Are Scary Headlines really needed to guarantee more Eyeballs on Screens?

Do you want someone to read your email, blog, article, or newsletter?

Of course. We all do.

Marketers like me will tell you the key to success is to craft a irresistible headline. Pick up any newspaper or magazine from a newsagent’s shelf and scan the headlines and you’ll see that the media have this down to a fine art.

Scary Headlines

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The glossies are the masters of this science. In fact writing tutors encourage students to study titles like Cosmopolitan and Men’s Health to learn how to do it.

Here’s a Cosmopolitan article title:

20 Ways to Make Him Scream. In a good way

Here’s one from Men’s Health:

15 Powerfoods that Fight Fat

Headlines with statistics seem more effective. And if the statistics are scary – all the better.

But what about manipulating statistics to increase clicks? What about subtle interpretation of statistics to embellish a story to guarantee more eyeballs on screens? I ask this because Regulators have lambasted the Protection Industry for using scary statistics in the past. How far is it acceptable to go?

Let me give you an example.

Being partial to a nice bottle of red wine, especially if the grape is Zinfandel and it comes from California, a headline in a newspaper alarmed me recently claiming that a new study says that just one glass of red wine per day could increase your chance of getting throat cancer by 168%.


Wow that’s a huge increase isn’t it? I bet a lot of people who read that would be worried enough to read the article. I was (proving of course that the scary headline technique works).

But what is annoying, when you look into the detail of the article, is that they never tell you what the baseline is. What is the 168% increase on top of?

If the real chance of getting throat cancer is 1 in 1 million then a 168% increase on that turns a miniscule chance into a slightly more than miniscule but still miniscule chance. So it’s a non-story. Red wine drinkers however couldn’t resist clicking through and reading the copy.

And here’s an example from the Protection Industry. I recently came across an article with the following scary headline:

40 to 60 is the most dangerous time of life

They’d written the article about some figures Reinsurer RGA released stating that, “The majority of life insurance and critical illness claims are for people between the age 40 and 60.”

Whilst RGA’s claims figures are correct the headline’s interpretation of the statistics was completely wrong.

Scary Headlines

It is certainly true that age 40 to 60 is when most illnesses and deaths happen (and therefore claims) among the INSURED population. But given the average policy is taken out by someone in their 30s for about 25 years that’s absolutely expected.

If you looked at the wider population as a whole – most illnesses and deaths would not take place during that window. At a much older age in fact. The headline is more of a “interpretation of the stats” and not reality.

Does it matter if a headline is technically wrong as long as it compels someone to read it? In this example the more people reading might prompt more of them to go and seek advice about protecting their finances. That’s not a bad outcome is it?

If a life insurance company used that headline in a brochure there’s no way it would be compliant. They wouldn’t be able to use it.

But the media are not subject to those same compliance concerns. So are scary headlines, even wrong scary headlines, justifiable as long as they guarantee more click-throughs?

Now it’s your turn: What do you think about scary headlines and the interpretation of statistics? If it makes more people read articles that might ultimately benefit them is it acceptable? Please leave a comment below and let me know your views.

What a Caffe Nero Grande Americano says about Empowered Staff and Happy Customers

Is coffee an important part of your business day?

Last week I took an early train down south from Edinburgh. In my pocket was a complete, stamped Caffé Nero loyalty card.

I decided to buy a huge coffee to make my early start more bearable. As I stood at the Caffé Nero Express kiosk at Waverley station I  asked for a Caffe Nero Grande Americano black coffee.

The lady checked again whether I wanted milk. I replied, “No, just black.”

caffe nero grande americano

She accepted my stamped loyalty card and I took my free coffee with me on the train. I settled into my seat as the East Coast train lumbered out of Waverley station and into Calton Tunnel.

I peeled the top off my coffee cup.

And my heart sank.

Staring back up at me was white coffee. I am lactose intolerant and so I couldn’t drink the coffee I was so looking forward to savouring. I asked my immediate neighbours in the carriage if they’d like a white Coffee. One lucky gentleman accepted my cup with a smile.

