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You’ve Got a Marketing Budget—Now What?

If you’re one of the few agencies that dedicates time and energy to developing a concrete marketing budget, kudos—you’ve taken an important first step in prioritizing your business’s funds to make a little go a long way.

Ideally, if you’re the owner or principal of your agency, you’ve been an integral part of the process so far. Experts agree that at a bare minimum, it’s crucial for agency leadership to have a hand in developing the marketing budget.

“Setting a budget is a function of building the business plan, and that’s a senior management kind of thing,” says Paul Kurnit, clinical professor of marketing at Pace University and CEO of PS Insights, a marketing communications consultancy firm. “The owner needs to be deeply involved.”

“The principal needs to be highly involved—the person spending the money, because no one cares about your money as much as you do,” agrees Robyn Sharp, owner of Sharp Family Insurance and founder of Mega Agency Marketing, a marketing firm that specializes in helping agents use online marketing to grow their agencies. “Delegating creation of the budget to people who don’t have skin in the game can be really dangerous. If you’re getting a paycheck, and you can count on that paycheck, you’re just not as worried about the outcome.”

But it’s one thing to create an agency marketing budget in the first place—it’s another thing entirely to execute it. “Many agencies simply don’t have an active marketer in the office,” says Jennifer Jennings, vice president, marketing and training, Grange Insurance. “The principal is spending their time running their agency and is often still part of client acquisition.”

Over the course of developing the budget, “the owner needs to identify two or three or four trusted resources in the agency who have a stake in developing and fulfilling the plan,” Kurnit suggests. “They may not have a vote in terms of what the budget’s going to be, and that’s OK. Having that understanding is critically important because it has a bearing on not only financial investment, but also human investment. Staff should get a vote on whether or not marketing ideas they develop will be consistent with the budget.”

Aligning your people with the marketing budget and plan is a crucial step that many agencies overlook. “A lot of times you see the principal hand marketing responsibilities over to a CSR and say, ‘Hey, you can work on this.’ But then they never block out time for that person to do it,” points out Dale Steinke, director, independent agent marketing programs, Safeco Insurance. “If you don’t block out the time, it doesn’t happen.”

At the average agency with revenues under $5 million, one employee is dedicated to marketing, and marketing payroll totals approximately 2.5% of net revenue, according to the 2018 Best Practices Study Update. Meanwhile, the average agency with revenues over $5 million employs nearly four marketing staffers and devotes approximately 1.3% of net revenue to marketing payroll.

“Figure out, within the components of the plan, who is best suited to do which aspects of it,” Kurnit suggests. “You could have a relative’s kid who’s got a good gift of gab doing cold-calling, for example. That would be a very inexpensive component of your budget.”

Once you’ve determined who’s going to execute what, “someone needs to have accountability for marketing results,” says Sharp, who works with a variety of agencies on Facebook advertising specifically. Who that person is will vary agency to agency.

“I’ve seen this with a lot of my clients—at smaller agencies, it’s usually the owner who’s keeping up with exactly how many leads their staff is responding to, getting quotes from, all of that,” Sharp says. “Then I have larger agencies that kind of just turn it over to their employees. They vaguely know what’s happening, but their staff has a clear picture. Either way, you need to really understand how well your marketing is performing.”

Regardless of how your agency structures its marketing manpower, “you need to have somebody who’s dedicated to doing it, even if it’s only a few hours a week,” Steinke says. “Among the fastest-growing agencies, one of the core things they have is some sort of marketer—part-time, full-time, something.”

Jacquelyn Connelly is IA senior editor.


How Your Traditional Agency Can Thrive in the Social Age

Written by Mark Babbitt, originally published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc.

The past few years mark a tremendous shift in communication among service-based businesses.

In this new social age, how can your established business keep up? How do you maintain “the way we’ve always done it” while implementing “the way things work now” to compete and grow?

Here are five characteristics of traditional companies, agencies and local leaders that have found a way to thrive in the social age:

They know social is a mindset 

Far too many old-school organizations—and their leaders—believe being “social” is about posting on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest. They don’t realize social engagement isn’t any one of these tools, and it cannot be defined by a platform or technology.

Social is about listening—sharing knowledge and engaging. It’s about meeting your customers where they are and being relevant in the communities you serve. Social is how you present yourself, virtually and in person. Social is talking with your stakeholders—customers, fellow community members and employees—not at them. And always remember: Those customers and employees talk about your brand on social and digital media, whether you’re listening or not.

