Asian insurance companies focused on growth are quickly evolving their distribution strategies. They have accelerated investments in digital capabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic to support a digital-hybrid growth model for their traditional distributors—primarily agents and bancassurance. Additionally, they are expanding into new digital-marketing and sales ecosystems, affinity partnerships, and direct-to-consumer engagements.
Of course, “digital capabilities” represent a broad spectrum, from digital-direct sales to the digital-marketing activities that drive brand awareness and traffic to agents. Indeed, leading Asian insurers have made good progress toward building omnichannel customer journeys, tailoring their products to microsegments, and supporting decision making with data and analytics, among other digital advancements.
To date, however, investments in targeted digital marketing have lagged. Few Asian insurers have established a complete digital marketing strategy—even though best-in-class digital marketing and engagement can unlock 50 to 100 percent uplift in digital-enabled sales through full funnel optimization, in our experience (Exhibit 1). By both increasing lead volume and nurturing existing client relationships, digital marketing can drive growth for traditional insurers. It can also reduce marketing investment by 10 to 15 percent through attribution-based optimization, depending on the company’s current digital maturity.
In this article, we discuss what’s driving insurers toward a digital-hybrid growth model: that is, a model in which digital marketing is used in the upper funnel to drive leads acquisition to agents and help them nurture those relationships. We overview the five building blocks of excellence in digital marketing: content, analytics, technology, campaign operations, and people. And we include examples to illustrate how these building blocks can coalesce to complete specific business objectives along the customer journey and to boost the overall value realized from digital-marketing investments. While this framework is not exclusive to Asia, the market’s nuances and growth demand a thoughtful approach based on global best practices.
What’s driving the move to a digital-hybrid growth model
Insurance sales channels in Asia, including agencies and bancassurance, are moving to a digital-hybrid growth model, driven by five forces.
Customer acquisition at scale
Insurers are expanding sources to acquire customers at scale, including through digital partnerships, platforms, and ecosystems. This approach complements the traditional agency model, characterized by agents who often still rely on friends and family for referrals, particularly early in their careers. Digital-marketing partnerships can offer a much wider and more targeted reach to prospects, as well as new ways for insurers to engage with existing and potential customers. Similarly, innovative bancassurance models tap into banks’ online and mobile banking platforms to help create rich customer experiences, rather than leaning solely on product excellence to nurture demand. A strong digital-marketing capability is essential to drive these top-of-funnel engagements cost-effectively using partner channels, paid media, and owned media.
Digital-marketing partnerships can offer a much wider and more targeted reach to prospects, as well as new ways for insurers to engage with existing and potential customers.
Demand for personalized advice
Consumers in Asia are becoming wealthier and more sophisticated. The rising middle-class and affluent segments gravitate toward advisers who understand their needs and can provide personalized advice, rather than toward those who simply sell products. Digital marketing is an effective instrument to demonstrate the insurer’s understanding of consumers’ individual needs and preferences and then deliver an experience that feels personalized to them—which can go a long way in building existing relationships and converting new customers.
Emergence of omnichannel engagement
As customers become increasingly accustomed to omnichannel experiences in retail and other sectors, insurers need to adapt, including by tailoring their approach to consumers based on the strengths and characteristics of the channels the customers prefer—and offering seamless connectivity among them. This connectivity can be a sensitive issue because agents and distribution partners may both want to claim ownership of the relationship. Yet for a true omnichannel experience, it is vital that an insurer engage with customers across multiple touchpoints in person, remotely, and digitally.
Expanded channel capacity
For insurers in many Asian countries, growth is constrained by the large investments of time and resources required to foster a productive agent workforce—characterized by large-scale recruitment, high churn, and low average productivity per person. Recruiting efforts to maintain a fresh flow of agents are reaching the point of diminishing returns, and the net growth of new agencies is declining in many locations. The most viable paths to unlocking additional growth are to increase productivity by using more professional advisory services and to invest in digitalization along the end-to-end customer acquisition and engagement journey.
Likewise, digital marketing can aid the bancassurance model, which is faltering as branch traffic is stagnating or declining and as customers are seeking more comprehensive professional wealth advice. Digital marketing provides a good solution for this as insurers can expand their touchpoints beyond that of agents, banks, and brokers to reach to customers directly at scale.
Shift to holistic solutions
Many Asian insurers are exploring ways to move beyond merely underwriting risks to providing holistic solutions that include a combination of products and value-added services to help customers understand and prevent risks and progress proactively toward their life goals. These services may be designed to improve health and wellness or to provide goal-based financial planning, among other things. Some insurers are incorporating the “payer to partner” concept in property and casualty lines, in which they provide risk coverage and claims management while also “partnering” with customers to identify, forecast, and mitigate risk in their daily lives.
