Fearless Dreamer: 5 Questions With Telisa Yancy, American Family Insurance


Telisa Yancy - CMO American Family Insurance

American Family Insurance has kicked off the latest phase of its “Insure Carefully, Dream Fearlessly” campaign with a trio of athletic “dream champions“—Kevin Durant, J.J. Watt and Derek Jeter—along with musician John Legend. In addition to being featured in a new web video series (watch below), the brand ambassadors are taking the message to communities (including youth groups)  in partnership with AmFam.

“Customers choose American Family Insurance because we engage with them through meaningful content that reaches beyond traditional advertising, daring them to dream fearlessly, knowing we’re protecting them along the way,” Telisa Yancy, chief marketing officer for American Family Insurance (above), commented on the campaign. “Our brand ambassadors are an important part of this message – supporting and championing dreams, sharing their own stories, struggles and achievements, and providing inspiration by example.”

We spoke with her to get more insights.

brandchannel: Before we get into the new “Dream Fearlessly” creative, how are dreaming and aspiration at the heart of AmFam’s brand messaging, and how do you tie that to the idea of growth for your customers?

Telisa Yancy: Before we crystalized our brand’s mission in 2010, we had a crucial conversation with ourselves at American Family Insurance. The competition was pushing insurance towards something we didn’t recognize. They were creating messages that portrayed an industry known for nobility and integrity as one that was about making people laugh and commoditizing the products we sell to be only time and price. As an industry, we were actually demonizing insurance and teaching the customer to place emphasis on a singular feature (price).

At the time, I only had a year of leadership in the category and at our company, which probably gave me fresher, consumer-centric eyes to see the landscape and to question the truth of the strategy being deployed by most of our competitors—American Family Insurance had been serving customers for around 85 years, and the themes I was seeing from the category didn’t match the stories I was reading from customers, the commitment I was seeing from our agents, or the passion, belief and values I was seeing from our employees on what insurance stood for or the role it plays in the lives of customers.

What I was seeing is that insurance and working at American Family Insurance is inherently about belief in a brighter future. When you achieve something, you secure it with insurance from us so you can go on to your next big accomplishment without any worry. This all traces back to the American Dream – this idea that with hard work, dedication, optimism and belief we can achieve whatever we set our minds to. It’s part of our DNA as a country, and that DNA is very strong at AFI. As a company, we are honored to be there every time you achieve a dream. We consider it a privilege to be able to help keep people facing forward, to the next big thing.

Our research shows that the pursuit of dreams isn’t a one-time thing – it’s a way of living. A dreamer goes from one dream to the next one. It’s how they grow, it is who they are, and we are there to champion them forward.

American Family Insurance AmFam Dream Fearlessly

BC: This new campaign—adding Derek Jeter to J.J. Watt and Kevin Durant with “Dream Fearlessly”—isn’t just content for content’s sake, but is intended to inspire and reinforce dreams, whether current or potential customers. How did you choose these brand ambassadors, the stories you’re highlighting and the thematic focus on education, community and the personal story with Durant mentoring the boy who wants to be a dancer?

TY: The story with Kevin and James is my favorite, by far! These stories in our campaign reach out and tug at your heartstrings because of two things, in my opinion. First, these are dreamers in the middle of pursuing their dreams who could use a little boost. We all understand that need because we’ve all pursued dreams, too. We do hear a lot of dreams related to education, the community, and the arts but there are other stories we would love to tell as well. We are comfortable in this space because our company is wholeheartedly committed to serving the communities in which we do business.

We chose these ambassadors for the same reasons. We want to team up with ambassadors that people can relate to – we take them out of uniform and off the playing field so people can see them as dreamers just like you and me. Each of them has a chapter to their story that we understand because we’ve lived it. JJ had to deliver pizzas to afford college at one point – talk about obstacles! Kevin’s achieved some of his dreams, but not his biggest dream, the one that keeps him working hard into the night. And Derek is in a position many of us can understand – he achieved many dreams in baseball, and now it’s on to something that’s new and a little daunting.

