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Marketing trends are always changing, and it's so important to stay relevant. What are the latest trends, and how does one stay abreast of them? Is it better to be an early adopter or to see which trends stick? To address these questions, we’re asking experienced CMOs and marketing executives to share their “Top 5 Marketing Trends That Leaders Need To Know.” As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Linda Goldstein.

Linda Goldstein

Linda Goldstein

Linda Goldstein is the Executive Vice President of Customer Experience and Marketing at CSAA Insurance Group, where she leads all aspects of marketing, including digital marketing, brand management, marketing analytics, market research, customer-experience management, data strategy, and direct marketing. She was previously Vice President of Marketing Channels and Partners, where she led integrated marketing plans to support insurance growth for AAA clubs, and prior to that was a senior marketing executive with Citigroup. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and an MBA from Fordham University, and volunteers for Best Buddies International, which is dedicated to supporting individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! To start, can you tell us a bit about what brought you to this specific career path?

In college I fell in love with my marketing classes, specifically advertising. I pursued that passion out of college working at several advertising agencies. Through a number of career twists and turns, I ended up in the performance marketing space of financial services, which really became my passion.

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Can you share a mistake you made when you were first starting?

I’m not positive this qualifies as a true marketing “mistake,” but it was certainly an important on-the-job learning experience. Early in my career, I was sent on a press check for a free-standing insert. I flew to the printer on an early flight and had planned to return in the afternoon. It was only supposed to be a same-day round trip affair, so I did not bring a change of clothes, toiletries, a hair brush—nothing.

Well, let’s just say things didn’t go as planned: the job before mine ran late, the paper delivery was late, the print register was off… you get the idea. It ended up being a two-day trip and lesson learned: Always carry essentials in your tote bag, even for a “same-day” trip, because anything can happen. In the end, I made a rather large essentials purchase at the hotel gift shop.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person you're grateful for?

There are many people I have worked with who have helped me get where I am today. The most influential ones recognized what I was capable of and, to a certain degree, took a chance on me—they were empowering leaders, who encouraged me to think differently and question the status quo.

As an example, many years ago I worked at the credit card division of a bank. At the time, since we outsourced some of our marketing teleservices, we had the novel idea of connecting the outsourced system to ours to deliver a more personalized experience. This hadn’t been done before, but my manager was supportive so off we went with our colleagues in technology, IT and our vendor. It was hugely successful, increasing the efficiency and effectiveness of our programs, while enhancing the customer experience.

Are you able to identify a 'tipping point' in your career when you started to see success?

As I reflect on my career, I believe things accelerated when I began to practice being not just a marketer but a business leader. By that I mean, understanding the overall economics of the business, the systems, the challenges, and how to think more broadly and holistically about customer behavior and actions, as well as overall solutions.

It is critical to understand your own systems so you can design experiences you can also execute, but as a leader you must be a student of the business, not just your discipline. My mantra is “Know Your Customer”—they should be at the beginning, middle and end of every decision you make.

What do you think makes your company stand out?

All of the marketing we undertake at CSAA Insurance Group is purpose-driven, and 100% focused on helping us successfully deliver on our brand promise to deliver for our customers. As one of just three AAA insurers in the entire country, we are dedicated to helping our customers prevent, prepare for, and recover from life’s uncertainties. In often desperate times of need, we help our customers recover from personal crises that are sometimes catastrophic in scope—tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires—make them financially whole, and help them move on with their lives. It is a noble pursuit, and we are honored to serve this important role in our customers’ lives.

For us, the moment of truth is when a customer has a claim, however it can also start right before the first claim is filed. Years ago, we started a practice of proactively calling our customers during catastrophes to check in on them—just a simple phone call from our employees across the organization, some even within leadership—to make sure they understand their insurance coverages and understand that we're concerned for them. In times of need, we make sure we call our customers, we check in, and we remind them that we are here to help.

Are you working on any exciting projects now? Tell us about it!

There are several key projects underway that we expect to be serious, real game-changers for our customers. We strongly believe that relevancy is key to engagement and delivering value, so our priority is updating our martech stack to deliver personalized communications across several channels in real-time.

