How to reach the opportunity-driven consumer

I wrote a post for the MyLifeProtected blog centered on the opportunity-driven insurance consumer and how we use marketing and technology to reach that consumer with the digital insurance platform, MyLifeProtected:

The intent-driven consumer describes the traditional, legacy insurance consumer, one that has been served well for generations by traditional agents and direct writers. Conversely, the opportunity-driven consumer is a new breed, one that is less likely to be served by the traditional agent or direct writer. Those consumers may not be driven by a specific risk management need, but instead are driven by relevancy or overarching value.

So, on one side, we have the rise of the opportunity-driven consumer. On another, we have a second trend uncovered by Accenture in 2014, stating that 67% of consumers would happily buy insurance from a non-insurance brand.

The intersection of these two trends is powerful. When combined, it creates a persona that could describe millions of Americans: the consumer who is open to buying insurance when it’s offered at a relevant time by a brand it already trusts and has a relationship with.

We built MyLifeProtected because of this intersection.

Check out my complete post here.

7 social media tips for independent agents

This post originally appeared in PropertyCasualty360 on December 17, 2015.

Social media doodles elements

For most independent agents, social media is a hobby at best and an afterthought at worst.

Social media is classified as something that independent agents “just have to do” — and there’s very little emphasis placed by independent agents on social media strategy or tracking of results.

It doesn’t need to be this way. Social media is capable of being a viable tool to help you retain existing customers and grow new business. As a medium, it will allow you to interact with your prospects and customers on their terms.

But, it’s difficult to commit. Where should an agent begin? What should the focus be? What if you’ve already developed a social media presence and you want to expand it into something more successful?

So, starting now, you’re a social media marketer. Welcome to the team. Follow this social media playbook to get your agency off the ground or expand what you’re already doing on your social channels:

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Pick a lane

Facebook. Twitter. Instagram. YouTube. Vine. LinkedIn … I’m just scratching the surface.

It’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of social media platforms available to a business looking to get active in this type of marketing.

The first step in improving your social media presence as an independent agent is to choose your lane, and stay in it.

Do you really need to be on Snapchat or Periscope (or both) to have success in social media for your business? Perhaps, but probably not.

The reality of social media is that it is so ubiquitous and attracts so many users that you could quite literally invest in a single social media network and still get results. The first step, then, is to decide what you want to invest in — and for most independent agents, the answer will be Facebook and Twitter, with the possible additions of Instagram and LinkedIn, depending on your content ambitions. More on that later.

Hootsuite

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Don’t go this alone set up your social media tools

I can’t stress enough how many great social media tools are out there: Hootsuite. Sprout. Buffer.

Many of these tools are free, they’re awesome, and they can create lots of efficiencies for you in your social media efforts. Once you’ve chosen what social media networks you want to focus on, utilities like the ones I just mentioned are next on your to-do list. It will take mere moments to integrate your accounts with utilities such as the ones mentioned above.

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Create content and play to your strengths

Let’s put social media aside for a moment. Why should customers do business with an independent agent like you?

Certainly, your focus on customer service and your underwriter relationships are two key reasons. A third reason is your industry expertise and ability to give unbiased, relevant insurance advice. This is the exact kind of content that plays well in social media — content that brings a unique perspective and educates the reader.

Once you’ve got your social media setup and your social media management utilities working, leverage your strengths as an independent agent and use social media to distribute content that will highlight your insurance knowledge and how consumers might use that expertise to make more informed decisions about their insurance purchases. According to HubSpot, lists pull well in the finance vertical, so how about “Top Five Things Insurance Buyers Screw Up When They Buy Insurance”?

Another way to play to your strengths is to be yourself, which is to say, be local. Most independent insurance agents serve local or regional geographic areas. Don’t try to write content for the masses when you don’t care about the masses — you care about your immediate customer universe. For example, MassDrive is a Massachusetts-specific independent agent that is part of the national auto and home insurance platform at my company. If you look at what our team is doing on social media (you can check that out our Twitter and Facebook), it is very Massachusetts focused and stays true to messages and content that will resonate with MassDrive’s local audience.

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Create some visuals

Social media — even those historically text-based such as Twitter — have never been more visual. The creation of a social media presence that is visually strong can be very intimidating for companies new to the medium.

Luckily, it’s never been easier to create visually compelling content for distribution on social media. Sites such as Canva exist purely for this reason — to help social media marketers who don’t have a design background create great-looking visuals for social media.

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Let your most satisfied customers do the heavy lifting for you

You’re lucky. As an independent agent, a member of your team exceeds the expectations of at least one customer or prospects daily. There is no better way to elevate your brand on social media than to capture testimonials from those customers and distribute via social media.

