New York Life Fishes for Leads on the Net

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New York Life Insurance Co. has kicked off its first online promotions program to generate sales leads via the Web for its sales agents.


Targeting women and families, the 156-year-old insurer has partnered with Women.com, Discovery.com and Insure.com to pull traffic from these sites to newyorklife.com.


"It's really looking at a brand-new way of developing leads for them," said Kathleen Hofer, vice president-management supervisor at DVC Group, the Morristown, NJ, agency that handles this online effort.


"They've primarily relied upon direct mail, direct response vehicles, and here it's really saying, 'Let's use the Internet,' and trying a whole new medium for New York Life."


The New York company will use 12 rotating banners and tiles on the three sites, focusing on life events such as a new baby, marriage, college enrollment and retirement.


Clicking on the banner takes users to the Life Events Education Center, a landing page. Hosted on newyorklife.com, this page has sections such as Education Center, Consult an Agent, Financial Goal and Planning Center.


Consumers access the education center on Women.com by clicking on the money category and then on vertical and horizontal banners in the insurance section. Clicking on a home page tab on Insure.com links to the same landing page, while Discovery.com has run-of-site banners for access to that area.


"What we hope it will do is create greater penetration in this core constituency for us in terms of generating new prospects and leads," said Michael Battaglino, corporate vice president of Internet marketing and promotions at New York Life.


"Then, hopefully it will also enable us to reach out to constituencies that we otherwise wouldn't be reaching out to in an effort to get people to understand life insurance and how products fit into their overall financial plans," he said.


The campaign is intentionally educational.


"Insurance as a consumer purchase is something a consumer thinks very last of," Hofer said. "It's not like going out and buying a car or house. Generally what happens is that there's some kind of life event that occurs and someone says, 'Gee, maybe it's time I bought insurance or planned ahead.'


"So New York Life has identified different life stages or life events that really make sense to start looking at your insurance and financial needs," she said, "anything from getting married to having a baby to planning your retirement."


Known for its distinctive headquarters on New York's Madison Avenue, New York Life sells life insurance and investment products and provides financial information.


The insurer last year reported net income of $1.2 billion on operating revenue of $11.7 billion.


Although New York Life launched its site six years ago and redesigned it in December, it has done little in the way of Internet marketing. AnswerThink, New York, handled the site makeover.


"Through our television advertising relationships, we've done a smattering of banner ads but nothing of this magnitude," said Karen Finkston, assistant vice president at New York Life.


New York Life intends to run its online promotion through the summer.


"Then we'll assess the effectiveness of each of our partners and decide upon how we want to continue this with another wave, if you will, in the latter part of the third quarter or early fourth quarter," Battaglino said.


The current campaign also might lead to another online marketing tactic.


"One of the things we're very much looking at doing is overlaying this with an e-mail marketing component so that we can continue the dialogue with not only our existing customers but with those new prospects that we attract to the site," Battaglino said.


But New York Life's agency is realistic about expected response to the current online partnership effort, which hinges on consumer interest in clicking on banners.


"Our media people have told us that the average click-through rate is hovering around [0.75 percent] to 1 percent, so we, of course, would be very happy to surpass that," DVC's Hofer said.


If New York Life is certain about one thing, it is that it does not want to undercut the company's direct sales force. For the moment, there are no plans to sell insurance and investment products on newyorklife.com, which receives an average of 70,000 unique monthly visitors.


"Our business was predicated on the sales occurring on the agent level," Battaglino said. "It's a complex sell, and we believe the best way to position our products and services is in a consultative framework with a trained professional, and that's how we view our agents, that they can be consultative."


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