What the Primaries Can Teach Us

Most of the lessons from the primaries aren't pretty, but they do offer some insights into how to think about modern customers.

Super Tuesday's presidential primaries and all the associated media coverage made me reflect on how candidates interact with their constituencies and the lessons insurers can learn. I have been a New Hampshire resident all my life, and one of the special privileges of living in this great state is being able to vote in the first-in-the-nation presidential primary every four years. Of course, with that privilege comes some pretty aggressive campaigning. Robocall after robocall, commercial after commercial, canvasser after canvasser; New Hampshire was inundated with candidates for several months until voting day came. Now, our primary is over, and the rest of the country has its chance to weigh in and experience the campaigning. I can’t help but apply the insights I got as a potential voter to the insurance industry; more specifically, to customer demands and business practices. First, it is clear 20th century campaign tactics won’t win elections in the 21st century. The rest of the nation saw how New Hampshire voted overwhelmingly for outsiders in both parties. Neither Sanders nor Trump has strong party affiliations with the Democrats or Republicans; they are considered outsiders. Voting along a party line is a thing of the past, and, in New Hampshire, where voters can register as independents and vote in either party’s primary, this is especially true. The same principle is true for insurance—20th century tactics won’t work in the 21st century, either. Customers have more information, more choices and higher expectations than ever. And, just like a New Hampshire voter, every potential insurance customer is an “independent” and can pick any P&C carrier that suits a consumer's unique needs; the consumer can then leave the carrier just as quickly if a better opportunity comes along. What keeps a customer loyal is new ideas, innovative approaches and efficient and effective service. Next, I experienced some interesting data and analytics gathering during the campaign. My landline rang off the hook for months, with robocallers asking my opinions on various policy issues or my thoughts on one candidate or another. However, I found it odd that many candidates did not ask basic demographic questions—how many phones I had, how many people lived in my house, how many people were of voting age—that would have been helpful targeting a message. The candidates who used alternative forms of campaigning tended to do better in New Hampshire., and the same is true for insurers: Gathering data is great, but it’s the savvy application of the collected data that differentiates an insurer from the rest of the pack. New technologies are making it easier for insurers to use data to their advantage. It’s time to embrace those technologies. Finally, I learned a bit about campaign spending. Isn’t it interesting that the two candidates who won New Hampshire are funding their campaigns in non-traditional ways? Similarly, insurers need to look at their technology investments through a new lens. Insurers should take a moment to imagine themselves as candidates in a race—an insurer's goal is to be the best option to the greatest number of people. Then, they will win. This means using innovative approaches, gathering and using data for advantage and making sound strategic investments. As in this presidential election, anything seems to be on the table. And the sky is the limit in terms of new ways to reach today's customer.

Deb Smallwood

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Deb Smallwood

Deb Smallwood, the founder of Strategy Meets Action, is highly respected throughout the insurance industry for strategic thinking, thought-provoking research and advisory skills. Insurers and solution providers turn to Smallwood for insight and guidance on business and IT linkage, IT strategy, IT architecture and e-business.


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