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The Insurance Lead Ecosystem

In today’s online insurance shopping environment, many lead sellers and buyers work well together toward the same goal of delivering a great customer experience. But, it hasn’t always been this way.

For example, in the mid 1990s, when InsWeb sold the first data lead produced from an online insurance quote form, our industry was a lot less focused on customer experience and a lot more focused on selling as many leads as many times as possible to anyone that would buy them.

As you might imagine, the self-interest of lead generators, lack of industry standards being adopted and increasingly complex privacy regulations meant the industry would struggle to survive. Many learned the hard way (consider the demise of Bankrate Insurance, outlined further in this article), while others developed technology and standards to drive a better customer experience and are thriving today.

The Beginning of the Lead Seller-Lead Buyer Relationship

The relationship between online lead sellers and lead buyers began as a very simple one, over 20 years ago. The lead seller was also the lead generator and dealt directly with the lead buyers. At the time, aggregators did not exist.

In the early 2000s, small and medium-sized publishers realized they could make money by generating leads. They would sell these leads to the larger lead generators who had direct relationships with the lead buyers (the insurance brands). This was the start of lead aggregation. And it appeared to be a logical business decision that was good for all parties involved: the generator, aggregator and buyer.

The problems began to emerge when buyers and sellers started to exchange leads without any central record of the activity. Without third-party certification, and no industry standards, some lead generators and aggregators were driven more by the incremental monetization opportunity than by win-win-win relationships where lead generators, lead buyers and consumers all benefited. What’s more, the ping-post process evolved to allow an unlimited number of sellers and buyers to come together. On the surface, this should have created an efficient market with a variety of options for the consumer. In reality, without any standards or third-party verification, consumer information began to travel to dozens of lead buyers, creating an overbearing, intrusive consumer experience rife with fraudulent transactions. This is when the wheels came off the bus.

See also: Insurtech Ecosystem: Who Will Eat Whom?  

The End of the Beginning

By 2010, relationships between sellers and buyers became very strained. Rules were in place to protect all parties: the lead generator, aggregator, lead buyer and the consumer. Some examples included:

  • no selling of leads beyond a certain number of buyers
  • no manipulation of the consumer’s data (many times, manipulating data would lead to higher monetization)
  • no recycling/remarketing of leads at a later date
  • no fake leads
  • no leads based on incentives
  • no unauthorized sales to stated end buyers (i.e., no selling of the lead to a captive agent that already bought the lead)

Unfortunately, these rules were not always followed, and there was no way to effectively know who was compliant, let alone how to enforce them. As a result, many carriers and agents experienced a noticeable decline in lead quality. While some of the aggregators and generators played by the rules, a few meaningfully sized “bad actors” wreaked havoc, making it difficult for the honest providers to survive. The industry went through a period of contraction, with several acquisitions resulting in less transparency, less trust and more gaming of the rules to benefit bad actor sellers over the customer or the lead buyer. Insurance carriers (the lead buyers) lost control, and the situation became dire.

The industry tried to self-regulate. Some lead sellers discussed sharing data about the origin and history of a lead, as well as proof of compliance. In other words, each lead seller was expected to follow a set of standards loosely agreed upon by multiple parties and documented by parties like the LeadsCouncil. There were a lot of good folks trying to create valuable customer experiences, but the bad behaviors by some were making it difficult for everyone.

For example, bad actors were selling leads to multiple insurance providers or holding leads to sell again and again—in other words, recycling leads. Other sellers were aggregating leads and misrepresenting this fact, while others would acknowledge they were aggregating but would misrepresent the actual origin. Simply put, by 2010 our industry lacked transparency and accountability. Consequently, the inability to identify and eliminate old, recycled, dupe, fake and no-intent leads led to the deterioration of lead quality.

We were witnessing the beginning of a downward spiral where carriers and agents were directly affected by the decline in quality. Many carriers reallocated budget to hedge on the lead generation channel, and thousands of agents discontinued buying leads altogether.

Pushing the Reset Button

By 2011, the industry realized that self-regulation would not work. A new solution was needed. With advances in technology coupled with the widespread belief that a third party was required to certify leads, the problem certainly seemed solvable.

It was at this time that a concept called LeadiD (the company that is now Jornaya) led the effort to leverage technology and data to promote confidence, clarity and trust in the lead generation space. The concept was simple: Lead generators placed a simple script on each page of their lead funnel. Each time a consumer arrived on the website, a unique LeadiD token was created for the lead event, and key data about the lead event was captured in a privacy-friendly manner by an independent, third party. No consumer data and no proprietary lead generator data was at risk while independent third-party validation was provided to rebuild both the trust and transparency of lead generation across the industry.

