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Marketing insurance with a rifle instead of a scatter-gun pays off

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Until a few years ago, many life insurance companies looked like "money machines." Agents sold the policies and their companies watched the money roll in.

But then high inflation struck. Insurance became harder to sell to financially squeezed consumers. Many of those insured borrowed money from their own policies at low interest rates. More people even let their insurance expire. The money machine began to break down.

So how does an insurance company get the machine running again?

Alvin Clemens believes the answer lies in the old maxim: "You can't be all things to all people."

Instead, Mr. Clemens, president of Academy Life Insurance Group Inc., says successful insurance companies should find a few narrow, specialized markets and aim their policies, sales, marketing, and service efforts at that group. Judging by Academy's performance, the man knows whereof he speaks.

Last year his company wrote $1 billion worth of new life insurance policies, up 48 percent from the previous year. Net income increased 182 percent on revenues that were up 35 percent, to $32.5 million.

One reason Academy hit this financial bull's-eye, Clemens says, is that it aimed its efforts at noncommissioned officers in the military, specifically members of the Non-Commissioned Officers Association of the United States (NCOA) , and at veterans. The NCOs come from all service branches, Clemens says. In the Army, this includes corporals and sergeants, "career NCOs below the rank of lieutenant."

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