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Internet Marketing

Barriers to digital success

Don't delay in executing creative marketing ideas

By Tim Sawyer

Recently, I spent two weeks on the road with top executives of a major national carrier. The purpose of the road show was threefold:

1. Discuss the impact of their most recent rate filing

2. Discuss important positive underwriting changes

3. Discuss marketing trends and new services offered by the carrier

My role in the process was to share the best practices of the top e-agents in the country. These agents understand that marketing is important to the success of their agencies, and more importantly, they understand that digital marketing is a critical component in meeting the changing demands of the modern consumer.

How about your agency? Is marketing—any kind of marketing—important to the future of your agency? If you answer yes, what percentage of time, energy, resources, and effort do you actually spend on marketing?

The answer to the second question may cause you to rethink your answer to the first question.

The importance assigned intellectually to the act of marketing oftentimes far exceeds the effort expended. This disconnect results in a continuous loop of disappointment and frustration.

Case in point

Here's a real life example from the road show. The meetings were typically two to three hours in duration. An equal amount of time was allotted to each of the three segments mentioned above.

If you had to guess, of the three topics—rate change, underwriting changes, and marketing—which segment sparked the most discussion?

As a marketer I expected that the most interaction would occur while discussing real world sales and marketing strategies to help agents grow. I was dead wrong.

Here's what happened. The rate change segment didn't elicit much discussion. However, during the underwriting segment, it was as if everyone had consumed three espressos! Attendees asked rapid-fire questions about towing (which was now included in the policy): how far, response time, choosing a mechanic, on and on and on. This was repeated day after day and usually ended with the speaker announcing a mandatory break.

Then it was time for what I thought would be the grand finale. The carrier had a well choreographed presentation highlighting all the exciting (and mostly free) marketing services that were available to the agents—everything from philanthropy, event planning, lead generation, you name it.

Great! I thought. Here is a carrier willing to put real money to work to support the local independent agency distribution channel! And the reaction from the audience? Silence.

During the 10 sessions I didn't hear more than three or four comments during the marketing segment. Almost all of the sessions ended with zero comments or questions. It was as if the agents were completely indifferent to the notion of marketing in general.

Shift your focus

I wondered: once the agents got back to their agencies from the road show, what information would they be discussing with their staff? Would they be talking just about rate changes and underwriting guidelines, or would they include the information about all the new marketing concepts shared by the carrier? Would they brainstorm with staff about how best to use the new marketing concepts?

Based on what I witnessed, my instincts tell me agents will stick to what they know. That's not good. This further perpetuates the lack of attention to a very important part of the successful independent agency: marketing.

So here's the take away. If we all agree that marketing is important to the success of the agency, then wouldn't it be a good idea to start thinking about creative ways to market your business? The reality is what we think affects what we feel; what we feel affects what we do. In the case of the road show, everyone wanted to focus all their thoughts on rate changes and underwriting guidelines, which are obviously important to any conscientious agent.

But the success of an agency is built on find, sell, serve, and keep. Which of these is affected by rate changes and underwriting guidelines? Sell, serve, and keep. Certainly not find.

In this economic environment agents cannot afford to ignore the find piece. Without new business, an agency is destined to fail.

In 2011 agents must avoid the tendency to give lip service to growth. Actual long-term, sustainable, organic growth can only come from a dedication of resources, time, energy, and effort to finding, selling, serving and keeping the modern consumer. And plenty of agents have successfully ventured into the realm of digital marketing including the effective use of online sources such as YouTube, Facebook, LinkedIn, local blogging, etc.

Many of these agents did not even have Web sites just a year or two ago. The difference between them and agents who have yet to discover the power of digital marketing is not a lack of intelligence or capacity; it's a lack of focus.

So shift your focus, commit resources to your digital marketing effort, and get started! n

The author

Tim Sawyer is president of Astonish Results, a digital marketing firm based in Rhode Island. He has trained hundreds of insurance professionals in every aspect of the business with a focus on leadership, digital marketing, and best sales practices.


Agents must avoid the tendency to give lip service to growth.











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