Michael Jans: John Jackson, thanks so much for joining us today John. How are you?
John Jackson: I’m doing well, thanks for having me.
Michael: You bet. We’re going to cover a few things in our conversation. Clearly, you have a new job in the industry. Essentially 10 years ago, this job just didn’t exist. Five years ago, it didn’t exist much and according to previous podcast guests from Safeco who’ve done a tremendous amount of research on this- thank you Safeco for that- two years ago, as I recall, 51% of insurance agencies claimed or at least their appointments claimed that they had a marketer on staff.
I’m sure that the majority of them are probably not full-time and I also assume that many of them were not what you and I might call professional marketers, but they have some role like posting on Facebook or something like that. Just something to keep our name out there, right? As I recall in my most recent interview with Safeco again, last year 56% of agencies claimed that they had a marketer. Clearly, this is a transformation of the traditional, let’s say, previous generation structure of insurance agencies.
We’re going to cover what it is that you do. Of course, I do want to get a little bit of background. I also want to make sure that we recognize the fact that you and I are talking as what was known as hurricane Florence is still probably doing some damage in your agency’s home state and of course, did a lot of damage. I don’t know what it’s being called now- a tropical depression or something. I want to acknowledge that and talk about that for a moment. Let’s start at the very beginning John. If you would share a little thumbnail of what your background is and how you ended up in this, in some ways, a relatively unique position.
John: I certainly didn’t plan on ending up here even though I grew up in the industry. My father was an insurance agent for 35 years for Nationwide. After college, I worked for him for a little while. Most of what I did was actually worked on the West Coast and the wine industry so I was in sales and in distribution out there. It wasn’t until I came back a few years ago that I got back into the insurance industry with Alliance Insurance.
At first, we thought that I was just going to be another agent and that was kind of the path that Christopher, the agency owner, Christopher Cook and I had worked out, but my background is in writing. My undergraduate degree is in creative writing. My master’s degree is in screenwriting actually- motion picture and television screenwriting. We really wanted to utilize that for the agency so I started to write things, simple things at first, just letters and communications that went out, the occasional thing that went online. It blossomed from there and actually was really Agency Revolution that started to push me into a much bigger marketing role in the agency.
It was really how successful I started to be with that and how much time I started to spend really communicating with a mass number of our clients through this method that led us to reevaluate what I was doing for the agency and how I can help us grow. We both realized that marketing was probably the way that I could be the most useful and best utilize my skills set. That’s how I transitioned back in January into full-time digital marketing manager.
Michael: All right. You surprised me with the answer because I didn’t know that Agency Revolution’s technology inspired this direction. A couple of things about your position, first one is that your agency, Alliance Insurance Services is in North Carolina.
Michael: John, you are in the city of my birth, Philadelphia. I want to take a moment on that one because I think we’re seeing, in addition to some of other changes that we’ve already talked about in the industry, we’re also seeing a growing number of agencies who have remote workers. It’s a subject that I’ve got some familiarity with because when I was the CEO or the chairman of the board of Agency Revolution, we had people from Maine to Utah to California to Vietnam- all over the place. As we started taking remote work more and more seriously, half of the people that lived in central Oregon really did not come to the office on a regular basis. I think maybe once a week.
Talk to us about– Before we dive into the juicy marketing stuff, this is a topic that I think needs to be explored not just intellectually, but a lot of agencies really need to deal with this one. Tell me a little bit about what it’s like for you and how you even got to that position where you ended up with a job with a North Carolina independent insurance agency working out of Philadelphia.
John: It was one of the things where, again, I’m really lucky that my agency owner is so open to change and forward thinking even though in a lot of ways, he’s a very traditional brick-and-mortar, get-out-there-and-talk-to-as-many-people-as-possible agent. I lived in cities all up and down the West Coast. I was in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles. I was briefly in New York City. I love city life and so when my wife and I were back in North Carolina working for the agency, we still wanted to go back to the city where we can do explore that.
Christopher was very open to it. This trend that you are talking about as more and more people working remotely, he was aware of that and it’s the kind of thing that he was open to. We discussed it and when we picked Philadelphia, he said, “Well, then why don’t you just keep working for me?” He already has an employee that works in Florida so he’s already been through this.
Michael: God, I love it. Pause for a moment. Were you in North Carolina when you’re having these conversations?
John: I lived in California really only about a year. I was back home very briefly and that’s when I started working from–
Michael: Can you share with us how you make remote work. There are a few things I think we should touch on. One, whether or not there are any collaboration platforms you use? Any collaboration online tools you use? Any other technologies that help you stay in touch. Also culturally, how do you stay part of that culture? First, let’s do technologies.
John: Well, the big thing that we use that helps me integrate with the rest of you all is Zoom. That’s a digital chat that really– We have couple of different offices in North Carolina and so they all use it. Really it’s just like I’m in my own little office as far as they’re concerned. I can chat with them anytime. We can do online meetings, we can be face-to-face through that. That makes it really easy.
We also are all on Hawksoft. That’s our agency management system. We can all access that. I can access that remotely. Now it’s pretty easy to be into. I work out of a server that’s still in North Carolina. All of that stuff is still integrated and accessible here. Really as far as anything else goes, we don’t use any other advanced technologies or any other programs. Not really.
