Since May this year, Metlife (Metropolitan Life Insurance Company) has been pulling out all the stops in Hong Kong and China in its transition to become a more consumer-centric insurer. This also paved the path of the hiring of Esther Lee, an ex AT&T marketer, as Metlife's new global CMO to expand the company’s appeal to consumers.
In the mainland, Metife, through its joint-venture company Sino US Metlife Insurance (formed by a subsidiary of Metlife and Shanghai Alliance Investment), started to provide digital end-to-end sales on 27 November.
Its new self-service platform on WeChat targets China's expanding middle class for life insurance and protection products. The company claims the service does not have complicated legalese or an elongated buying protocol.
Chinese consumers can select and compare insurance products on the app, receive instantaneous quotes, buy online, connect with a local agent or channel of choice, make payments, or check on claims.
"We learnt that they want easy-to-understand products that clearly correspond with their life-stage needs; they also told us that these products need to be transparent, convenient and easy to purchase," said George Tan, CEO of Metlife China.
Metlife claims to be to first in China to fully integrate online and offline sales, social channels and customer relationship management. "With this launch, we are not simply building an online channel, we are creating a digital ecosystem," added Chris Townsend, president of Metlife Asia.
The deployment of digital tactics looks to become a key differentiator for Metlife in Hong Kong as well.
The new Infinity app (pictured), a virtual time capsule about capturing positive moments today and sharing them with your loved ones in the future, was launched in the city this August as a mobile tool to expedite sales conversion.
It allows a message created by a user to be sent to designated end-recipients at a pre-determined time in the future via email and SMS, while Metlife stores it safely and securely in the meantime. 'Infinity' was recently recognised for the 'best use of technology' in the insurance industry at the Benchmark Wealth Management Awards 2014.
In Hong Kong, brand awareness levels have been low before this, said Sunshine Farzan, Metlife's vice president and head of marketing and communications for the Hong Kong operations. There has not been above-the-line marketing on a broader scale until the middle of this year.
Consumer-facing campaigns on social media—Facebook and LinkedIn—were launched less than three months ago in September. The brand's canine ambassador, Snoopy, was shown as prominently as possible on those channels, as well as on tissue packets, in print, and outdoor (buses, taxis, airport billboards, MTR, cross-harbour tunnels).
According to the company's own data, Metlife's branded search term volume in Hong Kong increased by nearly 800 per cent as of the end of November.
Indeed, in the two markets, Metlife's marketing efforts centred on its licensed use of the Peanuts character both online and offline, which made the insurer instantly recognisable as "that Snoopy insurance company", though the linkage to its brand values may be debatable.
'Pursue More From Life' has been the insurer's overarching brand proposition globally. At least to us, quantifiers such as doggedness and determination come to mind.
Yet it is a tad difficult to imagine Snoopy trying to pursue more from life, as the cartoon dog is mostly portrayed spending the bulk of its time lying on the gable roof of its doghouse. To us, Snoopy seems to symbolise the idea of being carefree.
But the brand's take is: by encouraging consumers to pursue more from life, it gives a positive approach to marketing; so Snoopy is the perfect spokescharacter for Metlife, as it is warm, down-to-earth and approachable and injects light-heartedness into the brand.
Based on those adjectives, Snoopy could easily be replaced by, for example, Winnie the Pooh. But in fairness, insurers and financial companies in general can easily be perceived as cold and lacking compassion, and MetLife has attempted to combat this image by involving the world-famous dog in its digital activations.
On Metlife's Hong Kong Facebook page, Snoopy offers tips related to health and wellness, such as its ratings of Dragon’s Back, Yuen Tsuen and Po Toi as the top three hiking trails in Hong Kong (see below).
“Snoopy doesn’t talk, so it’s not used as a means for first-hand insurance education but rather meant for awareness and engagement,” Farzan told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "In a category where there is a bit more focus on fear of the future and worry about times of stress, Snoopy really embodies a spirit of being able to pursue more from life."