These are stories and people that dreamers everywhere can relate to, and that’s one of our biggest points: we’re all members of this like-minded community of dreamers. We all have a right to pursue and achieve our dreams. So no, it’s not content for contents sake—it’s authentically adding champions who organically connect to the space we want to occupy in our customers’ lives!

BC: AmFam’s growth strategy and vision is to be “the most trusted and valued customer-driven insurance company.” How does that inform your brand marketing decisions, and how do you work to win and maintain that trust?

TY: Over the years, we’ve learned a lot about our brand from dreamers. For example, you’ll see that we started out talking a lot about specific dreams, but now we focus more on the dreamer, because regardless of the dream, we’re all on the same journey of pursuing something meaningful to us. We opened up an experiential space for dreamers here in Madison, called DreamBank, in 2012, and every day, dreamers come in to teach us how to reach out to them and connect with them.

In order to maintain that trust, we need to deliver as their insurance partner of choice. It’s been thrilling to see our organization be the pace car to making insurance a more customer-centric category. We’ve done this by taking principles, concepts and strategies traditionally reserved for marketing teams and infused them into our entire business. Many of our decisions, from operations to product offerings to things we build for the customer of tomorrow, are driven by customer insights, needs, and expectations. I am one of many “executive champions for customers” in our company—and the pace inside the building is being set by our CEO, Jack Salzwedel, who’s one of our brand’s biggest champions.

BC: How is AmFam changing the conversation and rules of marketing—including engaging kids in the conversation—in such a highly competitive industry to grow sales, consideration and consumer engagement, as your EFFIE award is a testament to?

TY: The main thing we’re doing is making this a bigger conversation. Insurance is a very important decision – the wrong insurance can leave you exposed, in ways you don’t find out about until you have an accident. We really believe a deep understanding of the customer is the only way to serve them right. Having a strong agent channel, like we have for almost 90 years, is key for that. Being able to authentically talk to customers about their aspirations and dreams is another key. Our route into the consideration set doesn’t go through the shootout that is happening in the category’s battle for eyeballs or share of media market. We are battling for share of heart and head—we believe we could be the first insurance company that is a lifestyle brand—embedding ourselves in the way of life for Dreamers.

People engage with our brand because we are challenging them to salute, embrace and sometimes remember the inherit benefit of being a dreamer—of believing in the American Dream, and setting aside time to truly do the work of achieving whatever those dreams are!

BC: What does your research and customer surveys—and other insights—tell you about what your core customers need from an insurance company these days? How are you positioning your services and culture to put customers’ needs first?

TY: It’s simple—insurance is not a reactive category, customers want and need proactive protection and engaging relationships on a more frequent basis that deliver value. Insurance is not just about the policy that delivers value in the moment of a claim, but an ongoing relationship with an agent and brand that gets and understands that value can also be delivered when there is no accident or claim. It is an exciting industry to be a part of given all that is happening in the IOT and mobile spaces.

BC: Bonus question: Tell us more about your self-described job title on your LinkedIn profile: “Executive champion of customers, employees, growth and innovation.” How do you execute on that job description in how you prioritize your role and manage your teams—and dreams?

TY: My official title is Chief Marketing Officer, but what I’ve described on LinkedIn is really how I see my role. I hope that other leaders of marketing and customer functions would say the same. It sounds a little exotic and perhaps really hard, but it’s easier than you think! The first part of working in marketing and customer-facing functions is always about growth and constant innovation.

The key to it is first having a constant focus on knowing, serving and engaging customers AND secondly, bringing intelligent, like-minded people onto your team and giving them the space and resources they need to come up with great things that energize them greatly in what they do, and deliver great value to the customers they serve. Innovation comes naturally when you give dreamers the room and security to dream fearlessly. Those words aren’t just a tagline – they also remind me to make sure our people have what they need and have a clear path to their goal.

Below, Telisa talks about AmFam’s Embrace Your Call platform for women:

Get more branding insights in our Q&A series


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