Effective marketing and messaging demand a personal touch–but during a pandemic, it’s table stakes. However, showing empathy at scale requires marketers to strike a balance between automation and customization. Personal insurance shopper Jerry has cracked the code, delivering “individualized” communications catering to nearly 30 different–and fiercely personal–customer journeys. In this episode of our bi-weekly series Reimagine Growth our host Peggy Anne Salz catches up with John Spottiswood, Chief Operating Officer at Jerry.ai, a free, automated agent who takes the pain and expense out of car and home ownership. John shares the strategy that allowed his company to achieve a 20% bump in conversions. He also talks about changes he has observed and best practices for marketing in the COVID-19 era.
We are in challenging and exciting times as marketers everywhere on the planet rewrite the playbook to drive positive results for their campaigns and their customers. To do both, we need guidance and good advice from marketers who freely share their expertise and experience. Reimagine Growth is a series equipping marketers to take charge of change in the marketplace — check out all the videos in this series here and subscribe to the YouTube channel to keep updated as new videos are added.
JS So we are in Palo Alto, California, near Stanford University, that’s where are executive team is but most of our people are actually split between Toronto, which is our engineering headquarters, and Buffalo, which is where our insurance operations team, sales and service primarily are located.
PAS And we’re going to talk about that because of course that’s what your company does. I guess you’re also, like many of us, working remotely and coming to us remotely as well today, right?
JS That is correct, all of our teams now are remote, everyone went remote at a little bit of a different time based on their location but now everybody’s working from home.
PAS Well, I appreciate you being here, John, and of course we’re going to talk about Jerry.ai and talk about also how you’re engaging with your customers because yours is one of those apps that we can just be happy that we have it, particularly in these times when we need advice, and that’s what Jerry.ai offers is insurance advice. But why don’t you give me the high level view, the high level look at your company.
JS Yes, so essentially we’re the first fully automated insurance agent for car and home insurance and also renters insurance. So, essentially we make the shopping experience for consumers for insurance really similar to what they would experience if they went onto Expedia shopping for, you know, a flight. So, it’s literally you sign up in two minutes which is something that traditionally has not been possible to do because you’ve got cars, drivers, detailed information about your existing insurance, all of that’s needed. We pull that all in in an automated way so that in two minutes you can get quotes back from over 45 different insurance companies and we get you the best rate from one of those carriers.
PAS And I can imagine, I mean, you don’t have to tell me the numbers, John, but I can imagine that your app is in great demand right now.
JS Yes, I mean, we’re doing – we’ve had over 130,000 people join us on this journey and we’re doing almost 40,000 a month so it’s been very rapid growth.
PAS I’m just curious because everything has changed out there, I'm talking about rewriting the playbook – I try to see it optimistically, this is a great time to say we can do things differently, we can do things even better. What have you seen that’s the most, the greatest change, you know, because of course you’re an app that’s helping people but you’re also a business in California – what’s changed?
JS Yes, it’s interesting. I mean, a lot of our carrier partners are actually returning money to our customers because they’re not driving as much and therefore they’re not getting in accidents which is really nice. I mean, I feel like this industry although insurance often gets a little bit of a bad rap, based on all the people that I’ve met, there’s not a, you know, a better group of people in any other industry. So, that part’s been really refreshing to see how the industry has reacted in this environment.
From a marketing point of view, demand has been really nice for us and of course there’s a lot less competition on Facebook and Google and other places where we try to reach customers which means CPMs are going down and CPCs are going down. People are a little bit, it seems, more deliberate in their decisions and how they spend their time so I think, like others, the length of time it takes people to move on things may be a little bit longer than we experienced before and that’s probably just more distractions. You know, you’re working at home and you go to something on your computer or your phone and it’s just a lot quicker to get distracted by things.
But on the whole, it’s been a, for us anyway, we feel very fortunate because I know friends in the travel industry and other industries where things have really come to a screeching halt. I think when you’re saving people money, that’s a little bit counter-cyclical and so we’re benefiting a bit from that.
PAS And you’re probably also benefiting from your roots because you have been thinking about how to automate quite a lot, stay personal, obviously – I mean, it’s insurance and it’s a personal decision, a personal journey, but you’re not the founder of the company but you have a great founder story. What can you tell me about that and how that’s sort of fed into and allowed you to evolve as Jerry?
