Spoiler alert: the rise of smartphones and social media has forever changed the entire landscape of marketing – not to mention commerce, society, and the global economy.

Because of digital marketing, it’s easier, and simultaneously harder, for the independent retail insurance agent to find leads, cultivate referrals, and close new business. Gone are the days of “smiling and dialing”. DMs on Instagram are the new phone call – for right now, anyway.

With such a vast frontier of new and rapidly evolving digital marketing tactics, it’s a challenge to keep up and know what’s most effective. What are the recommended best practices and what are the pitfalls to avoid with digital marketing?

Agency Revolution recently hosted a Live Webinar Roundtable titled “What Does Marketing Mean in 2019?” that can help provide some guidance. In our earlier post, we examined the “old school”, or “acoustic marketing” techniques, that the panel discussed.

In this post, we’ll delve into the panel’s recommendations for “electric” or digital marketing approaches. Of course, most independent retail insurance agents are already using digital strategies – but there’s always room to assess, fine tune, and learn from leaders in the industry.

Our panelists are:

    • Robert Knop, the CEO of Assist You Today, a social selling training and coaching agency. He specializes in creating custom sales and marketing programs that convert social media activity into real meetings and sales.
    • Michael DeLaGrange, the Founder and President of Insurance Lounge, an agency that combines the best features of a traditional retail agency with the online insurance shopping experience.
    • Brent Sheppard, the Founder and President of Xanatek, which provides management solutions and software for insurance agencies. Xanatek is a partner of Agency Revolution’s and Brent’s role in the industry affords him a valuable perspective on the evolution of managing and growing agencies.
  • Tyler McConvill, the Vice President of Marketing at Agency Revolution’s parent company, FMG Suite. He has extensive experience in guiding digital marketing teams, implementing new technologies, and launching integrated strategies.

Lay the right framework

While most independent retail insurance agents probably use social media already, the panelists’ discussion reveals a number of basic best practices that are worth examining.

Tyler McConvill of FMG Suite has a piece of advice that applies to veterans and newbies alike: take time, go through a process, and define the brand that you will present on the social media channels you use.

“This is a hard thing to do,” he acknowledges. “It happens over a period of time. You write down a brand promise that says, ‘This is what I’m trying to do as a brand.’”

McConvill recommends composing a 2-3 sentence brand definition that is honest and authentic, and writing it on paper. “The act of writing it down is a really important first step that…you should go through before you even start to get on some of these platforms.”

Assist You Today’s Robert Knop shares two additional tips for building a strong foundation for social media marketing: “Start with your profile. On LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever it may be, make sure it’s got key information about you. That’s the first step.”

“The second step,” he says, “is to engage with others. It’s ‘social’ media, not ‘anti-social’ media. If you’re just blasting out content, and you’re not engaging with anybody else, then you’re that crazy person on the side of the street screaming through a megaphone 24/7. You want to make sure you’re engaging with others, you’re validating them, you’re starting real conversations, and a real relationship.”

Michael DeLaGrange of the Insurance Lounge reminds everyone that most people find insurance boring, so his advice is to ‘be fun’ on social media.

“People want to be engaged with things that are fun and different,” he points out. “If you just post boring insurance articles every day, you’re going to miss a huge segment out there.”

Adrift in a Sea Change

Of course, it’s impossible to discuss the “what” of digital marketing, without the “where”. The possibilities are seemingly endless, and exacerbated by a sea change in the insurance industry itself.

Host Rick Fox explains: “I think the old-school thinking in insurance was you had the ability to have a personal relationship – to see your customer at the grocery store. As the industry has changed, as the consumer has changed and as you’ve needed to have so many more customers to be relevant for your agency to succeed, we’ve had to figure out ways to be one-to-many instead of one-to-one.”

Digital marketing is a perfect vehicle for creating one-to-many relationships, because technology allows the scalability and targeting of brand messaging – but it isn’t always a simple solution.

Brent Sheppard of Xanatek describes the landscape like this: “Social media gives an agent a lot of personalization that they can do with their advertising: target markets, niche markets. It’s a little bit different than what you could do in the past.”

