Response Magazine Site Response Expo Site Direct Response Market Alliance Site Job Board


   Log in

Direct Response Marketing

Cover Story: MetLife Gets Direct With Consumers

1 Aug, 2017 By: Thomas Haire Response

Jean Vernor says the long-time insurance leader is striving more than ever before to meet consumers where they are — through multichannel, data-driven, performance-based campaigns.

“It’s a priority for us to learn from consumers and be an insights-led organization,” says Jean Vernor, Charlotte, N.C.-based senior vice president at insurance giant MetLife. “By engaging closely with consumers through performance-based marketing, which is a mid- to lower-funnel activity, it enables us to learn from consumers at the phases closest to acquisition and continue to test and learn to best meet their needs.”

Set to celebrate its 150th anniversary in 2018, MetLife — and its affiliates and subsidiaries — serve nearly 100 million customers around the world with an array of life insurance, annuities, employee benefits, and asset management offerings. Ranking No. 40 on the 2016 Fortune 500, the company calls more than 90 of the Fortune 100 companies clients and has operations in nearly 50 countries around the world.

Vernor joined the company three years ago, bringing a wide range of business leadership experience to the company’s U.S. direct-to-consumer organization. From membership and insurance offerings to credit card brands and clothing, Vernor’s eclectic background lends itself to MetLife’s evolving business strategy. Plus, Vernor says, working at MetLife provides her an opportunity that’s important to her on a personal level.

“One reason why I joined MetLife is that I believe we have an opportunity to help the large number of uninsured or underinsured people in our country,” she says. “For many, a death, accident, or other unexpected event is not only personally devastating but also can create financial instability. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a team today that feels passionately about helping consumers acquire the protection resources they need so they’re prepared should the worst happen.”

That focus helps Vernor align the direct-to-consumer team’s goals with their prospective customers — from both strategic and tactical perspectives. From the overall focus of MetLife’s direct-to-consumer message to its most recent campaigns, Vernor’s team partners with the MetLife global brand and marketing team to speak with a singular voice designed to meet consumers wherever they may be.

A Culture to Meet the Consumer

Before joining MetLife in 2014, Vernor spent time in “P&L leadership roles focused on significant transformation across diverse industries.” She adds, “I also have a deep background in consumer services marketing — both direct-to-consumer and B-to-B-to-C. I’m attracted to complex, transformational growth opportunities. These past experiences shaped my passion for being an ‘intrapreneur,’ or start-up business leader within large companies.”

Prior to joining MetLife, Vernor says, “I was president of a membership and insurance division of General Electric, where we successfully transformed a business — which today is part of Allstate — through a focus on product innovation and leveraging technology for service improvements.”

She also mentions two prior roles as crucial career steps. “I led marketing for a membership services division of a start-up that grew to the 10th-largest credit card company in the U.S.,” Vernor says. “I was also president and CEO of a mid-sized legwear company where we launched a new retail brand in four countries while preserving the original customer base — which was engaged through a direct-to-consumer membership club model.”

Vernor notes that she learned three common lessons from these roles that’s she’s brought forward to her position at MetLife. “No. 1, the consumer mindset: It’s critical to meet consumers’ needs, whatever the product or service,” she says. “A strong value proposition takes into account the consumer consideration steps that lead up to a purchase decision, and a successful marketing campaign will be informed by those steps or moments of truth. A good CRM strategy will then nurture the relationship and manage the micro-moments along the customer journey and experience.”

Next, Vernor says a data-driven approach is crucial. “We don’t understand consumers by accident,” she contends. “It’s through data-driven approaches to research and evaluation that we test and learn. In my organization, we look at metrics daily, weekly, and monthly and make changes to achieve our goals. It’s really important to be able to test, measure, and either scale fast, pivot, or know when to stop something entirely.”

Finally, Vernor believes a business’ culture can make or break its success. “The team is what matters most,” she says. “I believe in having people who are experts, but it’s not enough to be skilled. Teams have to be able to work together and communicate, particularly in environments where you are testing, learning, and transforming. Building a culture that is consumer-driven, collaborative, innovative and nimble is really important. It’s also really important to have a culture that includes passion for the category.”

So what does Vernor’s day-to-day look like at MetLife? “My team is focused on piloting new products and capabilities that reflect how consumers expect to purchase and interact with brands today,” she says.

That concept is illustrated in MetLife’s corporate enterprise strategy — “One MetLife: Digital. Simplified.” Debuted as part of a global strategy refresh in 2016, MetLife says it is evolving to become a simpler, more focused and nimble company to outperform competitors in delivering value for customers and shareholders.

“Technology is transforming many industries, including insurance,” Vernor says. “Consumers want flexible solutions that are easy to understand, purchase, and use. They also want to interact with insurance companies in the same way they do with other industries — digital, quick, and available across any platform. And, they want this throughout the full experience: from consideration to purchase, service, and claims.”

She continues, “The speed of growth of ‘insurtech’ start-ups has fueled transformation by bringing new capabilities to the insurance industry that are exciting and innovative. To position our company for the future, we’re focused on innovating to meet consumer needs through new, simpler products and experiences.”

