Calverley began by discussing the subtle changes in the perception of the word ‘insight’. “Insight is a word that has evolved quite a bit,” she said, “it used to be rich and meaningful.. but now it gets used to sum up all data and its analysis. But insight is really about what happens when you ask ‘why’ and it’s about deep human truth. It’s the job of a marketer.”

Insight begins, Calverley said, by asking yourself a series of questions. What am I selling? Who am I selling it to? Why should they buy it from me?

When it comes to the AA, she continued, they had to realise that “we’re not selling breakdown cover, nobody wakes up in the morning and says ‘I have to buy breakdown cover’.”

Furthermore, the old cliché of chaps fixing cars for damsels in distress wasn’t helpful or accurate. To really understand what it is that AA customers want, Calverley and her team began with a listening exercise, in call centres and out on the roads.

woman in car crying

The cliché of the damsel in distress

Calverley says that the plan for this research led her team to work with a political messaging company, because ultimately, “All we’ve got at the AA is words and promises, the people on the phone. And who else sells promises? Politicians.”

The team put together an extensive survey digging into people’s motivations by looking at their instinctive reactions and beliefs.

Then this rich research data was knitted together with the existing customer database, which was large but pretty patchy. This was done using latent class analysis, modelling the richer data on to the patchy data to produce a complete data set, with Calverley using the analogy of turning a rickety wooden bridge into a modern suspension bridge.

aa research

Connecting rich customer insight from survey data with customer database

What this survey did was to get to the bottom of customer values and their attitudes to life, trying to find what underpins how a person buys breakdown cover.

There were three seams to this data, as shown in the slide below. Fear and anxiety (the insurance mindset) has no effect on whether people choose the AA, but confidence does (i.e. being on top of life admin), as does simple enjoyment of driving your car and taking your family out for the day.

aa research

Three key findings from the AA’s customer insight work

Calverley says the brand ended up “with a picture of who we are selling to – it’s not motorists (like Jeremy Clarkson), but freedom seekers. The person who runs the family (50/50 male, female), who organises stuff, loves going places, loves space and values brands that value them, rewarding loyalty.”

“This,” Calverley continues, “is a massive shift, from talking about torque, spanners and oil, to talking about things like how to make Spotify work in the car.”

The fundamental message that the brand wanted their audience to get was that ‘The AA shares my values’ (above and beyond anything about cover).

So, whereas the AA used to talk about what typical customers didn’t like (breaking down), they now talk about going somewhere and making sure customers get there with all the fun inherent to you and your car. This change is eloquently shown in the AA’s new advertising campaign.

Calverley finished by summing up the five lessons the AA learned from political messaging.

  1. Focus on groups that matter to and can make a difference for you
  2. Think about your swing voters
  3. Understand what they care about and how you share their values
  4. Show them you can help them live the life they want to
  5. Talk to their heart not heir head

In line with the AA’s strategic insight, the brand has recently launched a new piece of tech to help make sure everything goes well for the customer. Car genie keeps an eye on your car battery, the engine, the oil etc. and gives you information through an app, as well as letting the AA know so they can intervene if needed.