If people knew they had a choice…
I’m convinced that if more people knew they had a choice about where they purchase their financial service products, they would select the fraternal option. Think about it. If average consumers – folks who didn’t know a thing about who we are and what we do – knew that they could buy life insurance from an organization that funded social service projects in their community and encouraged members (not policyholders) to participate in volunteer efforts, my gut tells me that a much larger percentage of consumers would choose to purchase from a fraternal life insurer. I’m also convinced that if agents knew about the fraternal option we would have a larger and more enthusiastic sales force – one that understood and embraced the marketing value of the common bond and our commitment to community service.
Of course, our products have to be price-competitive. I’m not so naïve to think that consumers are going to pay more for a product just because we do good works in the community. We also have to assure consumers and agents that fraternals are as financially secure as our commercial peers – especially in an environment where consumers have a heightened concern about the solvency and stability of the financial services firms with whom they deal. And we have to provide agents the incentives – leads, sales tools, compensation, liability protection – that make our products attractive. Those are operational issues that any successful business has to address. If we can’t compete on these three basic issues, then the chances of revitalizing the fraternal system – or even your own society – are limited at best.
Is word-of-mouth advertising working?
Right now I’m pondering the best way to let consumers and agents know that the fraternal option not only exists but that it is viable. I’ve been speaking with you about the need to stop hiding our light under a bushel basket since I came on board at NFCA 18 months ago. Heaven knows that discussion has been taking place for years before I got here. Now it’s time to make something happen.
Certainly, word-of-mouth advertising is one of the most effective ways to generate some momentum for the fraternal system. Having agents talking to other agents about their positive relationship with your society is the best way to attract new producers. Members talking to friends and neighbors about their life insurance products and inviting them to participate in a fraternal activity is the best way to attract the next generation of fraternalists.
But let’s be honest with ourselves, if our current agents and members and agents were doing a bang-up job of word-of-mouth marketing, societies would be bringing in new members, the average age of members would be falling, and agents would be knocking on our doors looking for opportunities to sell the fraternal option. The fact is that just isn’t happening for most societies.
For whatever reason – societal changes that have eroded the importance of our common bonds; the reduced need for face-to-face social interaction among the X-Y-Z generations; an aging demographic that isn’t concerned with bringing in new members; aggressive mass marketing campaigns from commercial life insurers; diminishing relevance of some of our fraternal activities – many individual societies and the overall system are experiencing significant “shrinkage.”
So should we just hang it up?
Does that mean the fraternal option no longer exists? Quite the contrary. Many NFCA members are engaged in community service activities that resonate with their membership – whether it’s commitment to women’s issues, respect for life, support of religious education, passion for preserving cultural heritage, or a shared belief in family values. These groups offer a suite of competitively priced financial services products that meet the needs of their members and wide variety of prospective members. Their products are sold by a well-informed and motivated force of either captive or career agents who understand – and are often key players in – these societies’ community service activities. These are the organizations that are going to be around not just 10 years from now, but 100 years from now.
Make no small plans
And they’ll be bigger and stronger if we, as an association, embark on a public affairs campaign to more effectively increase the awareness of the fraternal option. Here’s what I’m thinking of folks: An organized, targeted, well-planned and adequately financed effort to tell people – public policymakers, opinion leaders in the media, independent agents, and millions of prospective members – exactly who we are and what we do. The objective is simple: the next time they think about buying life insurance or organizing a community service event, they’ll be aware of the fraternal option.
I haven’t worked my way through the details of this – it’s more of a dream right now than a plan – but I envision a campaign that includes Internet, print, television, and radio components. There would be paid (advertising) and unpaid (guest editorials and news coverage of JOIN HANDS DAY and other community service activities) segments. Because our resources are limited, we would have to carefully target our audiences and develop specific performance objectives for each part of the overall campaign. I realize this falls in to the Daniel Burnham “make no small plans” category – but I think it needs to and can be done.
So what do you think? Make sense? Stupidest thing you’ve ever heard? Worth trying? Wouldn’t touch it with a ten-foot pole? I’d love to hear your views. Post your comments below and let’s talk more about it next month at the Annual Meeting in San Antonio.
Food for thought
Here are a few great reads:
The Post-American World by Fareed Zakaria – Interesting look into the “rise of the rest” (Brazil, India, China, Russia) America’s role in the world in which it may not longer be the lone superpower. Actually a very positive outlook into what made – and continues to make – the U.S. great.
Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin – This book was recommended to me by Joel Huser of Degree of Honor and it’s fabulous. True life story of one man’s mission to make a difference. A great read for anyone in our business.
The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst – An intriguing yarn set in pre-World War II Poland. If you like stories of espionage, double agents, and cloak and dagger dealings, this one’s for you.