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Are Insurers Ready for Voice Search?

Who do property and casualty insurance customers turn to when they need help?

In the past, answers have included insurance agents, customer helplines and company websites. Today, however, customers are increasingly likely to consult Alexa, Siri or Cortana.

As voice assistants gain popularity in homes, in cars and on smartphones, they’re also gaining traction as a marketing tool. Here, we look at the ways in which insurance companies are using voice assistants as part of their marketing and sales strategy, as well as what to expect in the near future.

How Voice Assistants Are Changing Marketing

Voice assistants commonly come in one of two forms: wireless speakers that can be placed in the home or office, or as built-in tools on smartphones. iPhones and various Android devices have had them for a few years now.

In some ways, voice assistants work similarly to visual or text-based tools like smartphone apps and Google search bars. The user asks a question or enters a command, and the device responds to it. Voice assistants like Alexa even offer apps, or “skills,” that work similarly to smartphone apps — except they rely on audio rather than visuals to share information, TechCrunch’s Sarah Perez writes.

The audio-based approach changes the ways in which both search results and apps work on voice assistant devices. A text-based Google search, for instance, returns a list of links from which the user can choose. A voice-based search, however, tends to return the single response the AI thinks best fits the user’s query.

Some experts praise this option for its speed and flexibility. “Since voice flattens menus, it will make daily tasks far easier to complete,” Jelli CEO Mike Dougherty says. Yet it also puts additional pressure on marketing teams to ensure that their content gets chosen by the various search engines that inform each voice-based device, says Richard Yao, senior associate of strategy and content at IPG Media Lab.

Voice assistants haven’t just changed how search results are presented. They have also changed how users launch searches in the first place, says More Visibility’s Jill Goldstein. While text-based searches tend to focus on two or three keywords, voice-based searches use full, natural-language sentences. These often start with question words like “what,” “how” or “when.”

See also: Insurtech Starts With ‘I’ but Needs ‘We’  

These questions give marketers insight into where shoppers are in their buying journey and how best to meet their needs — but only if marketing teams are collecting and using this information, says Tyler Riddell, vice president of marketing for eSUB Construction Software.

Not only are marketing teams learning to adapt to the differences between audio and visual, but they’re also learning how to adapt to a search tool that adapts itself.

Because voice assistants use artificial intelligence and machine learning, they can adapt to changes in search terms, says Gartner analyst Ranjit Atwal. The onboard AI is designed to learn over time, gaining a better sense of how users frame their queries and the sort of information they may be looking for.

‘Alexa, Find Me Auto Insurance’: The Rising Demand for Voice Search

Based on recent sales trends, 55% of U.S. households are expected to have a smart home speaker, with voice assistance enabled, in their houses by the end of 2019, Dara Treseder at Adweek reports. Voice assistants are also a mainstay of many smartphones, from Apple’s Siri to Google’s voice search option triggered by saying, “OK, Google.”

Insurance customers increasingly prefer to include digital channels in their search for property and casualty insurance. With voice assistants occupying millions of smartphones and a wide range of other devices, customers increasingly prefer to rely on these tools, as well.

Nearly half (46%) of insurance customers already use voice search tools at least once per day, according to Shane Closser at Property Casualty 360. One in four want their voice assistants to be able to give them more information on insurance agents and products. One in three wanted to use voice assistants to book appointments with a particular insurance agent.

Service-based companies that offer “highly complex and highly personal” services are uniquely suited to thrive in the voice search era, says Adweek’s Julia Stead. While Stead focuses on travel, finance and healthcare, her analysis applies to P&C insurers, as well, because these companies also offer services that have long been accessed via voice (phone), are tailored to the needs of each customer and often require access at odd locations or hours.

And while the conversation about tech innovation often focuses on younger users, voice assistants are increasingly popular with older insurance customers.

See also: Future of Insurance Looks Very Different  

Lauryn Chamberlain at GeoMarketing.com says that 37% of consumers age 50 and older say they use a voice assistant, often because simply speaking to a smart speaker or phone is easier than tapping, swiping or reducing a question to its key search terms. In other words, older users can think of their voice assistants as a helpful background entity rather than as a device.

In short, voice assistants are cutting across demographics. They’re entering more homes and workspaces. And insurance customers want to use them to secure coverage.

How P&C Insurers Are Incorporating Voice Into Their Marketing

Several insurance companies are already experimenting with voice assistant tools as part of their own marketing process, according to Danni Santana at Digital Insurance. For instance, Nationwide, Liberty Mutual (and subsidiary SafeCo) and Farmers have all launched Amazon Echo Skills.

Progressive, meanwhile, joined Google Home in March 2017, the first insurance carrier to do so, according to Rachel Brown at Mobile Marketer.

Other insurance companies have experimented with different approaches. Amica Mutual Insurance, for example, launched an Alexa skill that doesn’t connect users to their individual accounts. Rather, it offers information in more than a dozen categories to help users better understand billing, discounts, storm preparation and more.

With the development of Alexa skills and similar tools, brands are thinking about how a voice assistant’s sound affects their brand development, says Jennifer Harvey, VP of branding and communications at Bynder. The choice of voice tone, pitch and speed can all send a powerful message about an insurer’s brand and culture, whether it’s reassuring, serious, cheerful or anything in between.

One of the big opportunities for insurance companies and voice assistants is access. Currently, voice assistants can take on many simple tasks but can’t always handle a transaction as complex as ensuring a customer receives the right home or auto coverage for their needs. Yet developments in AI and voice recognition indicate this may change. “Alexa is already capable of placing a complicated pizza order,” says Inbal Lavi, CEO of Webpals Group, “underscoring that voice assistants will act as more than middlemen.”