They create an OPEN culture 

From “A World Gone Social,” OPEN stands for Ordinary People | Extraordinary Network. The acronym is about reconsidering how you solve problems and face challenges. It means customers, employees, vendors and even competitors can offer input that leads to innovative solutions and better service. Simply put, OPEN means getting the right people in the right room at the right time.

By breaking down the hierarchal communication barriers and gathering community members, local service providers and even underwriters at the same table, real-world insights develop faster. Everyone becomes a solution-focused contributor. Every stakeholder has a voice.

They maintain consistent public relations efforts 

It’s important to have a reputation as a charismatic leader. Even if you’re not in the news as often as Arianna Huffington, Richard Branson or Elon Musk, you should be consistently present as the face of your business online.

However, as many agencies have learned, attempts to force an unsocial person to be likeable on social media can prove disastrous.

The goal here is simple: Present a passionate member of your team as your agency’s brand ambassador. The ambassador makes in-person and online appearances that benefit the community and the agency alike. They may lead a Facebook group that supports community efforts, or create a blog or podcast about local issues. Just as important, they consistently contribute to local business associations.

The key is that this person avoids talking about themselves or the agency all the time. Instead of becoming known as self-promoting spammers, your brand ambassador should promote the work of fellow community champions on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and in person. With every appearance, the social face of your agency builds credibility and brand awareness.

They demonstrate social responsibility

In the social age, local business leaders are expected to care more—to be sincere, approachable and even vulnerable. Have something to celebrate? Talk about what it means to the community and the people you serve—but don’t mention how it impacts your business.

They thrive on testimonials. Because the social age has spawned self-promoters and spammers, many of us have become immune to people talking about themselves. Rather than place trust in advertising, consumers now flock to online sources for objective perspectives on the ways businesses serve their customers and community.

To grow your business without spamming, you must get so good at what you do that existing customers start doing the talking for you. Through endorsements and recommendations online, including social media Yelp, TripAdvisor and other sites, let others become the voice of our agency. Soon, you will no longer need to invest in huge advertising campaigns featuring enormous headshots. Instead, you will grow through genuine affection for your brand and positive word of mouth, both online and off.

By leveraging the positive aspects of the social age, many agencies find a renewed passion for their communities. Their employees and brand ambassadors have a newfound purpose: competing in the local marketplace in all the right ways.


How to Free Up Time for Digital Marketing

Written by Zachary Emly, orginially published by Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, Inc. 

"You need to be on social media. You should have Facebook and a blog. Make sure you’re also creating videos and checking out the latest trends like Snapchat and Instagram.” Sound familiar?

Do these people understand the life of an insurance agent? No agent has a few hours of spare time that they’re waiting to fill with Facebook and uncomfortable video creation.

But the experts are still right—digital marketing is a necessity for the future of your agency.

Here are a few easy ways you can free up more time for digital marketing while still getting through your workload.

Get rid of non-money making activities

Things like taking out the trash, getting the mail, shredding documents and other seemingly arbitrary tasks. We’re all busy, but I think we can all agree that not everything on our desk is necessarily pressing. By removing the junk or moving it down the pay scale, agency owners can begin to invest in their future marketing means.

Schedule time for it 

Whatever is on your calendar will get done. If your calendar is filled with important tasks, you will succeed. If not, you’re more likely to fail. And if someone opens your calendar and sees you’re available, they’ll fill it with their needs. It’s easy to get caught up in pursuits that don’t matter, like lengthy, unnecessary work calls. If you build work time into your calendar, you’re less likely to procrastinate or be interrupted.

Hire someone 

When all else fails, hire someone. You don’t necessarily have to outsource your marketing to the cheapest bidder just to get it done. Consider bringing someone in house who is capable of properly marketing your agency. Although it requires time, money and capacity to hire someone, it’s worth it. Your marketing team should make more money than you have to pay them. Your agency may save a few pennies if you choose not to hire someone, but you’ll end up losing dollars in the long run.

Just make sure that the person you hire understands the job and has some experience with digital marketing—and make sure you’re willing to invest in their training. Also consider distributing marketing tasks to more than one person at your agency. They can work part time on different marketing initiatives but come together once a week to stay aligned.

Know what you need to do 

With so many different tools at your fingertips, effectively marketing your agency can be a bit intimidating. It’s easy to get lost in the weeds when you’re working, and you may come out without achieving anything tangible.

