The language of insurance is turning off prospects. Especially Gen Y prospects and especially when the word “disability” is used.

Did you know that, according to a 2010 study of insurance language conducted by Maddock Douglas, 49 percent of Gen Y associates the word “disability” with being handicapped?* If so, then how many do you think would consider disability income important? Probably very few. Even if you smile and explain what you mean (i.e., insuring income), the damage is done. Their brains have already registered it as irrelevant.

See also: How to connect with a new generation of life prospects

This could be part of the reason why making the case for disability insurance is hard. If you don’t believe me, try using the word “ma’am” the next time you are doing business with a woman under 60 and see how it goes.

Seriously, think about it … the connotation of words and phrases changes over generations, sometimes dramatically. In the above example, the word “ma’am” was a sign of respect. Nowadays, women associate it with being old. It is a term used on their mother or grandmother.

What’s a coffee table book got to do with it?

This is a problem for the insurance industry. Most companies are old enough to have a coffee table book. And in those books, usually commemorating 100-plus year anniversaries, they show you pictures of the first insurance policies ever issued. If you read them, many of the words and phrases used to describe the benefits are the same as they are today. While that’s nostalgic, it may be driving an unintentional wedge with younger generations, who are making a conscious (or even unconscious) association. When we say “premium,” they hear “high quality.” When we say “agent,” they hear “FBI.” When we say “protection,” guess what they hear?

But the risk of disability as a threat to one’s lifestyle is very real, even for young people. I don’t need to convince anyone reading this of that fact.

So what’s the answer? For starters, we can begin to position the product in relevant terms. In the same study quoted earlier, we also asked consumers to rank the attractiveness of the following products. For Gen Y, the ranking looked like this:

1. Income coverage

2. Salary coverage

3. Earnings coverage

4. Disability income coverage

Obviously all four of these are the same, but the “real” name ranked last.

People are clearly more interested in their paychecks than in their potential disability. While regulations may not permit you to use these other terms, if there is a compelling, consumer-driven reason to change it, regulators will listen. It takes work, but it’s not impossible.

DI coverage is in what we call a “crisis category.” It is a product that you don’t engage with very often, and when you do, the emotions associated with it are usually negative, just like funeral planning, root canal and gutter cleaning. So the object of the game in innovation is to improve one or both of those dimensions.

Some important, longer-term considerations:

1)      How do we shift our focus from the disability to the paycheck? Paychecks are more fun to think about than disabilities. And people are actively engaged with their paychecks on a regular basis.

2)      When are people most open to covering their paychecks? Is it at the milestones in life, like getting married, having a baby, buying a house, etc.? Or are there other times? When they get a raise? Maybe when they become aware of their total income for the year, like at tax time?

3)      How do we attract a broader audience to the subject of paycheck coverage? What partners can you co-create with who are around paychecks all the time? Payroll service providers? HR departments?

4)      Can we create an easy rule of thumb to help people understand how much of their paycheck should go toward insuring it? Rules of thumb create habit.

Of course there are no quick answers. But viewing the problem in a new way is the first step to changing the outcome. Your mother would probably agree.

 

For more from Maria Ferrante-Schepis, see:

IT blame: The innovation copout

Does the need for certainty kill innovation?

Who’s afraid of the big bad annuity?