So much of what I do is different than what the rest of the agency does. They never access Agency Revolution. They don’t look at BrightLocal to check their web matrix. There’s so much of what I do that is different. In fact, I have an entire different computer that’s not hooked up to anything they do simply for things like video editing. Zoom is the really big key that helps to keep us connected.
Michael: A word about Zoom. I use it and I use it for a lot of reasons. One I personally have remote contract workers and we communicate weekly with Zoom and then my client. I use Zoom as a client communication tool when I have regular appointments with them. I agree with you. I think it is a remarkably powerful technology. Folks, it comes with my recommendation. Do you like it, John? Are you satisfied with it?
John: Absolutely love it. We used to have another system. I really won’t get into it. It was very rudimentary. We switched to Zoom, I guess it’s been four months ago. It’s been revelatory. It’s been fantastic.
Michael: Yes, good tool. Then culturally, how is it for you, how does it feel for you to be in Philly and the agency kind of so far away?
John: I worked with a bunch of great people that– We still have a wonderful banter. I send out email blast and we have phone calls on a regular basis. Sometimes it does feel like they have no idea what I do on a day to day basis and that’s probably true.
Michael: Yes, but wouldn’t you think that even if you were there, a lot of them wouldn’t understand what you’re doing?
Michael: All right.
John: If it’s always in a corner office over there by myself, it’d be the same.
Michael: There is John. Head down in the computer whatever he’s doing.
John: Exactly right.
Michael: I have another thing I want to ask you about- again before we get into the juicy marketing stuff. You came into the life of an insurance agency marketer not like some others that have come into it because they were marketers. At some point, they were digital marketers or direct response people or something like that and then they brought that skill into the industry. You were a writer.
Now, sometimes when people ask me what I do for a living, certainly writing is a pretty good explanation of it. Over the past 25 years, most of my sales, most of my income it does come from most of it comes from the written word. There are those, I’m among them who feel that the ability to write is becoming more and more of a not just an adjunct skill, but a core skill. For those who are sure capable of doing it, we know how to turn words into money. Right?
Michael: What are your thoughts– I suppose maybe we have a bias and I’m supposing you, for goodness sake, you went to school for 20 years specializing in being a writer. You probably have a bias, but I’ll accept your bias. What do you think about that? How important do you think writing is for the entrepreneur of today?
John: Well it’s funny. My biases probably went to the other direction because I grew up thinking that I was pie in the sky, wanting to learn how to write. I was told that “Yes, you can learn how to write as long as you get a real job after that.” I did this as a passion project and just continued on, whereas now to your point, I think it’s a hugely valuable skill set.
I think that so many people need writing and it’s all because of the advent of the internet, right? Now, words that we read on a screen have become how we interpret reality. It’s such an important thing to know how to do and whether or not you’re a copywriter or not, if you can communicate through the written word, through emails and through memos in any business situation, it gives you a massive leg up.
Michael: Okay, so we agree, all right. It has been probably seven or eight years since I have taught a copywriting class, but it wasn’t that long ago where we had 150 people show up- insurance agents, to do nothing but spend eight hours with me to learn how to write marketing copy for the insurance industry. I felt like we were making some inroads. For me, that was like, “Wow how much fun is this? I get to talk about writing and copywriting with insurance agents for full day.” That was a blast.
Now I wonder if– I do think it is one of the most important skills that give an entrepreneur a little bit of an unfair advantage over the competition because most people don’t do it that well. The other interesting thing about your training, is you were trained as screenwriter, right?
John: That’s right, yes.
Michael: Video and storytelling. Those are now very very important skill in the marketplace. Agree?
John: Sure. Yes and I think if you go back into copywriting, I think even if you go back as far as 60’s, like the best copywriters and the story to copywrite, it was all based in story-telling and telling this and conveying this story of what your product does for the person who buys it.
Michael: All right. Let’s start to dive into some of the juicy marketing stuff. This role of marketer, I think it’s being fleshed out in the industry right now. I think people are– Some agencies are focusing a little more on this- maybe social media platforms and some are focusing more on strengthening relationships through content and some are focusing on email marketing, some are clearly focusing on video, so on and so forth. If we are going to do a pie chart of your areas of responsibility, what are the things that you do? What are you responsible for?
John: Sure. I think foundationally, what I was responsible for was blog writing. Writing blogs, that was one of the main things that they wanted me to do when I personally got into the marketing part of my job. Then email writing, like I said, Agency Revolution was such a big thing. Writing emails and specifically mass emails for marketing purposes, that was a big part of it.
Video was always seen as something else that we wanted me to learn how to do. It’s become a bigger and bigger part of what I do. That’s another massive piece that I do. Everything other than that, I would say probably falls into the social media category. That’s such a big nebulous category because social media can mean so much, so many different things. The last that would be SEO. SEO is the black magic of the marketing world. Everyone knows how to do it and there are people that specialize in it and for the rest of us, we’re wading into it and trying to figure it out as we try to effect some change. All of that together is really my confusing pie chart.
Michael: Well, those are sort of really good standard weapons in the quiver of an insurance marketer. I’ve got five big chunks for you and admittedly, there’s probably a little overlap video, blogs, email, social media and SEO. Clearly, blogs and SEO overlap, right? But you’re going to probably approach them separately. Let’s buzz through some of the things that you’re doing and what’s working and maybe some of the lessons you learned or lessons you learned about what is not working. I’m going to go through these one at a time.
