By Rachel Foster published January 10, 2012

How to Use Content to Engage & Convert New Customers: A Case Study

Sun Life Financial is a leading Canadian-based international financial services company that provides insurance and investment products for both individual and corporate customers.

The Challenge: Engaging with early-stage leads

Prior to exploring content marketing, Sun Life Financial had created branded sites for its  insurance and investment offerings. The organization had a solid SEO strategy that drove people who were searching for financial solutions to its websites. However, Sun Life knew it was missing a huge opportunity to connect with early-stage leads — the people who were wrestling with financial problems but not yet looking for a solution.

The Journey: Aligning marketing goals with new buyer behavior

Sun Life’s digital marketing team studied how social media is changing buyer behavior. It learned that today’s buyers like to conduct research online before they speak with a sales representative or an advisor.

“We saw parallels between the financial path to purchase and other verticals, such as consumer electronics,” says Darin Diehl, AVP of Sun Life Canada Web. “In both cases, buyers are often intimidated before making a purchase.”

Sun Life was impressed with Best Buy’s content marketing strategy and how the retailer had created BestBuyOn to educate consumers. The content-driven site entertains consumers while informing them about how to select and get the most from their electronics.

“We felt that by adopting a similar strategy, we could remove the intimidation factor,” says Diehl. “Creating educational content allows people to better understand their problems and opportunities. It also gives them knowledge and a sense of empowerment when they are ready to take action.

The Solution: Using engaging content to educate customers and move them through the sales cycle

Sun Life realized that it needed a site with content about the financial, health, and working life challenges its customers face. The company created an editorial sub-brand, called ‘BrighterLife. The Brighter Life tagline for the new site is, “Sharing ideas about money, health and family.” Although the business goal of BrighterLife is to direct leads to Sun Life’s product and service pages, the site focused on education, and kept Sun Life’s branding to a minimum. 

The Implementation: 5 keys to a successful launch

Here are five things Sun Life learned, and wanted to share with other organizations, from its successful launch of BrighterLife:

1. Get internal buy-in: Sun Life’s first challenge was getting internal buy-in for the project. To do this, the content marketing team had to evangelize the idea. They explained the benefits they hoped to achieve, such as:

  • Reaching potential customers earlier in the buying process and having the opportunity to move them down the path to purchase.
  • Providing advisors with a stream of approved content that they can use to engage clients and prospects.
  • Improving Sun Life’s brand image by giving consumers educational and plain language content about issues that they care about.

2. Understand your voice: Once the project was approved, Sun Life’s next big challenge was choosing the right voice for its content. The company started by gaining an understanding of their audience’s needs, wants, fears, and desires. To do this, they conducted internal research and reviewed studies that shed light on Canadians’ financial challenges and opportunities. From there, they created journalistic content that educates consumers about these concerns.

“It’s often hard for marketers to have the patience not to rush to their offers,” says Diehl. “However, content marketing lets you create an early connection with your audience that builds loyalty to your brand. Developing this level of trust starts with quality, compelling and useful content.”

3. Get support: Sun Life hired High Road Communications to build the site and an editor with a media publishing background to oversee the content. The company also works with freelance journalists who write objective and educational articles for the site. Sun Life found that engaging freelance journalists is also more economical than hiring internal staff to write content.

4. Encourage customers to take the next step: Although the content on BrighterLife.ca is educational, Sun Life, like all businesses, still needs to attract new customers. That’s why it placed clear calls-to-action, such as banners or buttons, throughout the site. The team also added text at the end of every article that encourages readers to connect with an advisor or visit one of Sun Life’s branded sites.

5. Don’t let industry regulations stop you: Sun Life faced another challenge: financial marketing regulations that can make it hard to develop engaging content. These regulations can also delay the publication process.

“All our content goes through an approval process, which can be challenging when you want to be timely and relevant,” says Diehl. “We’ve managed this by thinking ahead about what’s on people’s minds seasonally and developing other ways to turn content around faster.”

From idea to launch, it took Sun Life just over a year to launch BrighterLife — but it took just six months from the time they picked an agency to the site’s soft launch. The company held a soft launch for Sun Life staff members to test the site. Then, the digital marketing team used the internal feedback to tweak the site, and officially launched BrighterLife on Sept. 19, 2011.

The Results: Converting new customers with engaging content

Sun Life wanted to attract 10,000 unique visitors per month at the launch. So far, Sun Life has surpassed this goal and has set aggressive growth targets for next year. Sun Life has also received positive press coverage and has seen evidence that the content is converting new customers. A percentage of BrighterLife’s visitors click the Advisor Match banners that are placed throughout the site. They then complete a form and become leads for Sun Life advisors.

“Anyone who uses content marketing should take metrics very seriously,” says Diehl. “We have a dashboard that tracks our traffic and how well we are engaging visitors and moving them down the path to purchase. The content marketing strategy helps us align our goals with the needs of consumers.”

Due to BrighterLife’s success, Sun Life plans to bring a similar content marketing model to its businesses in Asia and possibly the United States. The company also wants to expand into the B2B space by offering BrighterLife’s content to employers who purchase their employee benefits packages.

Author: Rachel Foster

Rachel Foster is an award-winning B2B copywriter who helps technology marketers create content that drives action. She works with clients to increase their online conversion rates, shorten their sales cycles and fill their events. You can connect with Rachel on LinkedIn, follow her on Twitter @CopywriterTO or check out her B2B marketing blog and resources at www.copywritertoronto.com.

Other posts by Rachel Foster

  • http://twitter.com/RedRocketMedia Red Rocket Media

    Really enjoyed this, thanks Rachel! What a fantastic case study to support the effectiveness of content marketing!

    Michelle

    • Anonymous

      Hi Michelle,

      Thanks! It’s great to find content marketing success stories. It’s also interesting to see how companies are taking inspiration from other sectors – such as how Sun Life looked to Best Buy.

      Rachel

  • http://twitter.com/HennekeD Henneke Duistermaat

    Really interesting case study! Thanks for sharing. 

    Sun Life might not want to share this , but it would be interesting to understand how content marketing efforts compared to other marketing activities in terms of cost per lead and / or cost per sale. 

    • Darin Diehl

      Great question Henneke. We are building a robust metrics dashboard and cost per lead and sale will be included. We are still early in the project to draw conclusions at this point but we will also look at other ways BrighterLife.ca brings value – for example, the number of advisors who use the content to connect with clients or how providing this content affects brand perception.

  • http://www.29stories.com/ 29 Stories

    Great post! It’s so easy to find example after example of B2C businesses using content marketing, so proven success of a B2B business is always good to hear. 

    • Anonymous

      Thanks! Sun Life is both B2B and B2C. It’s interesting to hear about a financial institution that’s doing well with content marketing, as the regulations placed on financial marketers can make this challenging.

  • http://www.showyourexpertise.com Carl Friesen

    Another aspect to success would be to circle back and find ways to demonstrate the success of the initiative, internally. In an industry as famously old-school as life insurance, being able to demonstrate how BrighterLife results in sales leads that turn into sales, would be crucial. This could be done through statistics, but also through stories — agents’ reports of how a lead generated through BrighterLife resulted in a better-informed, positive-minded prospect.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent example here. Seeing content marketing strategy implemented in such a tightly regulated industry as insurance is encouraging for content marketers trying to think outside of the box while working within certain constraints.