Advertising & Marketing 101
If you stop to think about it, when was the last time you saw a life insurance company target an event like the NCAA tournament, the Super Bowl or the Masters (each is their target audience) with ads about the virtues of buying annuities, or life insurance, or any of their core products? What if Apple or Ford left the advertising of their “bread and butter” products to their local, privately owned distributors? They don’t. It wouldn’t be acceptable and it would be a disaster on every level, especially new sales. And yet, that is exactly how it currently works in the life insurance and annuity sector.
Life insurance companies continue to do a very poor job of advertising and marketing their products to life insurance buyers. They do not sell directly to consumers and as a result, there has been a lack of even basic advertising and marketing campaigns about these great products*. Insurance companies rely on a variety of distribution methods to the consumer of their products. If you think about the auto industry, it is similar. You cannot purchase a BMW directly from the manufacturer nor a Cadillac directly from GM. You buy from their middleman, their dealerships. Why? Because the auto companies themselves are manufacturers, not business-to-consumer sellers. They are great at what they do; they do what they know best.
However, our industry can no longer afford to neglect their responsibility to advertise, promote and market their products. In the past several years, there has been an obsession to “crack the code” of consumer demand for life insurance and annuity sales. There is no magic bullet or secret code. The tail is wagging the dog here because there has been no concentrated effort on the part of the industry at large to create demand for their products. The industry’s “dealerships” are licensed agents and agencies and we simply cannot afford to shoulder the responsibility to advertise, promote and market the products we sell without the industry using its formidable resources to support us and help us do our work. The carriers and the industry must immediately begin worthy advertising campaigns that are singularly committed to influence consumers to take action for their life insurance and annuity products. These products require complex, multi-media campaigns that are only affordable by the multi-billion dollar manufacturers and industry organizations supported by their members.
Without this change, there will continue to be misinformation about these products, lack of the necessary education to make an informed decision and a shrinking of the overall market. In other words, the whole pie will shrink as well as market share for each distributor. Tragically and it pains me to say that the annual statistics coming out of our industry validate these very things.
Now, our competitors define our products, our services and our professional status. They spend more, they market better and their distributors have huge support from their banks, the brokerage firms, the media and the wealth management firms. And with all due respect to the media and to journalists who cover and really know the insurance and annuity space, there are too many others who are making un-rebutted claims about what our products do or do not do. I shudder every time I see an article about life insurance and annuities written by journalists without the credentials to critique these products. The misinformation from the second rate writers is alarming and the insurance companies and the industry associations need to push back. That responsibility cannot rest solely on the burden of the sales force. It is not a matter of willingness. I have seen Herculean efforts from the distribution system fire back and defend the virtues of these powerful products. By definition however, we are too easily dismissed for lacking objectivity and impartiality. Alone, our opinions do not matter because they are unheard, lacking scale and the repetition necessary to be meaningful.
The time has come for insurance companies to step up now, use their enormous balance sheets for Sales and Marketing 101. When I created and introduced life insurance without commissions for this industry 30 years ago, I did not think it would have taken as long as it did to become a mainstream alternative for consumers of permanent life insurance, especially for large policies. But, I am a little older and wiser now and I understand how long meaningful change takes. Unfortunately, I do not think the industry can afford to wait another minute to begin this large scale advertising and marketing initiative. I am not suggesting that life insurance companies take on sales as that is not what they do best. The time is now for the companies to forever speak directly to life insurance and annuity consumers about all the great things their products do for them.
The insurance companies need to create demand. Asking the sales-force to both create the demand and make the sale is unrealistic on so many levels. We don’t have the time, nor the expertise. We don’t ask the insurance companies to sell the products and they can’t keep asking us to create the demand for them. From just a simple time perspective, it doesn’t make sense. The current strategy employed by the “industry” is not working. Sales are dropping every year and in years when sales increase, they are hardly worth mentioning. Compared to the market share of the industries competing for our client’s resources, the numbers are embarrassing. The industry is doing better with faster issue times, better products and the efforts to become more digital are appreciated. But none of these improvements will matter if these incredible and powerful financial service products continue to fall off the radar screens of consumers and are allowed to be defined and positioned by our competitors. I hope and expect that within the next 5 years, permanent life insurance of all types and annuities of all types are recognized by their target markets as being the elite tools they are. What other things grow tax deferred, customizable, tax deductible in some cases, income tax free to beneficiaries, estate tax free if structured properly, provides guaranteed income for life and guaranteed to protect our incomes and other assets? Are our target markets aware of all these things? Absolutely not.
I know it may be asking too much to also expect that we will be perceived to be the real professionals that so many of us are. There are bad actors in every profession and they will always get their fair share of attention; that is human nature. However, the pros will never get the attention needed to help sales if it isn’t done for them? They certainly can’t do it for themselves. How nice would it be for the companies to create campaigns for consumers that put us in the light we belong? Not for our sake but for our consumers.
* Other than rare instances, all insurance companies sell through a network of licensed agents.
Also published on Medium.