Also, I have a feeling that the hurricane is going to come up in at least one of these discussions. Let’s start with the blog. We’ve got– There are different media and then there are different ways those media are used. Your blog is presumably, it’s on your website- the agency’s website.
John: That’s right. Absolutely.
Michael: Okay. Do you have a protocol or a discipline for your cadence of publishing your blog?
John: Yes, my goal from the onset was to write one blog a week
John: I really wanted to do that and I also wanted to– I’m getting ahead of myself here, but I wanted to do one video a week as well, which is a little more ambitious, but for my
blog writing, I always try to get one blog out a week
Michael: How do you pick your topics?
John: Sometimes I pick topics based on what my other staff members have recommended to me. Other times I try to pick based on the current events in the industry, things that are hot topics like for example, a few weeks ago, I did a cyber liability insurance guide. Then also just some targets that we have as an agency, if we really want to be looking at homeowners insurance and we’re really trying to dive that, then I’ll do a series of blogs on that educating the customer or geared more towards professionals in that industry. That’s how I do it.
Michael: Okay. Can I ask to the extent you know, the mix of business for the agency personal lines, commercial lines?
John: Yeah. We’re working heavy personal line.
John: We’re right now, I think about 70% personal line–
Michael: And on the commercial side, is it niched? Do you have classes that you specialize in?
John: Right now, we really don’t. Christopher has been called a massive generalist and an agent of niche markets. We write all kinds of business, but we are starting to niche a little bit more, but I would say right now, it’s still very diverse.
Michael: Okay, strategical, that sounds like it might be somewhere in your future.
Michael: About the topics, do you have a– I don’t know and you may have thought about it, I’d really like to do this or you don’t have it yet, do you have an internal system where staff members feed you questions that you can write about content ideas?
John: I kind of– I used to.
Michael: Works so well, we don’t do it anymore.
John: Well, I think at first, when we were first doing this I was kind of “Oh my gosh, what do I write about?” We’d get with staff and they would give me a list that I always added to. After a while, I’ve just basically met with the other managers and got their input. Now, pretty much, I’ve been doing this enough now where I know what we need to discuss and I’ll just tell them or I’ll ask them will say “Hey, I’m thinking about doing this topic, do you have any thoughts on that?” I just kind of go from there.
Michael: Got it. All right. And then the hot topic stuff that you come up with on your own, have you set up a feed for insurance topics or how do you get that stuff?
John: Basically, I just look at what’s going on. Like for example, this past week was a no brainer. I’m doing flood insurance. So if there are events that people want to know about–
Michael: Why are you doing flood insurance? How did you think of that one?
John: I know, right? It really had to be a finger on the pause, a deep dive into the cultural mindset of America. Sometimes I get tipped off from Christopher. He is a self-proclaimed insurance nerd. He constantly is reading all of the different periodicals and talking to everyone in the industry and going to conferences. He’ll just all of a sudden shoot me a largely confusing email. In the middle of it, he’ll say “EPRI insurance, you need to look into this.”
Michael: Okay, right on.
John: So, I’ll file that away and research it and then a couple weeks later, it will become a blog.
Michael: All right. Do you have any tips or advice for listeners about what makes a successful blog post?
John: Sure. I think if you’re looking at just a specific blog in and of itself, I think that there’s so much content out there in the insurance world, but I try to add a little bit of personality to it. I don’t try to write– I don’t hear a lot of people talking about that. Most people just talk about “Put this first, then this first, then this first.”
John: There are some things that I think are important. For example, use headlines, right? You need to have designated sections of the blog to make it easily digestible. That really helps. Use pictures, every once in a while insert a picture. Things like that make it easier to read, easier to look at, but I always try to add some personality I write as myself. It has a voice and I think that comes from my background in creative writing and screenwriting.
Anything that I do, I try to put a certain tone to it, a certain feel. I write very conversationally, so I would encourage anyone who’s writing a blog, don’t make it sound like it’s just some blog from a random website or a blog from one of the big carriers.
Michael: Downloaded from an insurance carrier. Okay.
John: Exactly. Yes. We used to do so much stuff that we just regurgitated stuff from other companies, put on our Facebook page. I really don’t like a lot of that. Some of that is great, some of the content is amazing, especially if it’s well done, but if something has some personality, some character, I think it connects better with people.
Michael: Okay. How do you know- or what criteria do you use to judge whether or not a blog is good or was good?
John: If we get questions about it or if it gets read, one of the most difficult parts of my job is figuring out what is working and what is not.
Michael: Right. Okay. Yes.
John: I wish that there were some better metrics I could use because I do use Google Analytics–
Interviewer: I was going to ask you. Yes. How often do you go read your Google Analytics dashboard to see what’s getting traction or what’s not?
John: Every day.
Michael: Every day, okay. All right.
John: Yes, the first thing I do in the morning is, I get up, I make my coffee, I sit down, I pull up my YouTube page. I pull up my Google Analytics, I pull up BrightLocal, which is a company that looks at lots of different web metrics for you and I pull up Agency Revolution.
Michael: Okay. All right, very good. That’s got a pretty good dashboard built into it, doesn’t it?
