The Big Disconnect

If anyone doubts how dramatically social media have changed the rules of the insurance marketing game, look no further than last month’s imbroglio about an Allstate TV commercial.

For years, insurance companies have publicly patted themselves on the back over jobs well done during disasters. Claims closed, houses rebuilt—it’s all the stuff of dramatic TV commercials, complete with sweeping music and square-jawed insurance adjusters tramping resolutely through the rubble on behalf of their customers.

And why not? Disasters are a great opportunity for the insurance industry to shine in the public eye. Viewers seem to like it: in a recent analysis of popular TV commercials, Allstate’s Hurricane Sandy campaign came in third in a list of 10.

But when there’s a huge disconnect between the manufactured image and reality, there will be problems. That same Allstate commercial that viewers liked so much featured a real-life New Jersey couple that is very displeased with the insurer’s $10,000 settlement offering for their home, which was totaled by Sandy. Allstate ended up withdrawing the commercial.

In the same vein, AIG got major blowback after it announced it might sue the federal government because it wasn’t happy with the terms of the bailout they were handed—just at the time the company was unrolling its massive “Thank You America” ad campaign. Talk about ironic.

I spoke with brand strategist Tony Wessling, who theorizes that this results from company executives’ removal  from branding decisions—“they’re not in step with either social media or traditional media,” he said.

This month’s lead story details best practices for working with top young producers—the future of our industry. Virtually all of them are using every technological means at their disposal—whether it’s videos on YouTube or connecting with customers on Twitter—to tell the world they’re not policy pushers, they’re problem solvers.

Meanwhile, the formal branding going on at the corporate level is totally disconnected from this boots-on-the-ground reality, dealing either in high-flown rhetoric or silly talking animals in a feeble attempt to make insurance “lovable.”

Instead of grafting on branding that has nothing to do with reality, insurers should be looking to their distribution force in the branding process, “including everyone in their ecosystem,” as Tony Wessling said. It would go a long way toward voicing authenticity and enhancing brand strategy.

Communications and marketing have always been the red-headed stepchild in the business world—the afterthought in budgeting and planning, especially in today’s shareholder-centric environment. But news travels fast in a connected world, and if a company isn’t living up to the brand it projects, the ridicule will be fast, furious and viral.

And deserved.

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