Is digital marketing really the greatest thing since sliced bread? And what is it anyway?
The term “digital marketing” refers to any marketing that uses the Internet or wireless technology to communicate a company’s message.
For many years, agents focused on familiar media such as yellow pages, print ads, and perhaps television or radio ads. A few agents, mostly direct writers, used direct mail. By far, the most common method of customer acquisition was through one-on-one sales, either in-person or by phone.
Then, on October 27, 1994, the first clickable banner ad was published by hotwired.com. It was very basic by today’s standards and simply asked, “Have you ever clicked your mouse right HERE?” with an arrow to the words, “YOU WILL.”
Although AT&T sponsored the ad, their name and logo didn’t appear in the banner. When a user clicked on the ad, they were taken to a very simple web page which provided links to a few art museums and AT&T’s nascent website. It received an astonishing 44% click-thru rate.
(Someday, that kernel of knowledge could help you win a trivia contest… you’re welcome.)
Four years later, Google was founded, and by 2006, LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter were online and growing exponentially. When Apple’s iPhone debuted in 2007, it signaled a new era in technology with profound implications for marketing — a computer in (nearly) everyone’s pocket.
Today, utilizing digital media is critical if you want to keep your agency healthy and growing. We’re long past the early-adopter phase. Digital marketing is now a core business activity.
The Advantages of Digital Marketing
Online media does have some advantages over traditional media such as direct mail.
- Instant feedback
The ability to know immediately if a marketing campaign is working is a huge advantage of online media. You can make adjustments quickly, and shift resources easily to get the best results.
Tim Ferris tested six possible book titles using Google AdWords before he published The 4-hour Workweek. It’s difficult to imagine “Broadband and White Sand” or “Millionaire Chameleon” having the same success as the title he ended up using.
- Better tracking
When you send out a direct mail campaign, the only information you can track is how many bad addresses were on your list and how many prospects responded to your offer. There’s no way to know how many people opened the mail piece or read your postcard.
With online media, you can measure the open rate of emails, click rate on ads, and even know where on your website visitors went and how long they stayed. This gives you much more insight into where the problems are in your sales funnel.
- More precise targeting of prospects
By now, most people understand they don’t have anonymity on the web, but few realize the extensive data mining that is occurring with every keystroke. And it’s not just Google and Facebook — many sites track your interests, what you read, and especially what you buy.
It may be a bit creepy, but for businesses, it’s a gold mine of data. More than ever before, you’re able to precisely target exactly the type of buyer you want to receive your message. Advertising dollars that were wasted on people who weren’t good prospects can now be reallocated to communicate with the best potential clients.
- Reach a wider geographic area easily
Today, it’s common for the insurance buying cycle to start online. Someone thousands of miles away may see your blog post on flood insurance and contact you for more information.
Both consumers and businesses have become more comfortable doing business with professionals outside of their local area. Your potential clients are located far beyond the town your agency is in. If you’re not online, you’re losing business.
- Market to prospects individually
One of the biggest trends in digital marketing is customizing the buyer’s experience. Advanced strategies such as retargeting, adaptive content, and geo-responsiveness allow you to create a one-on-one selling experience online.
For example, if a prospect downloads a special report you have on controlling workers’ compensation costs, you’re able to link her to more content related to workers’ compensation instead of to a page with generic information about your agency.
Don’t Waste Your Money on Digital Marketing
Wait — didn’t I just tell you about all of the advantages of digital marketing?
Yes, I did but just like traditional media, it’s easy to waste a lot of money on marketing and advertising that doesn’t result in sales.
All marketing, advertising, and sales activities should build your list, develop a relationship with that list, and convert your prospects to clients. Any other activity is wasted money and effort.
So how do we make sure we’re using digital marketing tactics effectively? Let’s look at three key concepts that will help.
Key Concept #1: Know where your audience is.
Before you plan any marketing campaign, it’s critical to know where your audience’s attention is. (I’m assuming you’ve defined who your audience is.)
Trying to get your prospects to use the medium you’re most comfortable with is about as effective as convincing a 14-year-old that you’re smarter than they are. Instead, find out what media your target audience uses regularly, and go there.
Snapchat may be an effective platform for selling renters insurance to millennials, but it won’t get you far if you’re selling Medicare supplement policies to older baby boomers.
Key Concept #2: Focus on the system, not the platform.
Your marketing must take a prospect through each stage of the sales funnel: awareness, evaluation, and conversion. No one marketing campaign will accomplish every step of this process, especially in commercial lines where the buying cycle is longer and more involved.
Each marketing campaign you run should have a specific goal. But every campaign won’t have the same goal.
Likewise, the media platforms you use may vary, depending on who your prospect is and the goal of your campaign.
The question isn’t “how can we use Facebook to get clients?” but rather, “what’s the best platform to connect with our prospects at this particular point in their buying decision?” Once you have a defined system, it’s much easier to determine which media platforms will get the best result.
Key Concept #3: Start at the beginning, not in the middle.
I have to admit, this has been one of my pet peeves with some companies who have sold their services to agents.
I was meeting with an agency owner who told me he tried using Facebook but it was a complete flop. As far as he was concerned, all social media was worthless.
He had purchased a service that provided 20 Facebook posts a month. After several months of posting the messages with no response he had given up. When I looked at his Facebook page, he only had 23 people following his page — almost all of them family members or other insurance agents. With no strategy to attract people to his Facebook page, the money he spent on posts was worthless.
To make it worse, because other agents around the country were posting the same messages on their Facebook pages, Google downgraded his position in its search results. He would have been better off not doing anything at all.
Your digital marketing system must start at the beginning — your website — and then expand from there. The tools you use will depend on the prospects you want to attract, and your agency’s overall marketing strategy.
Digital marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all product. While the mechanics of using online marketing platforms is the same for every business, you can’t just copy what someone else is doing and expect it to work for you.
Moving Forward with Digital Marketing
Competition in the insurance industry has never been more intense. Now is the time to integrate online media into your marketing and sales activities.
In upcoming blog posts, we’ll talk more about how to use some of the many online tools available to you. Stay tuned!
Charlotte Hicks Crockett, CPA CIC AAI ARM
Charlotte is a third-generation insurance professional. She was the principal in Glasgow Hicks Company, now Aquesta Insurance Services, in Wilmington, North Carolina. Charlotte is the co-author of A Business Success Journal – Straight Talk by Real People and author of the upcoming book, The Nowpreneur Manifesto.
She currently serves on the Board of the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association and is a Past-President of IIANC. She has also served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the NC Surplus Lines association, Secretary/Treasurer of the Upper Delaware Captive Insurance Company and on many industry and nonprofit committees and task forces.
Charlotte is the founder of Nowpreneur, which gives entrepreneurs who are frustrated with outdated, time-consuming, and costly prospecting methods, customized marketing strategies that deliver a steady stream of high-quality prospects to their businesses. Charlotte has worked with clients all over North America and as far away as South Africa, Slovenia, and Russia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.