October 3, 2007

Insurance is often thought of as a rather staid industry, and its marketing efforts are often assumed to be in keeping with that buttoned-down image.

That’s not always the case, obviously. Cavemen and geckos and rabbits who’ve been recently reunited with their “lucky” feet are among the recent examples of the insurance industry’s marketing creativity that have reflected a sense of humor (we’ve written a bit about them in past issues of Industry Focus).

Then there are the ads for the Pacific Northwest’s Vern Fonk Insurance agency, first brought to my midwestern attention courtesy of  Safeco Corp. President and CEO Paula Rosput Reynolds, who showed video of this ad during her presentation at the eInsurance Symposium last month in Dallas. Now that’s marketing.

And they get better, like this one. Or this one.

Even Napoleon and Pedro aren’t safe from the Vern Fonk treatment. And Kip and Uncle Rico get in on the act, too. That’s what I’m talkin’ about!

Honk for Fonk.



A new beginning

September 25, 2007

I got to attend a very interesting industry gathering last week in Dallas, the first eInsurance Symposium, presented by Internet-based insurance exchange MarketScout.

The approximately 350 attendees were drawn from across the various constituencies involved in doing insurance business online, which was one of the factors making the event particularly interesting–there was a whole lot of serious networking going on. Among those at the conference were retail agents, intermediaries, insurers, reinsurers, technology firms and investment banks and other investors.

The gathering seemed to represent a sort of long-awaited relief from the lingering hangover of the dot-com bubble’s bursting, and a growing awareness that in the insurance industry, like elsewhere, companies are beginning to find online success with business plans that actually make financial sense.

Obviously there’s also a growing awareness among many of those who attended the eInsurance Symposium that younger generations of consumers are coming into the marketplace with an expectation that they’ll be able to make purchases online, and, as potential insurance industry employees, that they’ll expect to be able to do business that way as well.

I’ll be writing about the gathering a bit in October’s Industry Focus, and at greater length in the November/December issue.

And I suspect Richard Kerr, founder and CEO of Dallas-based MarketScout, will be looking for a bigger venue for next year’s symposium.


July 11, 2007

I enjoyed listening to a very good presentation this morning on some of the opportunities and challenges offered by microinsurance.

The talk, at the annual seminar of the International Insurance Society in Berlin, was presented by someone very much involved in the microinsurance effort, Nelson Kuria, managing director of the Cooperative Insurance Co. of Kenya.

Microinsurance is seen by proponents as one tool to help address global poverty, helping emerging businesspeople, entrepreneurs and the working poor to protect their income, the assets they’re just beginning to accumulate and their well-being. We ran a cover story on the topic in the June issue of Industry Focus, noting that a number of major insurers and reinsurers are becoming involved in the effort, seeing it not just as an opportunity to do good, but a chance to do good business.

Aside from micro-health insurance efforts, microinsurance products have thus far proven profitable and sustainable, Mr. Kuria said. But, he noted, for the effort to be successful, insurers have to consider a market that could generously be described as skeptical of insurers’ sales efforts, and make sure they take the steps needed to build a trusting relationship with those new insurance buyers.

“You’re dealing with a highly sensitive sector of the population and a sector that is skeptical of insurance,” Mr. Kuria said. It’s not unusual for the working poor in many Third World or emerging market countries to view those selling insurance as “con men or con women,” he said.

In those markets, even a $5 claim “can be a matter of life and death,” Mr. Kuria said. “So delaying a payment does a high disservice to the development of microinsurance.”

And while insurers are still working on crafting a sustainable micro approach to health insurance, Mr. Kuria noted that the potential value of health insurance to microinsurance buyers “is not micro,” but hugely significant to improving the quality of life.

“The challenge here,” Mr. Kuria cautioned, “is if you come with the same exclusions that are used in conventional health insurance you’re not going to go anywhere.” If you present the buyer with a list of exclusions, he said, “you will be con men.”

The challenge for insurers venturing into microinsurance is to build products that will be simple and sustainable, and will encourage buyers to renew their policies.

And, Mr. Kuria noted, “This is not the kind of market segment that is given to dealing with bureaucracy. They are not patient, so you’ve got to be flexible.”

I’ll post more later from the Berlin gathering, and will cover this year’s IIS seminar in greater depth in an upcoming issue of Industry Focus.

Old trends, new beginnings

May 1, 2007

This year’s annual conference of the Risk & Insurance Management Society began in earnest Monday with the usual discussions of market conditions and various insurance industry companies using the event as an opportunity to spotlight new products or marketing campaigns to the assembled commercial insurance buyers.

Much of the discussion about current pricing trends reflected a split commercial market, with coastal property catastrophe markets remaining firm, while property insurance prices in non-cat prone areas show signs of softening, as do many casualty lines.

RIMS also is continuing to promote enterprise risk management to its members at the current conference, with the topic of an enterprise-wide approach to risk discussed in the opening session and serving as the subject of a session track during the week.

Broker Marsh Inc. is using this year’s RIMS as a backdrop for unveiling its new marketing campaign, focused on the “upside” of risk, the rewards to a business associated with properly managed exposures.

And for Travelers Insurance Cos. Inc., this year’s RIMS gathering is an opportunity to display its recently reclaimed red umbrella, recovered when Citicorp decided to sell the icon it had acquired with Travelers in 1998, and kept when it spun the insurer off a few years later.

