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Does Google give a hoot about millennials?

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When we talk about innovation in the U.S. insurance industry, 2015 became the year that Google moved from the list of potential disruptors to actual disruptors. The fuss began when they launched Google Compare in the U.K. in 2012.

It was only a matter of time for the company to launch in the U.S. Google’s approach, in partnership with and Coverhound, brought a new, friendlier and more efficient model of price comparison for auto insurance.

The service is only in a few states but no doubt will expand. It is also only with some carriers, not all…yet. Additionally, some predict the offering will go beyond auto insurance.

As people in the industry begin to examine the facts, create predictions and identify a rationale for why Google could pull off something like this, the word “millennial” is often in the mix.

We hear things like: “Millennials trust Google as a brand more than they trust insurance companies.” “Millennials like to research online before consulting any professional.” “Millennials have tremendous buying power, are very price-conscious and look for the best deals.”

These attitudes and behaviors being attributed to millennials are also true of other generations, too. And there are some millennials to whom these statements don’t apply.

A 2012 study done by Maddock Douglas hypothesized five “new” models for insurance. A model similar to Google Compare was tested (inspired by Amazon but gave a similar experience).

Eighty percent of millennials said the Google-like model was more relevant to them than the current agency model of insurance. However, 82 percent of Gen X and 64 percent of baby boomers also said the same.

A 2014 study done by Maddock Douglas and LIMRA, examining the elements of authentic communication, indicates that 84 percent of the entire population likes to research online before buying just about anything. And a 2014 study by Accenture indicates that 67 percent of insurance customers would consider purchasing insurance products from organizations other than insurers.

What’s that have to do with Google? Google isn’t spending time examining the attitudes and behaviors of millennials. They are spending time examining everybody and using what they learn to categorize people and predict their future behaviors.

Google has amassed a lot of usable data to draw such conclusions. Insurance companies are recognizing the need to collect and mine new data for this purpose as well, but are behind. 

While the data may exist in company files, it takes a lot of work to make it useable. And some important data was never collected. 

You may want to start researching core consumer motives while the existing data is being worked on. This can help to find patterns that can be used as inspiration for new innovation, and supplement big data initiatives.

In doing such research for insurance companies, we often find that age is not a primary driver of the attitudes and behaviors we are most interested in, thereby making even less sense to target around generations.

When it comes to understanding market behaviors, Google has a definite leg up on our industry. However, the insurance industry has a great deal of risk pricing experience, which Google doesn’t have — yet.

So what do we do? We can be afraid of Google. We can wait and see what Google’s results are and then act. We can join Google. Or we can be inspired by Google to build our own innovation muscles.

I choose to be inspired, particularly by Google’s big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) to extend the human life span. This is relevant to insurance. Consider Google’s self-driving car project, which will reduce auto fatalities. Yes, this will change the dynamics of auto insurance. However, the bigger picture is a noble one.

While Google is a formidable disruptor, that BHAG is big enough for others to join in on and innovate for the future needs of a wide variety of consumers. Why don’t we? The millennials will love it!

Read also these columns by Maria Ferrante-Schepis:

3 dos and don’ts for insurance innovation (Part 1)

10% innovators, 90% renovators. Which are you?

The reverse elevator speech: A test of authenticity

Here’s one power shift that should change the way you sell