Talk about interesting times in the business of insurance. The year 2015 saw the attention-getting launch of Google Compare and its hibernation about 12 months later. Traditional insurers like Mass Mutual and Shelter Mutual got busy and launched their own direct-to-consumer digital quoting and sales businesses. State Farm was busy filing patents for by-the-trip car insurance and the means to measure just how stressed drivers were behind the wheel and rate their insurance accordingly. Prudential recognized that previously scary diseases were now chronic conditions that could be medically managed, launching life insurance coverage for HIV positive customers. AOL saw an opportunity and is now selling insurance to its members. And we at Forrester have been busy keeping track of over 700 disrupters across FinTech that have been capturing market attention and venture capital. Some of these firms like Lemonade are returning to the social roots of insurance. Lemonade's founders also appreciate that consumers are irrational economic animals and decided to hire a behavioral scientist to help them anticipate the crazy actions of homo sapiens. And yet some people out there still call insurance a boring industry!
It is often said that campaigns work in poetry (beautiful language with lofty ideals), but one governs in prose (the pragmatic workings of the day). If we are in a poetic state, this is one strange poem with little rhyme or reason.
However, there are common threads that are meaningful that tell us something about not only the election but also the business climate.
American and Canadian insurers are facing some big challenges in 2015. Customer experience expectations, their willingness to consider a growing array of new options to buy insurance, and new competitors creeping into the business of insurance are pushing traditional insurers into new digital strategies. It’s no longer a question of digital channels or “other” when it comes to the customer journey; they’re now intertwined. Digital-dependent customers are eyeing new and more digitally savvy market entrants, while demanding more control over the experience and how their personal information is used. This year, digital insurance teams are crafting agendas that satisfy their firm’s hunger for increase market share and revenue balanced with changing demographics, adaptations in response to extreme weather, and regulation that has lagged the changing realities of digital. One thing’s for sure: Insurance eBusiness teams can’t afford to wait around, but they also can’t afford to make the wrong digital decisions.
Just what are the factors propelling North American insurer agendas this year? For starters, it’s about:
Uneven economic growth in North America. The 2008 financial crisis? It’s a distant memory in much of the US, but not for all. By most measures, the US economy is thriving, driven by rising consumer demand for homes, cars, and consumer goods, and, by extension, insurance. And in oil-producing Canada the decline in gasoline prices isn’t good news: Canada is threatened with recession.
It's now a year later and a lot has happened. Digital Disruption will soon be available as a hardback book (also as an eBook, natch). You can pre-order a copy now at Forr.com/DDbook. To complete the book I had to get far outside of my comfort zone -- I work with media companies and consumer product companies primarily, but to prove that digital disruption is a fundamental change in the way we all do business, I had to interview people in the pharmaceutical industry, the military camouflage industry, and I even recently spoke to the CIO of a cement manufacturer! And to my pleasant surprise, they were every bit as digitally disruptive as their counterparts in the consumer-facing enterprises that we think of when we imagine digital disruption.
One of the main reasons every company can be and eventually must be a digital disruptor is the rise of digital platforms. These platforms are founded on a set of devices, wrapped together with software experiences that identify each customer individually, and are open to app contributions from thousands of partners. The platform owners that matter today are Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft.
Technology Vendors for IT Focus on IT Spend
Forrester's technology vendor clients prefer data over analysis, whereas our IT clients prefer analysis. The vendors are gracious and will sit through a few slides of customer problem examples and politely let me wax on about where their real opportunities are, but most only really perk up when I get to the data slides. Having been responsible for product strategy for software product lines myself, I understand precisely why this is the case: When you're in middle management, your ability to get oxygen (read: funding) to sustain your team depends on your ability to make a case, and the case is usually predicated on IT spend.
Their Strategies are Often Tied to the IT Buyer Data so They Miss the Underlying Human Factors
Why? Because the garden variety general manager in the technology business understands numbers. Human factors? Not so much. For many of them, understanding the underlying human reasons for a disruptive technology shift like, say, the rise of Apple, is not in their DNA. Only the numbers matter. It's tragic really, because if they could reflect on the human factors that I bring with the analysis, born from observation of hundreds of firms who are not yet their customer, their investment priorities would be clearer because significant unmet market needs and competitive risks would be obvious. The best possible question a vendor can ask: What are we missing?
Vendor Strategists Need to Combine Market Data with Human Factors
We talk to product strategists in a wide variety of industries. Regardless of the vertical industry of their companies, they tell us that the release of new, disruptive products -- like Apple's iPad -- changes their relationships with their customers. Oftentimes, nearly overnight.
Whether their product comes in the form of “bits” (content, like media, software, or games) or “atoms” (physical products, like shoes, consumer packaged goods, or hardware), consumer product strategists must navigate a world filled with a dizzying array of new devices (like mobile phones, tablet computers, connected TVs, game consoles, eBook readers, and of course PCs). We call this proliferation of devices the Splinternet, a world in which consumers access the digital world across a diverse and growing number of hardware and platforms. And product strategists have to react by developing new apps, by crafting digital product experiences, and by rethinking their product marketing.
Delivering digital products across the Splinternet isn’t easy: It requires understanding -- and acting upon -- an ever-changing landscape of consumer preferences and behaviors. It also requires reapportioning scarce resources -- for example, from web development to iPad or Android development. Yet product strategists who fail to contend with newly disruptive devices (like the iPad or Xbox Kinect) will find themselves in danger of being left behind -- no matter what industry they’re in.
We'd like to invite product strategists to take our super-quick, two-minute survey to help us better understand how you are reacting to disruptions caused by the Splinternet: