Life Insurers Should Lighten Up to Target Policy Buyers

BY Courtney Huckabay

"Life insurance companies must overcome significant barriers," Sydney Ember writes for The New York Times. "Life insurance, for one, is optional, and most people do not think about buying it until marriage, the birth of a child or another significant event. When it comes time to make a decision, insurance’s complexity and people’s misperceptions about how much they need and what it costs can drive people away."

Life insurance agents have a killer opportunity to change consumer perceptions of the products they sell! And consumers already are interested, according to AudienceSCAN research. When it comes to personal, financial or professional services, 21% of U.S. adults expect to pay for life insurance in the next 12 months.

"A commercial for New York Life, which is part of an advertising campaign to get consumers to associate the company with the good things in life rather than the insurance it sells, is just one example of how an insurer is trying to solve a difficult problem: how to market a product that reminds people of their own mortality."

"That’s not an easy subject for people to talk about,” said Todd Fancher, president of the American Family Life Insurance Company. “You’re really talking about buying death insurance.”

Take these feelings into consideration when you're planning TV spots, because if you nail it, your TV advertising could be quite fruitful. AudienceSCAN found 64.8% of Life Insurance Policy Buyers took action after seeing a commercial on Television (over-​the-​air, online, mobile or tablet) in the past year.

"The insurance industry as a whole offers an array of policies that it sometimes masks in confusing names," Ember writes. "Life insurance policies, for instance, can come with modifiers like “whole,” “term” and “universal,” the meanings of which are not necessarily obvious to consumers."

"What’s interesting about life insurance is that we know that most people value it,” said Todd A. Silverhart, director of insurance research at Limra, an insurance trade organization. “But we also know that there’s a lot of confusion in consumers’ minds in how to go about buying it, how much they need, who to buy it from.”

Help take the confusion out of the equation with your marketing. Try some informative emails. AudienceSCAN reported 32.4% of Life Insurance Policy Buyers took action after receiving emailed ads or newsletter ads in the past month.

"Over the last several decades, the percentage of households in the United States that own life insurance has fallen. Seventy percent of American households now own life insurance, down from 83 percent in the 1970s, according to Limra. Anek Belbase, a researcher at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College who helped conduct a recent study on life insurance purchase decisions, said people generally shied away from making the difficult financial calculations required to determine how much life insurance they needed. He said they resorted instead to mental shortcuts when budgeting for life insurance, which could distort how much coverage they thought they should buy."

"For instance, people tend to think about how much money their family will need to pay off big future liabilities like a mortgage, but few consider how much life insurance they will need to replace their monthly income. As a result, he said, people often miscalculate how much insurance they need."

"Another barrier to selling any kind of insurance was that people thought of it as an investment rather than a protective measure," Ember says.

"The hardest thing to convince people on an insurance policy is that the best return on a policy is no return at all,” he said. “The whole idea is to try to convince people that insurance is a form of protection."

”But that kind of thinking can make life insurance a tough sell. Why buy protection now for an event that is uncomfortable to think about anyway?To break down some of these barriers, companies are trying new marketing approaches to reach consumers more directly and make the buying process easier."

"It is really about building relationships with customers,” said Telisa Yancy, vice president for marketing for American Family Insurance, which tries to connect with local communities through civic groups and religious organizations.

Some companies also try to persuade consumers to buy life insurance through advertising campaigns that deliberately have nothing to do with mortality.

AudienceSCAN data is available as part of a subscription to AdMall for Agencies, or with the SalesFuel API. Media companies can access AudienceSCAN data through the AudienceSCAN Reports in AdMall.