t do that with all the countries, but I meet the CMOs of key countries at least four times a year and we try to get together as a whole team at least once a year. I also have bi-weekly telephone conference calls or video conference calls. Communication is key—you have to talk to people.

CMO.com: How easy is it to access the skills you need as marketing evolves?

Schulze: That is always a challenge because there is a huge difference between the different countries and the skills available. I try to develop and share best-practice examples from countries and groups within the company. For example, we had a big marketing summit last June where we asked countries to give examples of things that really worked for them. We gave out awards for the best ideas and shared them to encourage others to do the same. If we have a skill challenge in one of the countries, I will talk to the CEO and we will try to find a solution.

CMO.com: Do all of your marketing recruits need strong digital skills now?

Schulze: I think every good marketer today should have digital skills. Without digital skills, you can’t carry out good marketing. I don’t think it is a question of age, of recruiting younger people. A lot of people who are older now have good digital skills.

CMO.com: How do you ensure that you keep your own digital knowledge up to date?

Schulze: Firstly, I use my agency network a lot, and I also attend a lot of conferences—I went to Mobile World Congress in Barcelona recently. Being at the right events to get the right input is so important. I also have the privilege of being part of the Innovation Team within Zurich, and we recently went to Silicon Valley and to Israel, where we looked specifically at marketing innovation.

In Silicon Valley we were hosted by a data-driven company who we work very closely with now. Data is all about having the right skills but also the right IT capacity to gather data and make sense of it.

We also work with Google and attend their workshops. We have recently been talking to them about search and YouTube, but also things like Google Cloud. It broadens digital marketing to business relevance, not just a narrow marketing competence. We have a good partnership with IBM too, and specifically IBM Watson [a cognitive technology platform]. IBM has very sophisticated marketing tools, especially when it comes to customer insights.

CMO.com: How do you see marketing and digital marketing evolving?

Schulze: Data is a big thing. At the Mobile World Conference there was a very good presentation from IBM about psychological data—about mindset, emotion, and mood—data is getting very sophisticated.

I am also a big believer in the concept of storytelling; it’s not about pushing out what you believe is important in the world, but about telling stories and getting customer feedback. It’s about creating a conversation rather than one-way communication. I don’t believe you can go into storytelling with 30-second ads—you need more, and digital opens up the means to do that.

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