An attack of shingles can cause crippling pain that lasts for several days, weeks or much longer. (Photos: iStock)

If you sell health insurance, disability insurance, long-term care insurance or other personal protection products, you can look in the mirror and tell yourself that, on a good day, you did everything you know how to do to protect people from disaster.

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One of the disasters you could protect people against is shingles

Shingles affects people who have had ordinary, itchy chicken pox. The immune system traps the chicken pox virus in a biological dungeon. The virus seems to be gone. Years later, illness, exhaustion or aging weakens the patient’s immune system. The virus creeps out of a branch of the nervous system. It attacks the patient with headaches, fevers and, in some cases, an excruciating, crippling rash. Sometimes, shingles causes severe pain for years, or for the rest of the patient’s life.

U.S. physicians and pharmacies offer a shingles vaccine.

Every major medical plan subject to the Affordable Care Act preventive services mandate must cover the vaccine for people ages 60 and older without imposing a deductible or co-payment on the enrollee. Many commercial plans include the vaccine in their preventive services package for people as young as 50. Medicare Part D prescription drug plans also include the vaccine in their preventive services packages.

Of course, you’re not a doctor. Some people have concerns about the value of any given vaccine, including this one. 

But any agent or broker who mentions flu shots in wellness blogs or similar campaigns could consider providing standard information from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and recommending that readers talk to health care providers about the shingles vaccine.

This kind of “protection marketing” fits in with what insurance professionals do every day: helping people think about the unthinkable.

The products you sell can be a blessing when they perform as expected for the right people.

Thoughtful marketing

Of course, in the real world, it’s hard to know exactly how products will work. Clients may misunderstand the claim process, or be too tired to meet the claim-filing and documentation requirements. Some may buy too little coverage, or let coverage lapse right before they need it.

Prospects may walk away with nothing. They may choose to spend their disposable income on beer, clothes or vacations.

But at least you’ve worked to focus people’s attention on the need to plan for sickness, the loss of the ability to work, the loss of the ability to live without assistance, and other risks that are hard to think about.

What you sell may seem “boring” to some because it’s the exact opposite of boring. It’s about terrors too big for most people’s minds to grasp. You put a little, spooky bit of terror in a brochure, or on a website, so people can absorb the maximum amount of truth that they can handle.

What you’re really selling, even when consumers walk away, is a fair chance for those consumers to choose their own fate.

If, in the process of marketing your products and services, you give away thoughtful novelty items that can be helpful in a crisis, you have an extra chance to show that you know something about preparing for the unexpected.

Some agents and brokers in the Southeast may have given clients novelty flashlights embossed with their logos. Any of those clients who ended up using the flashlights to deal with the power outages caused by Hurricane Matthew came away with a more powerful relationship with those producers than they had imagined.

Related: On the Third Hand: Flashlights

Similarly, wellness marketing might sometimes have more than the ordinary level of relationship-building strength.

Most consumers who see a plug for flu shots or the shingles vaccine in your blog won’t bother to get their shots. But a few might. Any who do, and who then see what a bad case of the flu or shingles can do to people who haven’t had their shots, might think of you in a different way.  

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