To avoid this, take a couple of weeks to set goals that align with your agency goals as a whole. Prioritizing will help ensure a sharp focus on only the most important marketing activities—the ones that will help you hit your business goals.

Zachary Emly is an instructor and consultant at inBuzz Group, a firm that educates insurance agents and small business owners on how to take control of their digital marketing.


Why you can’t (or shouldn’t) avoid digital marketing

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Guest blog post by Kasey Connors, Director of Trusted Choice Marketing Operations, Big “I” National

The consumer marketing landscape is changing rapidly, not only from how people interact with brands but how they seek information in an increasingly digital world.

Digital marketing can embody a wide range of concepts, but the definition can be paired down to the marketing of products or services using digital technologies, via the internet, mobile, display or other digital platforms.

Some common components of digital marketing include:

  • Search engine marketing (SEM)

  • Search engine optimization (SEO)

  • Social media marketing (including paid advertising, display ads or geotargeting)
     

What’s right for independent agents?

How do you know what is right for you and how to remain competitive in the digital marketplace as an independent insurance agent or agency?

Start with identifying and understanding your goals.

Trying to reach a new market segment previously unacquainted with your agency? Publishing niche-specific content and using targeted display ads may be a good option.

Looking to drive awareness and increase word-of-mouth exposure around your agency? Developing a social media campaign around your brand may be the way to go.

Looking for a wide-ranging selection that will capture new prospects who may not even be familiar with your brand? Search engine marketing could provide that outcome.

Where do I start?

You can certainly start small and don’t need to jump all in at once.

One of the best things about the digital marketplace is the ability for ongoing testing – you can test different tactics and even different audiences.

Some of this may feel intimidating and out of your comfort zone. That’s ok, do it any way.

For some extra words of encouragement, here is one of my favorite quotes from businessman and futurist Alvin Toffler:

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

I find this quote fitting as the consumer landscape continues to evolve and businesses need to adapt and grow with the changes by doing things differently than they always have.

As the digital marketplace evolves, the path to identifying leads and nurturing them will also change.

Here are three ways to get started with digital.
 

  1. Diversify
    Diversify your marketing strategy by reallocating some of your existing budget to digital marketing. Unlike traditional marketing outlets, digital marketing budgets can be fluid. If one tactic is not working, readjust where your efforts are focused.

    Finding the right mix for you will involve testing.  If digital marketing is new to your agency, it’s good to start small. Try implementing one social campaign or leverage a digital tool that helps you connect with your community on a personal level (email, video, etc.).

     

  2. Identify Your Target Audience
    It is so important in marketing that you connect with your prospective and current clients where they are and how they like to interact along their decision-making journey.

    You won't be able to position what you're selling to meet your current and potential customers' needs without knowing who they are, and in turn, aligning your services with those needs.

    How well do you know your customers' backgrounds, goals and challenges? How well do you understand their interests and needs? Where can you identify new and possible parallel segments to target?

    If you’re trying to reach a younger demographic, you will need to get in front of that group where they are and through the channels they like best -- not necessarily where or how you have done so in the past.

     

  3. Implement and Quantify
    Once you’ve set your goals, determined your budget and identified your target audience, it’s time to execute your digital marketing initiative.

    Digital marketing can consist of a wide range of tactics set at different points of the customer journey and in conjunction with other forms of traditional marketing.

    Developing the different parts of your campaign is only a piece of the strategy. Some tactics may be better aligned for an awareness phase and may not directly end up as leads.

    When considering the success of one tactic over another, you need to keep in mind what each of tactic was intended to do to compare your outcomes equally and then readjust as needed.

Final words of wisdom

The most important piece of the journey is to get started, no matter how small that may be at first.

Also, don’t be afraid to try something new.

With digital marketing, readjusting along the way is part of the process and provides information that can build the foundation of what works for your business and clients.

Data and analytics are crucial elements in your road to digital success. Having a digital footprint provides data and insights to be able to optimize what is working and eliminate what is not or even may help you to identify a new audience.
 


Get a free review of your agency’s digital presence

Contact us at trusted.choice@iiaba.net to set up a free digital review or visit our full site of free resources for all OIA members at trustedchoice.com/agents.


What Every Ohio Insurance Agent Should Know Before Starting Content Marketing

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Guest blog post by Joey Giangola, Managing Editor of Agency Nation and host of Insurance in Your Words podcast (listen on iTunes or PlayerFM)

I know, you’ve been told repeatedly how important it is to market your agency online, to the point you’re not sure if you should be worried or annoyed.