The LeadiD token served like a Vehicle Identification Number (VIN) for the lead event. When a lead was presented to a prospective buyer, the LeadiD token was also included. The buyer could thus query Jornaya, an independent, third party. Similar to using a VIN with CarFax, buyers were able to validate in real time the key attributes about the origin, history and proof of TCPA compliance associated with each lead. The factual data provided by an independent observer, Jornaya, allowed the buyer to validate the lead’s value and minimize TCPA risk. The process effectively cleansed the waters made toxic by bad actors, unenforceable standards and lack of third-party certification. Lead buyers began to buy more volume programmatically, with the trust baked into the transaction. Lead aggregators used the same LeadiD technology to ensure transparency with their affiliate lead sources.

The good actors, such as All Web Leads jumped on board immediately, and many followed. For others, it took some convincing. While many eventually began creating and passing LeadiD tokens, there were a few large holdouts. Which raised the question from carriers, why hold out? Implementing LeadiD was free, and sharing LeadiD tokens was also free. With firms like All Web Leads, ReviMedia (now PX), Quinstreet, Apollo Interactive and Hometown Quotes working together to require and share LeadiDs, there was a clear movement underway. An industry course correction was beginning to happen.

A Lead Generator “Verified” Solution Fails Spectacularly

Not long after LeadiD tokens started flowing throughout the ecosystem, Bankrate Insurance, one of the largest sellers at the time, created its own “verified” solution—providing data elements such as lead age and consumer consent (for TCPA compliance purposes). For its larger lead buyer customers, the company would also provide “exclusive” access to other attributes of the lead event to make buying decisions.

I’ll never forget a meeting with senior management at a large insurance carrier alongside Bankrate executives. The carrier was listening to Bankrate discuss why the carrier did not need a third party solution, because Bankrate’s approach would solve all the problems. The vice president at the carrier asked, “Why would we trust you instead of an independent third party?” What’s more, the executive stated unequivocally: “Even if you are trustworthy, it’s very clear it’s not working for each lead provider to be self-regulating. We support a single, industry solution, with independent certification, and we’re wondering why you wouldn’t support the same.”

This executive understood that while the Bankrate Insurance “verified” solution may have been technically viable, a lead seller taking necessary steps internally to clean up and verify its own traffic was actually a terrible idea fraught with problems. This solution never gained traction and did not last very long. Here are five reasons why an in-house “verified” solution provided by a publicly traded lead generator did not work:

  1. Buyers had no way to independently verify the accuracy of the origin and history data contributed by the seller. “Because I said so,” simply wasn’t good enough.
  2. In considering a lead, buyers could not confirm consumer consent to their approved TCPA compliant language (and font size/contrast requirements) across hundreds of websites owned and operated by the seller and accessed by millions of consumers across multiple device types.
  3. For TCPA complaints and lawsuits, no independent, objective verification of a consumer’s consent to be contacted existed. Simply put, defense amounted to relying on attorneys or the courts to believe the lead generators, once again, “because they said so.” In contrast, independent certification has proven successful in mitigating TCPA risk time and again.
  4. Because they didn’t receive the “exclusive” access to certain data, smaller lead buyers were not playing on a level playing field. Exclusive data sounds good until others realize it’s not actually exclusive and that it’s not possible to identify or stop this behavior. Already rejected leads often ended up back with the buyers because the leads are aggregated and sold to them by a different lead seller, without the buyer being able to know this is occurring.
  5. The temptation to falsify the data was enormous in the face of revenue and profit margin guidance and expectations, and many cases of false data were identified with a third-party solution, but were very difficult to identify with self-regulation.

It quickly became apparent to lead buyers that the primary purpose of those unwilling to pass LeadiD tokens was to handicap the transparency process and increase their own revenue and profit margins. Buyers equated the approach to “the fox guarding the hen house.” Consequently, lead quality of these sellers continued to decline. Some sellers exited the business altogether, while others were acquired by companies willing to create and pass LeadiD tokens. An efficient market was starting to grow built on trust, standards and transparency.

Like a stock market, the lead generation marketplace can, and should, thrive when buyers and sellers offer transparency and both sides use independent, standard and trusted insights to make data-driven and consumer privacy-friendly decisions. As a result, everyone can win. Well, everyone willing to embrace true third-party transparency and industry standards.

Here is a checklist to help understand in-house “verified” solutions versus an independent, industry-wide, third-party solution.

