Affinity uses direct mail to prompt dialogue over cup of coffee

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Amid today's relentless buzz about digital marketing, it's a little eye-opening when a company puts some dollars and faith behind a direct mail campaign supported by outbound phone calls. That's exactly what Affinity Insurance Services undertook this summer, with a targeted program aimed at inspiring face-to-face meetings between prospects and inside salespeople.

"A great portion of our work is direct marketing and direct mail, but there's also a lot of synergy in driving customers to the Web, the telephone or a sales agent," said Ken Devlin, VP-life and health marketing for Affinity Insurance, based in Hatboro, Pa., near Philadelphia. "It's not just relying on a single leg of the marketing stool to make things happen."

Affinity Insurance markets its life and health coverage products to professional associations as well as affinity groups of aggregated professionals, which offer a portfolio of insurance products to their members. The company targets groups that currently don't offer insurance products to members, as well as those that do but could be encouraged to switch to Affinity.

Devlin said that high-end prospects are used to receiving direct mail offers, so he's had good results with the channel. However, sales recently had reported that its prospect list of about 2,000 names wasn't returning decent leads.

"Sales was mailing everybody but was discouraged in not getting good, solid leads," Devlin said. He added that many of the prospect organizations that did respond were smaller ones not considered tier one candidates.

For help, he turned to Goodman Marketing Partners, San Rafael, Calif., a direct agency with a track record of conducting direct-mail campaigns.

First, Affinity and Goodman divided up the entire universe of prospects into more potent tier one segments, those groups that were sufficiently large for Affinity and also that consisted of high-income members.

One segment was made up of 200 associations with no current insurance offerings; the other, 200 groups that had insurance plans for members but were potential "switchers."

Then they considered the form the campaign should take.

"[Affinity] only budgeted $20,000, which is a very tiny campaign," said Denise Williams, director of strategic marketing in Goodman's Philadelphia office. "But I asked myself: For new-business development, how do you get people to meet with you?"

Williams' solution was to create an invitation to each contact to meet personally for a chat over a cup of coffee with a key sales executive. Enclosed with the invitation would be a $5 gift card from Starbucks Coffee Co.

"It's true. The best things in life are free," proclaimed the gift card holder, proffering the offer as a way to "relax while discovering how to get the most out of a group insurance portfolio."

"Back in the 1970s and 1980s, I remember research studies suggesting the value of sending people a $1 bill," Williams said. "Why? To make them feel a little guilty. With this campaign, we loaded the cards up with $5, which is nice for a couple of cups of coffee.

"But this was really just to start the dialogue," Williams said. "The buy cycle for b-to-b begins with the first connect, so they might consider you at a later date."

Cover letters were tailored to each of the two target groups—one stressing the value of offering additional member benefits, the other urging a re-evaluation of current insurance providers. Also included was an overview brochure highlighting Affinity's expertise. Prominently displayed on the outside of the mailer was the message, "A special invitation for professional associations—like yours. Free gift enclosed!"

To help ensure that the envelopes were not thrown away, Affinity and Goodman employed Boxpilot, a company that specializes in "guided voice mail." On the day before each of four mail drops, Boxpilot delivered prerecorded phone messages to the next day's recipients, alerting them to the pending arrival of a high-value package.

"Now, the recipient has a heads-up that the offer is coming the next day," Williams said. She said the process also helped clean the list if the intended recipient's phone was answered by someone else.

Mail drops took place on June 2, June 16, July 24 and Aug. 7 of last year. In addition to pre-drop guided voice mails, Affinity's inside sales executives placed personal follow-up calls to each contact.

The results have been encouraging for Affinity. Devlin said sales received a total of nine "really good, solid leads" from the 400 mailings.

"There's a lot of things still in the pipeline, and we won't know total results until sales understands what kind of revenue the campaign will generate," Devlin said. "But it should more than pay for the mailing and the gift card."

Williams said the "really good, solid leads" represent potential revenue of $1.85 million.

For 2010, Affinity Insurance plans to refine this initial effort with such offers as white papers, promoted via e-mail, to drive prospects to the Affinity Web site.

"This isn't about just touching prospects once a year to invite them to have coffee," Devlin said, "but rather a series of communications that keeps Affinity in the forefront of their attention."

Originally published Feb. 8, 2010

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