Financial services companies entered 2009 in an extremely vulnerable position. The Wall Street crisis soured consumers’ moods on the sector at the same time that it made the firms’ jobs themselves very difficult, due to the credit crunch and cash flow issues that followed the meltdown. However, life insurance marketers remain confident that they can weather the storm that threatens to swallow other financial services firms, by highlighting their value proposition and engaging consumers in a dialog.
“The recession is having an impact on households’ financial disposable income and how much they can spend on life insurance while, at the same time, it’s affecting where they’re investing their funds and spending their money,” says Leif Roll, assistant VP of marketing at State Farm Insurance. “But, there are definitely households and individuals out there who want and need life insurance. That [need-based] message is what we want to communicate.”
Rather than emphasizing return on investment, like many other financial marketers, life insurance positioning differs because of the nature of the product, says Jon Dressner, SVP of the LIFE Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works to educate consumers on the benefits of buying life insurance.
“There’s not a lot of things you do expecting nothing in return, but life insurance is like that,” he explains. “You buy a policy, but you will never see any [money]. The main reason to buy a life insurance policy is so loved ones will have security.”
For companies with a record of security, combining a message of conservatism and safety with the need-based, emotional message of protection of loved ones can be effective in this environment.
“When there’s economic uncertainty, it’s actually a good time for insurance sales because people are looking at safety and security issues,” Dressner adds.
This message is business as usual for Farm Family, a Glenmont, NY-based insurer with many rural and suburban customers.
“We’ve always been a fairly conservative company and we pride ourselves on that ethic — we’ve always made it a part of our brand positioning,” says Rosemary Shader, senior manager of marketing at the company. “[We push] our agents’ background, their years of experience and understanding and their true commitment to ethical practices.”
Agents are a huge part of life insurance marketing. Getting customers to have face-to-face conversations with agents is key, say experts.
“We’re very interested in understanding, based on conversations with agents and customers, what their needs are, how they want to be communicated with and what they need to sell the product,” says Roll. “We’re always trying to keep our finger on the pulse of the marketplace.”
Though the Internet has empowered consumers to strike out on their own and research products, companies stand by their belief in the ability of their agents to find the best plan for them.
“If customers want to go on the Internet to see what our products are about, that is certainly available. We know there is a large section of the population interested in that,” Roll says. “But when it comes down to the individual needs of the customer, we feel our agents are best suited to [meet them].”
For Accuquote, a life insurance brokerage that allows consumers to compare life insurance rates from many individual firms, the Internet is crucial to driving curious customers to talk to a broker about their specific insurance needs and to explain any questions they have. Because life insurance isn’t a self-directed product, like an MP3 player or other consumer product, customers must be comfortable speaking with an agent to move down the sales funnel, says Sean Cheyney, the company’s VP of marketing and business development.
To make sure it keeps the dialog with customers strong, Accuquote’s stable of customer relationship tools is quite large, and includes a corporate blog on its Web site and an established e-mail program.
“We’re not making an actual sale online, we’re generating a lead, so follow-up is a natural progression of what we’re doing.” Cheyney adds. “Finding ways to have a better dialog with your customer — whether it’s e-mail, a social network, blogging, podcasting or video blogs — should be looked at holistically and not in these silos where one group does e-mail and one does a Facebook page.”
These relationships lead to a number of opportunities for insurance marketers. If companies have a pre-existing relationship for auto, home or casualty insurance with a prospect, they can use the information on that customer to send them a life insurance push when they might be open to it.
“We’re doing more targeted mailings and follow-up mailings around policy renewal,” Shader says. “Our primary goal is to remind the policyholder that we are a full-service insurance agency.”
This is an ideal situation for a strong direct mail program, Shader adds, due to both its cost-effective nature and modern advances in customization and targeting for the channel.
“We certainly recognize that direct mail can get us in front of the right people at the right time with more frequency,” she says. “We certainly want to get personal and let people know who their agent is, including the agents’ pictures and phone numbers. Then, we can reinforce that with other media to really build our brand.”
For life insurance marketers, this economy offers just as much of an opportunity as it does a challenge, Cheyney says. The shock of the recession, he believes, can help marketers develop even more effective programs for the future as well as the present.
“I hope the economy forces companies to learn how to build that better mousetrap and bust through silos,” he says. “Whatever way people want to get the information, that’s the way we want to communicate with them.”
The Farm Family group of insurance companies wanted to help its agents take advantage of Life Insurance Awareness Month in September 2008. Two postcards were mailed: One went to field agents letting them know of the corporate services the Glenmont, NY-based insurer offered to help them leverage the industry-wide push; and another was personalized with agents’ names and contact numbers and sent to casualty insurance policyholders associated with that agent during the September campaign. The goals were to build awareness of Farm Family’s multiple-line insurance offerings and drive prospects to contact their agent.
The Life and Health Insurance Foundation for Education (LIFE) built a campaign revolving around the theme of love tied to Valentine’s Day 2009. Called “Insure your love,” the campaign aimed to evoke an emotional reaction in people so that they would consider life insurance a need that helps them protect their loved ones. Print ads appeared in People, Star and Us Weekly promoting a microsite at Insureyourlove.org. On the site, people could enter the “Selfless love” contest, to share their stories of selfless acts of love they’ve committed or received throughout their lives. The contest was promoted in the Star ads, as well as on mom blogs and contest aggregation sites. Content partners include Google, The Wall Street Journal and Forbes.com.