You’re a consumer brand. You long for a better relationship with your customers. You’re not getting it, though. There’s always someone in the way, usually a retailer with a dopey EPOS system or, worse, a smelly broker (with a comb-over). Either way, these barriers are doubly frustrating. Not only do your various agents stop you talking directly to the people who buy your stuff – understanding them, developing things they might actually like and keeping the whole margin – they are also totally clueless about those customers. They couldn’t tell you anything about them if you asked. They’re a dead weight, a drain on your precious margin.
Now imagine you’re Direct Line, the first direct insurer, the first business in the category to go round the grubby High Street brokers and build a big policy book without spending a penny on commissions. You broke the mold. You dumped the middlemen over twenty years ago. You thought it was game over for the intermediaries. Imagine your frustration at the emergence of a whole new layer of bloody middlemen! And these ones are worse than the old lot: they promise transparent product comparison, customer empowerment and lots of downward pressure on prices. Bastards.
No wonder you’re spending loads of money (above the line and in glossy PR) to dis them. Your problem, of course, is that no one can get the price comparison genie back in the bottle and, whatever happens, you’re now doing business in a much more open place. Your products can’t hide behind arbitrary differences any more. Being direct is no longer enough.
The outcome of this punch-up will, though, probably be good for everyone: price comparison sites will be forced to be a bit more open about their revenue model, the direct insurers will learn to coexist with the comparators by developing increasingly cool product add-ons and the customer will get better information and cheaper product. It’s time for Direct Line to stop with the wingeing and get back to innovating. They did it once before and transformed the market for insurance in Britain. There’s no reason at all why they shouldn’t do it again.
And speaking of middlemen, what do you call this lot anyway?