How to market a boring product, Part I

For most of the past twelve months, I’ve been selling life insurance.

NO, WAIT! COME BACK! I PROMISE IT GETS INTERESTING!

Life insurance does not enjoy a sexy or even mildly intriguing reputation. More to the point, life insurance ads don’t crowd out Nike or Apple come awards time.  And, with all due respect to the honest women and men who sell life insurance, their profession doesn’t vie with jewel theft or stunt flying in terms of thrills.

Hang in there, little guy.  The boring part will be over soon.

A lot of brands and categories have the similar problem of keeping consumers’ eyelids from slamming shut–from paint to paper goods.  So let life insurance stand in for your snooze-o-rama of a product and learn to appreciate the compelling aspects of marketing it that may take a little digging to find.

Once you get beyond the cliches of life insurance, you’ll find more than enough tension in terms of themes common with great novels: death and the search for existential meaning.  All for premiums that start at $14 per month.  I reckon death is a big enough topic for one post, so we’ll discuss existential meaning another time, deal?

Death

You can’t have a death benefit without death.  How’s that for a catchy slogan?

All kidding aside, the life insurance category requires addressing death.  No healthy person enjoys talking about it or even thinking about it.  To the 20- or 30-something consumer buying life insurance, death seems remote.

Yet this very anxiousness about death gives the life insurance discussion a sense of immediacy you might not associate with an industry that offers options such as a 30-year term.  It means that even quotidian communications such as brochures have a specter hanging over them.

Having fun yet?

Obviously, life insurance communications shouldn’t take on the pall of The Seventh Seal.  As a matter of fact, “less is more” describes the best approach for handling the death taboo in life insurance.  Consumers know they could die at any time and that they might potentially leave family in the lurch.  The life insurance marketer doesn’t need to remind them.  Rather than hitting them over the head with the issue, life insurance marketers need to understand that they can easily overdo it with emotion.

So, rather than selling the problem, as the old advertising adage goes, life insurance marketers should sell the ease and comfort of the solution.  Selling the solution means several things:

  • Set realistic expectations of what it will take to cover the prospect’s survivors in terms of death benefit ($100,000 = four years at an in-state public college); most people don’t keep figures like this in their heads and thus they need grounding in the basic math.
  • Also set realistic expectations for what it will take to apply for insurance–the exam, the underwriting, etc.  Acknowledge the inconveniences and compare them with the long term of ownership (“one week of your life for 30 years of coverage”).
  • Incorporate peace of mind into the message, but don’t rely on it for everything.  Life insurance ads have often focused on this benefit (think pictures of infants sleeping soundly) since the days of Collier’s.  However, recognize that even the most generous life insurance policies don’t bring complete peace of mind insofar as most people have more immediate worries than death, such as paying this week’s bills or keeping their children safe.  Think about what else the brand can add.

As with other so-called boring products, life insurance will never be easy to market.  It will not always be fun.  And, if death weren’t enough, life insurance has another challenge that looms as large and not nearly as obvious.  Stay tuned.

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