Episode 28: Road-Tested Tips for Driving a Marketing Department

Guest: Ann Davids Senior Vice President and CMO, Direct General Insurance Company

Without communication, businesses crumble. Sending a clear message is the only surefire way to get people to care about your brand. This need for coherence isn’t limited to the marketer-consumer relationship, however—all business branches should work in harmony in order to present a sharp brand image. Ann Davids, Senior Vice President and CMO of Direct General Insurance Company, specializes in coordinating her company’s identity on all fronts.

In this week’s episode of the Renegade Thinkers Unite podcast, Davids explains how a brand identity can become too abstract if it’s not managed well internally. It’s Davids’s duty to weave product language, internal language and consumer language together to create campaigns that customers and Direct employees can embrace.

Listen to the podcast above or continue reading for a summary of the episode.

Marketers should stay in close contact with their fellow departments, believes Davids. When the marketing department at Direct works in unison with the entire office, it can accomplish brand goals from all angles. Davids says, “I’ve often heard it said that marketing should make the rest of the organization uncomfortable. I couldn’t agree more. I’ll really advocate for anything the business needs, even beyond marketing if it helps move the needle.”

This strategy is mutually beneficial, Davids finds. In addition to orienting the marketing team’s attention to the overall business plan, she seeks to involve other business disciplines in Direct’s advertising campaigns. In previous years, Davids has laid out the blueprints of her team’s marketing strategy for all to see—literally—by distributing architectural blueprints in frames around the office. “We basically run our own internal campaign, and it tends to get people excited and raise intellectual curiosity,” Davids says. “We have people hand-raising to opt in to work on these things instead of having to recruit.”

The blueprints clearly illustrated the marketing strategies, but they also generated interest in the projects from the entire company. Let’s face it; if an organization can’t get its own team members excited about a campaign, how can it expect to make a lasting impact on consumers?

Speaking of impacting consumers, Davids notes how Direct aims to be, well, more direct. “We try to just always speak the customer’s language,” she says. “Whatever that happens to be for your particular customer, I think you have to really understand them and how they talk and process, and what they’re looking for.” Offering exactly what the consumer needs is only half the battle, however. Without clear, direct marketing, any campaign can fall flat.

Given the nature of Direct Insurance’s industry, it’s inherently tough to make consumers eager to engage with the brand, which is why Davids’s team goes the extra mile to make their experience enjoyable. Davids says, “A lot of people don’t want to pay for insurance, either, so we make it fun, we make it pleasant and we try to have added little surprises along the way that make it easier to do business with Direct Auto and Life Insurance.” These “little surprises” have resonated well with customers, she says.

Another challenge for Direct has been the transition to new marketing platforms. When the company knew it wanted to establish a strong digital presence, Davids was careful not to jump the gun with new channels. Her team decided that gradual changes would better suit the brand’s customers. “Our customer is still telling us that they enjoy other mediums, as well as digital,” says Davids. “They’re still heavy consumers of television and radio, so we’ve been careful in how we transition to digital.”

This kind of adaptability is an important piece of Direct’s marketing puzzle. Davids talks about the art of identifying the next big thing: “Really, what I consider state of the art is knowing when to jump on a trend versus waiting. Or how you might migrate within your own media mix.” Although her team is always looking for the next big thing, the marketing department acts slowly and steadily when integrating it into a campaign.

If Davids could offer just one piece of advice to her fellow marketing leaders, it would be to maintain a robust network of professionals. “I think you’ve got to find people that you connect with,” she says. “If you make investments in these relationships, they will be valuable. There’s nothing more valuable to me than my network and the mentors I’ve had over the years.” (these show notes were prepared by Jay Tellini.)

Meet the Guest

Ann Davids is the Senior Vice President and Chief Marketing Officer of Direct General Insurance Company. She joined Direct in May of 2013 after spending 14 years as the SVP and CMP of Rent-A-Center, Inc. Davids holds a BA in General Studies, Marketing & Management emphasis from Texas A&M University.

Davids’s professional skills include strategic planning, brand development, CRM and sales promotion. At Direct, she is responsible for all aspects of brand and marketing strategy.

What You'll Learn

  • Ways to engage your company’s entire business staff with your marketing strategy.
  • How to speak your customers’ language.
  • Advice for building a successful network with likeminded business professionals.
  • When to put the pedal to the metal on your marketing strategy, and when to hit the brakes.

Quotes from Ann Davids

  • Really, what I consider state-of-the-art is knowing when to jump on a trend versus waiting.
  • You have to listen to your customer.
  • Think about how to present yourself, your personal brand, through words and actions and engagements. Strive for what you want, and don’t be shy about letting people around you know your goals.
  • You have to be open to different challenges that come along, in work as well as in your personal space, and be willing to share what you learned from those experiences.

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