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How one company is studying the brain to better market to consumers

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(Orlando) — What can the human brain tell insurance companies about what to say — and what not to say — in their marketing messages?

More than you would imagine.

At the LIMRA Marketing & Research Conference being held now in Orlando, representatives from Prudential Financial delved deep into the world of understanding the brain of the buying public, also known as consumer neuroscience.  

“People will often tell you what they think you want to hear, and it’s not helpful,” said Barbara Ernst, vice president of marketing for Prudential Financial. “It’s in an effort to make you feel better or make themselves feel better. People filter everything and it’s not helpful to us as an industry.

“We surveyed people to death about why they don’t buy life insurance, and we got the usual answers. But what they don’t tell us is what we can do to help get them to buy something.”

Neuroscience, however, tells the company exactly what it can do. 

These days, there’s a need to go beyond what consumers tell a company, so it can optimize messaging and influence purchase behavior. Companies, especially those in insurance and financial services, need to “get underneath some of the dialogue” as Ernst explains, and figure out what’s really happening.

That’s exactly what led Prudential Financial to consumer neuroscience. 

“It lets us start getting at the physiological things that happen in your body prior to you figuring out what you want to say,” said Ernst. “We monitored people’s blood pressure, their heart rate, their sweat gland activity. This is the same technology people use to monitor seizure activity.”

How it works

Prudential conducted research with 240 consumers and partnered with a research firm to conduct the neuroscience experiments.

The research firm used an electroencephalogram (EEG), which measures electrical activity of the brain, with 32 different sensors. The result was a mountain of data:

240 people x 32 sensors x 512 data points per second, to break it down.

These researchers put various types of messages on a computer screen, in various degrees of intensity, then measured reactions from consumers.

The result

Prudential Financial learned:

  • Its current messaging is quite effective, but could be better.
  • The high intensity “pain and gain” message — (If you die, don’t you want your family to be taken care of? — is most likely to change purchase decisions.
  • Women are generally more receptive than men. 

“Guilting male non-owners [of life insurance] doesn’t work  they respond negatively,” said Endri Panariti, associate manager, Prudential Financial. “But males do resonate with the barriers involved in owning life insurance.”

The point: Pain and gain messages at high intensity cause behavior change among life insurance consumers.

But there are two more important facets of this research to take away, according to Ernst:

  1. Don’t default to consumer focus groups and surveys. Instead, challenge yourself to conduct research in new ways or hire a third party to do so.
  2. Get real. “We have sanitized our messaging to the point where it doesn’t make any sense to anyone anymore,” said Ernst. “Compliance has come down on us and we as marketers have overcorrected. But even we sanitize our messages and self-edit ourselves. We as an industry have to do a better job of having real conversations.”

Consumer neuroscience: Political advertisers and animal welfare agencies have been using it for years. Now Prudential is joining the fray. Is your company?

See also:

Neuroscience is where it’s at, baby

Using behavioral economics in underwriting

How behavioral economics will improve your practice  

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