The trend of brands acting as publishers has been around for years, but it’s an intriguing tactic for insurance companies, which typically rely on lead generation and other hard-sell tactics to drive business. Nevertheless, New York Life has embraced content-heavy marketing (with the help of Conductor) in the past two years. The company claims that twice as many lead generations come through organic content as paid content. Additionally, 30 percent of New York Life’s keywords rank in the top 10 Google search results and 5 percent of nonbranded keywords (terms like "insurance") rank in the top three search results. "We’ve been able to achieve very high placement really just by rolling up our sleeves and focusing on the content," said Erin Smale, corporate vp of Web management and strategy. In a recent interview, Smale explained how New York Life got into content marketing and identified the challenges ahead.
How long has New York Life been using this content-driven approach?
We’ve been concentrating more on this approach since our redesign in September 2012. Not that we didn’t use it before, but I think that exercise prompted us to reevaluate the quality of all of our content. [In the past] there wasn’t a lot of focus before on keywords. Our old model was we would promote product-centric keywords, and the idea was to drive all of the traffic to the website directly to a call-to-action. … When we started the redesign, we realized that a lot of our prospects were choosing to initiate contact in different ways. They weren’t just typing in a word like insurance—they were typing in keywords that had to do with their life stages or events in their life where insurance may play a part.
Can you give me an example?
Someone gets married or they have a baby or they buy a house or they get a new job—these are all events or stages of someone’s life where there are important questions to ask about insurance or the products that we sell and we want to be able to make sure that we’re being represented in certain search results for that kind of research that people are doing. The new model is customers will rely more on natural language queries as opposed to product-centric keywords, and they’ll use those queries to conduct research across a whole range of sites. When we’re optimizing content, we have to consider those language queries in the context of what we’re writing.
What have you learned about this new content approach?
We’ve been very successful with investing heavily in content development. We do have a team that’s dedicated to online editorial and a lot of them have writing experience in the industry that is more traditional. Obviously, there is a big switch between writing for print and writing for the Web, but we’ve been able to find content generators [and] authors who have been able to make that transition. What we’re trying to do is we’re still focusing on promoting our brand. We’re still focusing on educating prospects and engaging customers. You need the same writing foundation online that you would expect for print, for example.
What’s next for New York Life in content marketing?
We have campaigns and promotions going throughout the year. Toward the middle part of summer, we go into planning for Life Insurance Awareness month, which is in the fall. We prefer not to spend a whole lot of time and resources for these monthly or quarterly blasts of content [though]. We make changes on a daily basis, whether it’s news about our agents, stories about our policyholders, new product offerings [or] new ways to look at existing products. It’s not just about promoting special events; it’s about keeping the content fresh and engaging.
What we’re realizing is that by investing on the content side, we’re doing a much better job of educating our prospects and building relationships. There’s no need for the hard sell because customers are choosing to contact us in a way that suits them. Everything we do with content is about education first. Lead generation [is] second.