In Profile

A Conversation with Chris Dyrhaug

What’s In A Name?

by P.E. Kelley

Mr. Kelley is managing editor of this magazine. Connect with him by e-mail:

The financial services industry has always focused careful and concentrated attention on how it communicates to its consumers, while purposefully managing how its message is ultimately perceived. The connection between any industry and its constituency today, however, is witnessing a blurring of these lines, where the delivery of its message and products is being segmented by wholly new communication technologies, especially social media.

So, in an age where how we communicate can often muffle what we are trying to say, where the medium truly is the message, getting through to customers has become that much more daunting, and, if you’re not careful, possibly self-defeating.

To that end, The Guardian Life Insurance Company of America, Guardian as we know it, has taken a page out of a more traditional marketing playbook and incorporated a long held ‘values driven’ message into its own modern day, social-media communication machine. In its catchy ‘Everyone Deserves a Guardian’ campaign, the company has distilled this message down to a simple point: People Still Count.

Chris Dyrhaug is executive vice president for Individual Markets with Guardian. He spoke with us about the development of the campaign, which conveys how the 160-year-old company has recharged its founding principles of value, standards and solutions… to bring them forward into a new age. He spoke about the importance of new programs that have pioneered ‘access for all’ to his company’s benefits portfolio; about incorporating the new realities of longevity into its underwriting; and about the critical role technology now plays in the growth and survival of all companies today.

PEK: What was the genesis of the Everyone Deserves a Guardian campaign and what does it represent about Guardian’s corporate evolution?
CD: As a mutual company, we align our interests to those of our policyholders, clients, and customers. And our customer satisfaction data show that customers who know us – love us. Yet, despite being one of the largest mutuals in the country, most people don’t know Guardian. This campaign is about introducing ourselves to new clients and sharing our values: we do the right thing; we hold ourselves to high standards; people count. We’re focusing on what makes us different – our shared purpose to protect futures and secure lives.

PEK: You are a company that has done virtually no advertising in 160+ years. What’s inspired you to ‘come out of the shadows’?
CD: Guardian is such a powerful word that we decided it was time to “own our name” and highlight how Guardian is different from other insurance and wealth management companies. Guardian was founded by 21 immigrants in 1860 who banded together to protect their businesses and families. For the past 158 years, Guardian’s purpose has been to serve and support our customers.

In addition, launching our new brand now is a strategic decision to address the shifting demographics and expectations of customers. With more and more clients getting service and advice across many channels, we need to have a consistent brand and serve clients when, where and how they choose.

In this campaign, the company has distilled its message down to a simple point: People Still Count

PEK: How did today›s ‘societal values’ influence the creative process for this campaign?
CD: The centerpiece of the ad campaign is a film called “Becoming a Guardian.” It highlights experiences in everyday life where people take on the role of being guardians. We are reaching out to current and potential customers and partners under the creative banner of “everyone deserves a Guardian” to describe how our interests align with theirs. Looking out for loved ones and our neighbors is a timeless societal value.

PEK: Is there any correlation to your message of a ‘values-driven’ approach to your business with any over-arching societal issues today?
CD: Yes. We do the right thing; people count; we hold ourselves to very high standards – these are the values Guardian has lived by since its founding in 1860. These values drive our desire to make people’s lives better and more secure. We believe this is the right moment in our history to emphatically state that core values matter. They bring us together and make us stronger, and we’re telling our story to remind people of that.

PEK: These are actual true stories, correct? Represented in the ads by the actual people?
CD: Our casting process was a crucial part of the campaign: non-actors shared their own stories, and actors who were hired had backgrounds that intersected with the characters they were cast to play. We were inspired by the stories we heard from twin sisters whose relationship changed 20 years ago when one suffered a car accident that left her paralyzed, to real community volunteers, including Syrian refugees new to the community.

PEK: Within the campaign, you’ve identified certain industry trends, such as breaking through the actuarial ‘100-year wall’; insuring people with life-threatening illness, such as HIV; and the influence of technology on the process of insuring. In a global sense, are we witnessing a significant shift in how our industry works?
CD: Some of these are simply Guardian doing the right thing and acting on our core values. Regarding technology, we recognize that with the way consumers today find, try, and buy products and services, everything in our industry is being disrupted. Guardian is taking a proactive approach to technology and customer service to continually find new ways to exceed their expectations.

For example, we are training actuaries to be data scientists and introducing artificial intelligence to customer service. And we significantly reduced the size of our physical data center footprint and are rapidly growing in the cloud, which is enabling Guardian to evolve at the speed of technology and more quickly develop new applications that provide enhanced services.

So, yes, the market and our industry are fundamentally changing. But as a mutual company, we owe it to our policyholders and employees to be proactive and prepare for our and their future.

PEK: Quite a lot of insurers who advertise rely on humor-focused concepts, to achieve a broader reach perhaps. You’ve instead employed an ‘emotional, cinematic’ presentation with this campaign. What was the thinking behind this approach?
CD: As AdWeek wrote, “Guardian’s touching launch counters comedy in category” and we couldn’t be prouder. Our campaign highlights family, self-sacrifice, and the moment life calls on people to be a part of something bigger. Those are the stories we wanted to bring to life with the brand’s first integrated campaign – Everyone Deserves a Guardian. ◊