EMI recently attended the LIMRA Marketing & Research Conference at Disney World. Our take-away from the conference: No business today can achieve sustainable growth and gain market share without being customer-centric. Easy to say, but less easy to implement.
As an exhibitor, we had dozens of conversations on companies reassessing and refining their client-centered strategies. The challenge of operating with a consumer marketing lens, versus the traditional product-centric lens, which so many companies have done, was well expressed in a recent McKinsey report* on U.S. retirement readiness:
[Providers] “have a unique, largely untapped opportunity…But to capture it, firms must stop driving product innovation based on actuarial models and instead lead with a strong consumer marketing lens…financial institutions must take a much stronger consumer view as they create new product prototypes.”
These challenges relate to how companies engage with their channel partners to enable customer-centric throughput. For example, one mutual fund leader at the Conference addressed investment language and how “financial security” resonates far more than “financial freedom.” An insurance leader explained the need to help agents establish an online social presence and keep diverse customers engaged through social media.
The LIMRA event helped us to crystalize several fundamental questions:
- “Am I using customer-centricity to achieve competitive advantage with my channels and end-customers?”
- “Is my organization unified in this approach, even if product, sales and research are in silos?”
- “Am I extending my consumer-centric expertise and assets (e.g., research, collateral to advisor and agent channels) that arms advisors and agents with educational and motivational client tools?”
- “Am I adapting core messaging to engage different generations, particularly as they age and their needs evolve, across relevant traditional and digital communications?”
- “Am I preparing for what my distribution channels will need in the next two years based on what my research, marketing analysis and industry trends are reporting now?”
These questions speak to the need for strategies and tactics to help financial service institutions to grow share with their captive and third party distribution channels. EMI examined many of these questions at our recent webinar Four Strategies to Win the Hearts and Minds of Your Advisor Channel – and Grow Share which shows you the need for customer-centric throughput and the importance of building better advisor relationships that can be adapted to sales channels and ultimately end customers. This is a topical concern of research and marketing experts at investment and insurance firms alike as we clearly recognized at the LIMRA event.
* McKinsey & Company, “Why Are We Not There Yet? An Update on U.S. Retirement Readiness,” May 2013.
Suffice it to say, sales leaders in the asset management, insurance, and retirement industries are under un-relenting pressure to enhance wholesaler performance. Brands that want to win the trust of their channels and be perceived as a valuable, priority relationship, must deploy effective Intermediary Relationship Marketing (IRM). Today, many brands deploy a version of IRM, most of which neither generate trust or add value to their relationship with their important intermediary partners.
What is Effective IRM?
In the context of the asset management, retirement, and insurance industry, IRM creates leverage and scale for distribution platforms targeting intermediaries and distributors. An IRM initiative augments the productivity of internal and external wholesalers through a pragmatically developed plan of systematic and integrated marketing activities. These activities:
- Create a compelling, consistent and coherent narrative with target channels
- Generate new qualified leads
- Keep target channels engaged with your brand and products
- Pave the way for more effective wholesaler interactions.
Instead of focusing on a single campaign, or a series of disconnected interactions, effective IRM initiatives plan and deploy integrated inbound and outbound communication streams — guided by the stage of your brand’s relationship with the channel, individual level data (e.g., behavioral, self-reported, firmographic), and your brand’s narrative. These communication streams increase the probability that your products and brand are selected by your target intermediaries and distributors. IRM builds mindshare, reinforces the value of the relationship with your brand, fosters trust, and provides your wholesalers with richer and timelier intelligence. IRM must also integrate seamlessly with existing sales force automation and CRM tools.
Most advisors express frustration with the volume and the frequency of promotional communications from investment product and insurance manufacturers. Research conducted by EMI and real client experience confirms this, with emails being especially high on the list. At a recent roundtable I attended, many advisors said: “we’re done with email”. Why? Because most of the communications they receive are difficult to process and deliver questionable value to their practice. So what’s a manufacturer to do?
Despite frustrations with the volume and quality of communications, advisors readily admit that they do read communications deployed by the brands they trust and value. These brands plan and manage communication streams with valuable content, use easy to process copy standards, and create a consistent narrative that demonstrate respect and thoughtfulness. These brands have earned the attention of the advisor and are therefore opened and read before the others (assuming the others are read, which is unlikely given the ease of deleting or navigating away in digital media).
So what’s a manufacturer to do? Build a systematic relationship marketing program that demonstrates respect and delivers real value. Perhaps we can call that SRM.