Currently, the insurance industry is facing a number of challenges. In fact, a PwC report on Top Insurance Industry Issues cites the need to operate economically and efficiently, comply with new and existing regulations and standards, meet competitive pressures, and take advantage of opportunities to grow as factors that will determine future success.
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Marketing is a theme that cuts across most, if not all, of these hot button areas. But let's face it, the insurance industry is not known for being progressive when it comes to marketing or building effective websites that convert visitors into leads. Because so many independent brokerages rely on carriers for marketing support, there is little originality and this makes it difficult to stand out from what has become an increasingly crowded competitive field in a highly commoditized industry.
Agencies that invest in marketing and develop a distinct brand identity have the opportunity to capture a larger share of the market, but doing so requires a strategic approach focused on spending valuable marketing dollars (and human resources) where they will have the greatest impact. It also means cutting out marketing activities that aren't effective.
Not sure what to cut? We're hear to help! We've helped dozens of independent insurance agencies from throughout the United States develop brand identities and marketing strategies, and here, we're sharing the top seven mistakes that we've seen many of them make.
1. Lack of a Strong, Consistent Brand
Lots of agencies think they have a great brand, but what they really have is a nice logo and tag line. Your brand is more than a logo. It is your promise to your customer and it represents who you are, who you want to be, and who your audience perceives you to be. Companies should define their brand before they develop their logo and tag line, and not vice versa, but the reality is that many agencies (and in fact most companies in any industry) don't take the time to do this and then struggle when it comes time to develop their marketing strategy.
How can you develop your brand? Ask yourself these questions:
What do you stand for?
Why do you do what you do?
What gets you out of bed in the morning?
When someone talks about your agency, what do you want them to say?
One agency that has done a great job of clearly defining it's brand AND it's "why" is D'Camera Group right here in our hometown of Annapolis, Maryland. I love this example because it proves that you don't have to be a big agency with a huge budget to have a strong brand or practice good marketing. Agency principal Dean D'Camera was so inspired by Simon Sinek's TED Talk that he modeled his entire website around the principal of the golden circle.
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Check out his page on "why we do it" and you'll see what I mean. When you do, you'll also notice the consistency of visual branding throughout his website. Dean is a former football player who specializes in workers compensation and has branded himself the "Work Comp Coach." His website reflects this with imagery that evokes a coach jotting down plays on a chalk board.
The lesson? Define a strong brand and a great logo and tagline will follow. That was what happened when we worked with the folks at Employee Benefit Services of Maryland, a startup employee benefits brokerage that had broken off from a large, national firm. EBS was founded by a group of young, competitive, former college athletes who wanted to build a brand that would stand out from their competitors.
2. Not Enough Focus on Digital
For independent insurance agencies, having access to carriers' marketing resources is a good thing and a bad thing. On the positive side, small agencies don't have big budgets to dedicate to creating marketing collateral and the ability to cobrand carrier materials allows them to do more with less. The problem? Even the carriers - which do have big budgets and dedicated marketing teams - aren't very savvy when it comes to marketing. Most are still focusing the bulk of their efforts on print collateral and advertising as opposed to digital content creation. As a result, agencies tend to follow suit, sending out sales brochures, fliers and form letters and spending too much money on printing and postage.
Not only do agencies need to create more digital content, they need to give it a good home online. Too many agency websites are outdated or - worse - built on industry-specific templates that all look the same. Just this year, we've built two new websites for clients whose previous sites were on an insurance industry platform that I won't name (let's just say it rhymes with "partisan"). Both used the same template (yikes!) that wasn't even mobile responsive and was difficult to update. With the proliferation of user-friendly, inexpensive content management system (CMS) platforms like WordPress and HubSpot, there is no reason to settle for a cookie cutter, nonresponsive, difficult-to-use website.
The work we did earlier this summer on the new website for North Risk Partners is an example of what can easily be done with a CMS. Built on WordPress, this site is mobile responsive and uses the latest in web design technology, including features such as parallax scrolling.
The North Risk Partners site is also a great example of the way that insurance agencies can use their online presence to showcase content and cultivate thought leadership. Just check out their knowledge center, called NRP University! Which brings me to...
3. Stop selling and start educating
I should make a bumper sticker that says "stop selling and start educating."
Seriously, I say this all the time, to all of my clients, and at every conference where I present. It is the simplest way to express what is wrong with the way that most companies approach marketing. Today, insurance is bought, not sold. What do I mean by this? Most consumers don't want to get your form letter in the mail and they won't respond to an advertisement.
Instead, they'll turn to Google and their peers when they have a need. By the time they call you, they already know what they want (and in some cases, how much they're willing to pay for it).
Here's what that PwC report that I referenced earlier had to say about this: "Unlike their more patient forebears, Gens X and Y - who have increasing economic clout - demand simple products, transparent pricing and relationships, quick delivery, and the convenience of dealing with insurers when and where they want. Insurers have been slower than other financial service providers in recognizing and reacting to this need."
