NEXT Insurance is an online insurance provider based in Palo Alto, California. As an InsurTech, NEXT specializes in business insurance for small businesses, from restaurant owners, general contractors, personal trainers and many more.
NEXT wanted to find new ways to use technology to help engage and connect with prospects and customers more efficiently. As a brand, NEXTs vision is to help small businesses thrive. One way it accomplishes that is to help people get information about insurance options quickly and affordably.
NEXT began doing customer acquisition campaigns primarily using search and digital ads. Still, for a company that protects real-world assets and people, it was time to bring a physical touchpoint to its marketing strategy. It was time to integrate direct marketing with digital. Direct mail was a new channel that needed to prove its value. The first goal was to demonstrate that direct mail was a profitable channel and that NEXT Insurance could make it work.
“When I started direct mail at NEXT, I had colleagues who were like, why are we sending direct mail? Why are we using this old-school channel? We made the case that people are responding to direct mail, especially in financial services and insurance. These are considered purchases, and it can warrant a heavier touch,” says Tim O’Brien, Head of Direct Communications.
The second goal was to prove that direct mail could scale. If it was profitable, could the channel effectively scale?
NEXT made a big bet on marketing technology by investing in a customer data platform (CDP) to tie all of its different types of communications to customers and prospects together. The investment would help NEXT better understand what it was sending and how people reacted.
After investing in a CDP, NEXT needed a way to send out direct mail. Enter Lob, intelligent direct mail. Lob was the perfect fit because it allowed NEXT to use technology via Lob’s APIs to plug in and send direct mail campaigns quickly, easily, and effectively based on customer or prospect behavior. After getting up and running with Lob, NEXT demonstrated direct mail was profitable and could scale.
“One of the things we were trying to figure out was what’s going on in a business's lifecycle. Depending on what stage a company may be in helps us determine if it’s a good time to target someone,” says O’Brien. “If somebody gets a quote but doesn't purchase right away or they don't provide enough information in that quote, we'll follow up with them with a letter. So we're using direct mail at different stages in the relationship that we're trying to develop with them.”
NEXT knew they had unlocked something powerful, “when we mailed someone around a specific time that may be important to them, our response rates were four times better than if we mailed them in a typical campaign. So there's something about using timely data and getting a message to someone faster.” O’Brien continues, “those campaigns have done very well for us. My quest in the future is to define more data sources for other industries we're pursuing.”
NEXT is still testing different touch points in the customer lifecycle, but based on prior experience, it has helped improve response rates anywhere from 10 to 15 percent.
The Future: Premium results for NEXT Insurance
NEXT can now connect email behavior to direct mail behavior to onsite digital behavior enabling it to see which audience members take specific actions. To further maximize its marketing budget and ROI, NEXT plans to send letters to people engaged with its emails.
O’Brien explains, “We’re trying to be as efficient as possible, so if there are ways to reduce spending by being strategic about who we go after, and we see that somebody is taking action digitally, it makes sense to use direct mail with those higher value prospects, as opposed to spraying and praying.”
NEXT has plans to continue testing new data sources that can be used to target specific cohorts and segments of its audience. “We’re going to be testing a marketing qualified lead program for one of the industries that we support where we're offering free content via Facebook in exchange for their email address. The plan is to nurture those relationships using email and then send direct mail after prospects provide their physical address, or if we append their address.”
NEXT is also in the process of testing different form factors. Instead of just a letter, NEXT is testing self-mailers, various envelope sizes, and postcards to stand out in the mailbox and increase response and conversion rates. In addition, NEXT is testing buckslips. “Having more real estate is a must. I’m trying to convince someone they need insurance and convince them to use NEXT. That buckslip is helpful, and there was a lift in response on our buckslip test,” he told us.
Lastly, NEXT plans more attention to modeling, which they launched this year and has already shown positive ROI. “If you can use the data you have and model off that, that's key to staying efficient.”
Direct mail automation has eliminated the back-and-forth between teams, manual data entry, and manually maintaining data compliance. Automation has saved NEXT’s team the time allocated for standard mailings so that they can focus on experimentation and optimization.
No channel is a silver bullet to getting results. It’s all about strategically using your channels to deliver an engaging, connected, memorable customer experience.