Insurance agency marketing and branding will emerge as the clear point of delineation between agency competitors this year. It’s going to create ripples through agencies and the industry like we’ve never seen before, and it will be the single most critical contributor to agency success.

We’ve long talked about the need for insurance agency marketing, but it’s largely been swept aside as something that isn’t necessary and takes too much time, while drawing too few results.

However, the lack of results comes directly from an old fashioned way of thinking about marketing and a complete lack of understanding about branding. Let’s get a couple of definitions out here first before we dive into what all of these forthcoming ideas mean to your operations and your future.

Defining Brand

Your brand is the essence of who you are; it is the soul of your agency. Your brand is a reflection of your organization and it’s culture; your values and what drives choices and behaviors; and the clients with whom you choose to work and how you choose to work with them. When properly defined and communicated, your brand literally pulls your audience into you.

The sad reality though is that agency brands are largely indiscernible. Don’t believe me? Go look at the places you communicate your brand (website, social media, etc.) and compare yours to that of your competition. If you can’t tell the difference, I promise you, your prospects and clients can’t either.

We spend significant time with our agencies helping them put meaningful definitions to each of these ideas. And it’s time incredibly well spent because, as hard as it is to believe, it’s usually never been done before. Without the clarity this exercise provides, what is the guide to making critical decisions? Who’s a good fit as an employee or client? What behaviors are acceptable, or not? Which services are a good match for your value proposition and your clients? These questions are too damn important to be ignored!

Defining Marketing

At its most basic purpose, marketing tells your audience why they may want to be a part of what you offer. It’s about taking those ideas, as defined above, and communicating them both internally and externally to show your employees and prospective clients what drives your business. Those who share your drive and are compelled by your message will want to talk with you; they will want to either be a part of what you’re building or will want to have you be a part of what they’re building. Those who aren’t compelled by your message will move on. Better for them and better for you.

Almost every website we review puts more emphasis on the carriers they represent than on their ability to make a difference for their clients. Besides, what does your “Palladium Status” really mean anyway? It’s time to stop talking about the carriers! And, do you really think your offer to provide a free quote is going to make someone pause and say, “I HAVE to talk to these guys.” Of course it doesn’t!

Marketing has changed significantly over the years and we’re no longer talking about self-serving ads, billboards, and direct mailers. Now we’re talking about websites, blogs, LinkedIn profiles and company pages, speaking engagements, and thought-provoking emails. The purpose behind this set of activities is that it can all be focused on educating the readers and teaching them something new about their business. Sure this is hard work, but it’s work critical to your future success; you have no choice.

Content-driven marketing is key

Quit using marketing to sell and start using it to educate.

Marketing activities designed to teach readers and help them see a new perspective will keep readers coming back for more; it’s what will ultimately drive them to buy from you.

Quality content marketing is going to become the focus this year for agencies that are moving ahead and committed to remaining independent. These agencies will move ahead at an exponentially faster rate than those who don’t get it figured out.

In order to develop this type of marketing and make it effective, agencies must school themselves in what marketing means to their agency, their sales process, and their client experience. They must gain a deep understanding of what this type of educational communication means to their future clients and how it influences them when they encounter it. The game has changed and you need to learn the new rules.

The great divide

Agencies will become divided into those who “get it” and those who don’t.

Some will continue thinking that marketing means advertising and promoting themselves and will find little value in it. These agencies will find themselves losing more ground because clients will see nothing compelling to draw them in. The more money, resources, and time poured into the old promotional marketing, the more these agencies are actually going to find themselves slipping backwards.

Agencies who “get it”, on the other hand, will undergo a seismic shift in the way they view marketing. They’ll begin to see that marketing is about content and empathy and the way it connects with their audience. They’ll begin creating quality, educational, thought-content that speaks to the audience they want to attract and grabs their attention. They’re going to see how marketing becomes an active part of the sales process and sets the sales conversations up for success. These are going to become “Move Ahead” agencies.

Through marketing will come empowerment

This shift is going to put a swagger back in the walk of the agency leaders.

Why? It’s all about the brand message. When the leaders have that message clearly defined, they’ll feel in control. As they see the results that come from changing the way they work, these owners are going to feel themselves in a position of empowerment they haven’t felt before.

They’re going to see the integrated brand, content marketing, and sales process working as one fluid unit. And it will become painfully obvious which parts of the agency operation are holding them back. It will become unacceptable to not communicate the proper message, to not follow the sales process, or to not deliver the client experience that the agency has established. With this new clarity and commitment, the owners are going to feel empowered to make the tough decisions.

Marketing as the change agent

Marketing is going to prove to be an absolutely pivotal change agent for agencies who choose to learn what modern marketing is and how it integrates into their operations. It’s going to be shocking to outsiders who wake up and see what’s happened and how quickly these agencies are able to move ahead – far ahead of their competition – because this type of marketing compounds and lives on, being a resource for prospective clients to come back to time and again and share with everyone they’re connected with socially. Talk about creating a competitive advantage!

Living what you define

With no formally defined and documented agency brand, you look sadly just like every one of your competitors and you’re left making flavor-of-the day decisions about your company. Without brand definition, your company has no guide. Communicating that brand with clarity and transparency is what will make you attractive to your future clients and employees.

Embracing clear, defined, consistent communication as the first and foremost step of any agency activity – from selling to recruiting to internal changes – is going to be the clear differentiator between those who thrive and those who slip into a position of irrelevance.

Doubt what I’m saying? We have examples of agencies whose external communications either earned or lost them clients. This isn’t a far-flung future prediction; it’s here today and it’s happening whether you are aware of it or not.

We also have examples of agencies living their brands – or not – and earning clients – or not – as a direct result. Carrying out the essence of your brand because you believe in it must become second nature for everyone on the team. If they don’t believe, they shouldn’t be with you. If they are incapable or unwilling to do it, they shouldn’t be with you.

When the organization has a clear purpose, so does everyone on the team.

If clients feel a difference between what you say and how you behave, they’re going to fire you. They don’t want to do business with people they don’t trust. And the trust is coming directly from the character and alignment of the company and the people working for the company.

When you have a discrepancy between what your defined brand is and how your team is actually behaving, you are on very dangerous ground.

Your brand definition and internal communication have to come first and that message has to be the filter and the definitive word – period.

These are difficult times. Agencies are going to have to make difficult decisions about the people they hire, the clients they accept, and the services they offer. These decisions aren’t for the faint of heart, but they are critical for those hell bent on surviving.

Photo by © Cacaroot.

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