As it turns out, testimonials are hugely effective at helping companies be more successful in social media. Get your best customers to agree to allow you to use a quote in your social media efforts. If you want to be really ambitious, film a video testimonial and post that content on social media. The point is, social media is the best venue available to empower your customers to sell for you.

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Hype your social media efforts to your customers

It’s an online/offline world. Your offline interactions will bleed into your social media and a customer you interact with online may be knocking on your office door the next day. That’s the reality of customer-centric marketing in 2015.

As independent agents, this reality can be spun to your advantage. It’s my guess that your agency touches a lot of customers each day; face-to-face, via the phone and via e-mail. Each of those touchpoints is an opportunity for you to hype your social media efforts and gain greater traction.

So, once you’ve gotten this far down your social media to-do list, make sure that your team adds social media links to their email signatures, integrate social media messaging into any scripting you may have, add social media icons to your website, and train your team to talk about your social media presence when speaking to prospects or customers.

Measurement

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Keep an eye on results

You’re a businessperson first and a social media marketer second, so you need to worry about the return on investment of your social media efforts.

After all, what is the point of doing all this marketing if it’s not going to drive results of your business?

Brandwatch has a stellar list of free social media monitoring tools you should review. I personally like using Hootsuite, FollowerWonk, Topsy, and Google Analytics for most of my social media monitoring, but there are plenty of viable options.

If you want to pay for more extensive monitoring tools, those are available as well. Look for metrics like reach, engagement, and amplification to understand how your message is amplified. If you have the technical chops, use custom variables in Google Analytics or other tracking tools to more directly track how users who interact with your social media engage with your website after they’ve clicked on your content.

There is so much nuance to what success looks like in social media and this list should serve as a set of foundational building blocks for the independent agent.

Don’t forget to interact with your followers in a timely manner and that, in combination with this list, will put you on the path to social media success.

How insurance companies can use social media to retain and create business

Social-media-apps

This post originally appeared in print in 11/13/15 issue of The Standard, found here

You’ve heard it a hundred times, perhaps from another independent agent, a friend who works in another industry, a carrier or a customer: “You really need to be active on social media.” It’s a familiar refrain. But, really, why? Why should independent insurance agents care about social media and be active on social networks?

The answer is simple: it’s good for business. Social media can help with two of the most critical challenges facing independent agents in today’s highly competitive market: customer retention and the creation of new business.

Oftentimes, it’s difficult for independent agents to stay top-of-mind and demonstrate value to their customers throughout the year, beyond the time of policy renewal or in the unfortunate case of a claim. Activity and interaction on social media directly addresses that challenge. It’s a great way to build stickier relationships with your custom- ers to help retain your existing book of business.

Social media can also be very effective at generating new business for your agency at an affordable cost. While a typically sized agency may not be able to acquire customers via social media at scale, the amount of new business that can be generated by social media can more than off-set an agency’s cost to build and manage a social media presence.

Here are five tactical things that every independent agency can do to build a more effective social media presence:

Share freely.

For decades, independent agents have functioned as trusted ad- visors and conveyed their expertise to consumers via personal interactions. Social media provides the opportunity for independent agents to play this same role for consumers, but in a different medium.

Independent agents should freely share their knowledge and expertise via social media and provide valuable content and insight on social media networks. Your social media content can be inspired by your proficiency in insurance. Don’t try to sell. Instead, educate.

According to a study by ODM Group, a digital marketing agency, 74% of consumers utilize content on social networks to guide purchase decisions. Independent agents are uniquely posi- tioned to take advantage of this trend to aid both retention and creation of new business.

Fit the right content to the right channel.

There are so many social networks in 2015, and it feels as if the market is in a constant state of expansion. Consumers are using a wider variety of social networks than ever before, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed by the number of options that are available to independent agents.

At most agencies, time and resources are at a premium. As a result, you should consider what kind of content you want to create and distribute that content through the appropriate social media channel. For example, if you find that it’s easy to share insurance factoids or brief insurance buying tips, Twitter is the channel that’s the right fit for content of that type.

If longer-form content is what you’re most comfortable creating, Facebook is ideal. If you’re a visual communicator and enjoy using images to convey ideas, Instagram is excellent.

The point is that you don’t need to be in all channels at all times; focus on getting your content into the right channel, even if that means fewer channels.

Embrace paid media.

It can’t be un- derstated how much social media has changed in the last half decade, and the primary change is the sophistication of paid media available to advertisers like independent agents.