Now, with its umbrella back, Travelers is set to roll out a new marketing campaign, and aired new television spots during a reception Sunday night. The TV spots are to air in upcoming months during major sporting events, in prime time and during morning news programs, giving plenty of play to the Travelers icon, which even after year’s of Citicorp ownership still enjoys a remarkably high unaided brand awareness for the insurer in market testing.

Go I-Dawgs!

April 26, 2007

I’m back in Chicago today after a couple of days in Mississippi to moderate a panel at the annual MSU Insurance Day at Mississippi State University.

This year’s gathering was the 20th anniversary of the event, presented by the Risk Management, Insurance & Financial Planning program at MSU. It was a solid program, and very well attended.

Among the various presentations at the MSU I-Day, Paula Rosput Reynolds, president and chief executive officer of Seattle-based Safeco Corp., raised a number of interesting issues in her presentation on “Disruptive Forces in Insurance.”

Ms. Reynolds suggested there is a technology “arms race” between insurance and the banking industry, with insurance “a little behind.” The banking industry tends to be more customer facing with its technology investments, she said, though adding that she feels there’s no reason the insurance industry couldn’t follow suit.

“You have to know how to deploy smartly and you have to have a vision around the future,” the Safeco CEO said. With that in mind, the insurer plans to include some of its product development folks in upcoming meetings with Microsoft. “It’s really important to us to try to program ahead rather than be programming in the rear view mirror,” Ms. Reynolds said.

Ms. Reynolds also talked about changes in the way insurers are positioning themselves in the marketplace. The large companies who represent the bulk of insurance industry advertising spending have moved away from simply “talking about their product in a feel good way,” she said. With so much advertising bombarding consumers through various media these days, companies are focusing less on brand-based advertising and more on emphasizing product features and convenience, she said.

Ms. Reynolds raised a potential regulatory issue associated with insurance companies making more of their products available to buyers online. As companies offer consumers more and more self-service options, she said, it’s likely that at some point regulators may face the question “should the consumer have been allowed to do this transaction unadvised?”

Thanks to Edwin H. Duett, Peter K. Lutken chair of insurance at MSU, for offering me the opportunity to participate in this year’s I-Day (and for the chance Tuesday night to enjoy a strong performance  by the Mississippi State Bulldogs baseball team as they dispatched Southern Mississippi 11-2).

There’s happiness in Hartford

February 13, 2007

A couple of weeks back I blogged about the people of Hartford, Conn., mourning the loss of the umbrella logo once associated with Travelers Insurance Co. The occasion was an announcement by Citigroup, the umbrella’s current owner, that it planned a rebranding effort, with the umbrella likely to wind up on the marketing trash heap.

At the time, Travelers, in its new incarnation as part of St. Paul Travelers Cos., indicated it wasn’t interested in acquiring the umbrella. The company had, afterall, recently begun a new marketing campaign employing a winged shield logo. But lo and behold, this morning St. Paul Travelers announced plans to purchase the umbrella from Citigroup and change its name to The Travelers Cos.

Terms of the acquisition weren’t announced, though Citigroup indicated it plans to use proceeds to help pay for its rebranding. Whatever the price, for residents of Hartford, where Travelers was once based and still home to many of the company’s operations, the rebirth of the cherished icon, which many in the city long considered their own, it’s money well spent.

On a personal note, while I’m happy for the people of Hartford, and applaud what I believe is a great marketing move by St. Paul Travelers,  today’s announcement left me in the kind of lurch that happens in the journalism business every now and then.

While it’s easy to quickly update the words on this blog, it’s more difficult to do so with our print products, particularly when deadlines fall some time in advance of actual publication dates. I refer to my column in the February issue of Industry Focus, due to hit people’s desks Monday. In the piece, I discuss the umbrella situation, with only St. Paul Travelers’ earlier statements about their lack of interest in acquiring the logo to work with. Oh well. There’ll be another issue next month, and I can give the folks in St. Paul a pat on the back for their marketing savvy then.

Thank you, drive through

January 24, 2007

Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.’s announcement last week that its television ad for this year’s Super Bowl would star the future ex-Mr. Britney Spears, rapper Kevin Federline,  prompted considerable amusement.

But consideration of recent events in K-Fed’s life and the response to his debut album (sales of which could be charitably described as lackluster) suggest he’s an inspired choice as the centerpiece of this year’s version of Nationwide’s “Life Comes at You Fast” marketing campaign.

The Nationwide spot evidently opens with what appears to be K-Fed in full rap-video mode, then reveals that he’s delivering his rhymes while working in a fast food restaurant. Previous ads in Nationwide’s Life Comes at You Fast campaign have starred Fabio and M.C. Hammer.  

While Mr. Federline apparently has a sense of humor, others, apparently, don’t–the National Restaurant Assn. is encouraging Nationwide to refrain from showing the ad. In a letter to the insurer, Steven C. Anderson, the restaurant group’s president and CEO, said his group hoped Nationwide would not air any ad “that would imply that working in a restaurant is demeaning and unpleasant.”

It’s understandable that the trade group would want to stand up for its members, and it’s laudable that it’s seeking to protect the dignity of line workers in fast food restaurants. But Nationwide’s ad is far from the first creative undertaking to look to the fast food setting for humor.