The typical insurance marketing strategy is focused on what I would call "bottom of the funnel" offers - sales pitches that very few potential customers are interested in and most just downright distrust. No wonder insurance has a bad name.
A better approach is to ditch the pitch and focus instead on answering your prospective customers' questions and solving their problems. This shift from a product-focused approach to a customer-focused approach will not only deliver greater value to your customers - it also provides agencies with tools that enable them to compete on factors other than price.
One example of an agency that is doing a great job creating educational content is Texas-based GDP Advisors. Cofounder John Powter is a believer in inbound marketing and has made a commitment to regularly creating content in response to questions he gets from customers and prospects. This blog on ebola and workers compensation is a great example.
This is a topic on everyone's mind and here, GDP Advisors has something different to add to the online dialogue. Given their location just outside of Houston (where patient Thomas Duncan recently died of ebola), it is also very timely and appropriate. Most importantly, it's not a sales pitch!
4. Content isn't unique
Let's go back to that issue of carriers providing marketing materials. As I mentioned earlier, because so many agencies rely on carriers as well as other third party providers such as Zywave for their content, they run the risk of looking just like their competitors.
What's the point of a content strategy if it doesn't help to differentiate you?
I'm not saying you shouldn't use carrier materials and I'm not telling you to get rid of Zywave. To the contrary - there's a lot of good stuff there, especially when it comes to staying on top of new regulatory developments. What I am saying is that there is a balance to strike. If you're going to use some carrier or third party materials, use them sparingly and make sure to put your own, unique spin on them. If you don't, you won't just have a copycat brand, you'll also hurt your search engine rankings.
Did you know that search engines like Google actually penalize websites that have duplicate content? This means that if you have the same blog or article as another site, you will actually rank lower because of it. The more duplicate content you have, the more your rankings will suffer. This gets really scary when you think about the huge number of agencies that rely on the same carrier material and other third party content.
One agency that does a great job of creating original, educational content is Washington, DC-based HWP Insurance. They've been practicing inbound marketing for a little over two years now and in that time, they've blogged weekly about topics ranging from commercial and personal insurance to employee benefits, risk management, leadership, and business management. The topics are diverse - just like their audience - and include mostly original content with a little bit of material from Zywave and their carriers mixed in when appropriate.
Most importantly, what they're doing is working. HWP's website traffic has increased by more than 300 percent, the agency is growing rapidly, and (my favorite part) several carriers have noticed their commitment to content marketing and are working in partnership with them to generate more leads.
5. Put a Face to the Brand
Insurance agency marketing isn't just about promoting the agency. People still buy from people, and that means it is just as important to build the personal brands of your agency principals. A blog is a great way to do this and can be used to showcase their expertise as well as their personalities.
My favorite example of an agency that has succeeded in putting a face to their brand is Indiana-based Gibson. Chairman and CEO Tim Leman is not just the force behind the agency's growth (Gibson was named one of the Best Places to Work in Indiana and is an Insurance Journal Top 100 company), he is also its most prolific blogger.
Tim doesn't just write about insurance. His posts are very personal and cover topics such as leadership, ethics, corporate culture, strategic planning, recruiting, conflict resolution, and more. These are just the types of topics that Gibson's corporate clients love and this shows in the number of subscribers to the company's blog.
6. Leverage Social Media
Social media has been around for a while now, so it still surprises me when I talk to insurance agency executives who aren't using it to network and grow their business. Social media isn't a fad that will go away - it's the new cocktail party. Getting online is just as important as getting out and pressing the flesh and the most successful insurance agency owners and principals lead by example.
Craig Rowe from Clear Risk is a great example. Just check out his Twitter profile, where he posts regular updates and comments, and has 8,162 followers, as I write this.
What do these leaders all have in common? They've made a commitment to personally using social media to grow their business and use it as a medium to communicate their personal brand. See a theme developing?
7. Too Much Emphasis on Pay-Per-Click (PPC) Advertising
Last, but certainly not least, insurance agencies need to stop relying so heavily on pay per click (PPC) advertising. PPC has gotten more expensive and in an industry like insurance is incredibly competitive. I live in Annapolis, Maryland, which is a small city/big town with plenty of great local agents. Just look at what I found when I searched "Annapolis insurance agency" on Google.
The top results are Nationwide Insurance, Geico and other national carriers with huge budgets that no local agent could possibly compete with. So why try?
Spending money on PPC is like renting a house rather than owning it. As soon as you stop paying rent, you get evicted - just like as soon as you stop your PPC budget, you stop getting results. It is, fundamentally, an unsustainable strategy. You're better off focusing your resources on buiding digital content that you own and that will continue to reap benefits long after you post it online.
They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. In my experience, the seven mistakes outlined above are some of the most repeated and least effective tactics used by insurance agencies as part of their marketing strategies.
It's time to stop the insanity and start seeing results! With 2015 approaching, this is a great time to reprioritize your marketing spend and focus on building a strategy that will fuel your agency's growth.
Have I missed anything on my list? What things are you thinking of cutting from your insurance agency marketing strategy? I'd love to add to this list with some input from you, so please leave your thoughts in the comments below.