Life insurance that's "not bought, but sold", just means your marketing isn't working

There’s a common saying that life insurance is “not bought, but sold”. The cynic in me thinks that's a cop-out, and is simply reflective of an industry that uses marketing strategies that are just not working.



Right now, life insurance is a purchase that typically isn't top of mind for most Australians, unless they’re prompted to think about it by a financial adviser, a television commercial, a cold call, direct mail or a tragic event.

Through these channels, there are two common styles of message:

  1. Price focused - e.g. a cold call or direct mail from an insurer, offering to perform a quote

  2. Fear focused - e.g. an emotive story about someone having an accident or falling critically ill

A price-focused strategy is unlikely to be one that will work well in an advice business, because as an adviser, you're pricing based on value (aren't you?).

So let’s take a closer look at the second one.

Stories are a wonderful way to communicate a message. When done well, they can make something that is quite intangible, come to life. Sharing human experiences through story telling, is something we’ve done for thousands of years.

But when those stories focus on fear as the emotion used to engage people, things start getting tricky.

You see, the crazy thing about the human brain is that negative emotions – in this case fear and distress – actually work to divert our attention away from the story, and ultimately, forget it.

Our brains like positive emotions and we’ll do what we need to do to experience them.

In “Focus – The Hidden Driver of Excellence”, Daniel Goleman talks about how emotions guide our attention.

"Negative focus leads to discouragement and disengagement. When our neural centres for distress take over, our focus shifts to the distress itself, and how to erase it. We long to tune out.

So instead we need a positive lens.”

So if we want to get more people thinking about insurance, and ultimately buying it, what can we do?

There must be more ways than just the “hero’s journey” style story of fear, drama and a happily-ever-after ending.

Two American insurers — Liberty Mutual and MassMutual — have created two programs that focus on the positive rather than the negative. They've taken an approach that uses helpful marketing that starts conversations, that is both entertaining and educational, and steers clear of direct selling.

They've turned the "not bought, but sold" mantra, on its head.

These businesses recognise that everyone isn’t “in market” to purchase insurance or get financial advice all the time, so the campaigns are designed to take a long term view. They create a relationship with potential customers, that will be remembered when the time does come to get advice.

And much of the content these two companies have created, is also highly shareable, which in turn pulls more of the right kind of people into the life insurance awareness zone.

Responsibility Project
[Liberty Mutual]

Liberty Mutual is a large US insurer, which sells car, home and life insurance.

They’re a business that was, "founded on the belief that the employees were responsible for 'helping people live safer and more secure lives.'" (source)

They recognised that it is hard to make a human connection with people who aren’t in the market to buy insurance, so they developed the Responsibility Project, to spark conversations around personal responsibility.

And the conversations weren’t just about insurance – because let’s face it, it can be a hard topic to make engaging. The project covered areas including green living, sports and education.

Responsibility Project ( image source )

Responsibility Project (image source)

It was produced and shared using social media, online articles, and independently created films.

And their tag line, “explore what it means to do the right thing”, was broad but still included a very subtle opportunity to start discussions that may include life insurance.

You can see there’s a bigger message and goal at play other than just the hard numbers such as "new policies in force", but it’s a project that was received very positively in the US market, and was only discontinued early this year.

Society of Grownups [MassMutual]

MassMutual is also a 100+ year old insurer from the US. Together with Ideo, they created the Society of Grownups, as a way to “cultivate financial confidence in a new generation”.

They run events, often for a small fee (< $50), on topics such as careers, buying a home, saving for retirement, travel and debt. They also run trivia nights and networking events, and have an online blog and physical library.

They offer a free 20 min face-to-face financial check-up, which is a nice way to meet a financial adviser in an informal way. And the shortness of the meeting makes it a non-threatening way to start a conversation.

For their next step — a 90 minute scheduled session with an adviser — they charge $100.

Their back story explains their purpose, values and approach perfectly.

"We saw intelligent, adventurous young adults wanting to buy homes, start businesses, and travel the world, with no idea where to start. We also saw that the financial industry hasn’t been very successful reaching grownups in a way that was engaging, nonjudgmental, and focused on empowering them to take action towards their goals on their own terms.

Even though they’d already been around for over 160 years, MassMutual was willing to learn. To listen. To hear what grownups need, understand what they want, and figure out how to meet them right where they are. And where grownups are is, really, everywhere. They’re at the beginning of their careers, in the middle of major life changes, and at the end of their rope when it comes to finding balanced financial advice.

And so, together, we began building a sort of masters program for adulthood. A place to take classes, get balanced financial advice, and build a community of likeminded grownups. A space where grownups are free to dream about whatever they want, live life on their own terms, and learn how to embrace adulthood, no matter how daunting it may seem.

By refusing to sell financial products or take commissions, and providing grownups with many ways to engage with us — through one-on-one advice, classes, social events, and online — we’re shaking things up in the financial services industry. By remaining humble about what our grownups can teach us along the way, we’re ready to learn and evolve as we go. And by sticking to our bylaws, we’re establishing trust in an industry that’s typically met with skepticism.

We believe that all grownups should be free to define their own goals. Decide what matters to them. And understand how to live life on their own terms. Stop by and see for yourself. We can’t wait to meet you."

As well as having a beautiful website, they also have a physical location in Massachusetts, next to Starbucks.

Society of Grownups - Outside
Society of Grownups - Library
Society of Grownups - Classroom
Society of Grownups - Classroom Library
Society of Grownups - Cafe

The Society of Grownups has created a cool high-street location where people can call in to ask a question, look something up, or attend an event. It is casual, inviting, friendly and a little bit hipster.

It is marketing that is helpful, focused on taking action, as well as making that action-taking easy.

It's not about products. It's not about the insurers.

It's all about the people the insurers are trying to serve.

And it puts the negative in the background and shifts the positive to the foreground.

“When we are motivated by positive emotions, what we do feels more meaningful and the urge to act lasts longer.” - David Goleman

Yes, you can get attention and scare people by talking about what might happen if they don’t get insurance or financial advice. It’s a strategy that might work in the short term, but smart advisers and product providers might be wise to shift their focus to the long-term.