Hitting the Trifecta: Drexel Students Study How to Reinvent Life Insurance for Millennials

Cassandra Vidal

By Cassandra Vidal | May 16, 2017

I am a student at Drexel University. This past quarter, I was enrolled in a business consulting course that emphasized experiential learning – working on a consulting project with a real company, from beginning to end. Our class paired up with Penn Mutual to address three business challenges the company was facing. We were split into three teams of about six, and my team was assigned the first challenge: The Language of Life Insurance, changing the way people talk about life insurance, with a focus on reaching millennials and Generation Z.

As Keith Bratz, AVP of Corporate Communications for Penn Mutual, explained the issues at hand, I meticulously wrote down notes:

“Simplify language. Improve explaining words/concepts. Be compelling. Prompt the reader to take action. Would also like to provide statements about life insurance that are provocative, engage the reader and help Penn Mutual stand out from the crowd.”


We were told not to worry about compliance issues, instead just to brainstorm terminology, stories, or concepts that would help the millennial and Z generations understand what life insurance is and the value it brings.

The first step was figuring out what, exactly, were we answering. “Simplify the language of life insurance” was the general charge, but then there were so many questions that followed that: What does language entail? What information was important? Was it just a question of wording, or were there deeper marketing issues we needed to address? As half of our group was majoring in marketing, we decided to step back and look at the challenge as a whole before dissecting every little piece. Thus we came up with our “Trifecta” of what we wanted to answer, which led to how we formed our conclusions.

So how do you redefine the language of life insurance to reach millennials?

The Trifecta

We wanted to focus on three main marketing components, including key content, language and tone, and message presentation. Key Content was all about finding the common ground between information that millennials want to hear and the information that advisers, as well as Penn Mutual, want them to know. Language and Tone focused very specifically on diction, as we tried to pinpoint phrases, words, and overall tone that would resonate with millennials and encourage conversation. Finally, Message Presentation was all about how the audience would see this message – what visuals add value to the information given and what visuals would assist in providing a clear call to action? While on their own each of these concepts are important in any marketing strategy, it was not enough for us to address only one. The solution our team was searching for was in that “star” area where the three connected.

Key Content

We interviewed two advisers about their selling process, what they usually tell their client, as well as what millennial clients commonly ask. After an in-depth review of the interviews, we settled on three keys to reach millennials.

  1. Basics – Let them know what life insurance is, and what it is not. General basic information that is specifically relevant to them.
  2. Value Added – Highlight the overall value added by the product. Answer the “what’s in it for me?” question and focus on millennials’ specific desires (financial stability, familial protection, leaving a legacy). Inform them that there is much more to life insurance than they think.
  3. Accessibility – Provide easy access to that information, if so desired. Simplify the process of getting from an online page to a real live financial adviser, thus enhancing the client experience.

Language and Tone

Language and tone was difficult to tackle. We were given a white paper by Maslansky + Partners entitled “White Paper: The New Language of Permanent Life Insurance.” After reviewing the paper, we noticed a few major problems: It only focused on permanent life insurance, and only high net worth financial individuals and financial professionals were interviewed. We needed to conduct our own research.

We analyzed the current language that Penn Mutual uses, creating a word cloud using all of the words from all of the main public pages that Penn Mutual has available. That led to the following image:

Words like cash, life, term, insured, annuity, guaranteed and premium stand out, as they are the most commonly used words. From this, we wondered, “What words would millennials want to see there instead?”

For this part of the Trifecta, we undertook a quantitative survey of over 100 millennials around Philadelphia. The questions asked revolved around how well certain life insurance terms and phrases resonated with them. The results revealed a few key takeaways:

  • Simple is better.
  • Casual and personable language elicits stronger emotional resonance.
  • Highlighting family ties grabs their attention.

On the flip side, using technical jargon, only focusing on basic insurance ideas and having lengthy descriptions almost always backfired, receiving the lowest average scores.

Message Presentation

How the information is presented is like tying a bow on a present – it’s the littlest details that matter. For this component of the Trifecta, we analyzed millennial behavior, both in working online and in responding to marketing and commercials. This involved a lot of secondary research, but we also conducted interviews of millennials. We identified three relevant behaviors.

  1. Convenience. Millennials depend on search engines to find related information, retailer websites and apps. The perception is that these websites contain all of the information they could possibly need. “They put a premium on speed, ease, efficiency, and convenience in all their transactions.”
  2. Word of Mouth. Not only do millennials trust word of mouth recommendations from family and friends, but they also put a lot of value onto online feedback. If they can see reviews from others, this builds trust with the company.
  3. Emotion Resonates. In a qualitative study, our team showed life insurance commercials to a group of millennials. Advertising that portrayed negative life events, or told a story on a personal level, resonated more with the audience. It wasn’t about the facts; it was about the emotion tied to the visuals.

After ten weeks of research, asking the same questions many times, we had solid and reasonable suggestions for Penn Mutual. On final presentation day, as we presented in front of Keith and company (including Penn Mutual Chief Marketing Officer Jeffrey Fleischman), we demonstrated to Penn Mutual what parts of their marketing efforts could be improved, backed by all of the data that we had collected, our charts and infographics. We must have struck a nerve, because we were invited to Penn Mutual headquarters a month later to present our findings during a Leadership Briefing.

We can’t express how grateful we are to have experienced this class at Drexel, or to have Penn Mutual trust a bunch of millennials with such an important challenge. We’d also like to thank Professor David Kurz for pushing us to ask the tough questions, Keith Bratz for putting his faith in us, and Rebekka Shepherd, Assistant Director in the Dornsife Office for Experiential Learning at Drexel for making this class possible.

Members of the team included Cassandra Vidal, Samantha Yang, Peixiong Zhao, Nathan Joseph, Juan Illingworth and Robert Reid.


  • Darin Cooley says:

    Hi, I am a financial advisor looking to hang my shingle with Penn Mutual. Your findings were eye opening! In my short time in the financial service industry, I noticed that baby boomers, buster and Gen-X ers have a similiar response to the “Trifecta”. Stories, and personal, face-to-face meetings still have the greatest impact on educating clients about the need for life insurance.

    Thanks for sharing your work with us!

    • Penn Mutual Penn Mutual says:

      Darin, thanks for your feedback. We’re glad that this story resonated with you. We agree that building personal relationships are crucial in servicing our clients.

  • Tod Lashway Tod Lashway says:

    Cassandra, I was at the Leadership Briefing and found your report out to be refreshing and encouraging as it directly feeds our ongoing work. Thank you and the team for all the great insights.

  • John Barron says:

    Are you sure the did not study the Boomers? My parents want things easy or convenient, they trust others recommendations more than anything they read and as their lives progress personal emotional experience will bypass all logic.

    Are we trying to fit people into groups or are we the same just have different methods of learning due to what we experienced growing up? I believe it is the latter.

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