JS Yes, so, one of the reasons that I joined is that four people from a former founding team all joined together to start Jerry, so these four all came from a company called YourMechanic that they had founded themselves. YourMechanic was the first on demand auto repair business, so it’s like Uber, you just call the mechanic and they come to your car at work or at home and they make the repair. Of course, it doesn’t work for everything, they’re not going to replace an engine but for most repairs, they can be done mobilely and they grew that business to a $30m+ business but the company decided to pivot based I think in a large part on the world’s direction and because of the success they were having in the fleet space to doing mostly mobile repair for fleets.
And because the founders were really passionate about building a consumer business, they decided to leave and focus in on something related to autos, you know, personal experience, you drive on their personal experience and they stumbled on insurance and said, you know, look, it should be easier to shop for and switch your insurance than it is to have somebody come out and fix your car at your house or your work but in reality it wasn’t. When they looked into the actual insurance shopping experience, it was super painful.
And so anyway, that’s our first area focus is insurance but the vision for Jerry is really to be kind of your concierge, your place to go for any issue related to your car or home that you need advice on and it will be your autonomous agent for helping you get the help that you need, whether that’s new insurance, a new loan or assistance on repairs and maintenance and other things. So, it’s a broad vision, insurance is where we’re starting.
PAS So, where you’re starting, so this has possibilities for other verticals, are you thinking about that right at this point because the electronic concierge, I have to say I’ve been writing about that concept probably for over a decade, it’s always been exciting, you know, the whole idea of your personal assistant which can happen in many ways. It can be many verticals – I can imagine some, have you been thinking about that?
JS We have been, again, I think focus is really important and so our focus is on the two most expensive assets that most people own unless you’re Jeff Bezos and you own billions. But most people, their most expensive assets are their homes and their cars and so all of our focus is around home and car and as I said for now, insurance alone is, you know, to really make a concierge work, you have to make it very simple and very automated. Trying to do this with a lot of, you know, broken pieces behind the scenes that humans have to replace is very difficult.
We do have - obviously it’s not all a computer, it is a – call it a cyborg agent but we’re really right now focused on insurance. I think you’ll see probably financing being another area that we attack and then you’ll also see us looking at the kind of repair and maintenance space, not so much because it will mean a lot of revenue for us but because it’s a real pain point for consumers and we want to be a place where they know they can come to get the right advice, pointed in the right direction, understand the cost of the various things that they’re looking to do or need to do to maintain their two most expensive assets, their cars and their homes.
PAS Well, great segue because we need to go to a break right now, John, but this is a great show, I’m enjoying it and particularly because when we come back, we’re going to be talking about how you keep that personal touch while maintaining an app that does what it says it’s supposed to so you have a business value and you have a personal value – we’ll talk about both right after the break.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m Peggy Anne Salz. We have John Spottiswood, Chief Operating Officer of Jerry. And before the break, we were talking about, you know, your company, your approach and what you offer users, what you offer customers. Now we’re going to talk about how you speak to your customers. It’s a very personal decision particularly in these challenging times to make a decision on insurance, to make that right decision – how are you actually approaching that? Are there specific channels that are working for you or at a specific stage of the journey where you are becoming very personal as opposed to very general? What can you share?
JS Yes, so we do market in different channels differently with a different message but not substantially different. We’re really trying to reach people that have not been in the shopping mode for insurance, so think of us kind of like refinance. We’re reaching out to people that probably have felt like they needed to shop insurance or should have, could save money for five or six years but it just always seemed too painful, they’re worried about personal information getting out or people calling them once they completed the process.
So, we’re targeting this sort of non-intense shopper but it’s roughly the same message. Where we really get personal is once we’ve gotten them into our flow so you can imagine every customer comes from a different situation, some have existing insurance and they’re looking to see whether they can save money on it. Others, you know, have had insurance in the past but they aren’t currently insured either because they didn’t have a car, they’ve been out of the country or maybe, you know, they had a lapse.
And still others are buying insurance for the first time so all of these folks, you know, come from a different place. Some have accidents or claims that have raised their rates, others may have a very clean record and should expect rates to go down as a result of that. And then of course they all have a different sort of demand for how much insurance they want, how many assets they have that they feel need to be protected. And so we need to be able to communicate very individually based on their situation.
Finally, as they go through the process, the data we bring back puts them into a different situation meaning some people, you know, if they have current insurance, we know we can save them a lot of money on that existing insurance based on the quotes that come back. So, we have a certain message to communicate to them. Others, if they maintain their exact same coverage may not see substantial savings but with small changes to that coverage, they actually could and they may be over-insured at the moment. Others, you know, we might see really big savings for them but we feel they’re under-insured and we want to encourage them to kind of put some of that savings back into increasing the level of insurance they have so that they’re not caught short.