John: It’s fantastic. It really helps to get a good feel of not just how your email campaigns are going, but how your agency is going in general.
Michael: Got it. All right. Let’s move on to one of the other topics. About the blog and I have a feeling this might be a segue, do you do anything to notify your marketplace or your audience about a new blog post?
John: Yes, I do. I use Facebook a lot of times and I’ve tried the– One of the things that I did when I started this, is that I knew I couldn’t just start to try to do everything all at once. I would pick one thing and then try to do it until I could do it well and then add another thing on to it. I picked Facebook as the social media platform to really focus on because there’s so much you can do. There’s so many ways you can reach people and it’s so widely used. Facebook is the main way that I post about new blog.
I also tell all the staff members and let them use it and let people know about it, but I also integrate it into all of my other forms of marketing that I possibly can, especially all of my email marketing campaigns in Agency Revolution. I’ll embed links to blog articles in, for example, a renewal email.
Michael: Got it. Okay. We’ll dive into this in a moment, but I’m assuming you probably do something very similar with your videos to drive traffic.
John: Oh yes, I put them everywhere I possibly can, probably to everyone’s great annoyance, but I want people to see them.
Michael: Okay. Let’s talk about social media. You’re an active Facebook user, right? Tell us a little bit about your what your overall Facebook strategy is.
John: From a Facebook perspective, I have been slowly trying to get the agency’s image to be much more personal. When I started doing this, our logo was just our company logo. We did like I said, can content from larger carriers. There wasn’t a lot of personal touch to it, so I have since encouraged them and they’ve been great and they’ve got all these brand new pictures of all the staff members and I’ve just pasted these all over the Facebook page.
We’ve redone all of our avatars and all that. I try to get as much personal information as much, like, “Hey, look at this, we went to a baseball game” and post that on there. Also to really focus on the content that we create ourselves, blogs and then recently I’ve started posting videos not just on YouTube, but also uploading them directly to Facebook. That’s another way that we use them.
Michael: All right. Do you have a cadence for posting on Facebook, a frequency?
John: I always post our new content on there. I also try to do additional regular posts even though I am not nearly as good at that as I am just posting our blog article, sometimes it will be like, “Oh gosh, it’s been three days or four days and I haven’t posted anything”, but part of the way that Facebook weights all that stuff is by frequency. The more regularly you post on Facebook, the more likely–
Michael: They like you, okay. Let’s say you’ve got your blog on your website, right? What do you post relative to that on Facebook? Do you post the entire blog? Do you post a link to it? Do you post first couple of paragraphs? What do you do?
John: Usually what I do is I write a small paragraph right up and then post the link which will create a little picture down below it. I don’t want to put the entire blog on there because I am never sure how much people will actually read on Facebook because they’re scrolling through. They see so much on there. They’ll stop for pictures and they’ll stop for a video and data backs this up, like video, people freeze and they’ll watch it even if it’s about insurance.
Michael: Got you. Okay, and then with Facebook, you’d mentioned there’s a lot that you can do with it. So, you’re posting. What else do you do? You’re posting images, you are posting some video, you’re posting content and then are you also, like you said, posting, ‘here, we went to a baseball game’, that kind of stuff, right? What about community involvement stuff?
John: Absolutely yes. For example, Alliance is sponsoring a music and beer festival in our local area, so that was on there, but we also do a Facebook advertising [crosstalk]
Michael: Okay, sure that was my next question.
John: I wondered if you were going there [laughs].
Michael: Well, it’s become a pretty sophisticated technology, so lay it on us here, John, what’s your Facebook advertising strategy.
John: Gosh, it’s really come a long way. Like I said, it’s like everything else I’ve tried to do, I start small and try to figure it out and just focus on that until I can get better and I’ve had some great people help me along the way. At first, it was just, how do I get in front of the people, do you just slap things together and you write little blurbs and–
Michael: Yes, okay. Who did you want to get in front of? When you started thinking of Facebook advertising.
John: It was kind of trial and error. Facebook can do this thing where if you upload, for example, a list of your current customers, it will create a lookalike group, right? We did that and that was mildly successful. Then I did a campaign where all I did was I tried to target moms because we kept finding and I don’t know if this is statistically true or not, but a lot of our customers, the wives handle the insurance. By this trial and error, I was going through and I was looking at some of the data that Facebook has. It’s fantastic to see that data that you get from it.
Michael: You started with your lookalike and then added mother as a–?
John: Then we did do a completely different campaign, just geared towards women because one of the things that we noticed is that women were by far in a way interacting with our ads than men were.
Michael: Okay, yes interesting. What were the filters that you used? It was like women in certain cities or was there also a lookalike filter that you used?
John: Now, I target larger population centers because you get more bang for your buck doing that. More likely, people are going to see it and then I also try to figure out what product or service am I trying to really get in front of someone? If it’s homeowners insurance, I’ll try to go ahead and do a filter of that, for someone that like HGTV or something like that, to help narrow down if they’re already interested in homes or home owning or gardening or some of other activity that generally lends itself to home ownership–
Michael: Okay, smart move. Alright, likes HGTV.
John: Facebook’s doing all these changes now. You used to say, I want to go after, let’s say you were doing some high-end insurance, you’re really going after that clientele. You could say, I want only people that make over $75,000 a year. They’re getting rid of a lot of that. They are making changes to a ton of the data that they’re allowed to filter.