“Also, the pure number of places that an agency can market is exponential now, compared to fifteen or twenty years ago when it was a phonebook, a billboard, the basketball program, or whatever. I think that’s a big challenge because you’ve still got to pick a place, but you’ve still got be on Facebook and Instagram and LinkedIn and Google Ads. The list keeps going.”

Rick Fox agrees. “If Tyler says to me, ‘Hey, you need to call this insurance agent’, the first thing I’m doing is going online and checking them out. That brand, whatever they put out there to the world is as important as anything else. If the last post on their Facebook page was 2014, they’ve already lost that referral, because I’m not interested.”

Be Where Your Customers Are

Fortunately, a bit of common sense can go a long way toward investing the right amount of time into the best social media platforms for a particular agency.

For example, as Robert Knop explains, “You don’t need to have 10 social media channels. You can have one or two. It’s okay. For example, if you’re selling commercial insurance, you shouldn’t be on Snapchat. That’s not where the target audience is. You’re going to have no shot of success there.”

“From the same perspective, if you’re doing commercial lines, LinkedIn is all business-to-business. That’s where you should be spending your time and effort. If you’re doing property and casualty, you should be doing Facebook ads, boosting posts, and telling Instagram stories.”

Knop knows that of which he speaks. “We get 100% of our business from LinkedIn and conferences,” he says.

“I’ll give you an example. I was in Atlanta at a conference about a year and a half ago and before I went there, I looked through my (LinkedIn) connections. There were eleven people that I’d never met in person. Those eleven people, I sent out eleven private messages, and I got nine responses. I set up six meetings and closed one deal just while I was at the conference itself.”

Knop concludes, “It was great that I was speaking at the conference. That was nice, but the biggest value was being there, letting people know about it, and then the additional things I could add to that. Pairing things like conferences and events with digital mediums – that’s huge.”

Gazing Into The Crystal Ball

Looking ahead, here are the top trends and likely developments that the panel discussed for digital marketing in 2019 and beyond:

    • Paid stories on Instagram: “These are a very economical way to approach social media that people are starting to hear more and more about,” says DeLaGrange.
    • Video: “If you’re not doing video content, you’re not getting out to as many people,” says Knop. “It’s such a necessity nowadays because the algorithms on channels like Facebook and LinkedIn prioritize video content over everything else.”
    • Podcasts: “We’ve just seen such great interaction (through our Connected Insurance podcast), as a way to connect with our community of both users and people that are interested in marketing in the industry across the board,” states McConvill. “We’re bringing other voices into that podcast over the next year.”
  • Voice: “In my opinion, Voice (doing business without having to type or talk on your phone) is one of the emerging technologies that is completely underutilized in marketing in general, because it’s so new,” says DeLaGrange. “It’s one of the biggest waves I see coming.”

Don’t Just Check The Box

Some parting advice from host Rick Fox: “There’s all these buzzwords like ‘social media’ and ‘search engine optimization’. People hear all these things and they think if they check the box and are doingsomething, then they’re doing “it”. But don’t just say, ‘Yes, we paid somebody to do our SEO.’ Do the analytics on that and see if it’s working.”

Fox is sincere in his recommendation to track results. “Having been an agent, I know the days are crazy and they get busy, but if you can stay diligent in this, I promise you the juice is worth the squeeze.”

Robert Knop agrees – and adds to Fox’s recommendation, saying: “Follow up is still critical. Not just tracking, though you absolutely, 100% have to do that. But also, follow up with people who respond.”

He provides an anecdote to illustrate his point, saying, “Someone reached out to me on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. They did it with a product pitch, which you should never do. It’s horrible, but it was actually something I was interested in. I responded back and I said, ‘This sounds great. I’m available next week. Give me a call at this number.’ I didn’t get a response.”

He continues, “This happens all the time. It is industry wide, but to Rick’s point; people are just checking boxes.” His closing recommendation is to execute a social media strategy, like any marketing plan, but to be sure to answer the phone when it rings – the DM on Instagram.

* * *

Part one in this blog series summarizes the acoustic marketing tips that our panelists shared in the February 14th Live Webinar Roundtable titled “What Does Marketing Mean in 2019?”. Listen to the entire webinar, or read the post for a quick summary.

For year-round insight and inspiration about insurance agency marketing, subscribe to Agency Revolution’s Connected Insurance Podcast on Google Play or iTunes

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