Limitless Possibilities Podcast: How to Win Fans On and Off the Pitch

July 26, 2023
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In this dynamic follow-up to Episode 3, John Pelle is joined again by Acrisure's Chief Digital Officer, Tamara Zaichkowski, and Steven Mandis, Senior Academic Advisor with FIFA, author of The Real Madrid Way and Chairman of Payments, Capital and Data Analytics at Fintech firm Kalamata Capital.

They dive even deeper into how and why incredibly successful organizations should proactively change to achieve even greater heights. Join us for a discussion on the role of brand, customer engagement and data analytics between two very different organizations that share a spirit of transformation.

Listen here and don't forget to subscribe to the "Limitless Possibilities Podcast" on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube.

Key Takeaways:

[1:34] How Real Madrid looked beyond the sports industry to build a premiere global brand.
[4:40] Ways in which data transformed the Real Madrid fan experience.
[7:01] Tamara discusses ways to track and measure the success of digital transformation efforts.
[10:17] Steven explores the critical role culture plays in tying it all together.
[13:05] Why Acrisure is changing the way business is traditionally done.

Further Reading:



We're back at Limitless Possibilities Podcast, picking right back up where we left off with Tamara Zaichkowsky and Steven Mandis. Really fascinating conversation we kicked off in part one. If you have not had a chance to listen to that, definitely recommend heading and listening to part one. All about Real Madrid and Acrisure. Very interesting organizations you'd think on the surface, very different organizations, but both extremely laser focused on transforming for the benefit of their clients and stakeholders. So without further ado, let's dive right back into this interview and get started.

What I find fascinating is this team has had historic, tangible, like trophy success. They're winning. There's an undercurrent of "well, you're winning, but it's not the winning that we want to affiliate with it or support with our dollars, with our engagement." So fine, you have this process to replace the leadership, you start to build and change, but there's still the fact that there is still going to be that championship.

What was on the field outcome after they started, and you could share more. I have your notes here around blockchain and data analytics, and there's all those things that may not really result in how well you could score a goal. So how did all the changes actually impact the results on the pitch. I'm going to, I'm going to show off my vocabulary there on the pitch. Maybe show off my ignorance too.


Yeah, well it's actually similar to what Tamara was talking about at Acrisure, which is, the president takes over, as I said, he codifies or writes down a mission statement or value statement and everything else, but he also starts to look even beyond his own industry for inspiration. So he didn't look to Man United, which was considered, at the time, the biggest club. He looked to Disney as inspiration. So he saw Real Madrid like a movie or entertainment and a brand. And so he wanted to get the stars, players like stars in a movie to play this beautiful soccer. But that had the values the fans admired and played the way the fans wanted, they envisioned Real Madrid playing as they did historically. And at the same time, you have to remember, by the time Beckham arrived, the internet was also starting to get more critical mass in the early 2000's, which started to give them more access to going direct to consumer, which is what Tamara is talking about as well.

That started to give them direct access to their customer base, to be able to touch and connect to fans. And this connection is really, really important for loyalty and passion and people sharing experiences together. So even though Real Madrid was incredibly successful on the pitch and off the pitch and Real Madrid winds up hiring a 37-year-old from Silicon Valley and big tech companies named Michael Sutherland as Chief Transformation Officer. So you're thinking why do you need to transform when you are already successful as it is? And I think that's kind of a question that I'm sure Tamara gets because before she arrived, Acrisure was already successful also, but it's the vision of the leadership who says, "Well, what is this going to be like five years, 10 years, 20 years down the road?" And we needed to transform and change with that and how is technology going to change the industry so that we can create and take advantage of opportunities.

So for Real Madrid, the biggest opportunity was taking advantage of the internet and the people starting to socially connect with the social media and other things like that and creating one-on-one relationships at scale. So before the real experiences were just, people were in the stadium and a little bit more remotely with people watching it on TV, which was sort of a passive. And they're like, "How do we make this active engagement utilizing technology?" And that was the real transformation that has snowballed Real Madrid into probably one of the biggest global brands in sports. So that's the vision of having a digital strategy and a Chief Transformation Officer that's led that.