So you can imagine how personal this messaging needs to be and we have built tools to enable that very personalised messaging to come out throughout a series of different journeys and, you know, literally we’ve micro-segmented to the point where there’s almost 30 separate journeys depending on which sort of a group you fall into.
PAS I mean, that’s quite a lot – is that sort of something that evolved or is that something you set out to do, maybe you got more and more data in and you decided personalisation wasn’t enough, it has to be more individualised, you have nearly 30 different communications journeys for your customers?
JS Yes, so partly it’s enabled by, you know, you got to get a platform that makes all of this relatively easy to execute, so we initially started with mostly the mindset of we want to automate a very simple journey that currently we’re having human beings, you know, effectively execute via personalised text messages. I mean, they were, we were able to create sort of standard canned messages but they were actually having to be triggered by a human being reminded and it was quite cost inefficient.
So we implemented a platform, did a search of course, that enabled us to automate that but then as we realised that we can create different events and import personal information in those events – so, for example, an event might be Quotes Sent so for this particular user, quotes were sent to them and then the attributes of that event can be very specific. Like, who is the lowest carrier that had a quote sent and what is the annual premium of that lowest carrier for whom we sent a quote and what is the annual savings that that individual will achieve from that event that was sent?
And so now all of a sudden, we can create a different set of journeys for people that have, for example, savings that are greater than a certain amount, that have premiums that are lower than a certain amount. We can pull in the specific information so that the message can say, ‘Hey, this quote from Progressive could save you this amount’ and so not only is it a personalised journey but it’s a set of personalised messages on that journey.
And so I think if we didn’t have a platform that made it fairly easy to manage 30 different personalised journeys with multiple personalised messages per journey, we wouldn’t be doing it, you know, but having that platform has enabled us to really take advantage of that personalised environment.
PAS And what’s the savings to you because there’s something when you can automate and individualise at the same time – can you give me an idea of like maybe increase in conversion rates or just operational expenses on a monthly basis?
JS Yes, we’ve estimated that our messaging in general – it’s difficult to measure it exactly but it’s probably increased our conversion rate at least 20% and the savings on an individual basis is in the tens of thousands a month in terms of what it would take to have human beings, you know, manually triggering these messages even if they were canned, meaning not personally penned.
PAS And I was also checking out your app as well, I’m based in Europe so it’s not something I could always use but I can always be jealous of all the various great apps that you can use in the States. You also have increased in ratings, some of this is also I believe a positive knock-on effect from the fact that people are just getting the messaging they want, you’re taking them through your journey – what’s the knock-on effect there?
JS Yes, we’ve definitely seen a bump in our ratings, you know, again, I think the personalised messaging really does help. It also causes more people to convert and of course if they convert, they get savings, if they don’t, they don’t. So that helps as well, people that end up getting savings are much more likely to put in a positive review.
And then finally we’ve actually been able to use our messaging to encourage those positive reviews by creating, you know, a journey that for people that have switched, you know, until the point at which they actually provide us with the review, we can continue to send them encouraging messages – not overwhelm them but encouraging them to share their story in the App Store or in the Google Play Store.
PAS I mean, you come to stories and it’s interesting because of course the unprecedented times that we’re in, I’m hearing so much, reading so much out there AdWeek, AdAge, you name it, they’re saying that what you do now is really important, you will be remembered for what you do right now as a brand, as a marketer. It’s important to be helpful, it’s important to be genuine. What do you think you’re going to be remembered for, what would you want to be remembered for in the stories that you’re
JS Right now, you know, I think that saving people money when, you know, for many people they’re on unemployment now, at least in the States, they’re not making what they historically have made and last month alone we saved customers who switched their insurance through us $2.5 million a year and that’s a recurring – they’ll make that money every year moving forward, if not more and that’s just a little less than $900 per customer. So that’s a lot of money that we’re putting back into people’s pockets for spending a few minutes of their time with us and I think I really feel good about that.
The biggest challenge for us is probably getting over the too good to be true kind of bias, I think there’s a lot of, you know, save money on your insurance out there and people have gone and tried and found that they couldn’t save that amount of money, so getting people to believe that it’s really possible – and that’s where these stories from our customers really help because there’s no, you know, there’s nothing as valuable as having somebody you know or somebody who at least sounds really genuine, telling you that you should believe it.
So, our challenge I think is really to continue to deliver on the value of ease of use and saving money, and then continue to use users as well as our own devices to spread the message that it really is true, it’s not too good to be true.
