The growth of social media and digital marketing has brought opportunities for local independent insurance agencies to boost their reach and engage their communities in ways never before possible. At the same time, the vast number of platforms, venues and tactics has left agencies overwhelmed. From email marketing, blogging and newsletters to Facebook, Pinterest, YouTube and Vine, the possibilities seem to be endless.
Add to that online advertising, mobile, inbound and outbound marketing, and it’s easy to see how agency owners might be tempted to give up in frustration. Or, worse yet, they call in the troops—turning to outside marketing firms to handle everything for them.
In my mind, neither makes sense.
What does make sense? Don’t look all over the Internet for a solution. Don’t outsource what you and your team should be doing. Instead, look in the mirror. When I do that, I see Chris—the guy whose name is on the sign hanging in front of our agency and the person whose success depends on how well the agency performs.
If your agency has seen any success over the years, it’s because you understand your audience and you know how to attract them to your agency. Those are the key components of a successful marketing strategy; the only difference today is the introduction of “digital” to the mix.
Sure, it takes some time to learn the various platforms, how they work and how to make the best use of them. You can make this learning adventure as basic or in-depth as you like. You don’t need to know everything about every network or app. But you do need to know what they offer your agency and how they can help you find, attract and keep customers.
More than that, you need to know the personality or brand you want to project—most likely, it’s the one you already do through other media and interactions—and use that as the foundation for your digital marketing.
Agency leaders often ask what their first step should be in implementing a digital marketing strategy. My answer is always the same: Hire someone. And make it a full-time hire. Given the broad array of tools and platforms and the tremendous potential for growth, you need someone who’s always at your side, building out your social presence and engaging prospects and customers.
Hiring someone carries with it a couple of strong advantages. First, he or she probably already knows your community or niche. You don’t need to spend as much time teaching them about your town or region. You can use that time, instead, to teach them about your brand, philosophy, approach and everything else that sets you apart.
More important than a shortened learning curve is the accountability and consistency a full-time social marketing team member will bring. By bringing a staff member on-board, you ensure that someone other than you will be focused on digital marketing. That’s invaluable given the number of other things we, as agency leaders, are called on to do. You also ensure consistency, in terms of both message and timing.
I’ve found great success tapping local community colleges to find marketing support. Students at community colleges are career-focused and eager to make a difference in the business world, whether they’re finishing up their degree or have just earned it. I contrast that with the lack of career focus I know I had when attending a four-year university.
I don’t recommend stopping with just a single full-time marketing person. Our small agency has one full-time and three part-time marketing team members. We benefit from a broader cross-section of ideas. We find that enthusiasm and creativity are contagious. Most important, many hands lighten the load.
On top of that, we also encourage the rest of our staff to get engaged in our digital marketing strategy. Whether that’s sharing Facebook content, recommending blog topics (or even drafting one), gathering email addresses to feed our customer touch programs, or being the subject of photos around the office or community, it’s all hands on deck. By the way, using photos of your team and town can really set you apart from agencies that use stock (a.k.a. stale) photos for their websites or social networks.
Up front, I may have sounded critical about using outside resources. That was by design, but there’s a caveat: Consultants can play a valuable role in your agency’s digital marketing strategy. But it’s just that—a clearly defined role.
Paradiso Financial & Insurance Services does use outside consultants and we’re quite pleased with the results. But we don’t use them to create content or provide photos. Instead, we use them to bring our employees— our in-house marketing force—up to speed on the latest trends and changes. We use them to learn how to use hashtags and how to maximize new platforms. We use them to understand trends and new opportunities.
We also use a consultant for search engine optimization work. This is a highly technical field and one that changes all too frequently. The same holds true for our mobile app; we use a developer whose sole focus is mobile marketing apps for insurance agents. We also use a professional graphic designer. We could never replicate the knowledge, skills and expertise these consultants bring to the table, nor could we keep up with changes and advances in their disciplines.
I know our approach to engaging our community is working. A recent encounter proves the point. I recently had a visit from a known leader in the insurance digital marketing arena. As he was sitting in my office, a client came in and interrupted our meeting. He asked how my dad was doing and he remarked about how quickly my children were growing up—both of which he knew through social media. Another customer came in and said, “I see you recently did business with the ‘such and such’ family. I’m glad that worked.”
I apologized to my visitor, who told me it wasn’t necessary, and then added, “He trusts you. He’s paying attention to your posts about your family. He’s engaged with you. What you’re doing is working.” All I could do was smile, with the knowledge that it is, indeed, working.