What You Need to Know
- What customers do you want?
- Are you really listening to those people?
- What do those people think of you?
By now most everyone has heard the phrase, “You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig.” It was used by Barack Obama at a campaign event in 2008, and there is also a book with the same name by Torie Clark, an author with a strong opinion about communication “spin.”
When we hear this phrase, we typically know right away that it means someone is trying to make something attractive when it is inherently unattractive, and it can’t possibly work. So, the “right” answer is to not have it be a pig in the first place. Just for clarity, my personal favorite definition of a pig comes from the 1944 song made popular by Bing Crosby.
“A pig is an animal with dirt on his face. His shoes are a terrible disgrace. He has no manners when he eats his food. He’s fat and lazy and extremely rude.” — Johnny Burke
However, the unfortunate news is that sometimes people charged with making improvements to customer buying and service experiences are unaware that they are working with a pig. They invest large sums in digital technologies to modernize an experience that was ugly in the first place, and possibly made even uglier when human interaction isn’t smoothing over the flaws. Then they are questioned when the investment isn’t yielding the return that the business case said it would.
We must be very careful when we throw around “digital” as a synonym for modernization. Yes, it is a part of the puzzle, however it’s a delivery mechanism, and not a transformation in and of itself. When you hear “customers expect to be able to transact digitally,” it’s not because consumers like to play with their iPhones; it’s because they are trying to get something done on their own terms.
The life insurance industry is notorious for having complicated processes, which is a headwind when it comes to modernization. These require a full unpacking of the customer journey and looking for ways to simplify (e.g. underwriting requirements, applications, delivery, etc.) But there are also other “watch outs” for marketers and executives who want to make sure they don’t inadvertently agree to put digital lipstick on a pig. These are:
- Ensuring that you really understand the voice of your ideal customer (today’s customer, and tomorrow’s). Not just their needs relative to your product/service, but also the relevant other parts of the ecosystem that impact it.
- Determining what aspects of your brand promise are really different from those of competitors. And, which ones matter most.
- Examining each and every touchpoint communication (emails, letters, narratives from service reps, ads, etc.) to determine how they are perceived. So many of these are still unfriendly, off-putting, irrelevant, uninteresting and/or confusing.
The investments that companies have made and are continuing to make in digital technology are by far some of the largest and most scrutinized ones for any organization.