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Why it’s time to turn selling life insurance upside down

by Ian Henderson, CEO of AML Group

Life insurance. Health cover. Pensions. They’ve never been an easy sell – most of us don’t want to be reminded that we’re going to get old, get sick or die. But these essential products can radically improve our lives; and now there’s a new kind of marketing that could help people to get the financial products they actually need.

Selling financial protection products is complicated. With good reason it’s highly regulated, and often intermediated. User journeys are frequently long and complex. And worse, we’re sometimes asking people to make important long-term decisions about things they’d really rather not think about in the first place.

Added to that, financial services is still the sector least trusted by consumers. We may believe banks will give us our money back and that our pension will one day pay out (called transactional trust) but we simply don’t believe the financial industry has our best interests as consumers at heart (relational trust is the one that’s lacking).

So we’re less likely to believe advice we’re given by the life industry, even if it’s good advice. We get confused, worried and on the whole we’d rather think about something else instead. And quite often, well-intended advertising messages – even if they’re delivered with humour, empathy and a picture of happy, well-off people – simply compound our fears.

All of which means we put off those decisions – unless it’s made easy for us, and the advice we get comes from a trusted source. That might be a financial adviser, if we have one – but most people don’t. Research shows our most trusted sources are family and friends, followed by online influencers.

And that brings us to a possible solution. Let’s call it the new new advertising.

It’s part of a big societal shift that’s been going on for a while. An upending of the old order, an inversion of old-style, top-down hierarchies. A shift to new, bottom-up, distributed and inclusive movements. Think Harvey Weinstein versus #MeToo, or Big Oil versus Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion.

We are seeing bottom-up, movement-based marketing taking over from top-down, conventional ‘push’ campaigns in consumer products. Unlike beer ads of the past selling refreshment, peer approval or heritage Brewdog are selling an open source, crowdfunded alternative – you buy the beer, you can own the company. Massive global brands have been built as user-driven movements, like AirBnB. There’s GiffGaff, the user-controlled telecom network and Monzo, the challenger bank. My daughter was one of the queue of mostly young people actually wanting to join a bank because the marketing made them feel ownership, being part of a movement.

A bottom-up movement can be far more cost effective because the users and customers become your media channels. AirBnB’s massive growth came from customer referrals, incentivised on both sides. Monzo’s Golden Ticket was a way of turning a bank into a viral phenomenon. And the perceived independence (and therefore trustworthiness) of shared experience with another person who wants what you want builds relational trust far more effectively than a top-down campaign can.

To make it work, we have to really understand the behaviours and drivers (both rational and emotional) of a whole ecosystem of people – not just prospects but their influencers, and others who may enter the conversation as critics or advocates. That means some serious research and data crunching. In the words of one New Power theorist Jeremy Heimans, you first find your ‘connected connectors’.

Then we need an idea – a simple, emotional focus for the movement. A MeToo, a Take Back Control, a Punk IPA. Like any advertising idea it needs to be memorable, distinctive, ownable … but most of all it needs to come from the grassroots, from the users. It needs to have virality. Simple, but far from easy. We must remove barriers between the idea and participants; build participation, not consumption; and harness the strength of ‘storms’ – by creating, chasing or embracing a social movement.

Campaigns need to drive action, build connections and make it easy for audiences to extend by themselves using social media, targeted ads, carefully curated content. A bottom-up movement-based marketing campaign, driven by the people to whom financial protection products really matter – the customers – could make an enormous difference to the way life insurance, health cover and pensions are understood, thought about, and bought not sold.

The new advertising, bottom up rather than top down, provides the cost-effective means. All it takes to make it happen is the open, collaborative will of the industry.