A marketing faux pas (pardon my French)

I want to tell you something only a few people know. I’ve written some of the blog articles because I needed to rant about something.

This is one of those times. Get ready for a rant. Stay with me. I do have a point.

I’m not sure of the exact year – maybe around 2000 – Bell Atlantic merged with GTE and changed their name and logo to Verizon. Not sure why folks made up company name like “Verizon” but they did. It has no meaning. You can’t look up Verizon in the dictionary. It’s not an old family name either. It’s simply a cool sounding name that some folks got paid a lot of money to make up. It certainly does not have the ring (get it?) that says anything about what the company actually does. Nevertheless, they spent about a gazillion dollars pounding into our heads that the company is a communications company. They were very successful at it too.

Since that time, Verizon continued to spend a ton of money on marketing (probably something like a gazillion-zillion dollars); some folks call that “branding”. It now appears that Verizon recently changed their logo even though we all got comfy seeing the original logo and knowing what the company was all about. Bravo, now they’re going to have to spend about a gazillion-zillion-zillion dollars trying to convince us that the new logo means something significant to us.

Here’s why I’m ranting: all of my customers are considered small businesses. Changing your agency name or your logo is not a good idea. It can cost you big time. The concept of change is pretty tough on people so when you change your branding, you run the real risk of driving away customers and prospects. In order to change your branding, you’ll have to reinvest time, money and effort rebuilding the impressions and good will you worked so hard (and invested financially) to create. Unless, of course, you have the same resources as Verizon.

Rant over.

 

Growing Your Agency Exponentially

If I told you that 10 + 10 + 10 = 33.1, you’d tell me I was wrong. When it comes to growing your agency exponentially, I’m 100% correct.

You may think that there are hundreds of ways to grow your agency and you’re correct if you are thinking about marketing tactics. As far as strategies go, there are only 3 basic, yet powerful strategies you focus on to grow your bottom line. Those basic strategies are:

  1. Increasing the number of customers
  2. Increasing the average amount of revenue from each customer
  3. Increasing the average length of time you keep a customer.

Yes, I know this may sound simple but let’s take a look at how the math proves this powerful theory

Let’s say you currently have 1000 customers who each generate $200 in revenue each year and your average customer stays with you for 10 years. Over those 10 years, you should receive $2,000,000 in revenue (1000 customers * $200 average revenue * 10 years = $2,000,000).

Now, let’s pretend that you focus on growing your customer base by 10% and now you have 1100 customers. Let’s pretend you upsell and cross-sell customers to increase average revenue per customer by 10% so now average revenue per customer is $220. Then you do what it takes to increase the average amount of time a customer stays with you by 10% so now customers stay with you for 11 years. If you would think that your revenue would go up by 10%, you are WRONG! Your revenue actually goes up by 33.1%. Those 1100 customers would now generate $2,662,000 (1100 customers * $220 average revenue * 11 years = $2,662,000). If you subtract $2,000,000 from $2,662,000 you get $662,000. Divide that figure by $2,000,000 and you’ll discover that your agency revenue grew by 33.1%.

As I mentioned, I know this sounds simple nut my challenge to you is what can you do to increase these 3 areas?

Being different.

What makes your agency clearly different than your competitors? Why should a prospect do business with you? Most importantly, why should a customer continue doing business with you? Before you say something like “we give great service” or “we save people money”, think again. Those phrases are not differentiators because they are not quantifiable facts. Those are your opinions and your competitors will probably say the same things about their agencies. Thus, if you say that about your agency, you’re not any different than your competitors.

One way to stand out in the crowd is by creating a Unique Selling Proposition, or USP. It’s a short description of what makes your agency irrefutably different than your competitors and declares a promise that you’re making to your customers and prospects. Folks often confuse the USP with a catchy tagline which it is not. The USP is THE compelling reason why a buyer should purchase from you. The goal of a good USP is to create a perception of difference between your agency and your competition.

The fact is that you’re in the insurance business and to the typical buyer your agency is probably not perceived any differently than all the other insurance marketers. The question now becomes how do you discover what makes your agency different and how do you communicate that?

