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Insurance marketing, the technology way; reaching your target members with a little help from tech tools.

"If you've seen one affinity program, you've seen one--or so they say," says Ben Francavilla, senior managing director for Americana Program Underwriters, Camp Hill, Pennsylvania.

Although associations' affinity insurance programs are as diverse as snowflakes, the thing that they have in common these days is use of the Web and other technology solutions for sales and service. "What you have to be careful about is who technology really serves," says Craig R. Arnold, president and CEO of The Princeton Corporation, Kentland, Indiana.

"A lot of technology is available for building databases, but not all of it is designed for end-users' efficiency. Technology systems must serve the customer and build goodwill as well as business," he says. "There's a member-care element--to help the member feel closer to the association's program, not pushed away. A Web site with no phone number says you want to avoid contact, and that's not a good message to send."

WORKING THE WEB

Links from the association's home page to the plan administrator's or broker's site are a common marketing tool for affinity insurance programs. If links are not on the home page, they usually are included in sections for member services or products. Here's what Web sites help associations supply:

Immediate service. "We use the Web to the max," says Paul L. Nelson, executive director of the American Counseling Association Insurance Trust, Alexandria, Virginia. The biggest benefit of ACA's online professional liability insurance program is the immediacy of the response for applicants. In counselling, proof of professional insurance becomes an urgent need in two areas, Nelson says: 1) for students beginning a practicum that requires coverage and 2) for practicing counselors who are submitting contract bids or applying for hospital privileges or to health maintenance organizations.

"Students who have procrastinated or counselors who were previously covered by an employer's insurance can go to our Web site, link to our insurance partner, apply, pay with a credit card, and get proof of insurance immediately," he says.

When ACA changed providers last year, Web technology provided through Aon's Affinity Service Group enabled some 10,000 clients to enroll online under tight deadline pressures. "Technology made the process possible. The transition never could have happened without it," Nelson adds.

Information and soft sell. The American Psychological Association, Washington, D.C., advertises the Web site for its APA Insurance Trust on all its display advertising and direct-mail pieces, says Alan L. Fox, APAIT's vice president of marketing and plan development. The site (www.apait.org) includes an insurance glossary and information about risk management. "We have a very active site and try to give our members the resources to make up their own minds. We try not to sell people; we want them to buy it instead," Fox says.

The APAIT home page prominently displays "click to apply" and "click to renew" buttons. A Wizard of Oz direct-mail campaign featured Dorothy clicking her heels to promote Web application and renewal. The result has been higher renewal rates, says Fox, but even more apply than renew online. In addition to professional liability insurance, APA offers affinity programs for life insurance, long-term care, office coverage, and other special needs.

"Our members go online to get information and then may phone. It's a combination of approaches. To be successful, you have to let the customers buy any way they want to, within limits. If you're using an 800 number, you'd better have good [customer-service representatives] available; if you're going to serve younger, Internet-savvy members, you'd better have it on the Web," he says.

Confidential inquiries. The Association of TeleServices International, Inc., Atkinson, New Hampshire, includes a link on its Web site to Hays Affinity Solutions, its insurance administrator, notes Charlene Glorieux, executive vice president. "When we get inquiries from members, we send them to our site or directly to the broker's site, and they can use calculators, research coverage, and get price estimates without having to talk to anyone," she says. "Some people are afraid to open themselves up to sales calls; others want to maintain their confidentiality while shopping for what's available."

The 450-member trade association has an "exceptional errors and omissions program underwritten by Lloyd's of London," Glorieux says. She estimates that the program accounts for 50 percent of the association's member retention rate and 50 percent of the prospect conversions to membership.

But for a prospect to convert, they have to know what they are missing, says Barry Peters, senior vice president of Hays Affinity Solutions. When his company works with associations requiring member identification numbers to access affinity insurance sites, it provides nonmember visitors with dummy numbers so that they can fill out applications and see what rates are available. If customers are interested, they can bounce back to a membership site. Hays also cross-references all transactions and provides reports to the association with whatever data it requires at whatever frequency it wants to see them.

IMPLEMENTING TECHNOLOGY

Association members are looking for relevant, timely service, says Don Neal, chief marketing officer, Marsh Affinity Practice, Washington, D.C. "Associations are at a critical point in their evolution. They must build value and brand relationships. With free-flowing access to information and networking on the Web, the balance of power has shifted toward the consumer," he says.

