Marshalling Your Digital Resources for Direct-to-Consumer Sales

As direct-to-consumer sales proliferate in the digital age, insurance companies face both a challenge and an opportunity.

The challenge is to stay relevant. The opportunity is that P&C carriers can utilize new channels to make sales. As marketer Amanda Walgrove points out, digital channels represent an opportunity for insurance carriers to impact an industry that needs creativity to reach customers.

In this post, we pivot the question to ask how carriers can optimize their existing digital assets to make D2C sales through these channels.

The real challenge for many carriers is understanding how to sell their products through digital channes in a way that connects with customers.

Cyril Tuohy writes that the rapid growth of online D2C channels has many carriers rethinking their entire approach to lead generation and acquisition. This is the challenge we want to address.

The Benefit of D2C Sales: True Digital Connection

The most obvious benefit of pivoting to a direct-to-consumer model is increased profitability. One report from Timetric highlights how D2C simultaneously maximizes sales and lowers distribution costs through the use of an online platform and direct interactions.

But profitability is not the only benefit of D2C sales.

These days, consumers are looking for personalized experiences with the companies they interact with — P&C carriers included.

At Forbes, Stephen Diorio writes that the benefit of direct-to-consumer sales goes beyond the bottom line. “Direct-to-Customer innovators report significant improvement across every measure of customer engagement – awareness, acquisition, satisfaction, mindshare, and profitability,” he says.

In other words, marshalling your digital resources for direct sales benefits your brand just as much as your bottom line. D2C sales offers simplicity and engagement for your customers — simultaneously increasing your profitability and your customer satisfaction.

As you look to pivot your marketing efforts toward D2C, you should keep this goal of digital connection in mind. It’s what will drive both conversion and customer satisfaction — the two metrics key to D2C sales success.

Marshalling Your Digital Resources for Direct-to-Consumer Sales

Case in Point: MetLife and the Middle Market

In 2016, MetLife sold its Premier Client Group — the bulk of its insurance agents — to MassMutual. The move was followed by a shift in MetLife’s approach to insurance sales. The company started focusing on direct-to-consumer channels (with online and call center service) aimed at the middle market.

Last year, MetLife confirmed this approach in a press release, saying that their intention is to bring new product offerings to new customers through new digital and social media efforts. Thomas Haire wrote how the pivot places a new emphasis on educating and empowering customers through digital channels.

So what are some ways P&C carriers can follow in MetLife’s footsteps?

Know Thy Customer: The D2C Appeal for Millennials

Steven Gunderson and Martin Spit at Accenture Strategy take a deep dive into how the D2C approach taps what they call the $12 billion life insurance middle market opportunity. At the heart of this opportunity is the millennial. “The newer insurance client is a young, middle-market consumer, digitally savvy and more than willing to buy insurance without a middleman, embracing the self-service approach,” the advisors write.

Eighty-four percent of the young middle market say that life insurance is important enough to spend more money on. The Accenture report goes on to highlight that becoming interactive with this market segment and showing value is key to making the sale.

The expectation for instant access to insurance quotes and information comes as no surprise given developments in ecommerce. Jay Patel, insurance analyst for Timetric, writes that ease of service and rapid delivery are the new standards, due primarily to the proliferation of online retailers like Amazon. “Consumers now demand the same level of digital convenience from insurance,” he says.

All of this acts as a call to action for optimizing your digital assets for D2C sales. Instead of making a company-wide pivot overnight, P&C carriers can start by homing in on an audience segment that is already sold on the D2C approach. A promising option are the tech-savvy, money-minded millennials in their 30s.

There are a few different ways to approach this group:

  • Incorporate social media management and social listening tools into your marketing mix.
  • Invest in keyword research and competitor analysis.
  • Encourage and listen to customer reviews to get a better understanding of what current customers want and what to focus your marketing message on.  

Murph Krajewski at Sharpen makes this appeal to insurance companies everywhere. “Once you know what emotions (and actions) you want to elicit from your most valuable asset, you can engineer the mechanisms needed to bring them about,” he says. Start the transition to D2C sales by getting to know your most valuable asset: your customer.

Marshalling Your Digital Resources for Direct-to-Consumer Sales

Mastering Multi-Channel Offerings and Mixed Media

Most insurance carriers remain focused on the call center as their go-to customer service solution. Leslie McArdle, marketing director at NowInteract, says this does customers a disservice.

The lack of digital development and self-help options leave bottlenecks that leave customers frustrated, she writes. In the same way, potential customers may be turned off if they can’t find any relevant information about insurance services through a digital medium. In order to offer D2C sales, P&C carriers must figure out how to digitize service as expectations change.

This is where taking an omni-channel approach comes in.

Michael Lyman, senior managing director at Accenture Insurance, drives that message home: “Digital distribution is most effective when it incorporates a variety of sales and service channels. Analytics systems allow insurance providers to blend call-center facilities with digital advertising, online services and self-service portals to get the right mix of contact points for different target audiences.”

The key is to bring this approach to both lead acquisition and customer service. Increase digital advertising efforts. Branch out from PPC ads to robust content marketing and organic SEO efforts. Offer a self-service portal backed by an empowered call center or live chat option. The goal is to make information easily accessible.

Some experts even go so far as to suggest that the lines between direct and agent insurance sales should be erased. Kathy Hutson at IBM writes that back-end integration between channels should be the goal, as commissioning systems and separate systems can be costly.

“Customers, for their part, have come to expect an integrated experience regardless of their entry into the company,” she writes. Beyond that, tech has reached a point where insurance carriers can easily integrate D2C sales with a more traditional approach.

Connecting With Your Customers Through D2C Channels

In the modern consumer climate, it is crucial to offer a range of resources and touchpoints for your target audience. They are looking for connection, not sales pitches.

What drives this approach? Slayton Search Partners makes it clear that P&C carriers have to update their marketing approaches if they want to continue to connect with customers. “In today’s marketplace, consumers want to be empowered in their buying decisions and are more driven by research, reviews, and ease-of-use than they ever have been before.”

According to a study on lead generation from Samantha Chow, senior insurance analyst for Aite Group, the goal is to minimize marketing acquisition costs and maintain competitiveness by adapting to digital media. The study found that effective online D2C marketing efforts include banner ads, SEO, pop-up ads and links based on audience insight. In contrast, many carriers continue to invest in telemarketing, print collateral, direct mail and television advertising.

Chow’s study found that half of life insurers used at least five of these marketing channels. By spreading themselves too thin, these carriers are missing the mark when it comes to actually connecting with their customers.

The alternative is to provide high quality, informative and authentic information for your target audience. This is content marketing at it’s best.

The idea is to respond to your audience’s need for information. Analytics firm V12Data puts it best: “Many consumers don’t fully understand insurance. They know they need it, but when it’s time to really dig into deductibles, coverage, premiums, liability and so on, consumers don’t know the ins and outs. As an insurance professional, it’s your job to educate them—and in doing so, find opportunities to gain loyal brand advocates and new policyholders.”

In fact, 9 out of 10 consumers find custom content helpful, and 6 out of 10 feel more comfortable with a carrier after finding helpful content on their website. Finance Digest suggests replacing traditional online marketing with long-form, evergreen content that tackles insurance questions and concerns. You can also use your customer’s voice (in the form of reviews) to revamp landing pages and drip campaigns. A snippet of customer experience will read as more authentic than even the best sales copy.

An organic content marketing approach may take more effort, but it gets to the heart of the D2C trend: Customers are looking for more than a product. They are looking for guidance through a major financial decision — but they want the information on their own time.

As a P&C business leader, you can choose to marshall your digital assets to be that guide.

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