Michael: Do you think– Is it getting better or worse as an advertising platform?
John: I think it’s getting more limited, but I wouldn’t say it’s getting worse. Honestly, at this point, I think it’s too early to tell. I know some of the things they’re doing, we are not going to get into politics, it’s about what happened previously in the political realm. For example, they flagged one of my ads as “political”. Even though it was identical to some of the other ones.
Michael: No kidding, really? okay. No mention of Russia.
John: No, it was a mom holding a baby standing in front of a house [crosstalk]
Michael: You’re pushing the limits here.
John: That’s right. It was really odd.
Michael: Right out of Cambridge analytica, alright. Are you using Facebook Pixels yet?
Michael: Yes? okay. For the audience, explain if you would, what you do there.
John: Pixels monitors who is looking at your ads, who is interacting with your ads and it over time learns, so that you can then use it to create a different ad that will interact more with the people that are more likely to use it or to click on it or whatever is it you’re trying to do. We just went through, we just went through my newest campaign, I had a campaign running for, trying to get, again, homeowners insurance people and specifically new home buyers and it ran for a while. It was very successful, but I had Pixel learning for that two or three months and then we just switched it to a conversion model, so to really go after the people that will click on this and then go and become leads. It’s been our most successful campaign to date.
Michael: Have you embedded Facebook Pixels on to your website, on to your blog for example?
Michael: Yes? Okay. An example, you may or may not have used, “Yes, I was interested in the EPLI blog” then you know that you can follow them and offer them something related to EPLI and they’re probably business owners, okay. Anything else with Facebook advertising?
John: I think that right now, that’s kind of where we’re at. Like I said, I am constantly trying to learn and I think there’s more that I can do with it. There’s so much, for like, there’s location stuff and there’s more I can do with Pixels. Right now, the campaign that I have going gets more hits to our landing page than the front page of our basic website, so it’s working. It’s just a matter of how much more can I do with it.
Michael: I have another question that popped into my mind a few minutes ago, I didn’t want to lose and that is, I know you’ve identified various forms of content. You’re posting on social and blogs and blah-blah-blah email. Have you created other forms of self-standing content like checklists, cheat sheets, snackables, downloadable content, eBooks, et cetera. Have you ventured into that territory yet?
John: You know, I have not and it’s something that I’ve thought about doing, but I became really persuaded by the mantra of consistence content, and so that’s what I try to do above everything. I may not be the best blog writer in the industry and I’m certainly not, I may not be the best video production person in the industry and I’m certainly not, but I can try to get something out every week. And if I can do that, then that’s where our strength is going to lie and hopefully I will continue to get better with every one, and that’s what I’ve focused on doing, as far as getting things out, like the checklist and things. I’ve used some before to pretty lackluster results, maybe I was targeting the wrong people with them, but it’s not something that we’ve really focused on-
Michael: Fair enough– Hey, before you do dive into it fully, make sure I send you a copy of my content marketing book, okay?
John: Oh yes. Absolutely.
Michael: You may need to remind me, because in a couple of hours I’m heading to Canada for a rare trip away from the [inaudible 00:40:55] but remind me, I’ll send you a copy of the content marketing book and I’ll send you a copy of my 19 killer shortcuts for insurance marketing.
John: We’ll read with relish.
Michael: We’ve covered your blog, and we’ve covered social. Now, do you use other social platforms? Do you use LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter?
John: One of the things that moving away forced me to give up was Instagram, because if I’m not in the office, I’m not interacting with customers, if I’m not in a local area, Instagram doesn’t make a lot of sense. Me posting a bunch of pictures of how cool Philly is doesn’t mean anything when 99% of our customers are in North Carolina.
Michael: [laughs] It’s okay for you to be remote, but you’re right, you might really confuse your marketplace, okay.
John: But that doesn’t mean that if I go to a Philly’s game I’m not posting pictures of it and it was still one of our most liked Facebook posts. I do have a staff member down there who does the Instagram for us and he’s been great and very accurate with that.
Michael: Is it an important part? Rank that one, on a scale of one to ten, how important is Instagram for your agency right now?
John: It does not do a lot for our agency currently, I’ll say that. I would say it’s a three. There are some people who are doing amazing things with Instagram, and I think if you’re really, really dedicated to it and you have a certain clientele, then it can be fantastic. We’re doing more with it than we’re doing with Twitter. We do almost nothing with Twitter. Twitter is much more like a deep dive-
Michael: Don’t need to– Google the top one hundred social media sites and you’ll find them, right? There are lots of them, you don’t need a hundred, you don’t need five. While we’re on it, folks, listeners, I’m putting more than one interview into the can, so to speak, this week, because I do have little bit of travel coming up. If you’re interested how to suck some good juice out of Instagram, listen to the interview that’s going to be coming out shortly with Grant Botma, I think he’s got that one nailed. So LinkedIn?
John: Yes. We do LinkedIn, but-
Michael: And presumably using it for the commercial customers and the commercial marketplace?
John: That’s right, even though with LinkedIn, I really try to focus more on our producers to use it, as opposed to me posting or just going after people in general. It’s a marketplace that we really want to grow more into and it’s a further growth area that I’m looking to explore.
