#BrandFocus: Mutually assured caring & creativity with AvBob
by Sabrina Forbes. After 101 years, AvBob Mutual Assurance Society has become a household name in South Africa. While its primary approach has been to service policyholders in person, it realises the importance of having a strong digital presence and is working towards an omnichannel communications approach without losing its strong on-the-ground footprint.
With a brand positioning that every funeral starts with a call and then it will take care of the rest, AvBob’s main focus is on providing funeral insurance and burial services but it also offers life policies and long-term savings plans. It has a nationwide network of over 380 branches, providing high accessibility to clients.
According to Natasha Mienie, AvBob brand and advertising manager, its key market differentiator is that it’s a mutual assurance society, a concept many find hard to understand: the company doesn’t have shareholders who receive dividends or profits, and all surplus profits that the society makes goes back to the policyholders in the form of additional benefits. She says that brands often abuse words such as “free”, promising customers something that often ends up too good to be true.
AvBob also has a strong CSI arm which focuses primarily on education and the upliftment of local communities; it recently donated its 50th fully stocked library to an underprivileged school and is committing R150m to the Schools Infrastructure Project in partnership with government.
Creative and strategy
Mienie has worked on the AvBob brand for 19 years, initially while at The Agency for Advertising and Marketing, since liquidated. In 2014, she joined the brand inhouse and has no plans on leaving; that same year, she appointed Brand et al, part of The et al Group, as AvBob’s strategic and creative partner. “I think that has been a key strength for AvBob in terms of laying down a very strong marketing strategy that is aligned to the strategic objectives of the business. And now AvBob as a brand has really made an impression in the market in terms of its advertising,” she says.
“My view is that, if you have a strong strategic team, everything else just follows. It just works. We are over the moon with our agency and our intention is to continue a long-term relationship with them. They have really engrossed themselves in the brand and the strategic direction value that we get from them has been exceptional. We have the awareness and engagement levels increase significantly in the last four years. Even the quality of our advertising is completely different to what it was five years ago,” she says.
The latest funeral-focused TVC speaks to the cultural diversity of the country, something that’s important for the brand. Mienie says it constantly asks itself how it is going to show that it, as a brand and a company, embraces and understands all South African cultures. For her, the TVC does just this without relying on something too staged or scripted.
Another campaign Mienie believes shows this cultural sensitivity is the AvBob Poetry Project that is open to all 11 official South African languages. The Poetry Project is going into its third year, with a 50% rise in entries from year one to year two and, at the time of this interview, a steady flow of entries about to exceed year two’s results.
“This is really something that has stood out for the brand and is something quite unorthodox. One wouldn’t have thought that’s a typical campaign but, as we’ve progressed with this, it’s become such a logical part of our brand. It’s a great resource for our customers and that’s what it’s about at the end of the day. AvBob is positioned as a family brand and that goes back to our utilitarian routes. We give back to our policyholders; we care for them; we give back to them. We make sure that, in times of loss, there are tools to help people cope with that grieving process. This is all part of the family positioning we have as a brand,” she says.
Investing in tech
In the past 12 months, AvBob hasn’t focused heavily in developing new marketing campaigns. Instead, it has looked into investing in new technologies, one of which the brand is hoping to launch before the end of 2019: an online memorial platform. According to Mienie, this service isn’t something new but AvBob will have a different take. Most funeral providers use global tech that simply plugs into their system but this doesn’t take into account the proportion of the South African market that’s still heavily reliant on USSD. Instead, AvBob is creating a progressive web app (PWA) that users may interact with to create a video montage of a person’s life through downloading it, on mobile, as well as through USSD prompts.
Daily operations for Mienie includes her spending close on 40% of her time at Brand et al; she has an inhouse staff complement of 11 people. She believes relationships are vital and will continue to work on a brand she loves alongside people who understand what she’s trying to achieve.
“The fundamental thing is: have a relationship with you brand agency, be open to what your agency has, share information, realise that you’re partners because, if you have a client/agency relationship, it will show in your marketing efforts; it will show in the passion and commitment; and it will show in the value that you get out of your agency. It’s also important to know and understand each other as individuals and know how to get the best out of every person. We’re like a family. To me, that’s key,” she concludes.
“BrandFocus” is a monthly series looking at brand performance and innovation, consumer trends and sector insight through in-depth interviews with senior marketers.
Sabrina Forbes (IG) is an experienced writer covering the food, health, lifestyle, beverage, marketing and media industries. She runs her own full-stack web/app development and digital-first content creation company. For more, go to moonwrench.com. She is a contributing writer to MarkLives.com.