Vice President, Corporate Internet
New York Life Insurance Company
FEBRUARY 4, 2011 – Ken Hittel has spearheaded the development and maintenance of the employee intranet and the public-facing NewYorkLife.com site. He also leads New York Life’s social media and mobility programs. Hittel spoke to eMarketer’s Lauren McKay about how the company uses online marketing tactics to extend its role as a trusted provider of premium insurance products.
eMarketer: How do you see web-based marketing efforts fitting into New York Life’s business model?
Ken Hittel: We do not market directly to consumers. We market through our agents. What NewYorkLife.com is trying to sell is an appointment with a New York Life agent. For years, people have assumed, with some justification, that the internet cuts the agent out of the deal. Our strategy has always been to reintermediate, or bring the agent back into the deal. We’ve been very successful at that. “We are by far the No. 1 sales lead generator within the company.”
We are by far the No. 1 sales lead generator within the company. We have a dedicated budget that we get from the CEO to do lead generation online.
We have to justify our results each year, especially if we want to ask for more money. Certainly, for the past four years, I’ve asked for more money, and I’ve been able to justify it based on our lead generation results and agent sales.
eMarketer: How does the online channel enable agents to better connect with consumers online?
Hittel: A great deal of what we do online serves as a resource for our agents, who are always able to point their prospects and clients to our web properties. For instance, New York Life is very successful in what we internally call “cultural” or ethnic markets. We’re usually either number-one or number-two in the Chinese-American, Korean-American, Vietnamese-American and Hispanic markets. We have dedicated in-language sites for those markets. So, our agents who prospect in those segments use those websites to gain credibility and show just how important New York Life thinks those markets are.
eMarketer: Are there certain demographic segments with which online tactics resonate more?
Hittel: The high-income demographic is very interesting. We sell a product called Guaranteed Lifetime Income that is essentially an income annuity meant for people who are usually quite senior in age�the average age is 70. It is designed to provide a guaranteed income stream for as long as the policyholders live. We have produced more than 250 sales of that product online through our agents with an average premium of $238,000. Offline with no internet involvement, the average sale is $99,000. So, if an agent makes a sale from an internet lead, it’s likely going to be more than two times the amount of the premium.
“[T]here is effectively a market of 70-year-olds using the internet to research financial products.”
So there is effectively a market of 70-year-olds using the internet to research financial products. They research long and hard and eventually they come to NewYorkLife.com or respond to one of our pay-per-click campaigns. They give us their name, their address, their phone number, the best time to call�and they end up writing us a fairly substantial check.
eMarketer: What is the reason for that?
Hittel: This happens with people who understand right off the bat that New York Life is a premium provider. People don’t normally come to us looking for the lowest cost term life product. They’re not going to get it from us. People who come to us know that they want the services of a financial professional. They are usually willing to pay a premium for the brand and they’re happy with that. They trust us. They know that we are safe and secure. From that perspective it’s not surprising that most of the sales from online leads are for our permanent life insurance products.
eMarketer: How has New York Life extended the brand across new channels such as social media?
“We’re not just a gold-domed building on Madison Avenue. We’re real people with real personalities.”
Hittel: We have been most interested in showing the “human side” of New York Life. We’re not just a gold-domed building on Madison Avenue. We’re real people with real personalities.
When we launched our Twitter channel, we did it in conjunction with our company’s promotion of the Big East men’s and women’s basketball championship. The channel launch wasn’t about life insurance. Instead we designed it to showcase the seven New York Life individuals who were at the games, tweeting in their own voices.
On our Facebook page, we joined with a company called Educated Investor to offer basic financial education. Consumers can take quizzes and peruse a variety of financial education materials. It’s basic information, like how to budget your money. We’re not trying to hit people over the head with life insurance.
eMarketer: How have agents responded to social networks?
“Our agents are by nature social networkers. They make their livings by meeting people and building up their social circles.”
Hittel: Our agents are by nature social networkers. They make their livings by meeting people and building up their social circles. It was no surprise to us that so many of our agents just naturally gravitated toward online social networking. That was the major stimulus behind realizing that, as a corporation, we had to be there, too.
eMarketer: What new metrics have you added to keep on top of the changing online landscape?
Hittel: I wish I could say that we’re just replacing old metrics with new ones, but a lot of the old metrics still are valuable. We still want to know how many people visit our Facebook page. How many page views do we get on an average visit? Those old statistics still remain relevant.
But now, on Facebook for instance, we’re looking at engagement metrics. What are people doing on our Facebook page? Because if they’re not doing anything on the page, then they’re not likely to come back, and they’re certainly not likely to form any sort of attachment to us. How many people “Like” us, as a company? How many people “Like” particular posts that we put up on our wall? How many people are sharing those posts? How many people are commenting on those posts?
On Twitter, it’s mostly the same. You’re looking at how many people are willing to follow you. Retweets have become an important statistic. We also are at the beginning of instituting social media monitoring tools from Radian6 and Nielsen BuzzMetrics. We want to monitor and know, for example, where we should be reaching influencers.
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