For now, however, even the digital middleman approach can benefit potential and current P&C insurance customers and the companies that serve them. “We want to enable easy access for our customers,” says Alexander Bernert, head of brand management at Zurich Insurance. “Consumers do not necessarily think of taking out disability insurance between 9 am and 5 pm, but maybe even shortly before midnight.”

It can be tough to reach an insurance agent shortly before midnight. But a voice assistant can find one, provide information and even schedule an appointment — making it easier for potential customers to turn into actual purchasers.

In a world where insurance customers already do research and contact insurers via multiple channels, voice assistants are a natural frontier for insurance marketing.

Lemonade: From Local to Everywhere

In a meticulously planned operation, we filed for a license in 47 states simultaneously. We’ll be revealing the first states in which Lemonade will become available in a couple of months. One thing’s for certain, 2017 is going to be an interesting ride! Stay up to date with news about our progress here

Now that I got this off my chest, I can add some color to why we’re doing this.

Many tech startups go through the famous Local vs. Global debate as they start to plan a market penetration strategy. This dilemma was born with the arrival of modern internet commerce and became even more prevalent with the emergence of SaaS companies that provide global coverage right out of the box.

When you’re selling a digital product, going global may seem like small overhead. Reality is a bit different, though, and, more often than not, small startups that take a bigger bite than they can swallow get into trouble.

When feasible, startups should consider aiming their launch beams at a single city or even a town with population that represents their typical customer.

Here’s why:

1. Know thy users, and design for them

It always amazes me how often startups overlook usability testing during the initial design phase. Having videos of random people playing with your (barely working) mockup is priceless. We learned more in a couple of days of testing than we did in months working in our office.

The cool thing is that you only need about five testers to get value out of a session like that, so there’s really no excuse to not doing it. The smaller the area you launch in, the better the chance of getting valuable data in a user testing session.

We spent hours in WeWork and Starbucks with our early stage, smoke-and-mirrors version of the Lemonade app. We would show it to people, ask for their feedback, ask them some questions and record the entire session. We would then sit in the office and analyze the videos to figure out what worked and what didn’t.

Our early Starbucks user testing sessions allowed us to launch a relatively mature product into the market and achieve faster adoption by our New York customers.

See also: Let’s Make Lemons Out of Lemonade  

2. Budget

Product launches require spending some money. To improve the chances of success, it is recommended to fuel the organic interest generated by social noise and PR efforts with some paid channels. Got a story in TechCrunch? Bloomberg? It will probably die down quicker than you think.

A nice trick is to use content recommendation tools like Outbrain and Taboola to promote content to users who may be interested in it. Google Ads are another obvious choice. Choosing the right outlets is one thing, but there’s a huge difference in costs between a global campaign and a local one.

This becomes much more dramatic when your company requires additional resources to operate in each region like Groupon and Uber. Lemonade recently closed its third round of financing ($60 million in one year of operation) from top VCs such as Google Ventures, General Catalyst, Thrive, Sequoia, Aleph and XL Innovate. We’re going to use this money to drive our expansion throughout the country and activate specific markets the way we did in New York.

3. Surgical use of media coverage

Getting great media coverage takes a lot of attention and time. Whether you can afford an agency or not, you’ll have to choose your battles well. Launching in a specific city allows you to focus on the outlets that are most relevant and will simplify your pitch to journalists.

If you’re creating something exclusive for a certain region, reporters who cover that region usually have a hunger for tech stuff that is happening, or launching in their hometown before everywhere else. BTW, there’s a case for launching in unexpected places like Portland or Philadelphia, which usually don’t get much attention from the tech and consumer industry for new products. There’s a good chance that media reach (which expands far beyond just the place you’re starting from) will be much stronger.

We chose New York for Lemonade’s home. We see NY’ers as an ideal representation of our target demographic and personality. So we invested our efforts in a select few outlets that are read by our first wave of early adopters of the city’s financial workers and young professionals — NY Post, Bloomberg and Wall Street Journal.

4 . Brand and messaging

Building a great brand involves a lot of consumer psychology. You spend weeks trying to figure out the best tagline, the perfect ad and the right illustrator to do your art. If you get this right, you have a real chance at grabbing your customers’ attention.

The first few months of brand activation are critical. Limiting yourself to a select region or demographic allows you to be laser-focused on framing and positioning.

Lemonade Local

Building an insurance company from scratch, in New York, one of the toughest regulatory environments in the country, is a huge undertaking. The sheer complexity and investment required to get to the starting point includes raising a lot of capital and hiring the right people to be able to get licensed by the state’s Department of Financial Services.

This is the life of a company that operates in a highly regulated industry, and it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen in the tech space. For Daniel and me, the decision to start in one state was simple. There’s no other way. Insurance carriers have to choose a state. Just one. And then maybe, if you play nice, regulators will let you go for more.

We wanted to launch Lemonade in one state — NY, and even more so when we realized we had no choice 🙂

See also: Lemonade: A Whole New Paradigm  

In the last three months since our New York launch, we’ve had overwhelming demand coming in from all over the country to open up for business in more states. This was very encouraging because it showed us hints of initial demand and product market fit to people and age groups that we never thought would be our early adopters.

But what surprised us most was the excitement coming from unexpected places, such as government offices and regulators. Having a favorable regulatory environment is a great opportunity to bring an honest, affordable, transparent and fun insurance experience to everyone in the U.S.!

Be the first to know how we’re making progress with our nationwide expansion.

Here’s the list of states where we will gradually launch in the coming year or so:

Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

* States in bold represent the ones most requests to launch came from

This article originally appeared here, and you can find more about Lemonade here.