Where We Are Now

Today, Jornaya witnesses the vast majority of insurance lead events. We are in this privileged position because of the forward-thinking lead generators and aggregators who have embraced Jornaya as the third-party certification source for the industry. Thousands of lead buyers (aggregators, carriers and local agents) rely on the independent transparency of lead origin and history that a LeadiD token enables. With that transparency comes trust, better lead seller/buyer relationships, stronger performance, TCPA compliance and a smarter and safer consumer experience.

See also: How to Build an Innovation Ecosystem  

It’s been a fascinating journey, and we reinforce this story often with our customers. Many have experienced this journey alongside us and have witnessed the trials and tribulations of the evolution. Our partners and customers across insurance, mortgage, banking, real estate, home services, automotive and education appreciate that LeadiD tokens flow freely throughout the ecosystem and have programmed their lead bidding and buying technologies accordingly, expecting a LeadiD token just like any car evaluation system would expect a VIN.

The collective voice of lead buyers and like-minded, collaborative lead sellers will assure we maintain an ecosystem with trust and transparency. I don’t say that just as GM of insurance at Jornaya, I say it as someone who has cared deeply about improving the insurance consumer experience and insurance provider productivity since we all started creating and exchanging leads over 20 years ago.

Frans van Hulle, CEO and co-founder of PX (formerly ReviMedia), sums it up nicely in his recent article: “If you have something to hide, you’ll fear transparency. If you don’t, you won’t.”

Most lead sellers have benefited by participating in this journey with us, and many insurance carriers have helped us get to this point. We all gain by being able to transact leads using a single, trusted currency (LeadiD tokens) that ultimately creates valuable consumer experiences. As such, we also enjoy playing the role of connecting like-minded lead sellers and buyers because we know how beneficial it is for all involved.

The Bad Actors Among Lead Sellers

In today’s online shopping environment, lead sellers and lead-buying marketers alike work well together toward the same goal of delivering a great customer experience; however, they often struggle with an array of challenges along the way.

The Evolution of the Lead Seller-Lead Buyer Relationship

The relationship between online lead sellers and lead buyers began as a very simple one, in the late ’90s. The lead seller was also the lead generator—who dealt directly with the lead buyers.

But it wasn’t long before small- and medium-sized publishers realized they could make money by generating leads that they would then sell to the large lead generators that had direct relationships with the lead buyers.

This resulted in lead generators that would also aggregate leads generated by smaller publishers. By the mid-2000s, the large generators and aggregators began to monetize individual leads further by sharing them with other large generators and aggregators that had unique end-buyer relationships.

Initially, this transpired in a private, trusted transaction environment with strict rules in place that were easily enforced. Two companies worked together to maximize the monetization of each other’s leads. Collectively, they made more money, and the consumer had more options available. It was a win-win-win for everyone in the ecosystem.

As more of these private sharing arrangements developed (driven by the additional monetization opportunity), the technology evolved to support it. Hence the ping post ecosystem, which publishers, aggregators and generators leverage to best monetize leads. Much like in a stock exchange, sellers and buyers come together to create an efficient market with a variety of options for the consumer, and the highest bidders are typically the entities with the best consumer offer.

See also: Changing Business Models, ‘New’ ERM  

The Present State of the Lead Seller-Lead Buyer Relationship

In insurance, the relationship between sellers and buyers is generally strong, as long as the publishers, aggregators and generators play by the rules.

For example, leads should only get sold to a certain number of buyers in a shared-lead world, and exclusive leads should only be sold to one buyer. Other examples of rules include:

  • No manipulation of the consumer data
  • No recycling of leads later
  • No fake leads
  • No non-TCPA-compliant leads
  • No incentive-driven leads
  • No unauthorized sales to stated end-buyers

It is the “bad actors” that don’t play by these rules in the ping post ecosystem that can cause significant problems. We can look to the evolution of the mortgage and education verticals to learn how to solve these problems.

Solutions for Today’s Lead Seller Challenges

TCPA Compliance. One of the most stressful challenges that lead sellers face today is TCPA compliance. Given that TCPA case filings increased more than 940% between 2010 and 2015, coupled with the fact that consumers are being encouraged to file suits by some law firms, the TCPA has become a huge hurdle for sellers to overcome.

Both lead sellers and buyers must avoid exchanging non-TCPA compliant leads and make sure they have persuasive evidence of consent in the event they, or end-buyers, face a complaint or lawsuit.

Measuring Consumer Intent. Another challenge sellers face is gaining the ability to measure the intent of each consumer.

With insights into the individual consumer journey, you gain the ability to measure the intent—and therefore the value—of each lead. There are technology solutions available that enable you to measure consumer intent.

Those Bad Actors Not Playing by the Rules. Many lead buyers are actively leveraging technology to validate consumer data as “good data” and some using de-duping solutions to minimize buying the same lead twice.

