Digital Media’s Impact on the Role of the Agent

Every so often, changes throughout our industry cause us to challenge ourselves on the way we approach our business.  While we learn, implement and refine our processes to adapt to these changes, we sometimes settle into a normal way of doing business, which makes it hard to recognize when change is thrusted upon us and how to manage the associated risks associated with change.

In the P&C market we saw this when credit was introduced as a new underwriting data point and eventual pricing attribute. For years, the P&C market traditionally underwrote and priced their customers on data attributes well outside the scope and power of credit data. Ten to fifteen years later it would be difficult to find a P&C carrier who hasn’t made credit an integral part of their pricing model.  Eventually, many of these carriers also integrated this new and controversial data point into their marketing campaigns to proactively drive and adversely select against their competitors. Those that were first to adopt created a competitive advantage over their competitors and were able to better leverage the learnings.

Today, we find ourselves at another inflection point in the way we communicate and engage with our customers and prospects. Data continues to be an integral part of our business, but the ability to manage, mine and act on data in a real-time environment across channels has become even more important. The digital evolution has empowered the consumer with new and additional channels to drive when and how they engage with our associated brands.  It was only four or five years ago that display was purchased on a contextual basis and only one to two years later, it evolved into a real-time bidding environment. Now we have entered a point where we can selectively segment and target those customers that are in need of our products – and do it at scale.  We now have the ability to capture, warehouse and link our offline, online and brand media data to create a complete view of our customers, accurately measure and attribute our media spend and target value customers or consumer segments in a real-time environment.

We all recognize that the customer journey before they engage with our brands consists of multiple steps and touchpoints, yet many of us are still relegated to utilizing last -lick attribution to drive our measurements, budgets and media allocation. A 2011 LIFE and LIMRA study reported how an individual would use the Internet if they were to make a life insurance purchase with 59 percent stating they would use it to conduct research, but ultimately buy from an insurance agent. Twenty-one percent said they would research and complete the purchase online. And more indicative of the growing shift with consumer preferences, among 25-44 year-olds, nine in ten say they would use the Internet in some fashion during the buying process. The important point here is that even for those organizations that primarily distribute their products through the agency channel, customer preferences have demonstrated that they want to engage through these additional channels – especially digital.  Today’s customer journey will include interacting with your brand through a multitude of touchpoints that may or may not include multiple interactions through display, search, traditional offline media and the agent. 

Just like credit changed the way P&C carriers approached their business, those that scale around the ability to integrate and measure the effectiveness of your marketing channels around the consumer journey will gain a distinct advantage over their competitors. The technology, data and knowledge capital exists to optimize how and when you interact with your customers that ultimately will improve their experience with your brand. As marketing leaders, it is imperative that we embrace this changing environment and challenge ourselves to take advantage of this evolving dynamic. 

As Business development manager in charge of Merkle’s Insurance and Wealth Management group, it is my job to challenge the way organizations are thinking about their database requirements and how they can execute across the enterprise leveraging these platforms that focus on the customer’s attitudes, behaviors and needs.

John Dambach is vice president for Merkle’s Insurance & Wealth Management Practice. He can be reached at (770) 349-9377.

Guest Contributor John Dambach

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