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Financial Services Market: DR 'Insures' Success

1 Aug, 2011 By: Jackie Jones Response

Advertisers keep financial services marketing personal while meeting consumers online through a variety of digital DR modes.

Finance ImageWhen it comes to financial services, trust has always been key to successful marketing, and in the past that’s meant developing a personal — and quite often, in-person — relationship between purchaser and agent. But as consumers become more comfortable with doing everything from buying coverage plans on the Web to even depositing a check and paying bills via their smartphone, financial marketers have had to shift their means of communication. The smartest insurance companies are utilizing a combination of online initiatives and direct response messages to provide consumers with the best of both worlds.

Advertising spending has more than doubled for the financial services industry since 2000, with record spending of $4.15 billion on insurance advertising in 2009 alone, and for the first time, a majority of new buyers of auto insurance this year initiated their policy purchases online, according to J.D. Power & Associates. Increased spending in the online sector in particular has opened the doors for a more personal connection — and more effective marketing — between financial companies and consumers.

“Marketers’ focus has expanded beyond promotion of traditional agent relationships to include more personal appeals to consumers in the form of direct marketing messages both online and off,” says Barry Gilbert, vice president of marketing for PowerDirect in Newport Beach, Calif. “Television, radio and print remain essential insurance marketing channels, buy savvy insurance companies are incorporating direct marketing as an important option — enabling a personalized touch and the ability to reach customers at home, where they are researching and making many of their insurance shopping decisions.”

A Buyers’ Market

Consumers in the financial services sector are becoming more and more empowered and confident in gathering information and handling policy buying through the Web, with 49.5 percent choosing online channels as their preferred source for insurance information, according to a recent IBM Institute for Business Value study. Many insurance marketers are shifting their priorities, research and spend based on this significant trend, and rightly so, according to Gilbert.

“While still heavily entrenched in traditional broadcast and print media ad placement, insurance marketers are adding a greater level of competitive direct marketing tactics into the current mix of record ad spending,” he says. “In addition to marketing through agents, insurance companies are working to appeal directly to their customers’ innate desires for safety, security and peace of mind — and also paying greater attention to how, where and when they are reaching their audience, for a truly multifaceted approach.”

While the growing importance of online isn’t to be ignored, a multifaceted approach does contribute to digital success for financial services marketers. Research supports the growing need for integration of all platforms within the online world of insurance marketing, with 60 percent of consumers saying they use more than one interaction point when purchasing insurance policies, according to IBM’s research.

“The customer of the future is diverse and multi-modal,” says the study’s co-author, Christian Bieck of IBM, who stresses insurance marketers embrace all facets of online technology, including social media and analytics, and meet consumers where they are, which is increasingly online. “Consumers prefer interaction point choices. They can and will switch insurers if their preferred interaction points are not available.”

As with many sectors in the world of direct response advertising and beyond, consumers have taken on an increasing amount of purchasing responsibility and power, something financial services marketers looking to properly implement DR strategies can’t ignore.

“Simply put, insurance has shifted from a sellers’ to a buyers’ market,” Bieck says in the report.

The best insurance marketing goes beyond a simple website or banner ad, according to PowerDirect, which cites big names such as Allstate and Anthem Blue Cross as notable brands in this space. Allstate and Anthem Blue Cross are using grassroots direct response marketing campaigns to extend acquisition, retention, cross-sell and upsell programs, as well as support drive-to-Web options for insurance providers, Gilbert says. has turned to Facebook in an effort to empower consumers with user-friendly financial services tools and information.

“Incorporating drive-to-Web options such as QR codes and real-time personalization Web applications is proving effective in reducing abandonment of quote forms with personalized content served up as recipients respond,” Gilbert says. “Marketers are successfully stimulating additional 1-800 agent calls and E-mail inquiries, as well as creating a qualified responders list for future remarketing programs.”

There are significant benefits for those in the insurance space using direct response marketing via online channels, Gilbert adds.

“Many direct marketing methods are gaining ground in the insurance industry, due in part to technology advances that increase their capabilities and strategic value to an overall campaign — as well as their ability to reach key groups and influence online and agent communications,” he says. “Leading insurance firms such as Allstate, Anthem Blue Cross, Nationwide Insurance and Bravo Health routinely add front-door and other direct marketing campaigns to a full plate of strategic elements including broadcast, print media, E-mail, mobile, social media and the like.”

DR’s focus on data, analytics and ROI also proves necessary for financial services marketers looking to stay at the top of their game while taking the leap into online platforms, Gilbert adds.

“Insurance marketers should always look at the data, and direct response marketing relies on good data and the understanding of how to use that data in creative ways to target consumers,” he says. “Marketers should always be looking for different ways to target their consumers. In the field of direct response, there are so many mediums and channels, marketers should be open to testing these new methods and incorporating more into their media mix.”