Making such a change — in a 58,000-employee business with U.S. service offerings that include life, dental, disability, property & casualty insurance, and more — isn’t simple. But MetLife not only has a century-and-a-half of success to lean on — it ranks No. 1 in the U.S. in group life and commercial dental insurance, among other accolades — but also a recent track record of visionary leadership.

To wit, last year the company was named to the Dow Jones Sustainability Index (DJSI) — the global benchmark for leading sustainability-driven companies — for the first time. It’s also been named one of the top 50 companies for executive women by the National Association for Female Executives — something Vernor takes pride in, given her role as U.S. chair of MetLife’s Global Diversity & Inclusion Task Force.

Creating a ‘Connected Experience’

So how is MetLife using performance-based marketing concepts in its direct-to-consumer efforts? The overall strategy drives the tactics Vernor’s team puts into action.

“Our channel strategy continues to be about meeting consumers where they are,” Vernor says. “That said, we have recently increased our focus on digital, as that’s where our research says consumers want to learn about and purchase insurance and protection products. The key to multichannel marketing is to have consistent messaging across channels. We are performance-driven marketers, but also understand the need to educate — especially in our category — and that happens in the multichannel environment.”

The need to educate consumers about MetLife’s offerings is not something Vernor’s team takes lightly. “Insurance is not an impulse purchase — it’s considered,” she says. “It takes multiple impressions and touchpoints to create a lead and a subsequent sale. Consumers’ expectations to be met on their terms are increasing — and our industry is not an exception.”

She continues, “We constantly strive to reach consumers where they are, through the media they prefer, as opposed to a channel we select for them. We know that the best results come from understanding consumers’ channel preferences and engaging them in relevant, contextual conversations that lead to a deeper, more connected experience.”

Vernor contends last year’s brand refresh, led by Esther Lee, MetLife’s global chief marketing officer, created new opportunity for her team. “The refresh defined our global brand purpose as being a trusted partner to help our customers navigate their changing worlds,” she says. “This brand promise provides an overarching message that creates awareness at the top of the funnel, which is critically important for optimizing mid- and lower-funnel tactics. Further down in the funnel, we’re focused on delivering on our brand purpose with each consumer interaction. It all works hand in hand.”

Speaking of tactics, Vernor calls out a pilot her team is leading as an example of how the direct organization debuts a new offering.

“We’ve recently launched a new direct-to-consumer pilot for a digital term life product called MetLife Rapid Term,” she says. “It’s the industry’s first digital term life insurance product that offers coverage levels up to $500,000 through fully automated underwriting. MetLife Rapid Term does not require an in-person medical exam or fluids, ever. The application just asks a handful of health questions a consumer can answer online or over the phone. The product offers a simple, speedy experience for the consumer and a real-time decision about coverage for all applicants, regardless of age or health.”

Testing and research drove the MetLife Rapid Term pilot, according to Vernor. “Prior to launching the pilot, we conducted a great deal of research with our target segments to build an insights-driven value proposition that would resonate” she says. “We have consumer panels that help us with this, and we also conduct testing in market to constantly improve our message and tactics to simplify the decision process for consumers, while optimizing our ROI.”

She adds that gaining consumer insights ahead of launch allowed MetLife to maximize its spending — and target goals — across all media.

“By deploying an insights-led approach up front, and continually testing in market, we can optimize our marketing acquisition budget,” Vernor contends. “Then we build customer journeys that increase customer engagement and retention at each touchpoint. This can all be done today with technologies that enable quick deployment of customized, relevant campaigns.”

Product, Message, Metrics

Vernor says that MetLife’s key agency partners and vendors provide crucial services that her internal team sees as crucial.

“For our direct-to-consumer pilots, our agency partners help us in two areas,” she says. “First, they help us with creative execution. Good creative is instrumental in getting the right message to our target consumers. They also help us with planning and execution of our media buys, which is the other piece of reaching consumers.”

Reaching consumers with the right message — if only it were so simple, right? But, though consumer power over the when, where, and how they receive and interact with marketing messages has increased exponentially with digital technology — Vernor says past performance-based marketing experiences still lend themselves to understanding today’s challenges.

“The fundamentals of direct response marketing still hold today,” she says. “Today we have more tools and more technology to gather insights and to enable campaigns, but data-driven decisions and testing and learning are still foundational for a successful marketing campaign.”

Vernor also says that — no matter the intricacies of today’s marketing world — experience has taught her that the fundamentals remain the same.

“In my experience, those campaigns that have not been successful were a combination of the wrong product, message, and metrics,” she says. “Those that have excelled had the right product, message, and metrics — and have also included: strategic, focused media purchasing; sharp, relevant creative; and partnerships that improve the consumer experience.”

Vernor adds that when failure is apparent, returning to successful marketing requires quick recognition — and action.

“Fortunately, even those campaigns that don’t perform as we expect or want are opportunities to learn,” she says. “In those situations, the key is failing fast. I’ve often seen organizations continue to push campaigns that just are not performing. It’s critical to monitor metrics closely and make tough calls quickly to preserve ROI.” ■

About the Author: Thomas Haire

Thomas Haire

Add Comment

©2017 Questex, LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part is prohibited. Please send any technical comments or questions to our webmaster. Contact Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Security Seals