Life Events: Round Two – Information Structure

When designing a life event conversation, breaking out of the traditional structure prevents the client from becoming overwhelmed while still presenting all the pertinent information.


As we introduced previously, life stages or life events discussions tend to fall into high level groupings that are reproduced similarly by different authors. We use the arrangement or data structure of theme/subject/topic in order to visualize and manage them.

  • Theme 1
    • Subject 1.1
    • Subject 1.2
      • Topic 1.2.1
      • Topic 1.2.

This scheme is also useful for creating relationships between discussions. Our highest level groupings (or theme names as single words) are spread out in an array shown in Figure 1. Their association to a personal life event or to a life stage is of the nature of "your … {name}" or "{name} ... by you".

Figure 1

Linking Life Events
These groupings of financial discussions and factual information are what we call themes. They have subjects, and subjects have topics. Some of the subjects and many of the topics apply to more than one theme. A few of them are “naturally” identifiable as life events or life stages, such as marriage, parenting, and retirement. But the other themes are also central in life events relationships. This creates a web or network, or relational database of life events of life stages information. One could therefore draw arbitrary lines between the themes indicating the possible relationships between them.

There is an inclination to want to link up life events as if they were a rational series or succession that could occur in an ideal sequence. An example of such an approach is shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2.

One may be tempted to bypass this approach because of its shortcomings except that it was actually done quite successfully and very thoroughly for several years online by a major life insurance company. It was obviously a very large commitment and must have cost a lot to deploy and maintain. It was probably a good investment at that time in the development of the web as a marketing environment in the late 90s. It was bold. It demonstrated commitment to the medium. It contributed significantly to their online branding program. It also set a pattern for a number of permanent web resources to evolve to replace it, such as WebMD.

Don’t Overwhelm
For our purposes, we have discovered that it is best not to try to present the whole of Life Events all at once anyway. Why would we need to? It is too much for many people to process. Instead of promoting positive behaviors it shuts people down. Some refer to the feeling they get when confronted with the whole picture as "depressing". Too much emotional burden is bad. BUT, we're aware of it. Used properly it is very effective, very much on target, and very powerful. But we think it is most effective when used in parts as a campaign. (There may be technical ways to avoid revealing too much at one exposure but we’ll leave that for a later discussion.)

Life Events are by their very nature times of change and adaptation, whether it be for new members or existing members coming into new stages in their lives. In any case they should be seen as people with new perspectives.

Structuring the Information
What does a Life Events or Life Stages module look like? What's in it? How is one organized? What's its structure? How do you handle it? Let's take a look at one of the more common themes, Retirement, the information [we have] available and how it relates here.

There is an introduction subject called Planning for Retirement and it has four of its own topics that provide a high-level overview of retirement [as a theme]. After that there are three subjects relating to preparation before retirement and these have 28 topics. There are three subjects relating to living during retirement and these have 29 topics. Then there are two important closely related subjects, e.g., Financial Planning and Budgeting, with 14 topics. Lastly, there are four supplemental or after subjects, e.g., Estate Planning, and these have 27 topics.

Industry research shows that life events present ideal selling and new customer acquisition opportunities. To take advantage of this, certain areas of your web pages should consistently be reserved for contextually significant product promotions. If your credit union has topically relevant seminars don’t forget to promote them there as well.

In the previous article we discussed life events marketing motivation. Here we have briefly covered a common structure of life events or life stages information. In the next article we’ll discuss alternatives for presenting life event information within a credit union web site and its influence or impact on the brand. In the final article in this series, we will try to pull together life events marketing with knowledge management and sales support.



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Feb. 19, 2007



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