FEATURE20 April 2012

Fishing for ideas

ICM research director Tom Wormald on how Aviva has honed its ads and its product offering with the help of its most influential customers.

The challenge

Insurance provider Aviva has a research ‘centre of excellence’ that manages research in the UK. Last year team members identified a need to supplement and enhance its existing programmes with a quick-turnaround, lower-cost online research facility to gather additional insight where budgets, timescales or the sensitivity of topics might normally have meant ad hoc research was not possible.

The brief

Aviva wanted to bridge the gap between research and engagement, and build relationships with customers through a new approach to online research.

The approach

ICM Research recommended creating an online community of Aviva customers and began inviting members to join in spring 2011. Aviva Live was initially opened to a small number of people in May and built up over the summer, so there was already plenty of user content by the time it launched fully in August. As the community has developed, additional objectives have been added – to develop a group of ‘expert consumers’ who are knowledgeable and influential about financial services, and to work with them to provide insights on a range of business issues.

In the first six months ICM delivered nine separate research projects. Additionally, insight was driven through detailed participant discussions on key topics. The team also ran regular competitions and polls, and produced news stories on which participants commented.

The findings

After six months Aviva Live had nearly 200 contributing members, many of whom have been with us throughout. We see a survey return rate of around 60%, and about a third of people participate in any given discussion. We make the projects as interesting as possible, blending surveys with auto-ethnography and other qualitative activities.

Participants take part in Aviva Live for various reasons – one says she enjoys it “because members are drawn from a range of backgrounds and discuss a wide variety of topical issues. I tend to socialise most with people with whom I share similar views and it is both refreshing and challenging to discuss issues with people where this isn’t necessarily the case.”

Aviva Live generates on average 20-30 posts every week, and this number is growing. All of this is driven by ICM’s community managers, who maintain relationships with members and ensure there is a steady flow of activity and content to keep the community fresh and engaging.

Aviva Live has worked to ensure members understand the market in which Aviva works – taking a deliberative approach to working with ‘expert consumers’, helping them develop a genuine understanding of both the subject matter of financial services, and the research process itself. By fully involving those members, Aviva Live gets to know them personally and gives them a space where they can have serious discussions and (importantly in the very personal world of financial services) speak openly. The social media technology and mindset has proved itself as a tool for relationship building.

The outcome

The key benefit of Aviva Live is that it has enabled us to get close to customer feedback, opening up new opportunities. Camilla Cropper, research consultant in the consumer insight and strategy team at Aviva UK, said: “Aviva Live helps us gather feedback on things that we wouldn’t normally look to research, due to time and budget constraints. Aviva Live doesn’t replace more traditional forms of research, but is an additional tool.”

The community has enabled us to do quick-turnaround work while developing ideas and concepts, rather than being limited to one round of formal feedback at the end. We recently asked members to provide feedback on an insurance and assistance product for mobile phones, which was initially intended as an addition to the personal belongings cover on home insurance. But in response to participants’ ideas we are now considering how to include it within the cost of home insurance.

We also used Aviva Live to test Aviva’s idents for ITV Drama Premieres, including Downton Abbey, over Christmas. Based on feedback from elsewhere we became concerned at the last minute that one of these – involving a heavily pregnant woman rushing to get to her car before her ticket expired – might be misconstrued or considered offensive. Aviva Live members gave high-quality feedback at very short notice (despite it being just before Christmas) and as a result we decided against using the ident.

Because of the strong relationship we have built with members, we can follow up general, large-scale exploration of issues with focused qualitative work, and ask members to help us with things that would either be financially or practically impossible in an ad hoc project.

The research carried out in Aviva Live on ‘Ollie’s Garage’ – a Facebook app that supports our recent TV campaign featuring Ollie the fisherman (pictured) – might not otherwise have been possible for financial reasons. Aviva Live members provided feedback on the app and on ways to ensure a strong link between the app and the TV campaign. We received detailed and thoughtful comments on the relationship between social media marketing and wider campaigns, and on how the activities carried out by brands in social media are received by different audiences.

Research on the ‘live chat’ support option on our website might also not have been possible without Aviva Live. In the first stage of this project we surveyed members’ attitudes, awareness and usage of the chat facilities offered by companies to get an initial view of how Aviva’s offering fitted in. We then asked a smaller number of members to ‘mystery shop’ our own website, using dummy customer details to get motor insurance quotes and use the live chat facility. We asked them about the quality of the interaction, the benefits of the service, and any possible concerns. The findings have directly informed agent training and support processes.

We have also run discussions and debates on members’ interests and issues affecting the broader market. Sometimes these examine serious issues like the economy or views on the UK pensions ‘time bomb’. But we also run discussions on subjects like favourite adverts. Some discussions blend the enjoyable and the serious (such as a recent one about how personal financial advisers are being replaced by price comparison websites offering fluffy toys), and that’s when we tend to get the best results.