Have you seen the ad with the gorilla giving financial advice to the guy in the sauna? Well, Barbara Goodstein has news for you. "I'm the mother of the gorilla!" Goodstein says with a laugh. And she's not entirely joking.

Since being named chief marketing officer at Axa Equitable three years ago, Goodstein has taken several bold measures to grab customers' attention. The most recognizable has been the gorilla ad campaign that she launched in 2005; it has won several awards and boosted the insurer's name recognition from five percent of those surveyed to 35 percent within two years.

"This was a huge achievement for the company," Goodstein says, explaining that Axa, a subsidiary of the $889 billion conglomerate AXA Financial, historically had little interest or confidence in advertising. "One of my personal challenges was persuading everyone to do this."

Goodstein is reaching out to customers in other ways as well. She has built an automated platform that allows salespeople to send customized marketing messages to their clients by email and postal mail with a few clicks on the keyboard. The return has been huge: for every marketing dollar spent, Axa calculates that customers have come back with $5.36 in business.

As chief innovation officer, Goodstein has also helped modernize Axa Equitable with a complete Web make-over. "When I got here our Web site was truly primitive," she says, pointing out that customers can now create personal accounts and browse the site by life event. She's also thinking ahead, with a strategy to capture the growing baby boomer segment. In July, she launched "My Retirement Shop," a portal that offers retirees not just insurance services but also home improvement advice, a job bank, and concierge services. The results are impressive. In the first nine months of this year, monthly traffic to the AXA Web site increased 144 percent.

But Goodstein - whose career has spanned a variety of marketing and business development roles over the past twenty years, including a stint as CEO of electronic broker Instinet.com-doesn't plan to rest on her laurels. She's currently working on a new online initiative that she believes will propel Axa further into the virtual world. Code named "Personas Project," it will create new and improved Web sites for financial advisors, complete with product recommendation tools similar to those used by Amazon.com.

"This is going to leapfrog us beyond this whole industry," she says. "There are a few companies that have paved the way in terms of innovation on the Web, and we are quickly going to be in that space."

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