Why it’s important to understand digital marketing and how it affects your agency.
There are a lot of insurance agents that might be wondering if there is any benefit to educating yourself about digital marketing- as opposed to just hiring vendors. Wouldn’t it be easier just to throw money at someone to handle your website and ‘marketing’ without having to really know what’s going on? There are a lot of agents who really resent the need to think about these things. Digital is synonymous with “impersonal” and, in some ways, it’s just simply the opposite of how you think about your value to your customers. Educating yourself about it almost seems like surrendering to the dark side. You don’t want technology to take over our industry…and you certainly don’t want to feel like you are commoditizing yourself or abandoning the values that your agency was built on. The truth is you shouldn’t. The more important truth is- you don’t have to. People that interact digitally are not dispassionate or impersonal. They don’t undervalue relationships- they just build them differently. When you understand technology in that way- it changes how you evaluate what works and what doesn’t. The goal is still the same:
Use your expertise to build a trust based relationship with your customer. This can be done digitally- but it is different. You don’t have to be a technical expert to succeed at this, but you will benefit from understanding a few basic concepts- even if you end up leveraging vendors to execute your strategy.
You can’t learn everything in 5 or 10minutes. There are no magic bullets. This is not a super secret detailed “how to”…but it is a framework that you can use to develop and execute a strategy that will help you maintain what is unique about you and your agency- and compete with anyone online. The field is wide open. Even if you think you’re a little behind, there is no need to panic. The most important thing to remember about technology is that it ALWAYS goes through innovation, consolidation, and leveling. All new computers have similar capabilities. All new smartphones have similar capabilities. Until fully electric cars, all the main vehicle brands produced cars with similar capabilities. The relationship between consumers and service providers might start with value or familiarity, but the best relationships are sustained by trust. Technology has not and will not change that. The brands that execute well and build trust with consumers will win- just as they always have.
At some point in the future, all of the carriers and agencies will interact with customers digitally as 2nd nature. Right now, only a few truly do- and they are reaping disproportionate rewards- just like the first computers, the first smartphones, and the first cars. Once customers have the option to have the convenience they want AND your local expertise, they will choose you. The sooner you can give them that choice, the sooner you can be at the leading edge of the growth and innovation curve.
Ok- let’s assume I convinced you that jumping in with both feet is a good idea…or you think I’m nuts, but you’re still curious. What do you really need to know as an agent?
The content used to be you. The content is all in your head- and you shared it on a phone call or your office or a coffee shop. You didn’t explain coverage in billboards or newspaper ads. You talked on the phone or met with your prospect and you educated them. This is how you built trust and loyalty. They didn’t want to lose you because they valued being able to have you as a resource when they needed it. Many of those customers still do- and that won’t stop. What’s different for many new prospects is that first conversation. It may not be an actual conversation. It might be a video. It might be an article that you write and put on your website or Facebook…or another website that promotes articles like yours (which is what a blog is). It might even be a page on your website that has insight about certain coverage or insurance companies and what they should look out for.
Your knowledge is the thing that makes you unique. Can you buy content? Yes. There are writers who will come up with 500 words of professional sounding insurance language to fill space on your website…but that isn’t necessarily the best approach long term. If you want to reach customers in a personal way, you have to engage with them on a personal level- by representing your unique knowledge in mediums they can consume at their convenience. Time consuming, I know…but investing time in their customers is what good service providers do.
This is an area where it makes perfect sense to get help, but you still need to understand the game. Let’s say you’ve taken the time to create some great content. Someone needs to review and edit that content so that it is structured and displayed in a way that gets recognized by robots- not just people. Increasingly, the things that decide what people see online are simply algorithms. The robots are looking for certain words with a certain frequency and what pages are connected to other pages…and all of these things are calculated in a millisecond to determine whether they see one of your pages or your competitor’s page as the best match when the prospect types “insurance” into their smartphone.
There are still some free methods of promoting your brand and your content. You can network and build relationships locally like you always have, but instead of just handing out business cards, you can direct people to your site, which is where they should find helpful guidance when they need it.