Michael: All right, so at this point do you have a cadence of posting or? Fewer rules on LinkedIn for you right now.
John: Exactly, yes.
Michael: Okay, got it. So now, let’s talk about email marketing. Obviously, Michael has got a bias on this one, but I think it’s well-founded, clearly a compelling reason that inspired me to found Agency Revolution is, number one, philosophically it’s a firm belief that agents are richly rewarded for depth of relationship. So, email marketing is a very powerful tool for taking existing relationships, whether it’s a prospect or a customer and making them deeper, and deeper, and deeper and because the research is just so compelling about the power of email marketing. So that said, my bias out of the way, share with us what you’re doing on the email side.
John: When we first got started with Agency Revolution, it was exactly all the points you just discussed. We really wanted to connect deeper with our customers, even though Christopher was really worried that we were going to send too many emails and everyone’s going to hate us.
Michael: I get it, because so many people send emails that suck, right?
John: Yes, it’s definitely true. I’ve got to be honest with you, this past week I sent way too many emails, but part of that I blame on Lawrence. A hurricane come through and you’re going to get blasted from your insurance agents-
Michael: Hey, by the way, I mentioned at staff meeting, which was on a video chat, the other day, that I would be interviewing you and Guy Wilson on Agency Revolutions team, he’s a big fan of yours. He went crazy, he said “John Jackson?”, “Yes” I said and he said you got an open rate, that’s really, really high and you’ve got like 19 campaigns that are running. You’re held in the steam, among the Agency Revolution staff.
John: They’re high in my esteem guy and you mentioned Maine earlier, Patrick man, he was my go-to for so long, those guys are great.
Michael: So, what are you doing with email marketing?
John: Right now, we’ve got all the basic stuff and we’ve got renew emails to go out, I’ve got all my campaigns all of my campaigns up here we have account reviews that go out on a regular basis. We of course have things like birthdays; we have claimed follow up emails. I’ve got a couple of welcome kit things that go out, so when people sign up for commercials, commercial accounts get a certain campaign and if you sign up for our personal lines, you get a different campaign. I’ve got various cross selling campaigns that go out. That’s something that we really wanted to utilize, because we absolutely believe in retention. It’s one of the things that we really want to focus on and drive up overtime. We really tried to get that policy count, that every customer has up with us.
I would say though that the most successful new campaign I’ve had has been– I did a campaign where I basically say “Here’s our monthly video.” Because I’ve done so much in video now, most with our YouTube page, I’m basically just sharing that with all of our customers once a month. And that’s been very successful.
Michael: And what about Florence, how did you communicate and what did you communicate about the hurricane?
John: Instead of creating a disaster campaign, I prefer to do single blast, directly to all of our customers. And so I went to the message center on Agency Revolution and I did two hurricane emails, one at the beginning of the week and then one on Thursday, the day it hit the coast. It was basically a “All right, we need to talk about this, here is a webpage that I’ve created on our website, that is nothing but hurricane safety tips, it’ll walk you through on what you can do and how you can be safe”. I created a video about the hurricane and that is also on that page. I also gave them some pointers on how to prepare in the email, but I wanted to really direct them to that page and it then worked. We had a profound open rate, and we really, really good number of people go to the website and then actually watch the video until the video in three days had over 100 views.
Michael: Nice. Probably every single customer who got it, even if they didn’t read it, they knew “My agency’s there for me.”
John: Absolutely right and we called it hurricane Florence update. So it was, “Here it is, this is the information, we’re not trying to sell you anything, this is what you pay for, when you buy an insurance policy”.
Michael: Got it. In your email campaigns, you’re probably not specifically asking for comments back, but have you gotten anecdotal comments or stories from customers?
John: Every day. We get– Christopher actually says–I send these out-
Michael: By the way, this is Michael smiling right now.
John: We get some back every day, because they come from our producers, so none of them come actually back to me.
Michael: Right, because they’re– you’ve got a mapped as being delivered by the producers, is that right?
John: Absolutely right. Christopher tells me that every single day he gets an email response from one of the various campaigns that we have going. Usually if it’s a renewal email, then they email back and they say, “Oh, I forgot to tell you that I bought a book,” Or they’ll email back and just say, “Hey, I want to thank you for talking to me.” He said it’s almost never about what you email them about. It’s always something else that they either have forgotten to say or in some way, they just want to thank you for connecting with them.
Michael: You’re elevating the nature of the relationship and they’re acknowledging that aren’t they? They’re showing appreciation for that and thanks. Okay.
John: Yes, even though I can’t believe that based on the number of emails I send out to these poor people, but they seem to be fine with it.
Michael: Okay. Video?
Michael: You try to do a video once a week, right? I’m going to ask you to walk through your process; John’s recipe for creating a video. How do you start?
John: Well, I typically do whatever topic that I just when I’m over in the blog. I use my blog as my blueprint, as my base for building video content. I’m already researching whatever topics that I’m going to be doing for the video for the blog.
Michael: Got it, okay.
John: Then I can use that information and it’s already fresh in my mind. Sometimes, I have to be honest with you. Sometimes I write like a little script and other times I wing it, sometimes I do a lot of little editing.
Michael: Well, I was curious as a trained screenwriter, whether or not that would actually slow you down if you felt like you had to write the script and the blocking and all that jazz.
