FEATURE24 November 2021

Compare and contrast: Insights at Compare the Market

x Sponsored content on Research Live and in Impact magazine is editorially independent.
Find out more about advertising and sponsorship.

Data analytics Features Impact

Price comparison website Compare The Market was propelled to household name status through its meerkat brand mascots and is now using data to inform its future strategy. By Rob Gray.

compare the market phone application

Price comparison website Compare The Market was propelled to household name status through its meerkat brand mascots and is now using data to inform its future strategy.

Brand mascots can be powerful marketing tools, helping position brands and lodge them firmly in the memory. The best of them can stay the course for generations. Bibendum, aka the Michelin Man, first appeared in 1898 and while ‘tyred’, is far from tired out.

Kellogg’s cheery elvish trio Snap, Crackle and Pop entered the scene to promote Rice Krispies back in the 1930s. Ronald McDonald has clowned around to sell burgers since the 1960s, while the Andrex puppy made its heart-melting frolicsome debut in the 1970s. Within some categories, it’s a case of similar brand icons going head to head for supremacy; since the late 1980s, Duracell and Energizer have engaged in a battery-powered battle of the bunnies.

Among brand mascots launched in the last 20 years, the anthropomorphic meerkats associated with Compare The Market are unquestionably in select company in terms of consumer recognition, having already demonstrated far greater staying power than a pack of AAs since their 2009 launch. The campaign, created by ad agency VCCP, played on the potential for confusion between comparethemeerkat.com and comparethemarket.com.

A dozen years on, VCCP is still on board, while Aleksandr Orlov, the Russian meerkat featured in the first campaign, whose “simples” catchphrase proved to be an earworm of a slogan, is now part of a bigger family of characters. These include Sergei and the ‘meerpup’ Oleg who have been turned into plush toys and whose bios feature on the ‘Meet the Meerkats’ page of the website.

Their longevity is no accident. Compare The Market, part of the BGL Group, seeks insights into every piece of brand work and has also conducted consumer research into the toys, which are an important element of its rewards programme.

“The meerkat toys are very popular and I have heard stories in the past of them being sold on eBay for lots of money,” says chief data officer Susie Moan. “But it still varies. There are some customers who are not so interested in that and are much more about Meerkat Meals and Meerkat Movies [part of the rewards scheme], where it’s about a pure money-off approach. It works for us that we have a range of rewards for our customers to meet different needs.”

Moan joined Compare The Market in January 2019, having previously been chief executive of what is now Nectar360, part of Sainsbury’s Group, and has a long track record in data-driven insights in the customer loyalty sphere. Stepping into her role two and a half years ago, it was clear from the outset that some change was urgently needed.

As Compare The Market had been growing well, the main focus was on the brands and products it was selling with comparatively little emphasis on understanding and measuring the data being captured. There was no real end-to-end data strategy.

“When I joined, the business hadn’t had a data leader for four years or so,” says Moan. “And it showed. The team was quite disengaged and didn’t have a strong voice in the organisation. The processes and technology from a data perspective were behind where they needed to be. We were more immature in data as a business than I would have expected from the outside as a customer.

“Obviously, we use a lot of data to provide customers with pricing and options when they come on to the website, but in terms of maturity around customer understanding and what you do with insight and data-driven decisions, it wasn’t where it should have been. I have spent the last two and a half years setting out a data strategy – a plan around people, process and technology to mature the organisation – which has involved lots of different things.”

Compare the market meerkats – plush toys

An eye on strategy

Pre-pandemic, the team held plenty of physical events, bringing people from different parts of the organisation together to share with them where to find the different data disciplines and how the team could help them answer different questions, from the role of market and customer research to web analytics. This also entailed working to understand the needs of different stakeholders and educating them on how they could do certain things themselves.

Moan has an extensive remit, overseeing insight and data enablement as well as having additional responsibility for strategic planning and delivery, which she describes as being like a project management office function. Insight is led by an associate director of insight, analytics and optimisation who reports directly to Moan. That team is around 40-strong and covers customer and market research, data science, analytics, and funnel/web experience optimisation. The data enablement team, meanwhile, is roughly the same size and works on data governance, behavioural insight and reporting, data solutions and data portfolio management.

“My budget has grown since I joined a few years ago,” says Moan. “Data is a central part of our strategy, and we are part way through a number of big change programmes, so obviously the investment continues.”

Change is underpinned by a five-year strategic plan, which is grounded in insight. During strategy development, the team analysed what the platform’s propositions should be and the overall horizons for the business. Originally signed-off just before Covid-19 hit, Compare The Market has subsequently conducted a further wave of qualitative research to understand what, if anything, has changed. The research was carried out among a range of different ages and demographics to get a broad view of the potential customer base, and also explored issues such as “fading centres of trust” – institutions that have lost public confidence, such as banks or political parties – to make sure its positioning with customers is spot on.

