Little Rock, Ark.-based marketing services company Acxiom recently surveyed more than 3,000 consumers about their perception of life insurance and how they approach shopping for it. The verdict? Life insurers, broadly, are lagging in key digital marketing capabilities that could help them reach a new generation of customers.
"The life industry has been slow to adopt digital technology when it comes to communicating with customers and customer service," says Rose Cahill, VP for the insurance industry at Acxiom.
Even as recently as a year ago, when she joined Acxiom, insurers weren't treating digital as an essential part of the marketing mix. But now it's changing, she says: "We now have a few accounts that have done an excellent job of moving their efforts forward and adopting a multichannel strategy."
Cahill shares five tips with insurers who want to more aggressively approach digital marketing:
Build databases that can handle today's information requirements… Cahill says that often, when working with a new client, she often has to begin with what might be the most basic aspect of digital marketing: e-mail. "Life insurance companies have never really collected e-mail addresses, and some still aren't doing it because they don't have a place to store them right now," she explains. "They need to be getting into e-mail, appending e-mail addresses to their current customer lists, but many companies have a lot of make-up to do to bring their technology into the 21st century."
Traditionally, life insurers have organized data by product, rather than by customer or household. "So, if someone owns a life policy and an annuity, I could tell you how they paid for them, but not that one household owned both those products," Cahill explains. "A lot of that marketing information captured in the sales process was never brought into the product administration systems."
…But don't be afraid to ask for analytics help It's not just about collecting e-mail addresses, Cahill notes. There's a wealth of data available that can help life insurers produce more targeted, relevant, effective messaging — if they can figure out what it says. "One of the biggest things that I'm seeing is the trend toward 'big data,'" she says. "Now companies have to organize their data and get the analytics going — and that's across the enterprise, not just for marketing."
Acxiom's goal is to serve as a partner for its client insurers and help them through the often daunting process of analyzing data, Cahill adds. "Life insurers have been slow to outsource stuff, but companies like ours can help them do these things," she says. "I have a client that, over the past 75 years, has only measured how much of its mail is converting to leads but not to sales. They aren't measuring cost per leads or cost per sales either and that's pretty basic information."
Think outside the box for mobile Life insurance isn't like P&C or health insurance where policy servicing apps have regular use cases for consumers. Cahill says that the opportunity for life insurers is in building brand equity through different kinds of mobile applications. "The P&C world's moved a little quicker. You look at what Farmers did with Farmville: That's a really interesting application where they were able to get their branding out there through a game," she says. " I definitely think gaming will come to life insurance."
[Read about how life insurer AXA Equitable is leveraging gamification in an interview with SVP of internet strategy and development Connie O'Brien.]
Take the lead in enabling social agents Insurers were understandably wary of social media when it broke out, but now that more standards and best practices are established, an opportunity is emerging, Cahill says. "Some of the legislation is sorting out and there's some guidelines that allow companies to have a presence in a social media in a legal way," she explains. "Getting referrals from other people and getting recommendations from parents and friends has always been a key driver for life insurance — now, a lot of that activity is in social media and companies have to figure out how to plug into that."
Agents are especially excited about the social media opportunity, but it's imperative that carriers work with their sales forces to establish best practices for using the medium, Cahill says. "If you have a sales force of 5,000 agents, you can't just have all those agents do their own thing. They need to have a group in place to manage that," she says. "There are packages right now that corporate can use to give agents a template to customize their websites, search advertising, and social media presences."
[Can social media save life insurance? We take a look at how carriers are leveraging the channel.]
Have a positive attitude about the market opportunity While the economy has been slow for several years now, the major triggers that drive life insurance sales are still happening every day. "People are still having babies, getting married, getting new jobs," Cahill says. "It's not like they love their families any less."
Life insurers who are proactive in adopting digital marketing best practices can close the awareness gap and drive more policy sales, she asserts. "The study shows that more than 50% of the population is uninsured these days, and a majority are underinsured. But the carriers aren't connecting with these people at those times is because they're not where people are communicating," she explains. "There's a terrific opportunity, but they need to jump on the technology bandwagon and build a multichannel strategy."
Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, distribution, core systems, customer interaction, and risk ... View Full Bio