The first place to start is to take a look at your competitors. In addition to pricing, some points of differentiation are variety, coverages, benefits such as additional services, availability, convenience and customer service just to name a few. What advantages do you have over them and vice versa? Here are some places to look:

  1. Do you have more carriers available? (i.e. more variety)
  2. Do you serve a niche market? (i.e. specialization)
  3. Do you offer longer office hours? (i.e.  convenience)
  4. Do you have a dedicated claims person? (i.e. expertise)
  5. Do you have 24 hour claims service? (i.e.  convenience)
  6. Do you have a dedicated person for certificates of insurance? (i.e. expertise)
  7. Do you make house calls? (i.e.  convenience)
  8. Do customers and prospects have easy access to your office? (i.e.  convenience)
  9. Do you guarantee a quote within a certain amount of time? (i.e. reliability)
  10. Do you guarantee a return phone call within a certain amount of time? (i.e. reliability)

This list is by no means complete. I don’t know your specific agency and your marketplace so it’s impossible to offer a cookie cutter solution. That said, hopefully this short list will be helpful in the brainstorming process.

The next place to look for ideas for your USP is to put yourself in your customer’s shoes. I once heard someone say “If you want to know why John Smith buys, you have to see the world through John Smith’s eyes”. What is it that customers and prospects really want? They may tell you that they want lower premiums but I’d be willing to bet that pricing isn’t the only reason they’re shopping. Take note of what makes people happy and what makes them mad and make accommodations to satisfy those wants and needs. Then you can use this as fuel for your USP.

While the products and services you offer are not necessarily different than those of your competitors, you can differentiate your agency in other areas. The point is that you need to uncover distinct attributes that make your agency more attractive to the target market you serve. Here’s an example: suppose you discover that most or all of your competitors close by 5pm AND you’ve gotten some after-hours voicemails regarding new business. Perhaps you can change your hours and close later. Then you can create a USP around your new, more convenient hours. The USP could sound like: “We have longer office hours just for you”. Here’s another example: let’s say that you write a lot of contractors and you find that they need insurance certificates quickly and that’s something you can accommodate without much trouble. How about a USP that sounds like “Insurance certificates issued within 10 minutes”?

Creating a rock solid USP is not an easy exercise but it’s one of the most effective ways to separate your agency from your competitors, attract more customers and increase retention. As you’re doing the research to write your USP, you may discover that your agency may not be a whole lot different from the competition. If this is the case, pay close attention to what your competition is saying in their marketing. As mentioned previously, the ultimate purpose of the USP is to create a perception of difference. If you’re the first to tell the market about a distinction, your agency may become associated with that distinction and then you will own that attribute. For example, if you’re the first tell the marketplace that you do certificates of insurance in 10 minutes or less, it will likely not matter that your competition can do the same thing. The marketplace will associate that attribute with your agency and you’ll have the advantage.

It’s amazing how something so simple can make such a huge impact.

The good news is that advertising works. I’ve witnessed real, measurable results making me a big believer in advertising. The bad news is that it’s the most expensive way to grow your insurance agency – you are literally buying new customers. Don’t get me wrong, adding new clients to your customer base is critical to the success of your agency and advertising is a means to do just that.

While so much attention is focused on growing your customer list, what is often overlooked is that your current customer base is your best source for additional revenue. It’s most likely to be the most valuable asset of your insurance agency and unfortunately every year a percentage of that customer base stops doing business with you. What you need to do is limit that loss because the longer you hold on to a customer, the more money you make.

Consider this:

  1. It costs six times less to retain an existing customer than to acquire a new one.
  2. Your customers know your business and are comfortable doing business with you. You’re the incumbent agent, a known quantity and inertia usually prevents them from switching. Most likely, they are less price sensitive (and picky) than new customers and prospects.
  3. Loyal customers usually purchase additional insurance products because they trust you.
  4. Loyal customers give you referrals.

So, what’s the secret to keeping your customers and how do you prevent them from defecting?

You have to give them exactly what they want. And how do you find that out? You ask them.

That sounds so simple, but when was the last time you picked up the phone, called a customer and said “Hey Bob, how are we doing?” Think about it, an objective, marketing-minded customer survey for your company could pay huge dividends. Here’s what you need to find out:

  1. What are your customers’ perceptions of your company?
  2. What can you change to improve the overall customer experience?
  3. What kinds of products or services they are looking for?
  4. What is the likelihood that your current customers will purchase from you again?
  5. How are you viewed in relation to your competitors?
  6. Are you making decisions based on your most vocal customers or your entire customer base?

