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Mortality: unleashing its hidden sex appeal

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Ha! I made you look!

Seriously. It’s time for the mortality librarian to take off her glasses, let down her hair, and enjoy some positive attention for a change.

The life insurance industry chalks up a lot of negative consumer perceptions to the fact that we have to talk about death.

However there is a sexy side to mortality, and there is opportunity if we bring it out. A recent study by LIMRA and Maddock Douglas shows that consumers are looking for the industry to be more positive. In fact, it’s one of the six components to authentic communication that if handled correctly, could help unlock the potential of almost 19 million stuck shoppers.

One study participant said this:

“Offer a little bit of sunshine with it — it doesn’t have to be a scary thing.”

What could the sunshine possibly be? Well some might suggest the living benefits of permanent life insurance, such as cash value and its tax treatment. On the surface, this could be the “go to” answer. While those are really great, they do more to distract consumers from the negativity versus directly dealing with it.

Consumers also expect the industry to be more memorable. That is, interesting and refreshing. Could mortality be that too?

The attraction potential here is not so different from that of “The Biggest Loser”. If someone were to tell you 20 years ago that America would someday be gripped by a TV show where the stars are morbidly obese people, you’d have thought they were insane. However, the show is not about being obese. It’s about a contest. It’s about winning. It’s about despair. It’s about triumph. It’s about motivation. These aspects are very interesting and refreshing.

Today, it’s fashionable to be in contests about all kinds of things. Singing, dancing, physical abilities and even health related metrics. The “quantified self” movement has created a host of new products and services designed to help people understand and track factors that directly relate to morbidity and mortality. Some examples include Fitbit, Nike Fuel Band, Jawbone and others that track everything from the number of daily steps to sleep habits and caloric intake.

What do people do with this information? They compete with themselves and others for better, healthier outcomes. Corporations incentivize employees to improve their metrics. Friends and families hold contests with each other.

How much does our industry leverage these factors? A TON! But in the insurance buying process, engaging with this information feels painful because consumers don’t understand how it connects. Worse, the industry’s actions suggest that it is none of their business, only perpetuating the mystery and fear.

Here’s a crazy idea: What if the insurance industry initiated reality shows featuring people being compared based on health factors? Would audiences tune in to see who the judges (actuaries and underwriters) believe will live longest? What if the audience, armed with the right information, could vote? What if those actuaries and underwriters were smokin’ hot? (Hey, it’s TV after all.)

But seriously, what if some specific effort was focused on simply making mortality interesting, NOT tangled in with the solicitation process? Perhaps it would help more people understand why insurance companies ask for information, and potentially trust what they do with it.

A good example is a piece by Bloomberg called “How Americans Die”. One of our clients said this when she used it in a recent presentation:

“As industry professionals, we may think we’re the only ones interested in this information. However a room full of second graders at my daughter’s school proved that assumption to be wrong when I had the opportunity to share thoughts about why people live longer in some parts of the world than in others. They were highly engaged.” – JJ. Carroll, senior vice president, life and health, Swiss Re.

This opportunity has far reaching implications, yet must be executed right, otherwise it will fall flat. It requires a deeper understanding of what consumers are interested in, what they would engage with, and what they’d do with that information. Is anybody ready?

C’mon mortality, show us your wild side.


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