Credit where credit’s due

Unum’s social media campaign has put its peers in the shade says Ian McKenna, director of F&TRC

When a life company that almost no one outside the industry has heard of outperforms Axa, Friends Life, Legal & General, Prudential, Scottish Widows and Standard Life put together in terms of social media coverage, clearly someone has identified something everyone in the industry can learn from. Backupplan.com has received in excess of 250,000 web visits, and 14,250 Facebook likes, AskUnum has received 7,500 visits a week while Twitter (@AskUnum) has 373 followers to date. That this was achieved in respect of a product that consumers have never heard of, designed to solve a problem that people do not realise they have, shows just how effective social media can be in getting a message across.

In Unum’s case the challenge was further complicated by having a product that can only be obtained via an employer. Research had told them that in the current economic climate, few employees fully valued the benefit income protection supplied. Benefits managers inevitably don’t like spending money on a product if the employees don’t value it. So the challenge was how to create demand amongst employees, in turn triggering enquiries from employers.

Over the last year Unum’s Back Up Plan campaign has taken the organisation from relative anonymity to becoming almost a household name.
When consumers actually understand income protection, they frequently recognise that it is arguably the most important form of cover. The problem is most working people don’t recognise how low their income would be if they had to rely on state benefits or other support.

Although their television advertising may have been the most high profile part of their activity, when it came to communicating the detail, social media delivered the essential component that enabled potential consumers to understand the need for a complex product.

Regular readers of this column will know that I am passionate about the role technology can play in educating consumers. Unum’s Back Up Plan campaign has achieved this. Although television advertising can grasp the attention of millions of consumers, it does not provide the time to take them through the detail of understanding their financial affairs. Hence the crucial role of the social media part of their campaign.

Consumers tend to trust things they do themselves. If you provide them with a mechanism to explore their circumstances and map out real world consequences they are often far more likely to take their findings seriously than if an adviser has pointed out a risk. Consumers feel less pressured in such an online environment and even if they do not accept the message immediately, will often frequently return to it to revisit their findings.

Simple apps were used on both the main Back Up Plan website and the Facebook page to help consumers work out for themselves the value of additional benefits their employers provide and how their circumstances might change in the case of long-term illness. The Perkulator tool on the main site invites users to enter details of their salary and indicate which other benefits their employers provide, this then shows a typical cash value for each benefit.

When consumers actually understand income protection, they frequently recognise that it is arguably the most important form of cover

On Facebook the Penny Jar calculator takes a sometimes light-hearted look at the sources of income someone could fall back on if they lost their income. It allows the user to identify typical monthly expenditure for a range of necessities and luxuries, what sources of income, such as a partner’s income and savings would remain and indicate how long the user could survive financially. The message is simple, but chilling.

It is relatively early days to judge the overall success of this campaign, but in the short term it certainly brought the company a great deal more attention in the adviser space, with firms having a positive reaction to a campaign which clearly creates more opportunities for them. Unum is also seeing double the level of enquiries from employers about cover and a significant increase in the level of new business quotes being processed.

While not all organisations are going to have the budget to support a TV campaign to promote their online social media tools, there is clear evidence here of how effective such an approach can be. Unum deserves considerable credit not just for engaging in a marketing campaign that promotes the wider benefits of the industry above their own brand, but also for providing an excellent case study in how social media can be used in effective consumer education.