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Frustrated by fear: 82 industry leader opinions

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Recently, I asked a group of life insurance industry leaders four questions about the use of fear in selling life insurance. Eighty-two people responded.

This was prompted by some recent discussions about how the industry applies language in its communication. Those discussions suggest that some leaders feel that the industry’s approach is outdated, so I wondered if that were true for many.

The questions weren’t hard, but they were a lot of answers to choose from.

The four questions were as follows:

  1. What consumer emotion do you believe is the biggest driver of consumer buying behavior around life insurance?
  2. What consumer emotion do you believe is most often used by insurance companies in selling life insurance?
  3. What consumer emotion do you believe is most often used by insurance agents in selling life insurance? 
  4. What emotion do YOU personally feel when you think about the similarity or difference in the answers above?

The answers were chosen from a list of 73 possible human emotions as detailed by Wikipedia. It includes everything from affection to zest, and even Schadenfreude (the happiness that comes from the misfortune of others).

The number one answer for all of the first three questions was fear, with around 25 percent or more choosing it. Interestingly enough, the number one answer for the question about their own emotions was frustration, with about 21 percent.

I suspected fear would rank high for the first three questions about selling, but what I find interesting is that executives obviously think there is something wrong with this picture. Otherwise, why would they be frustrated about it? If the consumer buys on fear, and we are delivering on fear, then what’s the problem?

Perhaps we don’t like the answer. Ironically, the next most chosen emotion that leaders felt was disappointment.

As an industry, there is something about selling on fear that we may inherently think is wrong, even if we intuitively believe it works. What I find even more interesting is the third most chosen answer for the last question was “curious.” Only 6 percent of respondents chose this emotion yet it is probably the most productive answer.

Great leaders get frustrated and disappointed when something feels amiss. That shows passion, vision and determination. However, in similar situations, great innovation leaders get curious. Responding with curiosity means we will learn something new from being in an inquiry, and with that new information, we can do something (or feel something) different.

What more can we seek to learn about the subject of fear and consumer motivation? It should start with some good questions.

Here is my own personal list:

  • What kind of fear are we talking about? Is it the fear of dying? The fear of disappointing family? The fear of being seen as irresponsible? The fear of looking stupid? What else?
  • Is the fear there already or is it instigated by a conversation or an interaction of some kind? If instigated, how and by who?
  • Does the solution we provide lessen the fear? If so, why and how?
  • Does the perception of our industry change in some way if this fear is lessened?
  • Are there inappropriate uses of fear? If so, what are they? How do they manifest?
  • What is the range of responses to the above? Are there some different opportunities do improve the consumer experience if we adjust something?

If the leaders who are frustrated and disappointed had the answers to these questions, would they still be frustrated and disappointed? I’d say no, they would probably feel empowered to make some changes.

The good news is that questions like these can be answered with the right immersive work with consumers. It could even be fun.

Is anyone reading this up for this challenge? Just curious.


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