In the ping post ecosystem, much of the data on the origin and history of a lead is “contributed data.” The challenge of eliminating old or recycled leads, dupes, fake and no-intent leads stems from a lack of ability to verify that “contributed data” as fact. For example, an insurance lead aggregator buys a lead from another aggregator or from a generator and agrees to only sell the lead once and only to one, specific insurance provider. This is contributed data, but there is no way to validate it as fact. What sometimes happens is a bad actor will sell that lead to other insurance providers or hold it for a week or so then sell it again—a recycled lead. There is no transparency and little accountability.

To validate contributed data as factual, you have to establish a “chain of custody” to verify that each lead seller participating in the ping post system is playing by the rules. Then, if there is ever a problem or complaint, you have data to help the lead generator or buyer that is experiencing a problem identify where in the chain the problem occurred and expose the bad actor.

The Most Crucial Area for Improvement

Improving Lead Value – To continually improve relations with their buyers, sellers always seek ways to cultivate greater value in their leads.

The simplest solution is for sellers to distribute the highest-intent leads possible and do everything possible to eliminate selling “no intent” leads to their clients.

To best accomplish this, sellers must require any upstream publishers and generators to adhere to the simple rules that sellers and buyers have established and have a mechanism in place to verify any contributed data surrounding exchanged leads. If anyone is still following the antiquated practices of a bad actor, it’s going to catch up to them eventually.

See also: Developing Programs for Shifting Channels  

Bad actors are bad news for the entire ecosystem, leaving a bad taste in the mouth of buyers, that can cloud relationships with reputable sellers and result in a deterioration of value to all participants. By exposing the bad actors, sellers can avoid a race to the bottom, ensure they deliver a great consumer experience and deliver high-intent leads—and the resulting growth opportunities—to buyers.

Technology is available to the lead-gen industry today to enable the chain of custody and associated data trail. We encourage everyone to join this insurance industry initiative.

Telemarketing: Why You Could Get Sued

The Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA) requires prior written consent for calls and texts to consumers’ mobile phones and for prerecorded telemarketing calls to residential landline numbers.

TCPA lawsuits filed by consumers are on the rise — growing by a factor of 12 from 2010 to last year — and a number of large insurance brands have been part of multimillion-dollar TCPA settlements.

To mitigate TCPA risk, Jornaya works with brands that are dialing out on third-party leads and leads generated from their own websites. The process begins with ensuring that the websites where consumers are interacting display TCPA-compliant consent language and that consent to be contacted was given by the consumer.

After a consumer agrees, and when a brand leverages a call center to get consumers on the phone and deliver warm transfers, how does the brand know that the consumer gave consent to be called and that there is proof of it?

How the Lead Form to Warm Transfer Practice Works

Consumers fill out lead forms, and the publisher’s call center (or separate entity that acquired the lead in the ping/post ecosystem) dials the consumer to make contact, qualifies the consumer’s intent to get an insurance quote, receives the consumer’s agreement to speak with an insurance agent and warm transfers the call to the brand.

Typically, when the live call is transferred, the consumer’s Caller ID is what the brand sees; therefore, it appears that the consumer is calling the brand directly.

In actuality, the call was transferred via the third-party call center. If the publisher of the lead being called was not the same company that is placing the calls, then that publisher has sold the lead to another entity that is dialing/transferring the lead to your brand.

See also: Why Buy Cyber and Privacy Liability. . .  

This puts your brand two steps away from the lead form being filled out, making it difficult—if not impossible—to ensure that the consumer was exposed to TCPA-compliant language and gave the appropriate consent to be contacted.

Without a way to ensure that consent was provided, and without persuasive proof of that consent,  the brand is taking on the risk of being sued for violating TCPA law simply by answering the inbound phone call. With an increase in these kinds of call marketing practices, we’ve seen a parallel increase in these lawsuits.

An insurance carrier or agent has no idea whether there was consent because he doesn’t know the origin of the phone call. If it’s an actual consumer calling directly, you’re fine. If it’s a warm transfer from a call center that dialed a consumer that filled out a lead form, it may not be possible to get that proof of consent. At a minimum, it will require a significant amount of effort to piece together all the steps the call went through.

Some brands still aren’t concerned about the TCPA exposure with regard to warm transfers, because they assume the burden lies only with the company that is actually dialing the phone–in this case, the call center.

But the fact that you’re not the one making the outbound call does not necessarily absolve you of the responsibility nor dissuade attorneys from dragging you into the lawsuit, costing time, money and damage to your brand. Recently, lawsuits have popped up from this practice, where all parties involved are named in the lawsuit, including the brand buying the warm transfers.

