Message & Media: Increase Visibility
It was a blustery January morning a couple of years ago when I mustered the courage to march into my creative director's office and ask him why he wasn't using a senior staff writer (like me) to write the copy for Fingerhut's new insurance program. I was bored with polyester pantsuits and burned out writing about cookware. I wanted a challenge. I wanted to write insurance copy.
In his usual fatherly manner, George Schlegel put his arm around me and said, "But Pat, insurance is different than polyester. It's an intangible and requires special expertise to sell it effectively. Insurance copy needs to be written by an insurance writer."
So, imagine my surprise two years later when I landed the job as the only writer at a life insurance company selling entirely by mail. After confessing I had no insurance experience, Forrest T. Jones, former chairman of Fidelity Security Life, told me, "I can teach you insurance. What I need is a writer who knows how to use words to motivate people to take action." Since then, I've written dozens of insurance offers and learned a lot about selling intangibles—products you can't see, touch or smell.
Whether you sell insurance, toilet tune-ups, home loans, teleconferencing, investment services or other intangibles, these tips help create messages that sell more of what can't be seen.
• Call to action. This is basic, but often overlooked and undervalued. Tell people what you want them to do and why they should do it. What action do you want your customer to take as a result of receiving your message? What can you do to motivate your customer to call, click or complete an application? Prudential's ad on LinkedIn is a good example: "Watch this video for anyone in or nearing The Retirement Red Zone. Click here."
• Humanize benefits. Show people enjoying the end benefit of what you sell. For example, most parents want their children to get an education. So, if you market loans or insurance, show a smiling graduate in cap and gown with a benefit caption below it.
• "You can't say that." The next time your attorney or compliance officer utters these words after reading your copy, respond with, "OK, what can I say?" It may mean changing just one or two words, and may make your copy even stronger.
• Engage them with something unusual. Providing toilet tune-ups is more attention-grabbing than saying you check for mundane leaks and rusted parts. And who could have imagined a gecko would become the unforgettably engaging spokesperson for an auto insurance company with an otherwise-difficult-to-remember name?
• Focus on customer benefits, not company history. Nobody really cares that you are headquartered in Omaha, Neb., and have been in business for more than a hundred years unless you tell them why it's important. Such as, you have a hundred-year history of paying claims promptly, and customer service calls are all taken in the heart of America, not offshore.
• Create an offer with value that supports what you sell. Instead of giving away pricey tangibles such as iPods or free dinners, provide an easy-to-use online calculator that helps people figure how much insurance they need. Or provide a free checklist that assists potential customers in comparing confusing mortgage loans, apples to apples. Today's consumers value information that educates and empowers.
• Keep it simple. Intangibles such as insurance are often perceived as being difficult to understand. Confusion slows down decision making and results in avoidance. Your marketing mission is to make your product simple and understandable. For example, Progressive provides online help comparing auto policies in three easy steps.
• Never use the words "applying is easy" … unless it's true. When was the last time you completed your company's application? Give it to five people who fit your customer profile but don't work for your company, and ask them to fill it out. Watch them do it. Simple-to-complete applications/forms combine the right words with good design, simple organization and readable typefaces.
• Write in plain English. Yes, insurance and financial services do have regulatory content that must be included. However, don't pepper your marketing copy with killer words like "undersigned" and "the party of the first part" and other legal gibberish in mouse type. Instead, use plain English that's easily understood. Said another way, don't let compliance officers, attorneys or software developers write your marketing copy.
• Have your creative team work as a team. No matter which media you use, you get the best, most effective end product when you have your writer, designer, programmer and others involved in the creative process work together. Don't isolate them in cubicles, silos and windowless corners.
• Don't get stuck on "company colors." Frequently, insurance companies and financial institutions end up with all of their advertising presented in shades of their logo colors. Space ads. Brochures, Web sites. Why is this? Color should be used to differentiate, organize and brand your benefits.
• Cross-sell. Cross-sell to both customers and prospects. For example, the homepage of Progressive's Web site has this copy: "Bike or boat, RV or roadster. We've got you covered." If you thought it was just about auto insurance, think again.
• Reactivate. Policy holders lapse and account owners close their accounts, but this doesn't mean they don't want to do business with you again. Did you know that customers that previously had a relationship with you are more likely to buy than cold prospects? However, they need reassurance that you still love them. And they need to be asked. This applies across all industries, all products and services, tangible and intangible. In economic times like these, reactivation is one of the most cost-effective ways to generate new business.