Soft sell: Why sponsorship rules insurance marketing

Insurance companies arguably have some of the most abstract products to sell - products which need plenty of explaining - and which are hard to market through simple adverts.

Perhaps that's why they have begun sponsoring events, a medium that offers the prospective customer more tangible experiences compared to print, TV or digital.

“Insurance is no longer just a trade where customers are motivated solely by price and product," Rob Leonardi, regional chief health and marketing officer at AXA Asia, said.

"We believe customers will best engage with a brand that shows a sense of purpose to provide protection of assets and health against unforeseen events, going beyond a functional or transactional relationship to show insights into and understanding of their real needs. This includes more tangible engagement in issues and aspects of their life that matter to them."

Examples of events sponsored by AXA is AXA Hong Kong Streetathon and Hacking Health hackathon, which are both related to health.

The insurance company has also sponsored art events such as the 25th Biennale of the International Institute for Conservation and Art Basel in Hong Kong, which are about art conservation and preservation, according to Leonardi.

Another prominent example of an event sponsored by an insurance company is the AIA Great European Festival, which ran until late last month.

"Our sponsorship of music events, community fun runs and festivals, such as the AIA Great European Carnival in Hong Kong, allows us to engage with audiences in an exciting and compelling way, creating buzz and ideally increasing brand consideration," Catherine Gibbs, head of sponsorship at AIA Group, said.

She added this softer approach to marketing is effective in helping build a brand identity, even though the events sponsored appear to have nothing to do with financial products offered by insurance companies.

"Sponsorship, be it an event, a sponsorship of an artist or talent, or one that adheres to a particular theme such as sports or music, allows brands to engage audiences with new and interesting conversations which don’t necessarily focus on the industry itself or a product or service," Gibbs said.

"This soft marketing approach allows brands to communicate their key messages and values and helps express a personality that might not otherwise be conveyed through typical marketing channels."

AIA is also involved in sports sponsorship through its partnership with English Premier League football club Tottenham Hotspur FC.

Apart from helping build brand equity, sponsored events are also good for business because campaigns related to sponsored events can be used to drive sales.

"On the business side, sponsorship events offer a unique suite of assets that are often focused around exclusive hospitality and access as well as experiences you can't buy," Gibbs said.

"This creates a compelling opportunity for AIA business units to incentivise our agents and partners to drive sales through campaigns linked to these rewards."

For example, AIA agents offered customers exclusive pass-through benefits and VIP experiences for Tottenham Hotspur matches in London.

Meanwhile, music is the main theme identified by FWD for activities engaging current and prospective customers, particularly the younger generation, in line with FWD's recent brand-building activities around the theme of living your life with passion.

On the events front, the company sponsored local indie band Chochukmo's anniversary party that also featured bands from China, Hong Kong and Japan and a classical music and stand-up comedy crossover show.

The company also created a FWD Hong Kong Spotify channel.

"We identified music as the vehicle to engage people, particularly the next generation, as it is a common language of our community that can help us connect and engage with one another," Albert Chan, chief marketing officer at FWD Hong Kong and Macau, said.

According to Chan, the company's criteria for designing events includes ensuring the event matches the company's strategic objectives, brand values and image, that it reaches its target audience in a sustainable way, is cost-effective and creates a positive impact on the brand and that the organiser is reputable.

Gibbs agrees that being selective about what the company sponsors is important for maintaining consistency within the brand and helps companies properly evaluate sponsorship proposals.

"The key to ensuring you target the right sponsorship property is to identify clearly what your objectives are and specifically how a sponsorship needs to deliver against brand versus business objectives," she said.

"AIA’s sponsorship framework focuses on football, music and community engagement events as the core pillars that best reach our target audience and help us drive both brand and business initiatives."

Marketing sponsored events

FWD has taken an integrated approach to marketing sponsored events.

"We made use of offline, online, and social media platforms to boost awareness. Leveraging publicity and owned media to create word-of-mouth also played a vital role in our communications plan," Chan said.

"We continually evaluated the participation rates of each campaign and fine-tuned our tactics."

At AIA, coming up with a marketing strategy is also part and parcel of planning of sponsored events.

"We strategise upfront an integrated activation programme which consists of different media platforms and activation tactics that will bring optimal leverage to reach a broad spectrum within the target audience," Gibbs said.

"A key target segment for AIA is the Gen-Y audience so many of our campaigns are built around social and digital media, which has become an integral part of the Gen-Y’s daily life."