And all of that has evolved really starting with sophisticated data, which is what Tamara was talking about, and having a data infrastructure, and then taking from that data, how can we improve the retail experience, the e-commerce experiences, the stadium experiences, and where does this technology intersect with the fan experience? So for Acrisure, it gets down to, I'm sure Tamara was asking, how does technology intersect with our customer experience? How do we improve that, make it faster, make it more easy, make it more so that there's more loyalty associated with the transparency that's being provided or data's being provided back to the consumer? So that's a big change for a club that's been over a hundred years old and very successful.


And you referenced "Moneyball," and I thought one of the fascinating things about "Moneyball" and data analytics in sports, goes back to the product on the field. So you could sell a lot of tickets and do that more efficiently or you could have teams with, to bring it to today, massive social followings, highlights a real strong content game, but that doesn't always impact. It's like the chicken and egg, what produces what? Is it the product on the field, the results on the scoreboard, and then the fan engagement. And I think Real Madrid is an eye opener because they had the results on the field, they had the points on the scoreboard, and yet culture and fan engagement were not there. So they in that instance, actually had something that they had to face and kudos to the fans were saying, you know what? We recognize that we have it pretty good as fans, we could celebrate our team, but we as owners, and this is where the ownership, the parallels are just real.

I knew coming into this episode there's going to be a lot of Acrisure parallels. This is actually, as we're going through it, there's so many around ownership and partnership. But I think Tamara, to bring it back to what we're doing and what your team is doing, it's really understanding how is success measured. And in soccer, football, there's these annual games that decide who's the best, but there's also these incremental, there's game attendance, there's social following. So from your world, Tamara, maybe you could give us a 30,000-foot view, like you mentioned, building a digital marketplace. So what does that mean and how are you going to measure the performance of this as a microcosm of all Acrisure?


Yeah, it's a great question. The way in which we're thinking about it is it's very much focused on obviously our first iteration of technology. So we bought a handful of insurtechs, as you guys have, I'm sure, mentioned and noted on the site. So QI, B2Z, and basically leveraged their technology in addition to basically expanding that capabilities based off of the volume of data that Acrisure has. So that's one of the greatest assets that we have as an organization is being able to leverage that and utilize it. That's the key. So we've done a lot of work as it relates to improving those products in addition to enhancing the way in which they're connected to the current ecosystem around Acrisure. So from an embedded strategy perspective, as we look to drive leads and continue to push volume through the digital marketplace, we're partnering with not only different APs but different organizations basically to trigger and align to the events that would provide essentially the services that customers would want during that period.

So for example, from a mortgage perspective, QuickInsured already had capabilities. It was embedded into Encompass, which is a mortgage organizing system and ultimately tied to that activity. So you purchase a home, you usually need your home insurance. So that essentially flowed through. And so that is hugely successful for them. Our conversion rates are about 50% as it relates to that, but what we've done is essentially expand that. So we have our own mortgage organization system we've also leveraged and utilized in addition to finding additional partnerships. So we've done that on the auto side as well. We've got an auto dealership, there's connection and transactional activity essentially allows for that activity to occur as well. So it's being strategic about the technology that we utilize and how we think about it in the larger ecosystem. That's really been the impactful piece. And then leveraging the large-scale data sets that we have is ultimately how we've kind of tied it all together.


Steven, to bring it back to your world, you mentioned the work culture. I know in the books you've written, and I'm sure in the classes you've taught, you've probably overemphasized culture as a glue between all of this. There's certainly innovative companies that have failed because they didn't have the culture. And I'm sure there's companies that if they were successful, if they paid more mind to the culture and employee experience, employee engagement and their brand, they probably would've achieved even more success. So Steven, for you, what is, first off, would you, in your experience even define culture and brand and how that comes together and what would be your advice to people listening who are either running businesses or working in companies or thinking about their role and whatever they're part of?