PAS And that’s a beautiful story particularly at this point and it’s something you uphold and you communicate in such an individual way. It’s a great story, thank you for sharing that, John. We do unfortunately have to go to a break one last time so listeners, don’t go away, we’ll be right back.
And we’re back to Mobile Presence. I’m your host, Peggy Anne Salz and our guest has been for the full half hour here, John Spottiswood, Chief Operating Officer – Jerry. John, can’t thank you enough to be on the show, you’ve told some great stories, given some great advice as well particularly again in these times and I’m making it sort of a practice now because this is different than before – we are writing a playbook, this is the new normal but it’s good to understand, you know, what should we be abandon, what should we embrace? There were assumptions we had, even something about engaging with users, don’t send a message or a notification on a weekend – guess what, we’re all at home and weekend is a good time now. So there’s a lot of things we can do differently. What would you propose, how can businesses, how can marketers do things differently, do things better?
JS I think it’s a good time to question all of your assumptions, you know, to test things that maybe have been on the back of your mind that, you know, you’re not sure about. We certainly have been rapidly iterating our testing on most of our acquisition platforms over the last, you know ten days or so, taking advantage of the lower CPMs that are out there because there’s just less competition for it. But I do think it’s a really good time to do that both in terms of your acquisition marketing and also your ongoing communication with your customers.
This kind of an environment from my perspective, you know, makes trust in your brand even more important than it already historically has been, delivering on whatever your core brand promise is, is hugely important when people are going through a lot of uncertainty. And I think that part of that is, you know, communicating on brand messages in really customised ways that helps build that trust, you know, over time as you pull them through your onboarding and sales process.
And as I mentioned in the prior segment, our ability to do that and I didn’t mention the exact tool or platform but we are a Clevertap customer, I think it’s been one of the most important tools for us, that the customised messaging it’s enabling us to deliver is really, really valuable in this environment and we’re also iterating and testing on that messaging. One of the things that I like about it that I didn’t mention earlier is the ability to really quickly and easily AB test your messaging. It’s, you know, so valuable to be able to see often times, depending on the volume and in a day or two, what message is resonating most impactfully with your customers.
So, anyway, I’d encourage people to experiment at the top of the funnel and also throughout the funnel during these uncertain times.
PAS That’s great advice also, you know, about the brand, about building the brand, the trust, communicating that, it’s also quite difficult at times. I’m just curious, you know, is there some way that you’re approaching this difficulty because it’s hard to say sort of at a time like this, you know, trust me – although you are the real deal, what you’re doing at Jerry, John, you know, but you can’t come out and say it. Do you have some thoughts about how to communicate that, how to be genuine?
JS We’re working on some third party external promotions so we’ve been launching a lot more content articles about ourselves, we’ve worked with a third party that’s in the finance space that’s written an article about, you know, how much we can save and incorporated us into broader articles about, you know, different ways to save, you know… I think there’s an interesting potential opportunity to get an article out in a top publication like Forbes that again would reinforce that message.
So I think third party, you know, endorsements are important, we also are featuring testimonials, honest testimonials, you know, more up-front in our marketing on social media and in search because, again, I think testimonials in this kind of an environment, people are looking at what other people are doing a little more than maybe they do when they’re more confident. So those are some things that I recommend people look at.
PAS Well, that’s some great actionable advice and thanks for sharing, John, and I’d like you to share now with us how can our listeners stay in touch with you, find out more about the app, do whatever they need to maybe continue the conversation with you.
JS Yes, so the main url is jerry.ia, so like artificial intelligence, or you can go to getjerry.com, it’s a super simple sign-up process even if you have no real need, I think in two minutes you can figure out whether you can save, super easy. Also, for me personally, I’m on LinkedIn, John Spottiswood, also Twitter, my Twitter account is @miyaspot, so feel free to follow me or connect with me and look forward to hearing from some of you.
PAS Absolutely, and I look forward to continuing the conversation, you hinted at an article, I’m interested in following that up with you, John, and of course we’ll have all of these details in the show notes, listeners, so if you want to follow up with John, you’ll have that detail right there in the summary and on the website.
And of course if you want to keep up with me throughout the week, find out how you can be a guest or sponsor on Mobile Presence, then you can email me, firstname.lastname@example.org, mobilegroove.com is where you can find my portfolio of content marketing and app marketing services.
As always, you can check out this and all earlier episodes of our show by going to wmr.fm or you can find our shows on iTunes, Stitcher, Spreaker, Spotify and iheartRadio simply by searching Mobile Presence. So until next time – remember - every minute is mobile, so make every minute count. Keep well, stay safe and we’ll see you soon.