You may not know it, but paid media opportunities on social networks represent a highly unique digital advertising opportunity for independent agents. The reason for this is targeting. Social networks can allow independent agents to target marketing by zip code, gender, interests and affinities.

Do you want to target prospects that live in one of five zip codes and know someone who follows your agency on social media? Independent agents can do that using paid media placements on social networks. It’s a unique opportunity. If you see a path to using social media to grow new business, paid media on social networks is an effective way to enable that strategy.

Focus on engagement, not numbers.

For agencies of a typical size, it’s unlike- ly that you will achieve the kind of scale of fans and followers that a big brand or a company with a national footprint will have. That’s completely fine. As an independent agent, you don’t need scale to be extremely effective in social media.

To be effective without scale, focus on quality interactions and engagement with your customers and prospects who have the largest reach. If you have a customer with 2,000 Facebook friends, try to build a strong social relationship with that customer in hopes that he or she will help amplify your business and brand message by liking or re-tweeting your content.

Be shameless; ask for that follow.

It’s challenging to build a following of customers on social media, but it’s even harder when you don’t directly ask for help and participation. Don’t be shy; ask your customers to like you and friend you on social media.

Add this “ask” into your normal pro- cess when interacting with customers, add social media links onto your website and make sure your team adds social media links to its email signatures. Social media follows that are generated by personal interactions are most likely to stay with you longer and amplify your message.

If you put all of these one-off tactics into play, and you’ve had enough success to get your attention, what’s next? A content marketing strategy, which would include a full social media strategy, is the natural evolution for independent agents who want to double down on so- cial media. Full coordination between social media, content production, mar- keting and sales unlock further social media opportunities for independent agents to leverage.

Data: Insurance Prospects Love Mobile

I originally published this post on LinkedIn. Here’s a link.

At Next Generation Insurance Group, we’ve used digital as a point-of-sale and point-of-quote for insurance products since our founding. As you might imagine, the ecommerce and user experience landscapes have changed dramatically during that period, but nowhere is that change more dramatic than in the use of mobile by insurance buyers.

It’s clear after an analysis of our own data that there has been a tectonic shift in the hardware preferences of insurance prospects over the past five years.

Let’s first check out GradGuard.com, our higher education business at NGI. GradGuard is the leading consumer-centric insurance and benefits solution designed to meet millennial consumers where they are, not only across different platforms but also product verticals.

The peak season for GradGuard products is May through September. In 2010, mobile comprised a paltry 1% of traffic to GradGuard.com during the site’s peak season. One percent! Half of one percent of the site’s conversions occurred on mobile devices.

GG-mobile

In present terms, it’s intuitive to state that in order to meet millennials where they are, your company needs a strong mobile practice. (This we luckily have at NGI.) But looking back to 2010, it’s easy to understand why we paid barely a passing interest to mobile.

Fast forward to peak season 2015, which just concluded: 38% of traffic to GradGuard.com originated from a mobile device and 16% of all insurance policy sales occurred via a mobile device. Five years ago, 1% of GradGuard.com’s traffic came from mobile. Five years later, 16% of its SALES came from mobile. It’s crazy.

The use of mobile by insurance prospects isn’t limited to speciality products found on sites like GradGuard.com – it extends even more dramatically to more ubiquitous products like car insurance. MassDrive.com, the Massachusetts-focused website that’s part of our national auto and home insurance business, has seen an even larger explosion in mobile activity. (I opted to use MassDrive.com for this exercise instead of the site for our national auto and home insurance solution, MyLifeProtected, because this business was exclusively located in Massachusetts back in 2010.)

I looked at the last three months on MassDrive.com versus the same period in 2010. From 8/1/10-10/30/10, less than 2% of traffic to MassDrive.com originated from a mobile device. Like GradGuard, less than 1% of conversions overall were generated on a mobile device. Times have changed in 2015; for the same period this year, 38% of traffic to MassDrive.com came from a mobile device and an unbelieveable 37% of total conversions occurred on a mobile device.

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(In the case of MassDrive.com, the conversion rate on mobile devices is nearly identical to the conversion rate on desktops; there is a much larger variance in desktop and mobile conversion rates on GradGuard.com, where the desktop conversion rate is significantly higher than mobile. We’re not sure why that is, but we’re looking at it.)

These and similar data points are impacting how we market and approach our process and experience designs at NGI. What was something of an afterthought five years ago is now an active part of our creative, engineering, and QA operations.

The data tells us that insurance prospects are ready to buy on mobile – we’re focused on capturing them with an experience worthy of that expectation.