Yeah, I've found culture to be, as you said, the glue that holds the organization together. So everybody knows how they're supposed to act and behave and what is important and what is valued so that everyone has a greater connection and is working towards a common goal. But as a part of the culture, people are really understanding why they are a part of that organization and how they're supposed to act, not just what they do. So those are important elements.


And I feel like sports, it's riddled with examples of that. I'm a New York Giants fan. I remember vividly in 2006, Giant's Tom Coughlin . . . people don't remember before that Super Bowl, there was a lot of pressure on him and sort of if you're not five minutes early to a player meeting, you're late. And Tom Coughlin had to that date, been one of the most successful coaches in NFL history. He was part of an expansion team with the Jacksonville Jaguars, had a lot of success there, which is very hard to do in American sports, particularly when building expansion teams typically takes a runway. You look at the Houston Texans and how long it took them to build a roster. And Tom Coughlin, I think would be an example of, I've had success and we're going to have to shift and change the way that we operate the company of the New York Giants, and low and behold, they win a couple of Super Bowls.

So maybe not directly connected, but as you said, Steven, culture is a glue and it underpins so much. And for Tamara, I think it's probably not lost on you that you've come into an organization that, historically it's people relationships. And here comes Tamara and Matt Marolda and this team of some of the most brilliant people I've ever had a chance to work with doing things with AI and just changing the way business is done. So what's been your experience as a leader in the company, Tamara? Doing something that's very different, not just for the Acrisure, but for this space. You could figure there's probably early on like, whoa, what are they doing? This is not the way that product, these products are typically bought and sold, and yet here comes a new wave into a successful company.


Yeah, I would say there's a handful of things that we've done that I think have been effective. I think just echoing what Steven said around the culture. Obviously, the way, even if you dial it back to how we acquire companies, a lot of the vetting has to do with the agency partner's capabilities, and I would say desire to be collaborative and certainly are aligned to those kinds of universal goals. So I think getting the right people into the organization is a key piece of it. Obviously they're somewhat anchored to the way in which they've done business, but it doesn't mean that they will continue to stay that way. So I think allowing them to see the future, which Greg is on a great job of doing, and allowing the insights around technology and the desire to achieve that. I think it's certainly laid the bedrock and allowed me to come in and have conversations around evolving on areas in data science and AI and thinking about in a much more strategic and technical way.

The other balance to that is obviously we've strategically located our innovation team outside of the organization. Part of the benefits of that is you have no ceiling. You have the ability to think beyond what is traditional and standard. That gives a freedom and a sense of that. The connection you now need to make is to allow those two cultures to align, to ensure the output is not only something that's useful for a customer, but also useful for the large organization and making sure that that connection happens.

So we've done a lot of work to ensure that those two pieces come together and those cultures align. So they all have the same themes and moral focus and I would say hard work and dedication and it's just allowing the way we perspectively think about things. Specifically in the tech space, because I think, and this is probably true of myself too, as an engineer, you tend to go down rabbit hole and try to solve for what I would say very complex problems, and sometimes you just need to solve for an issue right at hand and then kind of evolve in a later stage. So we're very thoughtful around the way in which we deliver technology so that it is focused on addressing issues that we know we have, but also in a future state. So knowing that it's not just short-lived in this solving for a single problem, but more in how we'll evolve into the future, but not getting so bogged down with all the complexity that we essentially over-engineer something and that it's either not useful, or it's too complex for an end user.


Yeah, that's probably the only thing I have in common with an engineer is I will over complicate problems or miss the issue at hand. So glad to know I'm in good company.

Well, Steven, Tamara, thank you for both being guests today. It was personally a really inspiring and thought-provoking conversation. Love the parallels between sports, which we'll come back to probably a little bit more of my comfort zone as we think about the Pittsburgh Steelers, another iconic sports franchise and global brand, and how they embrace transformation on and off the field.

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