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Direct Response Marketing

DR Gives AccuQuote Life

1 Feb, 2009 By: Thomas Haire Response

Sean Cheyney says direct response across all media has grown the company into one of life insurance's leading brands.


DR Methods Pay and Build Brand


That discipline has helped keep Cheyney's eye on the ball when it comes to AccuQuote's marketing methodology. "A direct response focus carries through everything," he says. "That mindset determines how we build brand — through accountable media driving positive ROI. We do a ton of it, and it builds brand. But the idea is that, if were going to be out there with a campaign, it needs to pay."

The company utilizes just about every medium for its DR activities. "We use TV, radio, print and online," Cheyney contends. "Online gets the lion's share, but we've had a shift in recent years. We used to buy third-party leads, but wasn't a fit."

Flexibility and a forward-looking attitude have been crucial to the company's marketing success. "We don't just look at what's giving us the best ROI now, but also what we should be testing and have ready to go in the near and distant future," Cheyney says. "We're always moving forward and have a lot of different pokers in the fire. For instance, if we get preempted on Yahoo! for a day, we'll pivot and run something else."

Cheyney also credits his team's capability to build a vast array of campaigns for each medium. "We definitely diversify within each medium," he says. "Advertising online means something different to each person. Some think of search, some think of E-mail. When we say it, we mean the full spectrum — paid and natural search, display, E-mail, affiliates, text links, blogging, podcasting, social media. I've seen too many companies that cling too long to a method that has worked, and then it becomes obsolete. We always look at the 'next big thing.' It's obviously necessary to know and capitalize on what's actionable now, but also more importantly to know and test what's going to be actionable 12-24 months from now."

Cheyney also believes that the relationships AccuQuote has built with major life insurance carriers has been crucial to the company's marketing success. "Essentially, AccuQuote is a life insurance broker, with the option to sell multiple carriers. In effect, we serve as the local agent down the street on steroids," he says. "We're one of the top 20 'agencies' for most carriers we work with because of the volume we do. We have direct relationships and basically serve as a general agent with each carrier. The big benefit, marketing-wise — aside from the brand names that consumers associate with us — is that direct relationship. If we want to test a new campaign, we can go to the carriers and talk to them about it. We've even worked with these companies to build and develop products together. The top offices in each company listen to us because we have been a very valuable ally."

What's working best right now for the AccuQuote team when it comes to its branded-response programs? "Online is always hot," Cheyney says. "There are always cycles, and as we go through the first quarter, search becomes more prevalent. People make a lot of resolutions around health and finances. There is a shift from the holiday retail mindset to a health-and-finance mindset. This means more people are searching for our keywords, making search a much bigger part of the pie in the first and second quarter."

Learning how search works was a process for Cheyney and his team, especially paid search. But the work has paid off. "Our most successful campaigns lately have definitely been paid search," he contends. "We always strive to learn, but this was a big curve for us. For a long time, we'd get either get volume or hit our metrics, but we could never seem to get both. We worked with agencies and tried doing it all in-house. When you finally find a team that understands it and gets it right, it just clicks."

One place where the AccuQuote team is still on the learning curve is in mobile media. Cheyney says, "From a DR standpoint, it's not really there yet. Some mobile agencies will be honest and tell you, some won't. I do think mobile offers a lot of opportunities down the road for DR marketers, but it's going to happen with certain industries first. I think financial services will be one of the last. Mobile banking is good for existing customers. But, we ran a number of tests doing click-to-call via mobile, and while everything says it should work, it just didn't."

On the other hand, AccuQuote is expanding its presence on television. Cheyney avers, "We're doing a little more DRTV. We began running new 60-second spots in December."

And the company — thanks to Udell — has had long-standing success in DR radio. "When it comes to radio, the CEO is our voice," Cheyney says. "Byron has built this company on radio. In the early days, he wrote and recorded himself, bought the media and made sales. He still appears on radio today, and he sounds great. Every time we've tested him against live talent or professional talent, he wins hands down every time. It saves us a lot of money on talent, and, truth be told, he likes it. I'm in it to do what works best, and Byron works best for our radio campaigns."

All of this DR work has added up to — and continues to build — a growing brand profile for AccuQuote. "As the company grows, there are more scalable opportunities and more synergies available," Cheyney contends. "We get the effect of the brand when we spend more. Cross-media optimization of our DR campaigns benefits the brand. Many times recently, I've heard, 'We saw you on TV, in a search, in Kiplinger's.' Consumers see AccuQuote all over the place, especially if they are in the market for life insurance. Still, it's a constantly moving target — studies have shown that people think about life insurance once every five years. That makes our targeting and measurability even more important."

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