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December 2, 2009updated 13 Apr 2017 8:55am

Email gives smaller US insurers an edge

Effective communication with customers and agents is vital and, thanks to the power of email, need not cost the earth, as US insurers such as United Home Life have discovered Like many smaller US life insurers, United Home Life Insurance of Indianapolis, Indiana, battles for the attention of independent agents critical to the companys sales efforts.

By Charles Davis

Effective communication with customers and agents is vital and, thanks to the power of email, need not cost the earth, as US insurers such as United Home Life have discovered. Charles Davis spoke to United and email campaign specialist ExactTarget to glean insight into this cost-effective medium.

Like many smaller US life insurers, United Home Life Insurance of Indianapolis, Indiana, battles for the attention of independent agents critical to the company’s sales efforts.

It is a competitive scenario played out daily, as a seemingly countless array of providers vie for a place on the desktop of agents across the country who can choose between any number of term and whole-life packages from insurers large and small. United Home Life must market its products efficiently, as it lacks the multi-million dollar budgets of many of its direct competitors, who can spend lavishly to bombard agents with slick promotional materials.

United Home Life, a smaller insurer founded in 1948 and purchased by Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance in 1997, is one of hundreds of players in the simplified market, offering term and whole life products through a national sales force of nearly 20,000 independent agents.

Rather than pour its finite resources into costly mailings, United Home Life turned to email marketing, working with email marketer ExactTarget to build its network of independent agents and boost policy sales.

Massive sales boost

Alyson Vaught, marketing manager for United Home Life, explained to LII that, thanks in large part to replacing its in-house email marketing engine with ExactTarget’s on-demand, internet-based platform in 2006, its recruitment and retention of agent business is at an all-time high. Vaught added that sales are up 40 percent so far this year, led by four new term life products marketed in large part through e-mail.

“Providing useful sales collateral and motivating agents to sell our products, rather than our competitors’, is critical to driving sales volume,” Vaught said. “ExactTarget provides us the technology to build compelling email messages and gives us the tools to ensure they are delivered to the inboxes of our agents.”

Using ExactTarget’s Core Edition, United Home Life powers national email campaigns to agents that showcase life insurance products and provide sales incentives. The campaigns’ success, Vaught said, stem from ExactTarget’s sender reputation and deliverability services. Since moving to the platform, the insurer has boosted its email deliverability to more than 95 percent, scoring open rates well above industry averages.

“United Home Life needed to reach the inbox for agents using a variety of ISPs [internet service providers] and email software,” said Chip House, ExactTarget’s vice-president of industry and relationship marketing. “They were able to post impressive results by pairing our technical expertise and guidance in deliverability best practices with a permission-based email strategy.”

United Home Life plans to continue evolving its email marketing in 2010 using ExactTarget’s personalisation feature and segmentation tools to deliver agents content specific to the products they sell. The firm also plans to integrate its customer relationship management to streamline list management and what it terms ‘power drip’ campaigns to new agents – a systematic sequence of email messages that drive attention to new products.

Inexpensive communications

“The email channel allows us to talk to 20,000 agents very inexpensively, and we limit the use of mail now to agents that have sold in the past year, and email everyone else,” Vaught said. “For us, the Exact Target gives us a structured, efficient way to send email in an organised way. They ensure email gets to the inbox and avoids spam filters.”

Vaught said the platform allows her to simply drop content into pre-formed templates, and then send email to pre-arranged segments of the agent force.

“We can organise, report and track e-mail usage, and that way we can follow up with agents who express interest in a certain product, agent by agent,” she said.

“When you are trying to stay in the front of 20,000 agents, that is a huge advantage.”

Another ExactTarget client, Genworth Financial, tied email marketing to its customer relationship management package, personalising the content to individual subscribers to its financial e-newsletters.

The strategy has resulted in a 7 percent to 10 percent higher open conversion rate compared to non-personalised email messages. Sales were 39 percent higher for Genworth customers who received personalised e-newsletters, compared to those who did not.

According to the June 2009 Marketing Trends Survey by research firm StrongMail Systems, 42 percent of nearly 1,000 global business leaders polled plan to increase their marketing budgets in 2009.

Of those, 81 percent intend to increase their email marketing spend. Spending on email marketing, which has flowed seemingly unabated for years, shows no signs of slowing down – even as social networks and search engines continue to dominate the marketing headlines.

Double-digit growth

Spending on email marketing will expand at double-digit rates for the next five years, according to a report from private equity firm Veronis Suhler Stevenson – expanding at 18.5 percent each year.

In fact, ExactTarget’s research found a positive correlation among consumer usage of email, instant messaging, social networks and text messaging, dispelling myths that the explosion of social media and texting will overtake traditional email usage.

“The total number of social media users is rapidly increasing, but often these users jump in quickly, only to curtail their use of social media over time,” said Morgan Stewart, ExactTarget’s director of research and strategy.

“Email on the other hand, is woven into all online interaction, making it an essential tool consumers continue to use more and more.”

Vaught agreed, and said, for many independent agents crushed by workloads and wired into their email through laptops and smartphones wherever they work, email now is more effective than any other means of communication.

“In the workplace, for many of us, email is the medium of choice,” she said. “It is inexpensive, it is easy to track and it is non-intrusive. Today’s busy agent may never get to the mail pieces.”

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