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India is at the cusp of a health, wellness, financial awareness revolution: Ajay Kakar

With the year drawing to a close, it is time to recap the major developments across the industry. As in the previous years, Adgully reviews the year 2021 for M&E, Advertising, Digital, Marketing, PR & Communications along with leading names in the industry as part of the REWIND 2021 series.

In conversation with Adgully, Ajay Kakar, Chief Marketing Officer, Aditya Birla Capital, speaks about how the financial services sector, especially insurance, geared up to meet the changing consumer requirements amid the pandemic, use of digital influencers and driving word of mouth, the importance of staying relevant, and more.

What are some of the major developments and trends that you noticed in the marketing and communications industry in 2021 for the financial services sector?

The pandemic made us realise that a ‘push’ category can convert to a ‘pull’ category, overnight, if we tap the right “what’s in it for me”, for the customer.

Traditionally, both the life and health insurance categories are seen as push categories, where only post many meetings, follow ups and ‘nagging’ does a person pause, listen and possibly convert. This is possibly because the prospect never understood the “WIFM” factor. But with health and life being at risk, within those known and unknown, people realised the need to reach out to understand for themselves, on how they can protect themselves and their loved ones through insurance.

As an industry, I believe, that it dawned on us that our categories and products are not the needs of a customer. The need to grow and save money. It is not about life or health insurance or mutual funds, but about ensuring one’s health and the financial health of one’s family. More so, in the times of uncertainty.

The need for simple and personalised products with an end-to-end online journey emerged as the key drivers for success in 2021. Going hyper-local to reach out to the consumers wherever they are, was another learning. A key realisation for the overall industry has been ‘Don’t take your customers for granted’. With things going online, switching to competition is just a click away. Continuous customer satisfaction and making the online journey customer friendly became imperative for both the insurance and the mutual fund industries.

Companies continued to stand by the customers with empathy and understanding, besides offering products one really needs. Both the industries were talking to more and more millennials with an aim to catch them young. COVID has raised awareness in the younger segment who were earlier not interested, especially in a category like insurance. Brands identified the opportunity to drive consideration and relevance for this newly inducted segment. Digital became a large component of all marketing plans, for both the categories.

This disruption led to most brands talking in simple, transparent and a data-backed manner. Use of digital influencers and driving word of mouth also increased significantly in the past one year. The financial services industry also witnessed a lot of communication around servicing, promotion of digital interfaces like Servicing Apps, etc., besides the product-driven approach.

And last, but not the least, we realised the importance of retaining existing customers by demonstrating the brand and product’s relevance during this moment of truth.

Demonstrating with empathy that companies understand the needs and know the preferences of a customer emerged as the tone of voice for the industry.

What have been the key challenges faced, as well as new learnings?

Amidst the pandemic we learnt that customers seek safety and solace from brands that make life easier and simpler for customers. These are the brands that are going to emerge stronger. Brand visibility was important during these times, but more so was the need to avoid the bhed-chaal and stay relevant and differentiated.

Since, customers have become more aware about financial products, there was a need to rethink on how the products and services can be positioned and communicated, innovatively and effectively, to grab the attention of the evolved customers. Being visible as a relevant brand has become paramount, keeping ‘customer first’ as the North Star for the brand. As a brand, Aditya Birla Capital invested time, effort and money to deliver and live up to our brand purpose; enabling every individual to live the life they truly desire, through money solutions that are easy to understand and implement.

However, during the second wave of the pandemic, insurance brands had to face the heat of unprecedented rise in claims and maintain customer’s expectations while managing reputation. This was a key challenge for almost everyone.

One of the key learnings was, “Don’t make your online journey complicated and don’t assume all online customers are tech savvy”. Handhold your customer at every touch point with empathy and understanding. And be there for them and their families at the true moment of truth; claims, redemptions or disbursements.

Will the outlook for 2022 be a cautious approach? What new trends can one expect?

India is at the cusp of a health, wellness, and financial awareness revolution.

Those who use this time to invest in redefining themselves to become even more relevant, offer simplicity and greater convenience and hyper personalise their offering and communications, will have a disproportionate advantage. The trend will be to hit the market with never before agility and speed, leverage big data, use AI for an omni-channel marketing approach to further create a robust customer relationship and boost loyalty.

The pandemic has reminded all of us that in good times or bad, the customer remains king. The brand who best listens to, understands, and addresses his/her said and unsaid needs, in good times, and more so in bad times, will live to tell the tale.


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