The five building blocks of digital marketing
To accelerate digital-marketing maturity, insurers will need to substantially upgrade their technology platforms and organizational capabilities. By taking a comprehensive, coordinated approach to five digital-marketing building blocks—content, analytics, technology, campaign operations, and people—Asian insurers can become digital-marketing leaders (Exhibit 2).
To build these core digital-marketing capabilities, insurers must first lay a foundation of relevant and competitive product-value propositions and seamless customer journeys—two critical prerequisites for optimal digital-marketing performance.
Considering Asia’s massive insurance and retirement protection gaps, its high out-of-pocket health expenses, and its large populations lacking any insurance, consumers are likely to warmly welcome efforts to amplify insurance reach. Still, clear and compelling content marketing is pivotal to supporting customers through the purchase process, from awareness all the way through onboarding (Exhibit 3).
For example, buying life insurance is typically a lengthy, demanding process that entails numerous decisions—but curated, personalized content can help meet customer needs at each stage of the journey and ultimately earn customer loyalty.
Awareness. The process starts with an individual customer becoming aware of a need for insurance. Digital-direct insurers are adept at creating highly engaging content that taps into consumers’ feelings and helps build brand awareness. They tell real-life stories based on customer testimonials to build trust and connect with target audiences. Other effective content formats include short videos, social media posts, infographics, podcasts, blog posts, and other content that helps build an emotional, human story that insurers hope will establish connection and empathy with audience members.
Consideration. After recognizing the need for insurance, the customer begins to evaluate products. It is at this stage that the customer is likely to confront hurdles—for example, complicated technical jargon and cumbersome application processes—that could confound even those with high financial literacy. To address this issue, brands are exploring innovative ways to spark interest by educating customers on the value proposition of products. For example, some brands are creating fun and intuitive explainer videos to educate customers about complex insurance products.
Purchase. Peer approval can help the customer feel good about buying insurance. Digital insurers leverage user-generated content such as customer reviews, ratings, and testimonials to build brand trust. This clear articulation of the brand’s community of loyal customers not only demonstrates the distinct value proposition of a product compared with competitors’ offerings but also leverages the power of peer influence.
Onboarding. Unlike a new car or a home, insurance is an intangible asset that doesn’t necessarily prompt a sense of gratification when purchased. Therefore, insurers need to create a memorable onboarding experience that makes the customer proud of their decision.
Data and analytics play a pivotal role in helping insurers understand consumer behavior—and thus in the success of targeted digital-marketing efforts. If a digital ecosystem is set up properly, data on customer interactions can be collected in compliance with local regulations and customer consent. With marketing technology and advanced-analytics algorithms, insurers can serve meaningful content in customers’ preferred channels to provide personalized experiences, which can in turn drive higher engagement and conversion rates.
To start, insurers must build a solid data foundation by forming a comprehensive view of the customer’s unique profile and history, by using a clear process for collecting data on a customer’s interactions with the insurer’s digital touchpoints, and by developing a feedback loop to capture customer engagement with each campaign. Once data collection is set up properly, insurers can build advanced-analytics algorithms to extract insights on customers and campaign performance, and use them to drive improvements and increase the overall return on marketing spend.
Analytics algorithms can also function as the brain of the decision-making engine that drives personalization. Targeting algorithms can focus on relevant customers who are most likely to purchase a given insurance product, while conversion algorithms can drive lead conversion and sales by providing a stimulus for customers to complete the journey (Exhibit 4). Analytics tools can also be used with feedback-loop data such as traffic, click-through rates, and conversion rates to understand campaign performance.
Executing personalized marketing campaigns at scale requires a robust marketing-technology (martech) stack. This martech stack should be invisible to customers while enabling every stage of their purchase journey. For example, a customer may begin their journey by seemingly stumbling across an insurance advertisement that feels relevant to them—but, in fact, the martech customer-data platform will have facilitated this personalized outreach (Exhibit 5). When the customer clicks on the advertisement to understand more about the product, the martech stack will start firing on all cylinders, testing page personalization alternatives, tracking customer drop-offs, following up with customers who abandoned their carts before purchase, and simplifying applications with prefilled information drawn from the same customer-data platform that enticed the customer to engage with the product in the first place.
The martech space is crowded with technology solutions; therefore, when planning martech enhancements, it is very important to adhere to several guiding principles:
- Be use-case-driven and not tech-driven: Start with a clear path to value that is driven by a use case. Once this is established and prioritized, look for the martech solution to support it.
