PIMA ‘Affinity 2030’ Spotlight: Barkley


One of the greatest threats to any brand or category is the loss of relevance. Any number of forces can impede future growth, but it’s possible to clear these hurdles. The one strategy guaranteed to fail? A silent retreat into irrelevance. That is the driving force behind PIMA’s latest research, “Affinity 2030: Exploring Our Blind Spots for a Brighter Future.”

Companies have long used the affinity insurance model to drive steady growth. For the model to evolve, however, we must be vigilant in looking at our own relevance. To provide more insight into the affinity insurance market, we reached out to the “Affinity 2030” research partners from Barkley: Sam Meers, EVP of health & finance practice, and Dave Gutting, SVP of strategic projects.


About Barkley

Barkley specializes in modern consumer knowledge combined with immense and diverse category experience. The firm’s capabilities run deep and wide, but its focus in health and finance is incorporating human-centered thinking. Barkley is an independent and employee-owned firm, headquartered in Kansas City.

An Assessment of Today’s Affinity Insurance Market

According to Meers and Gutting, the biggest challenge for affinity marketing models is maintaining relevance. Though, that’s the simple way of looking at the situation. A deeper look reveals that an affinity group can lose relevance in various ways: through its product offerings, its failure to identify new affinity groups emerging in the current economy, and its use of channel approaches. Barkley believes the last of these is easiest to correct, but the former two have greater long-term importance for the affinity market.

The problem is that affinity insurance and financial services companies continue to do what they have always done while only making incremental changes to further their potential. They don’t follow a complete brand mindset, which causes them to leave opportunities on the table and fail to win share fights. But the world is moving in leaps rather than nudges. The companies that make strategic, informed leaps are the ones that stand to gain the most market share.

Barkley notes that marketers in insurance and financial services companies often spend far more money to understand consumers than affinity marketers spend to understand their channels. That makes sense on the surface because the sales volumes are lower and the margins are thinner. But if affinity marketers want to win share fights, they need to place calculated level-leap bets. According to Meers and Gutting, this means doing the research, investing in innovation, and aligning or investing with organizations that have interesting ideas. Ultimately, Meers and Gutting believe the status quo is no longer an option.


The Keys to Maintaining Relevance Using Affinity Marketing

Of course, Barkley doesn’t suggest that affinity marketers ignore things that have proven to be good for the bottom line. For example, affinity marketers should continue to focus on the brokers and agents that bring them the greatest business shares. The key, according to Meers and Gutting, is that affinity marketers also start to put innovative, insight-driven, and measurable marketing strategies in place that demonstrate how the work brokers are doing with employers is truly driving business.

To further differentiate themselves and stay ahead of the competition, Barkley suggests that affinity marketers do everything they can to understand the customer experience. This is important for two reasons: First, affinity success factors don’t just hinge on how well campaigns perform — success also depends on whether consumers’ needs are adequately met. Second, affinity markets must recognize that unseen competitors capitalize on CX approaches, which will give them long-term advantages over companies that don’t.

According to Barkley, successful and CX-focused affinity marketing concentrates on the whole brand model rather than the traditional “trust” model. To use this model successfully, there must be seamless integrations of product value, message relevance, unique experience, ease of usage, and visibility. This kind of whole brand affinity marketing is the secret weapon for future dominance.

Published on September 22, 2020.

PIMA® (Professional Insurance Marketing Association®) is a member-driven trade association focused exclusively on the group-sponsored benefits market.


The research from “Affinity 2030: Exploring Our Blind Spots for a Brighter Future” is available for no cost to PIMA members. For more information on becoming a member, click here.