Hello hello 👋
This episode is a sort of public service announcement. If you’re into brands and writing you most likely know about these guys already. What’s weird to me is that they haven’t permanently raised the bar for their entire industry – or, indeed, an entire category of writing, full stop.
So I’m partly writing this so you can forward this to colleagues who really oughta know. (This’ll make sense soon.)
Today, we’re looking at Lemonade insurance. They launched in America in 2018 with home contents insurance (they also do car and pet insurance too). They’re now also in several European countries, with more coming soon.
I notice Tone Knobs often end up sounding like a sort of written version of a ‘reaction video’. That seems appropriate here, cos I know their stuff well, and it’d be good to look at it afresh. So, let’s visit their website:
Good start. There’s a bold challenger message. And there’s that snappy tagline ‘Instant everything. Great prices. Big heart’. In fact, that’s really nice: three benefits squeezed into just six words that are both super-clear and tonally interesting. Oh, and if you’ll forgive me a little syllable-counting digression, notice how the rhythm works:
In-stant ev-ery-thing. (5 syllables)
Great pri-ces. (3 syllables)
Big heart. (2 syllables).
That move from longer to shorter words guides you to solidly land on ‘heart’. Read it out loud. Now try the statements in a different order. Nah. (Is there a Latin term for a rule-of-three-with-diminishing-syllable-count-rhetorical-device? Please write in.)
Don’t worry, I’m not gonna dissect every single sentence. Let’s continue:
Those are big claims, but there’s something about the simplicity that makes it feel sincere. There’s also that light dusting of emoji. (I reckon if you’re a financial services start-up and you can pull off emojis, you should definitely do it. Think app-only bank Monzo, or 60-minute car insurance Cuvva: it’s an exclusive club.) Let’s read on:
OK, so now we’re getting to the heart of things. Notice that as the message has got ‘bigger’, the tone has relaxed a bit. And exclamation marks! Ha! If you listen, you’ll hear the sounds of half the world’s copywriters tutting in disapproval. Funny how we’ve rolled with emojis, but still shudder at a screamer.
So far, so good-but-not-particularly-distinctive. It’s a fairly typical ‘friendly tech start-up’ vibe. But Policy 2.0 is the money shot. Let’s take a look:
This isn’t marketing selling the policy. This isn’t the web page introducing the policy. This is the actual policy. They’re right, this isn’t like any policy I’ve ever seen before.
The document quickly establishes a rhythm of ‘what’s covered’ then ‘what’s not covered’. This is from a not covered section:
I was originally only gonna screengrab the first couple of sentences, but I kept thinking ‘oh but that next one’s good, too!’. It’s an insurance policy that made me want to read on. That’s never happened before.
You might have already noticed couple of recurring themes: the word stuff works really hard for them. (I bet there was a looooong discussion with lawyers about that: ‘Does ‘stuff’ mean the same as ‘possessions’? ‘home contents?’ ‘Belongings’?’ Pretty sure I have a policy that calls my things ‘chattels’ somewhere. )
They’re also very big on using real, tangible examples. Here’s a terrific one from the section on ‘glass breakage’:
And notice how these real examples work: someone else breaking something on your property helps to clarify what counts as an accident. The mention of stove-top glass gets you thinking about what the ‘non-obvious’ glass things are in your house. They’re both vividly specific and conceptually expansive.
OK, one last big chunk – here’s how they explain what a ‘deductible’ is:
It’s not perfect. (‘An amount that defines your participation in potential damage’ feels confusingly like I might have participated in causing the damage). But that aside: they explain why it’s called a deductible, give me an example of how a deductible works, then explain how this is connected to my monthly payment.
Three things to love and learn from
One of the fascinating things about Lemonade is that the tone of voice of Policy 2.0 ends up being more distinctive than the brand itself. This comes from the blend of a few distinctive flourishes (repeated use of the word stuff; the tendency to use very-slightly unexpected examples) with an absolute focus on being really, really helpful.
🧐 Figure out what the real problem is.
The whole story of Policy 2.0 is fascinating. Here’s a great blog by one of Lemonade’s founders, Daniel Schreiber, talking about how in order to make insurance properly transparent, they needed to ‘take a bulldozer to its foundational document, the policy’. And they identified one thing in particular that turns insurance policies into ‘the ultimate word salad’ – the ‘exception’. Schreiber gives this walkthrough of how the exceptions create exponential confusion:
There’s a $1,000 limit for the removal of your neighbor’s fallen trees… But there’s a $500 limit for any one tree… And you get nothing if the trees didn’t damage ‘a covered structure’; Except, that is, if they block the driveway; On condition the blockage ‘prevents a “motor vehicle” from getting by; Except, that is, if the “motor vehicle” isn’t “registered for use on public roads…”
To get rid of the insane bamboozling exceptions, it’s not enough just to ‘write it in a nice tone’. You have to start again, do the hard thinking, and painstakingly rebuild the whole thing from the ground up. Every business will always benefit from asking ‘where is confusing language evidence of muddled thinking?’. More specifically, ‘what’s our foundational document?’ is a great question . (Followed by ‘are those foundations are solid?’)
🙏 Treat your readers with respect.
The main way that most brands attempt to make their small print palatable is either with a lipstick-on-a-pig humorous distraction (eg. calling the Ts&Cs ‘the boring bit’ or saying ‘the lawyers make us say this’) or helpful precis (‘what this really means is X’). Both of those approaches are predicated on the belief that it’s not worth fixing the problem cos people don’t want to be bothered with the detail anyway. Lemonade start from the belief that people genuinely want to know, and will take the time to read through it all – as long as you explain everything clearly, logically, and helpfully.
🎲 Acknowledge the game has changed.
Lemonade have been around for five years. They’re gaining customers, opening in more countries (which means ‘successfully negotiating ever more regulatory regimes’) and are clearly pioneering a radically better way to communicate around legal and regulatory content. Yet I regularly talk to senior people who work in similar areas (legal, finance, regulatory) who have either never heard of them, or who do know them, but still mumble about ‘not sure if we can say it like that because of regulatory or legal or something’. What the fuck? Sure, doing similar inside a global corporate may be insanely hard to implement. And there will be other ways to approach it, too. But let’s not pretend anything’s actually stopping us.
The bar has been raised. The trail has been blazed. The lemon has been squeezed. The idea that formal legalese is in any way necessary when talking to customers is completely and utterly dead. The rest of the industry is like a cartoon character that’s run over the edge of a cliff – the ground has already gone, and the only reason they haven’t gone splat is that they haven’t noticed yet.
Thanks for reading. Hit reply and say hi.👋
And forward this to the person who comes into your mind…. now!