When Phil Clement became the global chief marketing and communications officer at Aon plc seven years ago, the company was only the second-largest company of its kind.
Upon arriving at Aon, which is the Gaelic word for oneness, Clement looked to unify a marketing department and marketing strategy dispersed across the globe. With its strategic acquisitions, expert staff, and focused, successful marketing initiatives, Aon is now a leading global provider of risk management, insurance and reinsurance brokerage, and human resource solutions, as well as outsourcing services. On CMO.com's behalf, Anoop Sahgal, industry strategy & marketing, Adobe Systems, recently sat down with Clement to discuss some of the marketing strategies in play to keep the company in a leading position across all of its businesses.
CMO.com: Who are your clients, and what are the key issues you’re solving for them?
Clement: Aon is focused on two of the most important issues in the global marketplace—managing risk and managing people. We help companies address risk, assess risk, and then design plans to abate risk. On the people side, we consult on the talent of client organizations and on employee retirement and health plans, which is a substantial part of our business.
Different parts of our business touch different parts of our client companies. We work consistently with CFOs and heads of HR, risk managers, heads of talent, and heads of supply chain. Our products and services influence every part of client organizations, including sales, marketing, legal, and anything else in the organization that you can do. So we target diverse segments of the customers we work with.
CMO.com: When you took over, you consolidated marketing to better build the Aon brand. How does this help you market effectively to such a diverse client base?
Clement: Aon has made more than 435 acquisitions over the brand’s 25 years. First, we needed to bring together these companies and services in the marketplace. Our strategy had two dimensions. One was to create a significant global brand that immediately gives clients a sense of our role in the global market. We wanted people to know that we are big, secure, and client-focused, and that we specialize in matters of risk and people.
Second, the brand needed to translate into solutions, like a Directors & Officers insurance policy or asset management. We have to have an equal focus on the value proposition of each of our individual solutions—looking at them from the client perspective as ways to solve their business problems. So we interview clients and get feedback through a rigorous program that we use to shape our offerings. And you want to make sure these activities are measured in the same way, whether measuring client satisfaction, revenue, or growth.
CMO.com: At the beginning of the 2010-2011 English football season, Aon became the principal sponsor of Manchester United. What has this marketing investment accomplished?
Clement: The nice thing about the Manchester United Partnership is that we have clients all over the world. We are able to reach all of them with similar images, and we can support the Aon brand with similar messages.
We have about 600 offices in 120 countries. Instead of putting a marketing representative in each of those countries, we can run one campaign that we call Aon United. We can execute on that in all countries around the world because people have a general understanding of the sport almost anywhere we do business. We have seen a double-digit increase in awareness of our company since we started the partnership. We would expect to see about half of that lift with other campaigns, but we think the Manchester United partnership adds tremendous value.
CMO.com: How do mobile, social media, and the worldwide adoption of technology, in general, affect your ability to reach customers?
Clement: I use a metaphor called CUTT. I’m talking about cutting through noise and clutter. C, in this case, is for compelling. Mobile and social messaging have to grab people’s attention and get them to take a second look. The message also needs to be useful. It needs to be timely. Finally, it has to be transactional. Compelling, useful, timely, transactional—CUTT. Against that backdrop, we are creating dialogue and engagement with clients with content that meets the CUTT criteria. We are obsessed with the value of content versus just focusing on the channels we use to reach people.
In the B2B space, there are fewer conversations that really matter, and we know that those conversations end up being the way we are distinguished from the competition. We don’t have to be in every channel all the time. But we have to be in most channels in a very credible way. It makes it easier when it is one idea used across multiple channels, instead of having one idea for mobile, and one idea for social, and one idea for another channel. So the CUTT effort focuses our energies.
CMO.com: How do you communicate the effectiveness of campaigns to your colleagues?
Clement: It depends on the focus of the audience. When I’m working with our executive committee, which is a number of C-suite team members, there is a real responsibility to live up to that C part. So you’re not going in as an advocate for your area—you’re going in as an advocate for the company. It’s not about defending the spend. It is about engaging in a conversation with colleagues about what is best for the company. Marketing is part of that mix for most business executives.
And then when you’re talking with your own team, you’re talking about the need to use the resources we are given in a way that is responsible to the commitment the company is making. Everyone can get a budget, and there is a fixed number of hours you can put into marketing. Really magical teams can extend the value and create things that are helpful for companies. Our focus is always on creating value with the resources we have.
CMO.com: How would you characterize your relationship with Aon’s IT professionals?
Clement: I started my career in IT and working with companies like Siebel and Microsoft, and working in systems integration, so I’ve always grown up with a strong alliance with IT.
In some ways, your systems put you at the edge of what you can do as a marketer. So the work with the CIO is always going to be important. Fortunately, now it is getting much easier for marketers to work directly with their own systems, so the marketing discipline can be executed more and more without involving IT in a lot of processes. But that also requires a CIO who knows how to put friendly tools in the hands of marketers. At one time, CIOs used to translate technology into capability. Now it is the more long-term investments that you make together. It’s a very different approach. We need a data-friendly CIO for business analytics and data warehousing, but you don’t need the head of IT operations to do a data pull.
CMO.com: What do you think are going to be significant market trends that will affect Aon in the next three years?
Clement: I think that the marketing profession has always had a real responsibility to know the client and know what is emerging. Sales has to know a specific client and how to work with them. But marketing has always had to provide insight across clients and understand the marriage between processes and technologies and global scale. The notion of fully understanding content versus the channel of distribution is becoming more important to the CMO role because the tools of the trade have become less of a barrier.
Another area that is increasingly important is understanding how people think and learn. At Aon we are dealing with an explosion of understanding incognitive sciences. We are looking for efficiencies in getting our message across and what will make us more effective. That is something we didn’t have to know before, but it is now a competitive advantage. So you have to understand there are some things you can communicate with emotion and other things you communicate better with logic or authority. You need to know where you can communicate a message of brand loyalty, and recognize that there are other types of channels where you can’t do that.