Since we are always focused on increasing awareness and consideration of AAA Insurance, we are also excited about developing a new set of advertising assets that build off the success of our most recent partnership with Rick Astley, which leveraged the Rickroll to redirect consumers to an updated version of his ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ music video.

In addition, the insurance business is especially sensitive to climate shifts, which many suspect are causing more frequent and severe global weather catastrophes. We remain committed to benchmarking and actioning our efforts around sustainability since this work is important for our business, our customers, and the planet.

Being at the forefront of marketing and leading diverse teams, what resources or tools do you use to stay abreast of the ever-changing landscape?

I read a lot, and probably consume more social media than I should—Facebook, Instagram, Tik Tok, LinkedIn, YouTube—but it helps keep me tuned in to what people are thinking, feeling, and doing. I also attend and present at industry webinars, follow consumer research groups, monitor customer service calls, and engage with and listen to as many people as I can.

As someone whose job it is to engage with and serve our customers, I feel a personal obligation to absorb as much information as I possibly can about what is going on in the mind of the consumer.

In your experience, is it possible to forecast upcoming trends? How does this process work?

While no one can predict the future with 100% accuracy, I do think it is possible to tap into important trends simply by paying attention to social indicators. We are all consumers, and we are all generally aware of what is trending and popular.

From a business perspective, the real challenge is having enough time to leverage a new trend in time to satisfy the customer. By their very nature, trends come and go. The last thing you want to do is put a lot of time and energy into something that can not only quickly fall from favor, but make you look out-of-touch.

It really comes down to listening to and knowing your customer. For us, the Rickroll was a perfect example: it is a long-running trend, but one that really resonated with our product and our brand. That’s why it was so incredibly successful for us and continues to delight anyone that encounters it.

In marketing, would you say it’s better to be an early adopter of trends or wait to see if they stick before allocating resources?

I don’t think there is a single or simple answer to this question: There are times where there is a first-mover advantage, others where being a fast-follower makes more sense, and some trends that should be avoided entirely. It really depends on the trend and how—or if—it aligns with your strategy and customer base. The ease of execution and level of investment are also important factors.

What is difficult for one company may be an easy, low-risk move for another. Think through the trend and ask yourself what the benefit is to your business, your customer, your stakeholders. Consider how it aligns with your strategy and what trade-offs it will require—there are always trade-offs.

The pros are you’ll appeal to existing customers as well as prospects, generate more business, etc. The cons are you have a finite set of resources to work with, so investing in one trend means you aren’t investing in another – this is how and where the trade-offs start factoring in.

What are some of the past trends that you embraced, and what results did you see from them?

Personalization and segmentation are key trends that have delivered enormous efficiencies; deploying learning models to increase engagement and outcomes.

The trend we recently embraced is everyone’s favorite internet meme, the Rickroll. We partnered with 1980s British legend Rick Astley to launch a new brand campaign across 17 U.S. markets. For the first time in 35 years, we helped Rick release a new version of his beloved music video for his 1987 chart-topping hit "Never Gonna Give You Up.” The new video pays tribute to the original, while reinforcing the connection between the consumer-trusted AAA brand and CSAA Insurance Group's products.

The video generated billions of media impressions worldwide, including nearly 6M views on YouTube and 300K likes. The business outcomes have been incredible, with a 30% increase in quotes and 44% increase in policies year-over-year. We’ve also seen the popularity of the Rickroll video spill over into our other videos, delivering millions of views for clips that previously hadn’t generated widespread reach and exposure.

Can you share a time when a strategy didn’t deliver the results you expected and what you learned from the experience?  

How about over-delivery? Our Rickroll campaign delivered results beyond our wildest expectations. We were optimistic but had no idea the campaign would be so successful on a global scale. The takeaway for us was always to be prepared for your strategy to deliver stronger results than you expected.