- Align the martech road map with the use-case road map: The martech road map needs to reflect the prioritized use cases and focus on how to leverage existing tools to activate them.
- Be clear on build versus buy: Based on the maturity of the organization, develop a clear strategy on what to build and what to buy. Many off-the-shelf tools are quite good and readily available for immediate use.
- Ensure that tools are compatible: Before purchasing martech tools, be sure they can be integrated with one another in all the ways needed to support use cases and achieve the desired level of automation.
- Design training modules carefully: Ensure that training modules for new tools effectively teach teams how to use them to support use cases and realize their expected value. Align with vendors on training agendas to ensure that users adopt the tools so that the company can quickly realize value from them.
Well-designed campaign operations enable organizations to track, optimize, prioritize, execute, and measure their digital-marketing campaigns effectively. Five capabilities are critical to create effective campaign operations.
Well-designed campaign operations enable organizations to track, optimize, prioritize, execute, and measure their digital-marketing campaigns effectively.
Campaign backlog. A backlog is a list of tests that can be run in different campaigns (Exhibit 6). To manage the backlog effectively, it needs to be structured around campaign parameters such as product, targeting approach, and channel. With a robust campaign backlog in place, teams can regularly meet to add new ideas and prioritize existing ones for upcoming use.
Digital-marketing squad. The digital-marketing squad is an agile structure for organizing the cross-functional team around specific objectives such as customer acquisition, cross-selling, or upselling. The core objective of the control tower is to execute the marketing backlog so that all campaigns are run in a timely manner with proper tracking.
End-to-end tracking. Tracking campaign performance is critical to data-powered marketing. End-to-end tracking helps marketers understand the impact of tests and optimize KPIs (for example, customer-acquisition costs and conversion rates) across the funnel. Setting up end-to-end tracking entails identifying core KPIs at each stage of the funnel by channel and by campaign type. Additionally, it requires implementing martech tools to support the feedback loop, creating dashboards, and building a data-powered marketing culture in which teams learn from previous campaigns while designing the next campaign.
A/B testing. All organizations do A/B testing in some way, but testing at scale requires a shift in the operating model and adoption of the appropriate tools. A martech stack is key because it can support multiple parallel tests by campaign teams with minimal involvement from the core tech team. These capabilities could include, for example, traffic splitting for parallel testing of landing pages, wording options, visual treatments, and so forth. While involvement in the process will be minimized, users on the marketing team will still require in-depth training on the needed tools.
Faster decision making. Running an agile marketing squad and driving A/B testing at scale require fast decision making with respect to budgets, test designs, campaign plans, key visuals and messaging, and other areas. This requires creating pathways through which relevant teams can prioritize requests from the squad, for example, or empower a representative on a cross-functional team to make marketing decisions quickly.
As the emergence of marketing squads and faster decision-making capabilities indicates, marketing leaders are increasingly adopting agile marketing-operation models to help improve the speed and performance of their teams and their many marketing partners.
An agile model requires cross-functional, configurable squads composed of a core team and an extended team that works in agile sprints. The core team includes the leaders accountable for measuring team performance against KPIs. The core team can also include the execution team responsible for functional, end-to-end execution of tests—including test leads, graphic designers, copywriters, developers, quality assurance specialists, and analysts.
The extended team consists of a network of subject matter experts (SMEs) and approvers who ensure digital-marketing content is robust and speaks directly to the target audiences. These content experts may be the traditional owners of marketing communications in their domains—and thus might expect some approval authority. Other approvers in the extended team—for example, from legal, compliance, and brand—may also need to sign off on certain content.
Given that digital marketing, analytics, and martech must come together in an integrated manner to drive growth, the dots need to be connected across the three pillars. A “translator” role is required to go deep into technical topics and link them to business impact. Ideally, the translator role would be played by the project manager and embedded in the core team, but if the skill set is not available, this role can also be taken on by a seasoned SME.
In our experience, an agile approach to organizing the digital-marketing team can have a significant impact. One Southeast Asian life insurer has significantly shortened its campaign launch cycle and increased its number of monthly campaigns by ten times, all by implementing a cross-functional agile marketing squad with strong top-down leadership and support.
A successful digital-hybrid growth model depends on digital-marketing excellence—but despite progress to date, most Asian insurers have yet to capture the full breadth of the opportunity. The five building blocks to accelerate digital-marketing maturity will not come together overnight, but insurers can start now and make quick progress by formalizing their approach and upgrading their platforms and capabilities.