In the second episode of PHD and eatbigfish’s podcast series Overthrow II: Challenger strategies for a new era – a spin-off of their 2019 publication Overthrow II – host and founder of eatbigfish Adam Morgan speaks with Kerry Chilvers, Brands Director at Direct Line, and Hugh Cameron, Chairman at PHD UK, on how a brand which has lost its challenger edge in a changing category can revitalise its challenger status and brand proposition.

How does a brand reclaim its challenger status?

When Direct Line first hit the scenes back in 1985 and founded direct insurance, it was known for being one of the original challenger brands in the sector. Fast forward 30 years on, and the marketplace looked quite different. With the introduction of price comparison sites in the early 2000s, insurance had become a commoditised category, completely transforming the way consumers interacted with insurance brands. Amidst the transformation, Direct Line had lost its way and its identity.

To overcome this, the brand needed to represent itself in a new and changed world. The task ahead? To land a new proposition that had substance and to win back its challenger brand status.

In September 2014, Direct Line launched a new advertising campaign called the ‘fixer’ ads, featuring Harvey Keitel reprising his role as Winston Woolf from the film Pulp Fiction. In addition, Direct Line announced its new brand proposition ‘We’re on it’. This was the catalyst that drove reappraisal for the brand both internally and externally and helped get Direct Line back into a challenger position.

A year proceeding the launch, Chilvers explains on the podcast, a huge amount of insight work had taken place to help inform the overall strategy – from customer research, attitudes, behaviours, segmentation and internal focus – to uncover a key insight: choosing an insurer was not all down to price. In fact, people just wanted an insurer that worked and who would quickly get them back to where they were before. This became the core insight which drove the overall campaign.

Next, the issue of substance needed to be addressed. Direct Line knew that customers are savvier than ever before, and this couldn’t just be an advertising campaign that showed empty promises – the brand needed to demonstrate excellent customer propositions and show customers first-hand what Direct Line meant by fixing.

Direct Line took a bold move and decisive move – it handed control over to the customer.

When the campaign launched, the end line stated, ‘Can your insurer do that?’ which held Direct Line to account. The brand understood that if they wanted to use such a bold statement, that they needed unique service claims to back it up. The service claim that launched at the outset was:

Direct Line will repair your car in seven days and, if the deadline is missed, the customer will receive £10 for every day it’s late.

At the start of the campaign, Direct Line was repairing only 35% of cars within seven days and knew to launch such a claim compliantly, that it needed to repair over 70% of cars in the same timeframe – ultimately amounting to thousands of cars a week. To make sure Direct Line could fulfil this claim for the customer, a guarantee was signed and compensation was on offer. That degree of control given to customers really appealed to them and helped draw in a larger customer base.

Chilvers adds that launching internally and externally at the same time was essential for the campaign. In fact, she says, the external launch was as important internally, if not more so, to help build belief that Direct Line could be taken to greater heights and win back its challenger status. There was a lot of work to be done internally, such as turning the customer service reps who speak with customers daily into heroes and true believers in the overall concept that Direct Line is ‘a fixer’.

Read the full article on The Drum, or to hear Kerry Chilvers discuss internal and external culture, the results of Direct Line’s campaign and just how successful the brand was in returning to a leading market position, listen to the second episode of ‘Overthrow II: Challenger strategies for a new era’, available on SpotifyGoogleApple Podcasts and Audioboom.