Telisa Yancy: Chief Marketing Officer for American Family Insurance Dreams Fearlessly

by Edward Cates

If we examine the role insurance plays in our lives, perhaps it is most accurate to view it as a resource that secures not only our personal wealth and assets but also our visions and hopes for the future. Innovative marketers and insurance leadership are redefining the way consumers view and value insurance by expanding the role of policy writers beyond claims response to being a reliable resource that helps people live more fulfilled lives. Telisa Yancy, Chief Marketing Officer for American Family Insurance (AFI), and her peers are leading this transformation.

“We see insurance as an ongoing relationship with a customer that allows us to be a part of their lives,” shares Yancy, who is at the vanguard of marketing thought leadership in the insurance industry. With a finely tuned consumer centric perspective and years of operational experience in traditional consumer-led industries, she leads a team of talented marketing, customer experience design and communications professionals. They are reinventing the way insurance is marketed to clients by using data, analytics, artificial intelligence, strategic partnerships, community outreach and celebrity brand ambassadors.

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In this landscape of evolving insurance dynamics, catering to the diverse needs of individuals remains paramount. For those who consume tobacco, navigating the realm of insurance can pose unique challenges. However, specialized offerings like life insurance for tobacco users have emerged to address this segment’s distinct requirements. These tailored policies recognize the specific health risks associated with tobacco use while still providing coverage for individuals in this demographic. By acknowledging and accommodating these unique needs, insurers can better serve a broader spectrum of clients, ensuring that everyone has access to essential financial protection.

About the company

Telisa Yancy, Chief Marketing Officer, American Family Insurance

Headquartered in Madison, Wisconsin, AFI was founded in 1927 and is a private mutual company focusing on delivery of property, casualty, auto, life, homeowner and business coverage. With $8.8 billion in revenues (in 2016), it has been a member of the Fortune 500 for over 21 years. “Our leadership team has an incredibly keen understanding of where we felt technology, robotics, products, machine learning and artificial intelligence was going to allow our industry to go,” Yancy reflects. “Five years ago, our CEO, Jack Salzwedel, crafted a vision based upon where the customer was going. That vision led us to digging deep into emerging technologies while building a brand the customer can relate to and find indispensable in their lives.”

One of AFI’s successful campaigns is themed “Dream Fearlessly” and is described by the company as a “traveling celebration of the amazing things that happen when we support, protect and inspire dreams in our communities.” Brand ambassadors for AFI include PGA Golfer Steve Stricker, model and actress Kathy Ireland, hockey player Jessie Vetter, football player J.J. Watt and recording artist John Legend. These brand ambassadors bring more than their celebrity to their partnership with AFI; they bring an aligned Telisa Yancy: Chief Marketing Officer for American Family Insurance Dreams Fearlessly commitment to impacting communities and causes.

Jack Salzwedel

Jack Salzwedel, CEO of American Family Insurance with John Legend, Recording Artist and AFI Brand Ambassador

“We’re honored to partner with John Legend as a brand ambassador. He doesn’t enter into partnership agreements easily,” Yancy notes. “John and his team have been at the grass roots level, facing issues related to economic opportunity, early childhood education and impact on families in the community. He has leveraged himself and his team to assist us in furthering our CEO’s view that all companies have an inherent responsibility to make the communities they serve better. One of my favorite quotes from Jack [AFI’s CEO] is, “It’s a hollow victory if we don’t change the lives of customers, employees and the communities we are a part of.”

As Yancy leads the marketing initiatives from the C-suite, she has maintained her ability to, in the words of Rudyard Kipling, “walk with kings — nor lose the common touch.” Originally from Chicago’s south side, she is a graduate of the University of Illinois with an MBA from the Kellogg Graduate School of Business at Northwestern University. Prior to joining American Family Insurance in 2009, she worked in marketing leadership roles for Ford Motor Company and Burger King. She has ascended within AFI from her start as Advertising Director to Chief Marketing Officer and is one of seven of the most senior leaders in the company.

Beyond Yancy’s corporate marketing prowess and distinguished career is a grounded, principled leader resolute in her purpose and how she hopes to inspire the lives of others. “All of us have some measure of gifts,” she says. “I want to use my gifts to inspire people —especially those who herald from humble beginnings and don’t easily visualize all of the possibilities the world is offering. What makes us all common is how you take what you’ve been given, and what you haven’t, and weave it together to create what the world should be.”

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