Honestly, you probably need to feel a little of both.

But if we’re going to be even more honest, it’s okay, because not everyone is willing to tell you about the crazy ups and downs along the way.

Which, if you think about it, really isn’t fair.

I’ve had plenty of ups and downs creating content for my family agency and these are the things I wish someone told me six or seven year ago before I got started.

To help you learn from my mistakes and NOT come terrifyingly close to a nervous breakdown in the process, let’s take a few minutes to help you set the proper content expectations.
 

It Will Take a Lot Longer Than You Think

This is the only test you have to pass if you want to be successful making people want to buy insurance from you on the internet.

If you can push through the amount of time it will take for you to create enough good content for people to take you seriously, that’s most of the battle.

If you expect three videos and a blog post to open your prospect flood gates, the amount of disappointment you’re setting yourself up for is dramatic and severe.   
 

Find Time Right Now

Give yourself permission to put “content creation” on your schedule during business hours.

I’ll give you a moment to gasp audibly.

I’ll also give you a chance to read that one more time to emphasize its importance.

Give yourself permission to put “content creation” on your schedule during business hours.

If you’re not willing to respect it that much now, it will only get much worse. I promise.  

I watch agent after agent attempt to create content “when there’s time” or “after business hours” and it never gets done.

These content appointments should be treated with the same level of seriousness as a meeting with a real human, even one of your biggest clients.

If you want to take it a step further, find someone in your office or extended insurance community to be an accountability enforcer.

Make them make you write when you’re supposed to.

Alright, fine, that might be a little domineering and possibly overkill, but I think you get my point.
 

Be Yourself

If you’re not willing to let your hair down, stop right now.

There’s absolutely no reason you have to pretend you are unaffected by human emotion and weren’t borderline sobbing watching the end of Mr. Holland's Opus for the 10th time last night.

Who you are is what makes people want to come back for more. That, and the fact that you know insurance.

If you only give them insurance, you miss out on differentiating yourself based on who you are and why you do what you do.

I’m sure you don’t run into your office before a client comes in and hide all the pictures of your family or stuff all your personal items into your jacket pockets.

Well if you do, you probably have bigger issues to work on besides writing an 800-word blog post.
 

Be Specific

I don’t care how many companies you have or how many lines of business you write. You’re going to pick your best one (see: profitable or enjoyable) and only talk about that.

It’s going to dramatically cut down on the amount of time it will take for things to start producing results.

Once they do, and you’re confident in your ability to add another spinning plate, rinse and repeat the same steps that got you there.

Let’s break that down a little more if you don’t believe me.

Let’s say your agency is really good at selling six different types of insurance.

If you wrote a blog post every week for one year, you would have 52 posts.

If you rotated between those six lines of business, you would only end up with eight posts for each line of business.

That isn’t enough for Google to think you’re an expert in any of them.  
 

You Need More Than You Think

If you're good enough to consistently produce content once a week, and it’s all focused on one line of business, you’re still just barely crawling out of the practice round.

Understanding that really helps provide perspective on the size of the whole project. Obviously, don’t let it overwhelm you, but you at least have to be aware so you know what you’re up against.

If you're just starting out, producing content once a week should be your minimum, with your ideal goal being two or three times a week.
 

No One Cares About You

I know this might sound extremely hypocritical and contradictory if you’ve read the entire article up to this point, but let me explain.

The content you create should never be focused on you the agent or the agency.

No one cares about the new market you added or if company XYZ gave you an award.

Your content should always be focused on solving the problems of the people you want to do business with.

End of story.

If you have a hard time believing this, think of a time a company you do business with told you something you didn’t care about? You don’t remember? Exactly.

That thing probably felt earth shattering to them and you shrugged it off in less time than it takes to skip a YouTube ad.

Quick side note: If you still watch ads on YouTube, get a YouTube Red subscription, which also comes with Google Play Music. It will change your life. You can thank me later.
 

The Bottom Line

It’s always best to know what you’re getting into before getting into it.

If you work hard, be patient and have fun, you should look up a year from now and have a hard time seeing over all your leads.

Alright, fine, that was a bit of an overstatement.

I won’t sugarcoat it. If you’re just starting your content marketing journey, you have a long road ahead of you. But knowing how to avoid some of these very common roadblocks will dramatically improve the time it takes to reach your inbound marketing destiny.
 

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