Many independent insurance agencies are small businesses. Their owners spend most of their time simply managing day-to-day operations. But even larger agencies with more resources can be so focused on making sales that they forget about marketing themselves. Although marketing and sales are linked, and both are used to increase an agency’s revenue, marketing is more about helping prospects find you. It also offers the opportunity to let your current clients know more about you and the products you offer generally.
When independent insurance agencies want to increase their brand awareness, they must adopt methods of communication that clients are engaging with today. This means embracing a digital presence and diving into the world of social media. Gone are the days when all you had to do was advertise in the Yellow Pages or local newspapers. Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, among other social media sites, are where customers are currently getting most — if not all — of their information. On those platforms, independent insurance agencies can engage with more clients at a greater speed than ever before while also highlighting the work they do and why clients need to consider their business.
“The agent has to accept that the digital presence has to become their primary focus in terms of their marketing because that’s the way people are communicating. It’s all about what medium people are using to communicate,” says Doug Coombs, chief marketing officer at SIAA, the Strategic Insurance Agency Alliance, a national alliance consisting of approximately 13% of all independent insurance agencies in the U.S.
Creating a digital footprint
Even though a digital presence is a must, independent insurance agencies should understand that social media is only part of the equation. A complete digital footprint involves having an active website and using the power of search engine optimization, often called “SEO.”
Social media may seem like a bit of a hamster wheel as the energy and effort required to gain traction must be constant. Simply having an account on the platforms clients are using isn’t enough. Your clients expect to find up-to-date content that’s oriented around insurance and personal matters. “There’s always a danger of agents feeling that they have to do social media without thinking about whether it’s really going to help their business, doing it badly with generic posts, or not updating it regularly,” says James Dumelow, group head of marketing and communications for Ascot Group. He notes that maintaining social media is quite labor intensive, and if you’re trying to run a lean marketing team, then you have to be conscious of resources. He finds this is particularly important in specialist property & casualty insurance.
This may seem like a daunting task to agencies that aren’t experienced at working with social platforms, but it’s worth noting that the message hasn’t changed with social media — just the way it’s conveyed has changed. Clients are still looking for a connection with agents, so your posts on topics outside of insurance — for example, your family or hobbies or those of agency staff — can add a level of authenticity that may determine whether a client is swayed into your business or not.
“At the end of the day, it’s still one agent, one policy, one customer,” says Joey Giangola, a managing editor at Agency Nation, a digital marketing site. He also operates in a reduced role at Giangola Insurance, a small family agency his grandfather founded in 1955. “My marketing plan in any form is to provide the best information that’s relevant to people looking for it in the mediums and channels in which they’re searching for it,” he explains.
Giangola primarily focuses on reaching his potential clients through video. He uploaded his first YouTube video on July 1, 2011, and notes that YouTube is becoming more valuable each year. “People keep finding the videos. We’re in a face-to-face business, and there’s no better way to translate to digital than by putting yourself on video,” he adds.
Leveraging community events
“A lot of agents think that because they’re going digital, that means they aren’t local anymore. Nothing could be further from the truth than that,” Coombs explains. But they need to look at how their brand ties into the local community.
Social media doesn’t just provide independent insurance agencies a chance to sell. It’s a way to show how embedded they are in their local networks. The success that independent agencies attain is tied to the trust that clients have in them. When an unforeseen event occurs, clients trust that their agent will be by their side throughout the process. By maintaining a local focus, agents can showcase that they understand the needs and wants of business owners and households in their community while also marketing their professional expertise.
“We find that community events are a phenomenal way for agents to show up in an authentic way in their communities. They can also be a really rich source of content as they think about ways to highlight their agencies through social and digital,” says Denny Ehrmin, associate vice president, regional marketing for Nationwide. The company is in the midst of transitioning from “captive” agents to an entirely independent agency distribution model by July 2020 and is focused on providing marketing to support to its agents throughout the transition.
“We know that one of our agents’ biggest challenges is to stay relevant in a world that has a lot of distractions,” Ehrmin adds. Whether providing coverage for community events or simply being involved in the festivities, agents should talk about their role in their communities on social media. In fact, potential clients expect to see posts related to the matter when they look you up. This may result in a “like” or a “follow” — and ultimately a new client.
For agents who feel they lack a strong marketing presence, there are a number of marketing automation platforms that can teach them the basics and lay a foundation for 2019 and beyond. Aside from overhauling the agent’s marketing approach, these platforms measure an agency’s marketing success with traffic reports that show metrics relating to total page visits, channel-specific traffic and more.
The end goal is for you to know which people are visiting your site, where they’re coming from and what else is factoring into your marketing success.
What makes the phone ring
Many agencies are evolving their marketing strategies with a digital mindset at the core, but the three areas in which an agency can create a marketing message hasn’t changed, says Keith Savino, managing partner at Broadfield Group LLC. Savino is an insurance veteran of 30 years with a background in technology and advertising: “I learned a lot about what makes people’s phones ring,” he says. “The decades can change and the media can change, but it still comes down to a couple of things.” A marketing message can be crafted through a call for an immediate response, ambiguous advertising and generic repetition — the strategy a majority of agencies have relied on in the past. Agencies that continue to rely on such methods in today’s digital marketplace will find it nearly impossible to stand out among their competitors, he observes.
“The challenge for independent agents is how do you embed yourself in a marketplace where you have brand awareness, where you’re the go-to people, but then add some sort of call to action and add a sense of urgency?” says Savino.
Robert Klinger, president of Klinger Insurance Group, got heavily into social media two years ago, starting with LinkedIn. Last year, his firm made close to $1 million profit with a presence on LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram. “We run ads on Instagram related to collectibles like sports memorabilia, fine arts and jewelry,” he explains. This builds a following in a particular category, which builds your brand, which helps people to think about you when they want to insure that collectible.
Although social media offers a chance to be seen, not much else is guaranteed. The power that digital platforms provide can’t be understated, but they’re only a means to an end. In 2019 and beyond, independent agencies and agents will have to stand up, stand out and tell their stories. At the end of the day, Savino says, “Sales is about revenue, and marketing is about engagement.”