But I felt annoyed. How much clearer could I have been? East Coast trains Coffee is not as tasty as Caffe Nero coffee.

I tweeted Caffe Nero but of course received no reply. I imagine they must receive thousands of tweets per day.

Over 12 hours later I arrived back at Edinburgh Waverley station. I went along to the Caffe Nero Express kiosk and explained what had happened during my early morning visit. The gentleman in the kiosk immediately apologised and furnished me with two completed loyalty cards. He did this without questioning my story. Nor did he have to refer to a supervisor or a colleague to make me happy.

I immediately felt better and Caffe Nero will stay on my Christmas card list.

So many times these days staff are not allowed to make such gestures without referring up the line. Empowerment in these circumstances is important to keep customer loyalty.

I remember visiting the Ritz-Carlton chain of hotels in the USA a few years ago and going behind the scenes to get some business ideas. They allow every one of their employees to spend up to $100 to look after a guest. They do not have to refer to a supervisor or manager. They use their discretion. This means that the service they deliver is exceptional.

Would you allow your staff to make such a decision without referral?

Now it’s your turn: I love stories about great customer experiences. If you’ve been wowed by a response similar to mine please share your story. Leave a comment or post a link to your own website or blog.

Do you know? What will be the Next Big Thing in Protection Insurance?

When do you think we will see the next big “thing” in the protection market?

I asked this question in an introductory speech I made at the LifeSearch Protection Awards 2014. I would be fascinated to hear your views. As background, I’ve included an edited version of the speech below. And for the “time poor” here is a brief three-minute video edit of what I said.

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By “thing” I don’t mean going to a medical dictionary and looking up a new rare illness, with a three-line Latin name, and adding it to a critical illness plan. And by “thing” I don’t mean finding ways to cut the headline premium rates only to cut the number of lives we accept for those rates.

I mean when are we going to see something that genuinely makes people sit back and say, “Oh My God?”

Some of you will know until the autumn of 2013, I was Managing Director of Bright Grey & Scottish Provident. Indeed I was one of the founder Directors of Bright Grey back in 2003. As a result of changes within the Royal London Group last year, I decided to take voluntary redundancy and to start my marketing business.

This means that for the first time in 25 years I no longer have to tow the corporate line. Now I can say anything I like.

About anybody. And any company.

So I can genuinely say to Louise Colley at AVIVA and that I loved your Paul Whitehouse TV adverts and not siding with the critics who said you ruined Downton Abbey for them. And of course I can say how jealous I was of your budget.

Or being a fitness instructor on the side I can say to Phil Jeynes that I love the PruProtect fitness links without having to think of a sales aid to rebut them.

Sometimes it’s good taking a huge step back from something that you been involved with for such a long time. You’ve heard the phrase “Can’t see the wood for the trees.” What you need to do is get into a helicopter and fly so high up so that you can see the forest and beyond.

Well I can’t afford a helicopter; I didn’t negotiate a big enough settlement. But I have a great “virtual helicopter” and leaving my job made me reminisce about the past and ask myself how what’s happened in the past has contributed to the shape of the forest I now see below me.

So indulge me for a minute and let me tell you how the first “menu of benefits” protection product came was launched.

This was nearly twenty years ago. It had been a very busy morning in the office. Meetings followed meetings and pressure from all sides. So pretty much the same as now!

I had missed breakfast and so by lunchtime I was absolutely ravenous. I felt like having something really tasty to eat. Something that would sate that morning of meetings induced hunger pangs.

So I decided to head out to Princes Street in Edinburgh.

I wanted to find a high quality restaurant.

I wanted to find somewhere offering real fine food.

I went to Burger King.

RE LPA 2014

When I stood in the queue waiting for service I had my light bulb moment. There above the tills is the huge Burger King Menu. You can see each price of the burgers, Whoppers, Chicken Royales, fries and drinks. And then you can see the cost of the “meals”.

Of course the cost of the “meal” is always cheaper than the sum of all the separate items.

Whatever you might think about Burger King  – the menu works well for different customers.

If they want a burger on its own they can have it. If they want fries and a drink they can have it. If they want a whopper meal, go large, they can have it.