While the worst-case scenario is a campaign that completely misses the mark and generates no awareness or attention, a close second is a remarkably successful campaign that results in an operational nightmare. If you invite everyone to the party but there aren’t enough appetizers and chairs for everyone, you are going to end up with some very upset guests—and they probably won’t come to another one of your parties again.

Don’t let your positive campaign become a negative customer experience and do serious damage to the brand. Plan ahead, communicate effectively throughout the organization, and be prepared to absorb new attention and new business. You don’t get a second chance to make a first impression.

What factors should leaders consider before embracing a trend?

While some trends are universal, different customer bases will respond to different trends. At the most basic level, the safest way to navigate the trend landscape is to put your customers first by listening to them, understanding what it is that they want you to deliver, and aligning your brand with something they respond favorably to.

Based on your experience and success, what are the top five marketing trends leaders should know about in 2023?

1. While customer expectations will continue to rise, brand experiences need to be simple, easy, intuitive, convenient and save them time. They also need to be seamless across channels. As an example, if a customer starts a sales process online but then switches to their mobile phone, they should be able to pick up where they left off, not start over again. We’ve all been in a situation where we’ve been forced to restart an engagement with a company’s customer service department regarding an incorrect order or billing issue. It’s no fun and shouldn’t be happening in 2023.

2. Digital media and experiences will continue to play an ever-larger role. Content and engagement with the content are critical to success. For us, the Rickroll experience was a perfect example of this. Consumers could engage and interact with our content, easily sharing it with others that they hoped would have a similarly positive experience. 

3. Business reality dictates that this marketing trend will always be in the Top Five: Marketing Investment Accountability. Every marketing expense must demonstrate value and outcomes that justify the initial investment and creative while delivering to the brand and the bottom line.

4. Technology should augment the human touch, not replace it. There are many industries, insurance being one, where technology can facilitate research, guide a self-service purchase process, and even close the deal. However, insurance is a bit more complicated than purchasing a widget, and many still want to validate their choices with a human. Technology can be an enabler to facilitate but should not replace the human touch. In our world, this means creating digital experiences that supplement human interaction. We are also fortunate in that our partnership with AAA clubs throughout the country ensures that there are physical branch locations staffed by insurance experts in nearly every community.

5. The customer, the customer, the customer. Keep the customer at the beginning, middle and end of every decision, action and discussion. It can seem implausible, but this is often overlooked as companies rush to deliver solutions that address business problems, not customer problems. It is important to remember that your customers don’t care what your business problems are, and they shouldn’t have to. If you can address every one of your customers’ problems, you will address every one of your business problems.

Lastly, if you could inspire a movement that would bring a great amount of good to many people, what would it be?

I feel that it is important to be kind to each other, and it is a big part of why I work at CSAA Insurance Group. Every employee is committed to helping our members prevent, prepare for, and recover from life’s uncertainties. The power of inclusion is also one of our core beliefs as a company, and we believe that diversity and fostering an inclusive workforce is critical to maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s marketplace.

We also recognize the important role companies play in sustainability, which is why our focus remains on keeping our communities safe from devastating wildfires, hurricanes, droughts, and severe weather related to climate change.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be to help others be conscious and considerate of those around them, and create a ripple effect that has a positive influence on everyone. This is why I volunteer for Best Buddies International, in service of others that can benefit from help and support. It’s also why I work in the insurance industry, to help people during times of difficulty to quickly recover, rebuild, and move on with their lives.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

CSAA Insurance Group has an extremely active presence on LinkedIn, and we also post regularly on Facebook and Instagram. Of course, our music videos are also available on YouTube and we hope they make you smile. Please check them out and leave us a comment!

Stephanie Hood
By Stephanie Hood

Stephanie Hood is an experienced marketing professional and Editor of The CMO. With nearly a decade spent as Marketing Manager at Discover Holidays and Executive Editor at VIVA Lifestyle & Travel, she built her career leading editorial and marketing teams and strategies that turn six-figure budgets into seven-figure profits. She now enjoys connecting with the world's top executives to learn their secrets to business success, and shares those insights right here with her community of like-minded professionals. Curious what she’s uncovered? Be sure to sign up for The CMO newsletter.