AAA Life Insurance’s Dave Marold on Emotional Selling Propositions
During a session at the Direct Marketing Association’s annual conference in October, Dave Marold, director of direct marketing for Livonia, Mich.-based AAA Life Insurance, partnered with consultant and author Jeanette McMurtry, of Vail, Colo., to give a presentation about the concept of emotional selling propositions, aka ESP, which McMurtry describes as a message that “appeals to the one real trigger of sales—emotional fulfillment.”
“Traditionally, marketers have always developed a marketing program around a unique selling proposition,” she continues. “But we live in a day and age when it’s very difficult for a company to be unique. And that isn’t what’s drawing customers for a lifetime of loyalty. … You have to develop a selling proposition that best applies to the emotional fulfillment consumers are seeking.”
Here, Marold explains how emotional selling propositions figure into his plan for the 35 million acquisition mailings AAA Life Insurance sends out each year.
TG: What does an emotional selling proposition mean for AAA?
DM: Like Jeanette [McMurtry], I believe unique selling propositions are something of the past. At AAA Life, one of our most popular products is term life insurance. It’s almost a commodity. We used to spend time trying to make it unique, but I think the investment in that is pretty useless in the Internet era. People can find out what is different and what is not.
AAA is nirvana as far as direct marketing because it’s a trusted brand. … If you get an envelope in the mail, and it has AAA on there, that’s like a seal of approval. Focus group research shows we rank among the top as far as awareness, trust and reliability. … As far as life insurance though, that’s just about the opposite end of the spectrum. People don’t like to think about life insurance. … Focus groups have shown people [say] it’s a “necessary evil” and that “buying life insurance is like pulling off a band-aid.” We have a great brand that’s trusted, yet life insurance evokes a lot of unappealing emotions because it causes you to think about your death, the death of a loved one or a friend. …
The three key emotions involved in life insurance purchase are regret, fear of dying and love according to LIMRA International. With AAA being a membership organization … [we wouldn’t] get very far trying to sell by fear. So we really balance the regret and love. A little bit of fear can be OK, but we’ve tested packages for accidental death and travel accident insurance, and if we put too many facts in there, as far as the number of people that are killed daily by different accidents and so on, we depress response.
What we have to do is find the right combination of emotions that appeal to our consumers. … [For example,] we had a product where we decided to place extra emphasis on what we considered a unique selling proposition—we pay double death benefits if you died while wearing a seat belt. The response rate was between 20 and 30 percent worse than the control. We need to find the right balance of emotions without emphasizing how our product is subtly different from someone else’s.
TG: What are some of the other ways you use this creative strategy?
DM: In one package that was a lead development program … we addressed that while [life insurance] is something people didn’t want to think about, we can make it quick and easy for people to protect the people they love. In that package, we show eight different life-changing events that cause people to buy life insurance. That appeals to regret because you don’t want to regret not buying insurance. But it has to be subtle … too much emotion can cause a disconnect. … One of the things that we subscribe to here is that you can only sell one thing at a time, or as Dick Benson used to say, “You can never sell two things at once.” If we get too far off on a tangent of emotion, our response rates drop as much as 40 percent. …
We have a number of travel accident products. We had a brand package; it was a two-page letter and had a brochure and a AAA brand look. Against it, we tested an eight-page letter with a very one-to-one feel that appealed to emotions—the regret, the love, a little bit of fear—and that beat the control by more than 60 percent. We don’t have any pre-cut formula that it has to be a long letter or a short letter, but as far as emotions go, the long letter often helps.
TG: You’ve mentioned focus groups; when it comes to working with an emotional selling proposition, how important are focus groups?
DM: I’ve been in direct marketing for more than 20 years, so I’m a bit skeptical of focus groups. They give us direction, but the real key is, does it work in the marketplace? I’m not a huge fan of focus groups, but certainly, in this instance, it gives us a lot of great direction, such as how to help people get [buying life insurance] off their list [and] know that it’s not anything they want to think about. Once they cross it off their list, they might not even remember what kind of insurance they bought. They just know they’ve protected their loved ones.
[From the February 2007 issue of Inside Direct Mail, a sister publication to Target Marketing magazine. To learn more about Inside Direct Mail, visit http://www.insidedirectmail.com ]