Clicking with Consumers

Online life insurance broker has always been sure to harness of the power of the Web when it comes to connecting with potential policyholders, and most recently expanded its online presence to the world of social media. Social-networking sites afford financial marketers the perfect platform to provide consumers meaningful, detail-rich information in a manner that meets browsers’ growing independence, according to the company, which offers a variety of life insurance products.

“Consumers demand unbiased, objective information about life insurance products and prices. They are increasingly self-directed and want to shop at their own pace and under their own terms,” says Greg Avdoian, spokesman for “Yet life insurance is complicated, so consumers want the perfect blend of online shopping and high-touch interactions — again, under their own terms.” turned to Facebook, a growing medium in direct response advertising, in an effort to empower consumers with user-friendly tools and information, and drive traffic back to its agents and traditional website, as well as grow sales.’s Facebook page features an application allowing consumers to calculate how much life insurance is needed based on income and other varying factors, provides tips on applying for and obtaining life insurance, and encourages users to request a free life insurance quote from different carriers.

“Our Facebook page provides our fans with the control of their own user experience,” says Byron Udell, founder and CEO of AccuQuote. “We offer fans an outlet to become more knowledgeable about life insurance, a place where they can try out different scenarios with the life insurance calculator and quote form, and easy access to begin the application process should they be ready. Fans enjoy all these features within Facebook on their terms, at their convenience.”


American Family Insurance
Amercian Family Insurance’s latest Web campaign features a consumer survey on the “American Dream.”

American Family Insurance is another company expanding into the multifaceted ad space with a particular focus on online. Just one of many examples of an insurance company using DR principles to connect on a more personal level with consumers, its latest campaign launched July 18 and includes TV, print, radio, online, digital, search and social components. Users are directed to, which aims to do more than push for a quote request from users, but instead appeal to consumers in a more emotional way, according to the Madison, Wis.-based company.

“Dreams come in all different sorts. We want to help protect the all,” the site claims. “American Family Insurance wants to keep the dream alive and help protect the dreams you have.”

The site also provides statistics, a survey on the “American Dream,” information on how insurance can help make achieving such a thing possible, and directs users to both local agents and American Family Insurance’s Twitter feed. Ad campaigns like the American Dream one echo the need for insurance marketers to focus on psychographics rather than demographics, according to the IBM report.

“Insurers are still in the product-centric mode of looking at the customer, which we try to change by saying, ‘What is the persona of people?’ Bieck notes. “Each type wants different things when they shop for insurance.”

Demand for DR

A number of current events confirm the need for a DR focus in the insurance and financial services industry, according to DMW Direct, a Chesterbrook, Pa.-based direct response agency specializing in the over-50 consumer market. An increasing emphasis on measureable return from each advertising dollar due to the recession, as well as the onslaught of the Boomer population — a target audience for insurance companies — all demand the use of DR.

“The Boomers love to have it all, the all in this case being able to access a company in any way they choose,” says Warren Hunter, chairman of DMW Direct. “With DR advertising, a company can provide the Boomer with exactly what they want: A 360-degree surround sound of media filled with information and ways to buy, online and offline.”


DR Advertising
DR advertising allows financial services marketers to target Boomers, who may be trading in-person meeting for more online interaction — in the manner they prefer.

Companies like Esurance have already grasped this concept with its “People When You Want Them, Technology When You Don’t” campaign, according to Hunter.

Despite the ability DR and online platforms boast for financial services marketers when it comes to meeting consumers where they want to be reached, gaining greater traction with digital efforts could be a challenge for insurance companies, according to industry experts.

“Digital channels offer marketers a greater chance to be more personalized and customized, but many marketers do not know how to take advantage of the medium to serve up content, products or services that suit individual needs,” PowerDirect’s Gilbert advises.

Policy churn also remains a challenge that isn’t likely to fade anytime soon, Gilbert says. Policy churn has increased in the past two years, driven both by an increase in the rate of shopping among insurance customers as well as a significant increase in the rate of switching companies by shoppers, according to the J.D. Power & Associates 2011 U.S. Insurance Shopping Study.

“The growth of the digital channels, and essentially more communication channels, has made it easier than ever for consumers to shop around,” Gilbert says. “Marketers who do not understand how to take advantage of this shift will be left behind.”

Also of particular note to insurance marketers is the introduction of health care reform, DMW Direct advises.

“With the looming 2014 health exchanges, insurance companies will need to use the targeting power of DR to procure the most attractive and profitable parts of the uninsured market,” Hunter says. “The exchanges will inevitably change the role of the insurance agent in the buying process and open up more direct sales. Insurance companies that we deal with now are already looking to change the agent-to-direct ratio sales with the balance moving toward significantly increasing the number of direct sales.”

Whatever the changes faced by financial services marketers in the coming years, the tools of DR on all levels are proving to be an unparalleled match for any challenges faced by insurance marketers, PowerDirect notes.

“A multi-touch approach to consumer outreach is the new norm,” Gilbert says. “By understanding what makes their audience tick, and doing whatever it takes to deliver value at the right time and place, insurance marketers have the opportunity to improve response for the long term.”

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