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AGE IS A PERSONAL LINES ISSUE: BROKERS

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When agents and brokers plan their advertising and marketing campaigns, very few talk about their audiences' generations, consultants and brokers say.

However, age can factor into relationship-building, one marketing executive says. Another adds that such a focus might help an agency bring in personal lines or small commercial business.

Commercial lines broker Arthur J. Gallagher & Co. is very focused on face-to-face selling to commercial clients, but targeting by age seems better suited to personal lines, said Greg Flanagan, vp-brokerage services for the Itasca, Ill.-based Gallagher.

"We have niches and target markets that we aggressively pursue, but they are more a business segment," Mr. Flanagan said. "We don't sell on any age basis."

Also, some say the process of gathering information such as the buyer's age would be costly and labor-intensive.

Automation is helpful, especially for personal lines segmentation, said George Nordhaus, chairman of Insurance Marketing & Management Services in Los Angeles, but the data collection necessary to target commercial lines clients by age "would just drive you absolutely nuts." Because of the soft market, he said, "Agents are really struggling. It's so competitive, and they don't have time for this."

"Do we have generational or age-related strategies?" asked Frank Huffman, director of communications in the Memphis, Tenn., office of Sedgwick Group P.L.C. "The answer would be 'no.'. . .There may be an age dimension, but we don't sort it that way. We do try to look at interests of our clients."

But others, such as Kimberly Paterson, president of Red Bank, N.J.-based Creative Insurance Marketing Co., said that part of the relationship-building process involves acknowledging the likes and dislikes of the audience, which often are factors of age.

"We're people first," said Ms. Paterson, who is based in Boston. While she agrees that age considerations aren't typically involved in commercial lines marketing, she noted that "as a salesperson, my whole challenge is trying to relate to the person."

Relating to buyers of insurance isn't always an easy task, however.

Ms. Paterson said, "Now you can theoretically have people in the work force ranging from baby boomers to Generation Xers to seniors. . . .You can't have 'one size fits all,' because you will fail."

It takes a very different approach to reach Generation Xers than baby boomers, and "a lot of it is how they process information," she said.

Xers tend to be more visually driven than the boomers, which could mean a text-heavy message would be lost on the younger generation. Boomers, on the other hand, are more willing to read extensively on a subject, a characteristic of linear thinking. Xers, who grew up under the influence of the computer revolution, are more inclined to want to access information randomly rather than taking the orderly, linear approach.

"That really impacts how you sell to them, how you educate them," Ms. Paterson said. "Anyone that's in business today has to be geared up for providing information how people want to receive it."

For some, that means the text-heavy brochure is a winner, and for others, the desired information is communicated electronically.

"The younger buyer thinks in terms of sound bites and has a shorter attention span," said Mr. Nordhaus, noting that the average age of an insurance agent is about 50. The age gap between the agent and the buyer can stand in the way of an effective marketing campaign, because the 50-year-old typically doesn't think with the mind-set of the younger consumer.

The diversified workforce demands marketing and advertising innovation, but Mona Carpenter, president of Marketing Systems Ltd., an insurance marketing consulting firm in Dallas, said that in the past, the insurance industry has not made creativity a priority. While some insurance agencies may believe it is cost-prohibitive to hire an advertising agency, there are alternatives to the Madison Avenue shops.

"I've seen some art students in college create some incredible logos and product designs," said Ms. Carpenter, adding that for $300 to $500, a college student could be hired to create everything from a new letterhead to a World Wide Web site. "You could spend thousands and thousands, but I don't really think it's necessary."

Ms. Carpenter acknowledges that for commercial agents, it is difficult to market using an age technique. But for those with personal lines business or for those who sell commercial lines to small businesses, paying attention to generational differences can mean a lot.

For example, she urges the use of nostalgia when targeting baby boomers. But, she cautions, this age group does not follow the patterns of seniors at this age. Baby boomers do not consider themselves old. They are ambitious about retirement, but some will continue to work. Boomers have seen tremendous change, she said, and they aren't afraid of it.

Another difference in the generations, Ms. Carpenter said, is that a Generation Xer typically wants the insurance agent to be more proactive rather than reactive. "I think this is real important, especially for commercial lines if I'm insuring a young business," she said.

Generation Xers have more choices and more disposable income than any other generation. While this makes their business attractive it also means they are more willing to shop around if not fully satisfied with their initial choices. If an agent or broker helps the young business owner feel confident in a purchasing decision, then, combined "with their follow-up, they will have a very loyal customer long term," Ms. Carpenter said.

Moreover, this link with the young customer is crucial. "Even though there is fierce competition in commercial insurance, the incumbent always has the upper hand," she said.

Jim Sterne, president of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Internet marketing strategy company Target Marketing, said his strongest advice for generation-targeted marketing is to come up with a standard pitch and have someone of the targeted generation review it to ensure that it's in an appealing language and tone.

"That will personalize it generationally," he said.