John: Well, it turns out that it slowed me down when I get there.
Michael: Yes, okay. [laughs]
John: Maybe I’m a good writer and a terrible actor because I had a lot of trouble staying on script. [laughs]
Michael: I’m assuming here that you, John, you’re the face and the voice on the video?
John: That’s right.
Michael: Yes. Okay.
John: I had to do some of that in grad school. I’m not embarrassed to be in front of the camera, especially when I know that I’m controlling it and I get to edit it afterward and it’s not live Television or something, then, now, I probably would freeze and make a fool out of myself but– when it’s my fault, I had to shoot all this stuff on my iPhone.
Michael: You’re shooting it on your iPhone?
Michael: Okay. Interesting.
John: It’s very simple. In fact, my editing software is probably way more sophisticated than whatever I’m actually shooting on.
Michael: Well, I actually want to walk through this. Your video quality is probably just fine. I put out a few hundred bucks for a Logitech BRIO, which is a webcam, it delivers really, really sharp resolution. Whatever, use what works. You shoot it on your iPhone and then presumably, you uploaded into your laptop or your computer, right?
John: That’s right. Yes. Eventually, I definitely want to upgrade what I shoot on, right. I want to get a good camera. I’ve got some good friends from grad school, they live in an LA and they do that professionally.
Michael: Okay, cool, right.
John: It’s something that I’ve looked into and talk about. For now, I used to do it on my laptop with my 2012 MacBook struggled-
-to render a video. Now, I have a much bigger system and I edit on Blackmagic resolve, which is a fantastic editing software that you can get for free and use and you can always upgrade to the more professional levels, but it is by far in a way a wonderful, wonderful program that has really helped me to elevate and make easier what I do with the quality of production.
Michael: I’m going to repeat that when Blackmagic resolve, and again-
John: Surprisingly, yes, they’re great.
Michael: -there’s a free version.
You’ve got your edited piece. Now, the edited piece do you add like a crawler or titles or any graphics or images?
John: Again, when I talked about voice and I talked about character in blogs, I want to do the same thing and videos, because when I got into video creation for insurance marketing, I went online and of course, you want to see what other people have done. I looked at some other people’s videos and they were fine, but usually with someone standing in front of a green screen if they had any money or just in their office on a webcam and they were going, “Today we’re going to talk about auto insurance and how it affects you.”
It’s completely fine and it’s wonderful that people were doing that, but I wanted to do something a little bit more. In grad school, I wrote a lot of comedy. I try to add little funny moments in like, I’ll have words appear at the bottom of the screen. Sometimes they clarify things; sometimes they make fun of me for something that is there.
Michael: Now, does Blackmagic resolve have that feature?
John: Yes, it’s very simple. You just click on media and you can put in words pretty much wherever you want. You can change them around. It’s very easy to do that. Very good.
Michael: Okay. Got it. Then, you’re ready to publish it. Where do you publish it?
John: I publish directly to YouTube.
Michael: The agency has a YouTube channel for you?
John: That’s correct. We have a YouTube channel.
Michael: Then it’s on YouTube. Do you embed that on your blog or Facebook?
John: All of my blogs that have video content in addition to it, I always put the video at the bottom of the blog. At first I put at the very top, but then I kind of figured that people won’t read it. They’ll fail to see the video.
Michael: All right. Then Facebook. What do you use for video on Facebook?
John: I used to just take my YouTube link and just put it straight in there. What I discovered based on some articles that I read is that Facebook does not want you to go to YouTube. They are competitors, right?
Michael: Gee, I think you’re right, okay.
John: Exactly. What they do is if you if you put your YouTube link on there, they make this small little, not very user friendly image and a little blurb. But if you upload your video directly Facebook often it’s big and bright and they show it to everyone. It is by far in a way more effective than just using your YouTube link. It doesn’t drive as much traffic to your YouTube channel, but more people see it. I’ve started doing that and that’s been very successful.
Michael: All right. SEO?
Michael: Oh, actually, one more question. I’m sorry, on video. Have you discovered for you an optimal length of video?
John: Great question. I typically come in between seven to eight minutes. On some topics, I try to make it shorter, around five, on the hurricane, it was like, almost 11, and I was really worried that no one was going to watch it and, of course, it was one of our most watched videos and people watched it to the end, actually, probably just due to the subject matter. There are two schools of thought on that. Some people say that you should do short bursts of information that, it’s all about attention span, and the fact that most people don’t want to watch long videos.
Some of my experience backed that up. Very few people watch the entire length of the video and you can’t take it personally. You just be happy that they even looked at it at all. Plus another school of thought is that the bigger it is, supposedly, the more likely YouTube is going to recommend it to people and the more likely it’s going to show up in SEO.
Michael: I’m not aware of that so that’s something to dig into.
John: I don’t know if that’s gospel or not, but that is something that I read.
Michael: Is it gossip or gospel? [laughs]
John: Yes, right.
Michael: So far optimal length seven or eight minutes for you. Right?
John: Right, yes and I’ve had five, and I’ve had 10.
Michael: Yes, okay. Also, just don’t take it personally if people leave early. You got them on, you made a connection.
John: You made someone watch an insurance video. I mean, you should be elated.
