Most months, the member agencies of the Q4iNetwork gather via video conference to discuss topics and share ideas critical to their success and growth. We have one video call that focuses on operational issues and another that focuses on sales and leadership related topics. We recently added a third call that focuses specifically on marketing.
We added the marketing topic for the same reason we launched our marketing division over three years ago. Marketing has grown in importance for insurance agencies, yet few have the internal resources to tackle it successfully. Based on the level of participation on our first marketing call, we probably should have added this conversation earlier.
What is marketing really?
Marketing is many things, but, at its core, it is about strengthening and communicating an organizational brand. Everyone has a brand; it's only a matter of whether yours is intentional or accidental. While, ultimately, a brand is assigned by others based on their experiences, marketing is a chance to influence the brand they assign.
To further complicate things, brands are layered. You have a personal, organizational, and industry brand. If a prospect doesn't know you personally, they'll assume you fit the image they have of your agency. If they don't know the agency, they'll assume you fit the image they have of the industry. Now, I love our industry, but I'm guessing very few of you want to accept the stereotypical label of being an insurance broker.
You may be thinking to yourself, "But I'm not like every other broker, and that will become evident as soon as I meet with a prospect and they hear what I have to say."
Here's the problem – despite having met with those who may make you think otherwise, your prospects are human, and it’s human nature that we want to prove ourselves right.
Tell them you’re different before showing them
If your marketing messages haven’t prepared your prospect to be looking for specific examples of how you’re different, they will come into your meeting assuming you are going to be just like every other broker. Regardless of how different your conversation may be, they will be looking for anything that makes you look and sound like everyone else. That may only be a fraction of your overall conversation, but because that is what proves them right, that is what they will remember from the experience, and it becomes the brand they assign to you.
Use this to your advantage. Whether it’s on your website, in your blog, social media, emails, or only the way you set the meeting, be very specific about what it is that makes you different. But, not just different for the sake of being different, different in a way that would benefit them if they became a client.
Now, because your marketing messages prepared them for how you are different, they are expecting to see and hear those points of differentiation during your conversation. Because they still want to prove themselves right, they will focus on the part of the experience that is different and assign a brand that differentiates you from your competition in a way that works to your advantage.
We've all heard the statistic: we form first impressions in the first three seconds of meeting someone. I believe that is a pre-internet statistic. Because prospects are researching you online, I think you have made your first impression before you ever meet face-to-face.
How did we get here?
Marketing is not a new business idea. But, in many real ways, it is for insurance agencies. I believe this is the case for one underlying reason: insurance agencies have been dependent on insurance carriers and have survived peripherally through their marketing efforts.
Think about it. Insurance agencies have depended on the insurance carrier's products as their primary deliverable, and they have depended on the carrier's commission and bonus programs as their source of revenue. Changes to this dependence are what is forcing agencies into the world of marketing. In some instances, the break in dependence is being forced by the likes of ACA and MLR. Increasingly, as with the member agencies of our network, agencies are working very intentionally to break this dependence.
No independent business can maintain financial success without an effective marketing strategy and plan.
But, it’s so damn hard
It's one thing for agencies to recognize the need to embrace marketing; it's another thing entirely for them to take it on successfully. Many agencies lack the knowledge, skillset, and bandwidth. These obstacles can be overcome. However, there is another obstacle that is much harder to remove, and that is a lack of patience.
Marketing takes time, and, especially early on, it can feel as though you are throwing all of your hard work into a black hole.
- If you don't service clients, you see an immediate result.
- If you don’t get out and sell, you see immediate results (or lack thereof).
However, whether you market or don’t market, the results (or lack of) aren't immediately apparent.
This is especially challenging for the typical agency owner whose personality is often fueled by instant gratification. Admit it; you are easily distracted by the next "bright and shiny." This quickly causes any efforts to be abandoned and replaced with excuses.
You have to commit to marketing
Just like servicing clients and selling new business, marketing is a critical daily function of running a business. It just can’t be optional for any business committed to a self-sustaining model.
It isn’t necessarily easy, but it is doable. Like any other part of your business, you have to approach marketing strategically.
- Create a Vision of what marketing must look like for you
- Be very clear with yourself and your team Why you have to commit
- Establish a Plan to organize your activities
- Approach that plan with Disciplined Execution
- Find someone who will hold you Accountable
In case you still aren’t motivated to embrace marketing in your agency, let me offer this. When you commit to marketing, do it well, and do it consistently, prospects will start coming to you. How is that for motivation?!
Photo by Wayhome Studio.