At the same time, technology is making it possible for associations to build institutional memory, databases that reflect everything the association knows about its members--from what conferences they attend to the books they buy as well as their insurance needs. According to Neal, building such member-focused marketing requires

* a campaign management tool that can segment communities, react to certain triggers (such as policy renewals or age), and automatically schedule e-mails or direct mail during a calendar year;

* personalization software that can mass customize mailings, know the tenure of the member, and infer and predict future product needs based on purchase history;

* a content-management database that can store pieces of copy and a variety of images, which can be used in "cut and paste" designs so that promotions don't have to start from scratch every time; and

* a reporting and metrics software application that allows the association to quantify the benefit of its program by tracking credit-card purchases, types of purchases, frequency of contact, and other data.

MAXIMIZING E-MAIL EFFECTIVENESS

Associations and administrators are combining forces on e-mail marketing. E-mail messages addressing life changes, renewals, or additional coverage necessitated by regulatory issues usually are sent from the plan administrator to members already participating in affinity programs. E-mail to nonmembers or members not currently enrolled in the association's insurance programs are more often sent under the auspices of the association because a relationship with the plan administrator does not yet exist.

Almost all plan administrators provide technology to segment an association's member database and customize e-mails to customers who have been determined to need insurance products. The Americana Program Underwriters' Francavilla says e-mail blasts can be customized for specific locales so that prospects can be referred to local agents carrying the association's endorsement.

The American Counseling Association uses blast e-mails and listservers to inform members about new products or services, while the Association of TeleServices International uses e-mails with both members and prospects.

"E-mail helps provide information and drive traffic to the Internet, but eventually, most buyers will want to speak to someone," says Bill Suneson, vice president of sales for Affinity Marketing Group, Wellesley Hills, Massachusetts. "Across the board, spam has diminished the response rate for what people will open," he warns.

UNDERSTANDING THE PHONE FACTOR

Affinity-plan participants have come to expect 800 numbers, option menus to get to the area at issue, and reasonably trained customer-service teams who can provide or research answers to questions. What's new on the technology front is outbound calling using interactive voice messaging. Affinity Marketing Group is one plan administrator that offers targeted outbound calling for policy renewals, updates, and other customer services. Recipients of the calls may be referred to a Web site for additional information or can press a number that takes them directly to a representative who provides details.

HARNESSING THE NEW SNAIL MAIL

Despite the technological communication wave, no one has deserted direct mail. However, traditional flyers and postcards are reaping the benefits of new digital production technology. Williamson Marketing Services Group, a division of Williamson Printing Corporation, Dallas, uses variable data printing that increases response rates by customizing mailings to individuals--and we're not talking just ink-jet names and messages.

Typical direct-mail campaigns yield a 2-3 percent response rate. Just using an individual's name somewhere other than in the address increases the rate to 15-20 percent, says Craig Landers, client services manager for Williamson's Marketing Services Group. Last year, the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of Meeting Professionals International produced a piece with a figure holding balloons. The piece used a balloon for each letter of the recipient's name--two for Ed, eight for Margaret, and so forth. It was a relatively short run, but Williamson has produced up to 80,000 pieces for a variable data job.

USAA, a San Antonio-based insurance and financial services provider to the U.S. military community, customizes its marketing pieces. Those to single people have singles or young people in photos; those to families have family groups; those to seniors feature older people. That kind of customization yields response rates in the high 20S, Landers says.

USING TECHNOLOGY TO YOUR ADVANTAGE

Regardless of the medium used, the solution today is not to take one approach but many. Maryanne Harkins, vice president of marketing for Aon Association Services, sums it up this way: "Offering everything--all the different channels--and tracking how members respond provides multifaceted solutions for diverse needs." By capitalizing on technology, you can do just that.

Linda C. Chandler is a freelance writer based in Dallas and former editor of association publications. E-mail: linda.chandler@earthlink.net.
COPYRIGHT 2004 American Society of Association Executives
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Title Annotation:Insurance & Financial Services Directory 2004
Author:Chandler, Linda C.
Publication:Association Management
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
Words:1636
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