Over the weekend, Korean pop made news because fans supposedly helped bait the Trump campaign into overestimating by an order of magnitude the number of people who would show up for a rally in Tulsa, Okla. No matter how big the actual effect, K-pop can serve as an exemplar for insurers and agents as we all try to figure out how to engage with clients more often and increase their affinity for our brands.
Yes, there will have to be considerable translation -- and not just from Korean to English -- to bring ideas from K-pop's outreach into our industry. Insurance customers would never even want to hear from companies and agents as often as K-pop fans engage with the idols -- "idol" being an official term for a K-pop group member.
But K-pop is very much an industry, with "factories" that create idol groups from among the thousands of youngsters who sign up for several years of training on how to sing and dance and on how an idol should act. And the interactions with the fan base are carefully and skillfully designed.
Now, no insurance company will ever get 750,000 fans to simultaneously do anything, as the most popular K-pop group, BTS, did with a live, pay-per-view concert last week -- my daughters stayed up to watch from 2am to 4am California time. But let's take off our insurance hats for a moment, look at the sorts of outreach BTS does and see if we can't be a bit more creative about what insurance clients might appreciate.
The group of seven young men, ranging in age from 22 to 27, have released four albums in two years, an aggressive schedule. But it's the steady stream of creative ways they interact with fans in between albums that stands out for me. Since my younger daughter found time to indulge her BTS fan-dom -- when her law school classes went online and her side gig as a waitress in the D.C. area was put on hold -- I'm sure a week hasn't gone by without some lengthy bit of new material. Sometimes, it seems that barely a day goes by.
In their seven years as a group, BTS has produced more than 100 episodes of Run BTS, a sort of variety show where they do things like bungee jumping or competing at a water park. The videos are engaging on their own, despite the need for subtitles for those many of us who don't speak Korean, while letting fans see the individual personalities in ways that can't always come across in the group's highly choreographed, elaborate shows.
Members of the group appear regularly on a live streaming app where they may, for instance, talk to the camera about what's going on in their lives or may answer fans' questions. There's nothing slick about the production values. A recent one showed two members sitting in a kitchen trying to figure out how to make gimbap, a traditional dish akin to sushi rolls that their moms made for them growing up. That's it. But fans love the videos. (An American singer learned one day that a song he had released a while ago had popped to the top of the iTunes charts in South Korea. What was going on? A BTS member had sung the song on one of the live streams. That's all it took.)
BTS recycles old material creatively, too. For instance, the group "held" a festival in April that replayed eight of their concerts from 2014 to 2018.
The group leans into social causes, as well. For instance, BTS donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter causes -- fans almost instantly raised a matching amount, then an individual fan, pro wrestler and actor John Cena, added a further $1 million. This week, the group announced that it was donating an additional $1 million to a cause helping those whose work at concert venues has been canceled by the pandemic. BTS, and K-pop in general, have become so identified with social causes that fans in the U.S. identified hashtags associated with white supremacy and flooded them with K-pop videos to drown out expressions of hate in the wake of George Floyd's death. (The New York Times detailed the K-pop activism this week.)
If BTS itself ever posts a photo on Twitter, well, look out: There could easily be two million likes.
The steady interactions with fans have produced unprecedented popularity for a K-pop group. They were not only invited to appear on the YouTube "graduation ceremony" in early June, alongside the Obamas and others, but were given two large blocks of time, first so each of the seven could offer thoughts to the graduates and then to perform three songs.
Of course, that sort of exposure just feeds more popularity. When BTS released a single a few days ago, called "Stay Gold," it instantly went to the top of the iTunes charts in more than 80 countries. BTS's last four albums have hit No. 1 on the Billboard charts, a Herculean feat given that songs in Korean get so little radio play in the U.S., and radio play is such a big factor for Billboard.
How can insurers match BTS?
They can't, not even if Greg Case, Brian Duperreault or some other executive sings and dances a whole lot better than I know. But it seems to me that there are still lessons that can be learned from the group's outreach, about the benefits of continual (welcomed) communication, about the different possibilities presented by various media and about the lack of need for great production values, even from the industry heavyweights.
In personal lines, I imagine that health and auto insurance present the greatest opportunities.
During this pandemic, especially, there are loads of reasons for my health insurer to be keeping me updated about what's being learned about how the coronavirus is spread, what preventive measures I can take, what therapies are showing promise, how many cases are being found in or near my ZIP code, etc. I already gather that sort of information on my own, but I'd certainly welcome an occasional email from my health insurer that promised me updates. I might well click through to a video that illustrated some key point or to a brief Ask Me Anything-style post, whether in word form or just as a Zoom-style recording of some expert sitting in her living room answering questions I might have. Nothing fancy needed: just some good information delivered periodically.
Al Lewis delivers through Quizzify the sorts of updates I'm imagining; his employer clients send monthly trivia quizzes that educate employees about COVID and other current topics, as well as broader healthcare issues, both to help employees and to keep them from undergoing unnecessary care that can cost employers dearly. But, as far as I can tell, health insurers could be doing a lot more.
My auto insurer has kept me updated about premium credits as long as mileage plunged for months, but why not also tell me about how quickly driving is picking up, what the new version of rush hour looks like and is likely to look like, etc.? Auto insurers might run out of topics much faster than health insurers, but there are still event-based communications that I'd welcome. For instance, I relied on personal experience when teaching my daughters to drive, but surely there is a host of collected wisdom that an insurer knows about and that could have been flagged to me as soon as a teen showed up on my insurance. Again, the advice could have taken a variety of forms, many of them low-cost, along the lines of an Ask Me Anything -- perhaps augmented by a slick video designed to scare the bejeezus out of kids about all the bad things that their phones can suck them into doing.
The same sort of email/social/video outreach could work in small commercial lines, too, especially at a time of so much uncertainty. Think a pizza parlor or small retailer wouldn't welcome a stream of advice, with the promise of additional resources, on how to reopen while protecting customers and employers? Think they wouldn't welcome help thinking through all the workers' compensation issues that are floating around?
The really good agents and brokers are, of course, pulling together all sorts of advice and providing it to clients in our current health and economic crisis. But it seems to me that the advice outreach could be much more systematic, could be organized more by the insurers so that more agents can provide top-notch service and should be set to extend long after the crisis passes.
So, think BTS. You'll never be as popular as they are. But think about the language barriers they overcame while establishing links straight into the hearts and minds of so many, and take heart.
As the latest single says in its opening:
In a world where you feel cold
You gotta stay gold
Stay safe. And stay gold.
P.S. Here are the six articles I'd like to highlight from the past week:
Expectations for success continue to rise as more businesses reopen with safety as a top priority.
Combining robotic process automation and machine learning, IA accomplishes the end-to-end automation of business processes.
An abundance of startups shows the industry adopting a two-speed strategy, around speed of operation and speed of innovation.
Insurers need a comprehensive yet customizable approach to assess operational risk quickly and dynamically and chart responses to COVID-19.
California is making a mess as courts, the legislature and possibly voters sort out who qualifies as an employee and who as a contractor.
"Ecospheres of prevention" sound great, but they may just be a way for insurers to use, say, leak detection devices to gain leverage on clients.