And they’ll get a discount on the “meal”.

I started thinking about the protection products in the market then. Everyone offered separate term assurance, critical illness and income protection products. If a client wanted term assurance they could have it.

But if they wanted more than one cover they would have to fill in two applications, take out two separate policies, pay two policy fees and be bombarded with two sets of paperwork.

Whereas Burger King would have bunged the two items in a paper bag and given them a discount.

Thus was born the idea for the “menu” protection product launched in 1996.

It combined life cover, critical illness cover and income protection together in one plan. One application process, one set of charges and as many combination of benefits as the customer wanted.

And we would wrap it up in the equivalent of a paper bag and give them a discount.

I particularly remember the London launch.

London was the key one for us to get right. In the audience was John Joseph who at the time was one of the most influential advisers in the industry. His words in the media could mean the difference between success and failure of a new product launch. Although he is a small guy, John can by quite daunting. He always wears a three-piece suit with a multi-coloured waist coat.

I made my presentation and thought it went really well, except that John Joseph just sat there with his arms folded and a frown upon his face.

At the end of the presentation John Joseph stood up and gave me a slow clap.

“Congratulations,” he said. “You’ve just launched the most complicated product I have ever seen.”

He didn’t smile. I held my breath and stared back at him expecting a wave of criticism.

And then he said, “But I love it!”

The rest of the advisers loved it too and how it would let them create a tailor-made solution for their clients

That product went on to get a share of 32% of the UK adviser protection market. Of course had I been more savvy in structuring a bonus arrangement back then I definitely would have been able to afford a helicopter now.

Looking back and compared to the menu products in today’s market, that original version was actually quite simple by today’s standards. It had 16 illnesses and an 8 page application form.

Menu products available today cover over 45 critical illness and more partial payments, have a 32 page application forms, and a 90 page policy document.

90 pages! The owner’s manual for my car isn’t that long.

And what about the application process? Back then there were 5 main health questions. Now there are of 20. Online processes make the process slightly less tedious but why has the application process become so complicated?

Well it’s a symptom of the price competitive position we find ourselves in. 20 years ago we were accepting 94% of cases at ordinary rates.

Now some companies are accepting as little as 75% of cases at ordinary rates.

Disappointing 6% of customers was bad enough but 25%? Imagine going into a shop and being told that every 4th item that you bought was actually more expensive that it said on the display. Would you be happy?

So from my helicopter high above the forest I see an increasingly complex market.

Incremental innovations lay more complexity on an already very complicated proposition.

RE LPA 2014a

Did you ever think there would be a day when there were more non-standard ABI definitions than standard ones?

Whilst these innovations allow companies to continue to compete within a flat market, they do not promote growth of that market. I wonder how long we can continue in this way.

The structure of the market perpetuates these issues doesn’t it? Compliance means we have to prove why we wouldn’t recommend the most comprehensive product or the cheapest rate. The comparison engines perpetuate the view that cheapest is best.

And what about compliance teams that reject innovative products if there is nothing to compare it against?

Does compliance stifle innovation?

It’s a tough conundrum to solve.

We can break out of this rut – but I do wonder who is going to lead it. Is protection a big enough prize for large providers to make the necessary leap?

Perhaps we have to look to distributors such as LifeSearch, and smaller providers to show the way ahead.

If the distributor is setting the standards for customer service does that mean that in the future the distributor should be setting the standards for future proposition development. Will companies like LifeSearch create the stimulus to innovate the protection industry out of its current rut?

I asked you at the start what you thought the next big “thing” would be. Do you think the future lies with simpler products and easier processes? Or do we just need to keep the current list of illnesses and simplify the definitions? Will the definitions ever just say, “Diagnosis of Heart Attack by a Consultant Cardiologist?”

Full Stop!

Or is it all about process and service innovation, and digital App technology.

What will be the next big “thing” in protection insurance?

What do you think?

Now it’s your turn: If you read this far – thanks for sticking with me. I would be very interested in your views. Please leave a comment or post a link to your own article or blog.

If you think anyone else would like this article please send it to them.