The other ‘free’ marketing is Search Engine Optimization (SEO). When people search (usually Google), many of the suggested results are essentially a free advertisement for those companies. The more often your content appears as a potential match for a search result, the more visible you are.
The majority of people searching never go past the first page of results. Of that group, most click on one of the top 3 results. Of that top 3, the 1st position gets the overwhelming majority of clicks. What does this mean? If there are 50 businesses that provide a service in a given city, only 10 get visibility on the first page, 3 get a decent amount of exposure, and one of them has a potential windfall of people visiting their website.
Now, at first blush- this might sound intimidating. You can name 3 or 4 large brands off the top of your head and assume you can’t compete with their resources. In some ways, you are right. However, the job of a search engine is to discern the users intent…and users very often prefer a local option for a given product or service. This fact gives every locally owned and operated agency an inherent advantage over national digital brands- if the agency knows how to execute. In fact, the top results are increasingly shown in something called a Map Pack, which has a list of results as pins on the map. If you aren’t local, you don’t show.
The same is true for paid advertising. There are ways to simply bypass the robots (mostly) and pay to have your content visible in various ways. Above, below, and beside the organic (ie. free) results, are paid ads. If you pay enough, it doesn’t matter how good your SEO is, you can get shown right up top. Again, the instinct might be that this favors the biggest budget…and it does, but there is a twist. If your ad is shown just below the top ad, you will pay less than the top listed advertiser, but you will always be seen. If the prospect prefers a local agent, and your ad is compelling- you will get the click…and you will have paid less than what the top advertiser would have paid for the exact same prospect. These are Google Search ads.
There are also various branding ads. These are called “Display ads”. You can show your logo, image, or simple messaging to users on all kinds of devices and platforms. Google is the largest display network and it includes ads on Android phones and thousands of apps where you can target your ads just like TV media. Choose the territory and the type of apps that your demo is most likely to be using- and thats who will see your ad.
FB and it’s social media empire is another display network. You can target ads by demo there as well. You can target families, business owners, or people interested in boats or cars.
More digital ad options pop up all the time. Roku is a form of video display ads that is essentially an alternative to TV commercials. They show in between opening or closing a new app channel on a Roku device.
Now, you won’t do all of this alone. It isn’t possible for most agents. There is the work of building ads and setting budgets and knowing how to target the right demographic, etc…but recognizing the potential value of good digital advertising will help you communicate more intelligently with vendors so you are a collaborative partner in your marketing. Digital marketing shouldn’t be “pay and pray”.
Last, but certainly not least, is engagement- which is why you created the content and promoted it in the first place. You want the prospect to contact you or take some action. It could be a phone call, or maybe a text or a live chat with one of your agents. It could be getting a quote from your website…or, if and when your website is able, it could be completing an application or even binding a policy. Not only do digital engagements not reduce trust, they can actually enhance it. Right or wrong, a conversation with an agent is perceived by some people as a sales pitch more than a consultation. For cynical shoppers, the ability to self-educate and engage on their own terms makes you more transparent and more trustworthy than an agent who will not provide any useful information in any format other than a phone conversation or in person meeting. In a unique way, digital engagement can begin the process of building trust and opens the door to having better conversations with more educated customers- potentially after they have already decided they want you to be their agent.
I can hear you through the video across the time/space continuum screaming at me: I got it! You convinced me! But how do I know what works? You need inexpensive, easy to use tools that provide objective insight about your website and its performance. Reporting tools are fundamental to measuring progress. These tools don’t do the work for you, but if you’re paying someone to market, you need your own window into what is really working…not just the metrics your vendor uses to promote their service. There is probably a link somewhere in or around this video where you can get access to these kind of tools and they are affordable for agents of any size.
The best agents still offer the most value to customers, but the processes people trust are rapidly changing. It isn’t enough to be a trustworthy person or have a trustworthy product or company paying claims. You also need a trustworthy process and you need to know how to make yourself visible in the areas where people spend their time- which is mostly on the device in their palm.
It is worth doing and you can do it with the right tools and the right partners.