Michael: Break out the champagne. Another practical question is when you shoot the video, do you have it scripted, do you have bullet points or do you have it on your head?
John: Usually, I have the blog up that I’ve already written. I can reference the blog, I read the blog, I look at the information that I’ve done before. Occasionally, if especially it’s on a topic that I don’t know that well, like when I did EPLI Insurance, it definitely had a list of bullet points that I wanted to hit. You can always tell because I edit more so you’ll see, I’ll say something and then it’ll be a little jump cut and then I’ll say something else. If I lose track, if I don’t know it as well then I’ll reference other things more often.
Michael: How do you deal with your notes, the kind of the shifty eyes syndrome? You’re looking at your iPhone, but you’ve got bullet points somewhere on the desk or are they on the computer next to it. How do you deal with them?
John: Usually, it’s on the computer next to it. Recently, I’ve moved to a new home and I don’t like the office space. It’s one of the annoying things about having a grad school degree in film is that I’m obsessed with lighting-
Michael: I should ask you that. Have you purchased lights? What do you call-?
John: I was very lucky on my first shooting location, it was floor to ceiling windows, looking out over Brogue Street in Philadelphia was just absolute tons of natural light that’s flooded in. In fact, if anything I was too rushed out in my early videos. Now, my lighting has changed a little bit. Long-term based on how successful this is, I probably like to get some lighting equipment in addition with the camera, but a camera is probably more important because it can control light that way.
Michael: All right. Yes, light is important in my video guys. I got pretty good light here in Arizona and the Casita, but he’s making, “Yes, you need to get a couple of them on the floor and illuminate the shadow on that side and all that jazz”. Right? Okay.
Michael: Just a couple of things before we wind up. By the way, this has been a ton of fun for me. I have lots of notes. I try to learn something from every single guest. Trust me, I’ve learned from you. I really appreciate you being so generous with your experience.
John: My pleasure. It has been a blast.
Michael: SEO. SEO is the aerobics of marketing. You can’t exercise your heart directly. You can’t go fix your SEO directly. You have to fix the stuff that impacts the SEO, right? To exercise the heart, you move your legs and your arms. To improve your SEO, generally, you have to improve your content and make sure that you’re using the kind of keywords that people are searching for. What do you do to fulfill your SEO responsibilities?
John: I basically go about it in two ways. The first way is through this consistent content production. The more that you put out there and the more the people connect with the better it is for your SEO. I put all these blogs out there. If people are reading them and connecting them, then Google sees that. They’re going to give you more juice as it were. That really helps your videos the same way especially if you used it through a YouTube channel.
All of that begins to feed on itself. The more the people look at it, the more it will get recommended and the more that– it kind of build. The second way that I do it by going through our webpage, I really go through and see what needs to be updated, what needs to be clarified, what needs to be strengthened to make it better for SEO. I’m always going through and looking at one of our web pages every week and try to figure out how I can make it more persuasive for Google to want to show people.
Michael: Okay. Well, John can I just turn it to you one last time. Let’s use the soapbox. You’ve got experience that is tremendously valuable for the industry. What do you want to say to the industry?
John: I think the industry is moving in a new direction so as a lot of American business. We’re seeing it from Mom and Pop shops of all shapes and sizes. Everyone is going digital. Everyone has to get digital because the world is going digital. Insurance is a little slow to that. We wanted to stay with our brick and mortar mindset but like you’re saying, so many people are doing this. I mean, according to Safeco, over half of all agencies have some marketing professional whether it’s– like you said, it’s an intern on the Facebook page or whether it’s someone like me who’s sitting in the room by themselves going how can I get people to read this.
I think that we just need to continue and to be open so that we can look at this as an opportunity to get in front of people, to get in front of a new generation of people. Also, to connect in people in a way that we really never connected before. Also, to be open to things like we can’t just put out a Yellow Pages ad in the phonebook like we used to like my dad did for 35 years.
Michael: Hey, probably worked. If you read my report on 21 Ways to Read a Killer Yellow Pages Ad, I know it worked, but I’m not sure it’s going to work today.
John: That’s exactly it. It’s really being open to how the world is changing and embracing that. But I don’t think we need to lose what made different, fantastic brick and mortar industry to begin with. It’s about connecting with people and caring for people. If you do that at the end of the day, you’re going to be successful on this industry. It’s really what it takes. It’s really listening and helping people. Connecting with people is what my job is all about. I used things like agents of revolution to get in front of people and say, “Hey, we are here, we understand where you coming from, and we’re actively trying to connect with you to be better as an agency”.
Michael: John, you’ve been tremendously generous with your experience. On behalf of the audience, thank you so much. Before we go, I don’t want you to lose with phone calls for unlimited free consulting. If somebody had a question or wanted to reach out to you or find out more, how do you want people to make contact?
John: Feel free to email me. They’re more than welcome to email me.
Michael: Okay, at?
Michael: Got it.
John: That’s a long, long email that my boss likes to joke, who tried to find the longer one but was unable.
Michael: All of them were taken. Okay.
John: That’s right.
Michael: email@example.com. It’s been a pleasure. Look forward to talking to you again.
John: Thank you so much for having me. It’s been a lot of fun.
Michael: Stay connected. All right. Thank so much, John. Take care.
John: You’re welcome. Bye.