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Feb 21, 2007
Case Study

How DRTV Achieved Double-Digit Annual Growth for Insurance Firm

SUMMARY: Direct response television isn’t just about Ginsu knives and six-second abs anymore. The DRTV space has become a $182 billion industry and is being used by Fortune 500 companies, including Microsoft, General Motors and Procter & Gamble.

See how a respected Canadian insurance firm, which traditionally facilitated transactions via a network of agents, built their direct-to-consumer brand from scratch with DRTV as the centerpiece of a smart multichannel strategy.

Plus, five tips for novices interested in tapping into DRTV.
All Canadians receive government-provided medical coverage, but about 80% get their prescriptions and dental expenses paid for through their employers' plans. That leaves a sizable pool of self-employed entrepreneurs and independent contractors with gaping holes in their health coverage.

Manulife Financial launched their Affinity Markets Direct division to target this demographic in 1999.

“We had to find a [cost-effective] way of reaching people who were either uncovered or could use supplemental plans,” says Bob Doyle, Director Strategic Marketing, Manulife Financial's Affinity Markets. “We’ve learned that women are usually the household decision-makers for insurance, and the median age is about 45 years old. But, it’s never easy to target nationally.”

Doyle rolled the dice with two years of DR radio, but he was unimpressed with the response rates and discouraged by the medium’s overall tracking difficulties. Moreover, in a multidivisional firm such as Manulife, you don’t want slow growth to be the reason why your department stands out in management meetings.

Because health insurance customers typically invest a great deal of thought into their purchasing processes, Doyle zeroed in on DRTV, hoping it might perform at a higher level than radio in terms of melding with phone, direct mail and Web support.

First, Doyle and his team did their homework as they sought advice about DRTV production agencies from niche experts and interviewed several candidates before choosing one (see hotlink to vendor below).

“We went ahead and tested a spot in a couple of markets,” he says. “The results showed us that it could give us the ROI that we wanted.” That was all Doyle needed. Here are the five steps his team took to take the effort national:

-> Step #1. Spokesperson tryouts

They auditioned a host of actors to fill the role of brand spokesperson. Even with their stated demo skewing toward women, the team ended up choosing a man in his 40s.

-> Step #2. Media buy

Doyle's team ran three 13-week campaigns (winter, summer and fall) in 2006 across network and cable stations such as the Canadian Broadcasting Co., Lonestar and Sports Net, as well as the domestic versions of the Country Music Television and The History Channel.

For the campaign, dubbed “Cover Me,” the stations ran either 1-minute or 2-minute spots (depending on the inventory available). The two spots were essentially identical -- with the longer version mentioning the call-to-action/value points twice.

-> Step #3. Prep the call center

A key to the campaign was Doyle’s call center setup for tracking. They assigned unique toll-free numbers for each station so reps at Manulife’s 30-seat center could distinguish DRTV-driven calls from ones originating from the catalog or Web site. For example, the caller ID for an incoming call read “DRTV 50” -- with the “50” representing one of the stations.

“If you are doing your job right with the commercials, the phone will ring,” Doyle states. “The worst thing that can happen is for you to work really hard, for your spot to look great and then you are not ready with the phones.”

-> Step #4. Personalized brochures

While on the phone with a rep, if the prospect wasn’t ready to open an account, the rep requested residential and email addresses so they could send brochure mailings and online newsletter campaigns.

Using print on demand, the postal mail pieces were able to individually target prospects. For example, a 35-year-old single parent with children received a brochure featuring photography showing someone of that age range in a similar situation. The brochure was also printed with cost estimates specific to the household's medical and dental needs, which were detailed during the call with the customer service rep.

The staff made follow-up calls about 10 days after the brochures were mailed to gauge interest in the plan.

-> Step #5. Web spots

The DRTV spots were a key part of the interaction on the landing page -- as an abridged video of the 1-minute spot started playing. Consumers also were able to click a link on the right side of the screen to view it again. In addition, the system recognized IPs so prospects weren’t bombarded with the same clip during repeat visits.

“The Cover Me [landing] page is also intended to serve as a place where people who have seen the spot can also access brochures and phone numbers -- because most prospects have a preferential channel they use,” Doyle says.

Besides writing concisely, using benefit-driven copy and avoiding esoteric talk, he offered five other tips for marketers interested in testing DRTV:

o Select a media buyer who is experienced in buying DRTV spots, not just TV.
o Translating brand principles into direct marketing methods (i.e., call-to-action) will take your campaign a long way.
o Graphic presentation helps people remember them. Turn the product's key benefits into bullet points using a large typeface and/or demonstrate them with visual action.
o URLs and toll-free numbers must appear in every frame. DRTV allows viewers more time to write things down than almost any other medium.
o If you really want to see results, don't go cheap on talent and production.


“DRTV has substantially grown our premium dollars coming through the door. It is now easily the biggest part of our direct budget,” says a very happy Doyle. “Response has grown annually by 25% in terms of the calls we get. Conversion rates have gone up by 10% every year for the last five years.”

Most important, Flexcare has grown to become a national brand and has stabilized Doyle’s upstart Affinity Markets division.

The 2-minute spot consistently outperforms the 1-minute one. Nevertheless, they’ll continue to produce the shorter one because not all stations accept 2-minute spots. In addition, DRTV buys are always at the discretion of the station, and longer spots are likelier to get cut.

Doyle has found that if the campaign doesn’t perform within two or three weeks at a station, his team will halt the ad buy and put the money into stations with better results.

“We have a system dealing with the number of calls generated from each station -- the most important metric because it shows sales leads -- as well as other results that together determine which stations stay and which ones go,” he says. “A big advantage DRTV has over branding spots is that [DRTV] is not purchased in full-rate cards, so you don’t get stuck with a running a campaign that’s not working for weeks or months at a time.”

23% of the consumers who phone the call center give their email addresses, and 73% offer their postal addresses. And the personalized brochures have shortened the sales turnaround and improved ROI on the multichannel efforts.

“Because of the nature of our product, it’s not unusual for us to market for four to eight weeks before they become a customer,” Doyle says. “That’s been an area of ongoing improvement for us.”

The Web site is also contributing to Affinity Markets’ growth, becoming a central link among DRTV, direct mail and the call center. “Year after year, we’ve seen our online sales climb significantly,” he says.

Useful links related to this article

Creative samples from Manulife’s DRTV and mail efforts:

Northern Lights Direct Response Television - the agency that organized production and helped run creative:

Media Buying Services - the ad buyer for Affinity Markets’ campaigns:

Manulife Financial:

Manulife’s Affinity Markets site:

See Also:

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