See also: Ransomware Threat Growing for Phones  

What You Can Do to Protect Your Brand

  1. The first step is to work with your call sources/partners to understand how they are driving calls to you. Explicitly ask them if they are driving calls via warm transfers.
  2. If they are, ask them if they are dialing out to consumers who have filled out an online or mobile lead form.
  3. If they are, it is critical that you have a way to trace the call data to the original lead form.
  4. You then need to know definitively that the consumer consented to be contacted on the lead form and have persuasive proof the appropriate consent took place.

How Bad Leads Are Like Fake News

“Fake news” is a hot topic in the wake of the 2016 election. We’ve found ourselves questioning articles we read before we share them on our Facebook page or tweet it out to our followers. The internet is littered with stuff like the “Pope Francis shocks world, endorses Donald Trump for president” story, and it can be frustrating and time-consuming trying to determine if the news you’re reading is fake.

Similarly, many insurance marketers are challenged each day with the frustrating and time-consuming task of separating “fake leads” from legitimate leads.

Agents refer to low-quality leads as aged leads, fraudulent leads, manufactured leads, manipulated leads. Whatever you call them, they are leads sold to you that should not be sold at all. Those who are not following through on promises made or adhering to the directives in the ping post ecosystem are perpetuating this problem.

See also: Don’t Believe Your Own Fake News!  

Nothing diminishes agent morale more than when customers say they never filled out a form or they filled it out two months ago. Our recent work with insurance providers in examining the origin and history of leads purchased has revealed that as many as one out of every three leads are from consumers having no, or very low, intent.

Without clarity into the lead generation process and where consumers are in their purchasing journey, agents and carriers are often subject to fake leads, aged leads, a negative customer experience and ultimately, wasted spend and wasted effort.
Additionally, if a consumer never filled out a form (or did so months ago) and receives calls, insurance marketers are ripe targets for TCPA lawsuits.

As Jornaya clients have found, including one auto and home insurance company that shared its experiences in a recent case study, two key metrics that are especially effective in gauging consumer intent are lead duration and lead age.

Lead duration is the amount of time it takes a consumer to fill out a lead form, from the moment the first form field is filled out to the moment the form is submitted. A lead form that was filled out in less than five seconds is probably not a real person, likely the work of a bot, or automated program.

For recent aggregated data from insurance clients, we found that 17% of leads had a duration of under five seconds!

Generally, our clients have found that consumers who took two to 60 minutes to fill out the lead form had a much higher likelihood to convert.

Lead age is the actual, measurable time from the instant a consumer submits an online lead form — i.e., when the lead was born — to when the agent receives it.

Many leads that carriers and agents buy are actually much older than advertised. For recently aggregated data from insurance clients, we found that 13% of leads were more than one week old! Typically, leads that were more than an hour old had a much lower propensity to convert.

Armed with new consumer journey intelligence, insurance marketers can work more confidently with lead providers to improve these metrics or take action on the data to only buy leads that fall within the ideal duration and age parameters and then reinvest those dollars in better leads.

So, what now?

We have partnered with lead generators and aggregators to lead the charge in minimizing the bad leads, and we are working to recruit additional partners to the effort. We’re also partnering with a growing number of insurance carriers and agents to initiate actions that will expose and minimize the impact of bad actors in the insurance lead gen space.

This will have a positive impact on the ecosystem in a variety of ways:

  1. It will help lead buyers spend less time and money on no-intent leads. This will foster higher performance because those brands can spend more on leads feeling confident that they are higher-quality. This also means that they can scale their lead programs confidently without worrying about strong starts that go awry once they start to scale.
  2. Lead sellers will be confident that everything will become more efficient and effective for every lead they exchange with the ping post ecosystem. They will have fewer returned leads from buyers, which will allow them to accurately forecast monetization and improve their matching decisions. Not to mention that their lead buyers will be more satisfied with their service and increase demand for more leads. New insurance providers will initiate lead-buying programs, and carriers and agents that stopped buying leads will jump back onboard.
  3. There will be less TCPA exposure for all the players in the ecosystem.
  4. The fake leads will not survive – they will be flushed out, exposed and eliminated.

We’ve already seen first-hand how knowing where consumers are in their shopping journey can help brands drastically improve their lead programs and results. We look forward to expanding partnerships on both the lead seller and buyer sides and returning to the original promise of a great experience for the consumer and insurance provider.

See also: Are You Still Selling Newspapers?  

For more information on improving lead quality in your insurance marketing lead generation programs, read our white paper How Insurers Can Hit a Lead Gen Home Run.