How insurer Vitality is winning new customers and boosting sales by making people healthier

Vitality is looking to redefine the health and life insurance market by rewarding healthy customers rather than focusing on ‘doom and gloom stories’ after rebranding from PruHealth and PruProtect at the end of 2014. Marketing director Keith Kropman explains how the brand is changing behaviour.

Vitality rewards customers for undertaking exercise and hitting monthly goals
Vitality rewards customers for undertaking exercise and hitting monthly goals

Health and life insurance firm Vitality is on a mission to turn what is often considered a fairly dull sector on its head.

“While traditional insurers focus a lot on illness, and doom and gloom stories, that’s not Vitality. We focus on wellness,” explains marketing and people director, Keith Kropman.

Vitality was launched at the end of 2014 when parent company Discovery acquired the remaining shareholding in PruHealth and PruProtect, and rebranded the businesses as VitalityHealth and VitalityLife, continuing to develop the brand’s core social purpose – to make people healthier.

“We had a limited budget, two months to deliver the rebrand and our sales targets increased as well,” says Kropman. “There were moments of anxiety and ‘should we, shouldn’t we’ but the team really knew this was a moment for us and believed in our products.”

The idea was to do more than a simple rebrand by creating a new product portfolio based on Vitality’s ‘shared value’ model. This shift means the insurer’s goal is to be best-in-class, not necessarily the biggest or most profitable, he says.

Rewarded for being healthy

Technology has played a central role in getting consumers to change their behaviour and attitude towards insurers. The relaunch centred on Active Rewards, an incentives programme available to all customers, which went live in February 2015.

Whereas previously PruHealth customers were able to earn points for physical activity which entitled them to rewards such as increasing levels of cash back or discounted holidays, the Active Rewards programme also consists of weekly targets based on physical activity points. Free Starbucks coffees and cinema tickets at Cineworld or Vue are on offer for customers who meet their weekly fitness goals.

The insurer also introduced Vitality GP, an app which allows health insurance customers to book a private video consultation with a GP within 48 hours.

Vitality’s new approach is paying off. The rebrand sparked a 67% year-on-year sales spike during the launch month of January 2015 alone, while the number of new policies taken out last year increased by 38%. Its annual results for the year ending June 2015, meanwhile, show a 16% increase to £42.8m in pre-tax operating profit across both the VitalityHealth and VitalityLife brands and it has seen a noticeable drop in claims as a result of its new approach.

Vitality’s new positioning also boosted engagement with the Active Rewards scheme. Some 61% of new customers started earning Vitality points by the end of their first three weeks as a policy holder, while 20% earned points on their first day of membership.

READ MORE: How marketers can put social purpose into practice

Looking at existing customers specifically, 34% who logged no physical activity in 2014 through the previous scheme, started earning exercise points in 2015. Data collected from the Vitality Age online fitness age calculator also reveals that 30% of formerly ‘at-risk’ customers have moved into healthy ranges for smoking, exercise and diet following the rebrand.

Kropman describes the behavioural change as “brilliant” from a marketing perspective as it shows genuine engagement and provides Vitality with a consistent form of data capture.

“Most insurers will get in contact at renewal or time to claim, whereas we’re in touch with you as often as we can be, because we want to encourage you all the time to get healthy and engage with our products,” Kropman adds.

The brand’s new approach led to it being crowned ‘best new brand’ at the 2016 Marketing Society Excellence Awards in June.

“The win did two things for us,” he says. “It was an acknowledgment of the 30-strong team who put in a tremendous amount of belief and passion, but also an endorsement of what we’re doing in terms of being a new brand out there challenging the traditional market.”

To stand out against the primarily blue logos and branding of competitors in the insurance space, Vitality opted for shocking pink and introduced a fully integrated campaign launched last summer starring a curmudgeonly talking dachshund called Stanley, Kropman’s ‘anti-hero’.

“He’s you and me and when we’re sitting on the couch going ‘I’d rather just have a duvet day’. He says the things we can’t say. This is where we’ve made an emotional connection with the audience from a strategic marketing perspective.”

Kropman insists that the rebrand was not disruptive for the sake of being disruptive, however, but for the benefit of consumers.

“If we’re going to find innovative ways to disrupt the market and turn it on its head it has to be for the benefit of the consumer and come back to our shared value model. It is a challenge to maintain that startup mindset as you grow, but I hope we will always be able to retain it as it keeps us on our toes.”

Celebrity endorsement adds gravitas

Olympic gold medal winning athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill promotes Vitality's healthy living agenda
Olympic gold medal winning athlete Jessica Ennis-Hill promotes Vitality’s healthy living agenda

Despite the comic edge of the dog and a desire to shake up the insurance market, Vitality did not want to lose its gravitas as a strong insurer or fail to maintain consistency for its existing customers. For this reason Kropman felt that working with an ambassador like Olympic gold medal winning heptathlete Jessica Ennis-Hill would give Vitality the right scale and presence.

A pivotal figure in the marketing plans for 2016 and beyond, Ennis-Hill recently renewed her contract for another three years. She will work on the launch of Vitality Move at the end of the year, a series of big events aimed at families.

Kropman confirms that the choice of ambassador is closely tied to the company’s core purpose to inspire people to get healthier regardless of gender, ability, age and background.

The same is true of Vitality’s high profile sponsorships of football, rugby and netball clubs including Liverpool FC and England Netball, as well as various cricket grounds and partnerships with broadcasters like Sky. The insurer also hosts a number of mass participation events under the Vitality Run Series branding. All associated marketing activity is aimed at reaching as many people as possible to build brand awareness and connect with Vitality’s target demographic of young professionals, families and empty nesters.

Vitality launched the Everyday Athlete campaign to encourage all types of exercise
Vitality launched the Everyday Athlete campaign to encourage all types of exercise

Launched on 13 June, the ‘Everyday Athlete’ campaign is designed to promote the democratisation of the term ‘athlete’ or ‘champion’ in the 2016 Olympic year. Spanning TV, social media and print advertising, the campaign’s positive positioning will remain a consistent feature of all Vitality’s marketing activity going forward.

While still in the planning, the team hopes to announce two or more new partners and concepts during the last quarter of 2016 as part of Vitality’s commitment to introduce a new product every year.

“This strategy forces us to review what’s working and what isn’t to make sure we constantly innovate and are never complacent,” Kropman adds. “If we’re not leading or continuously disrupting then we’re not being Vitality.”

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