“The insight for us was around maintaining our impartial voice and not having any kind of bias,” says Moan. “Being that fun and engaging brand that can help educate but not overly influence a customer in any one direction.”

Closures of cinemas and restaurants during lockdown had an obvious impact on the rewards programme. The business also conducted research on delivery options, collection and so on, but the findings proved to be a “mixed bag” with customers showing insufficient interest to spark any significant changes.

A marketing working insight group supports the marketers in their decision-making and there is ongoing work on making sure priority questions are addressed quickly and effectively. Brand marketing already has access to tools like Adobe Analytics, Google Analytics and Power BI so they can self-serve certain answers, but the insight team is continually involved in supporting marketing with more in-depth work. For example, the team supplied data that helped Compare The Market decide to end its Coronation Street sponsorship at the start of the year after the best part of a decade.

As one would expect, there’s a good deal of work on the competitive landscape. With input from a competitor intelligence agency, the team produces a monthly overview covering core products like car insurance, home insurance and energy. That goes out to the business with the option of a deep dive into the findings for product owners and marketers who want to know more.

Compare The Market also has a regular consumer tracker in which it asks a few set questions each month, with ad hoc questions added as necessary. During the first half of 2020, there was also a special Covid-19 tracker, a piece of fortnightly research designed to understand how consumers were feeling and what changes they were making to their spending. Frequency was pushed out to monthly once it was clear the findings weren’t earth-shattering.

Working together

Separately, in May 2021, Compare The Market published The Uneven Impacts of the Covid-19 Crisis, a report in collaboration with the Centre for Economics and Business Research on the impact of the pandemic on wealth and financial security. The headline finding was disproportionate financial pressure on households with children, significantly knocking their productivity and ability to save by almost £1,000 a year.  

Compare The Market is a division of BGL Group, which also owns insurance brands like Budget Insurance, Dial Direct and Beagle Street. Moan is quick to stress that these are entirely separate businesses, and no data is shared between the divisions for competition law reasons. That said, things like approaches to data science are discussed between the otherwise separate businesses.

On the data science front, Moan has overseen the introduction of the Databricks analytics platform, which has allowed the team to collaborate on data science. “Until we had Databricks as a platform, they were working on their own laptop, having to extract the data and run stuff by themselves. And you couldn’t pair code or anything like that,” explains Moan. “Having a central platform has accelerated the ability to deliver both models, and value from those models, in the organisation for the team to have a capability that they can work on together.”

Other innovations include a trial with Chattermill on an artificial intelligence-enabled text analysis of a Net Promoter Score survey and the current beta testing of machine learning regarding photo recognition from scanned driving licences. The aim here is to make it easier for customers to fill in a car insurance quote by populating some of the fields with data from a scan.

Moan has also involved her team in corporate social responsibility, with the launch of Data for Good two years ago (now broadened out to CTM for Good) to share data skills that the charity sector may lack. In April, the business held two days during which different teams helped charities with various problems. Participants are encouraged to check back with the charities to ensure their input is perpetuated.

Meerkats are known to be social beasts, and it seems they have a highly developed sense of social responsibility too.

Editor’s note: Susie Moan left Compare The Market prior to publication of this article

compare the market advert of a train station billboard

Improving bills through online insight

Compare The Market worked with community panel and digital research business Verve to ensure the ‘your bills’ component of its Meerkat app met customer expectations. The service allows users to add accounts across multiple providers so that they can see everything in one view.
Post-launch, Compare The Market wanted a detailed understanding of how customers felt about the tool. The business took a ‘test and learn’ approach, blending online qualitative and user experience (UX) work.

Insight was sought on: What did the ‘your bills’ journey look like, from sign-up to usage? What was intuitive and where were the pain points? How could the platform and overall offer be improved?

The three-stage UX journey research was run with 25 users over three months. Stage one centred on exploratory qual research and featured a two-day pop-up community on initial reaction; stage two was a ‘pulse’ check in on usage and views; stage three looked at the renewals process and the tool going forward.

The research was designed to offer a full overview by including different activities, from blog posts to ‘selfie-style’ video uploads. Taking an iterative approach allowed the team to feed insights back to stakeholders and, based on the discoveries, shape the next phase.

Among the findings were: most people linked the main accounts from which they paid bills; engagement was ‘light-touch’, i.e. mostly quick
checks; usage was consistent across all audiences.

Consequently, Compare The Market updated the ‘your bills’ layout to give heightened prominence to areas where customers could save money. Findings also informed new tailored communications that lifted sign-up response.