Use the data from your customer survey to help you understand how your relationship is currently perceived by your customers and what actions you may need to take to improve the relationship – and to enhance customer satisfaction, loyalty, and desired business outcomes with all customers.

Rodney Dangerfield & The Ultimate Guerrilla Marketing Weapon

I traveled to Montgomery, NY this past week to deliver a speech to a group of Erie Insurance Agents. I live in the Philadelphia, PA area and my route took me through the Pocono Mountain area – what a beautiful drive! The mountains and hills were magnificent and everything was so green.

I’ve delivered about 15 of these speeches over the past 5 years or so. I’m not a pro but I’m not a shy guy and I enjoy doing them. The speech I delivered was about the promotional products industry as a whole and why promotional products are a smart way to market an insurance agency.

Before each speech, I research all my talking points to make sure they are current and valid. During this process, I’m always reminded why I love this industry and why I think promotional products are the ultimate guerrilla marketing weapon. Here are 5 aspects of the promotional products industry that I’m so proud of:

1. According to PPAI, Promotional Products Association International, our industry is a $20,000,000,000 industry (THAT’S $20 BILLION!). We are one of the only advertising mediums on a growth trend even though wrodneye’re one of the oldest advertising mediums. We are finally getting some well deserved respect!!

2. When using promotional products, an advertiser only has to buy the ad one time and the recipient of the item will be exposed to the advertiser’s marketing message a countless number of times. You cannot get that kind of value from ANY other marketing medium because all of them have a much shorter shelf life.

3. Most people enjoy receiving promotional products. On the flip side, do most people like hearing radio or TV ads? Do they like ads popping up on the webpages they’re viewing? Probably not. Most people will say “thank you” when given a promotional product. Can the same be said when they’re exposed to a billboard? Again, probably not.

4. Promotional products can target just about every demographic no matter the size or obscure the market. Do you want to sell insurance to Eskimos? With approximately 800,000 items available from approximately 4,000 suppliers, I can guarantee you that there is a perfect product available that would be effective and meet the budget.

5. Promotional products are advertising that integrates into our lives. Research shows that there’s a 1 in 4 chance you have a promotional product on your person right now. We use these items in our day to day lives. Do you write a note with a pop-up ad? No, you write a note with a writing instrument. Do you wear newspapers as clothing? No, but you can certainly wear an embroidered sweater to keep you warm. In addition, promotional products typically only carry one message at a time. This makes for a crystal clear, unimpeded transmission of a marketing message. How many billboards are in Times Square? Probably too many to count. A calendar is a miniature version of a billboard at a fraction of the cost and communicates a marketing message for pennies a day. Insurance card holders keep your insureds registration and insurance information handy while marketing your agency at the same time. Clever, huh?

I fell into this industry over 25 years ago. I have been witness to some real marketing successes with promotional products and that is so satisfying. I’ve also been the recipient to some ridicule of my industry. For those folks who think of promotional products as “trinkets & trash” or “tchotchkes”, I urge you reconsider your position. As our world shrinks, technology speeds things up and younger generations become tomorrow’s buyers, advertising mediums will gain and lose effectiveness. One thing that I think will never change is that, as humans, we like to receive things and, if they are useful and relevant, we keep them. Promotional products are the only advertising medium that is useful so I think this medium is here to stay and may become an even more important marketing tool in the future.

Springtime Guerrilla Marketing

This morning, while taking my walk, I discovered a guerrilla had come through my neighborhood last night.

A guerrilla marketer that is.

Dispersed throughout the neighborhood lawns were promotional frisbees imprinted with ad copy promoting a lawn maintenance company. On the inside, the guerrilla added a weather proof label featuring even more information about the company’s service offering, contact information and a discount offer.

IMAG00108[1]This simple idea could work for your insurance agency as well. They can be printed with your contact information, they’re easy to distribute and they’re really inexpensive. Best of all, people love frisbees so your marketing message will be seen over and over again.

 

Fun Marketing

Have you ever tried to do business with a husband and wife who showed up to your office with a small child in tow? Was it distracting? Did the appointment take a lot longer than necessary because little Timmy didn’t feel like being cooperative while mommy and daddy worked with the nice insurance agent?

Giving promotional products to children may seem like a waste of money. After all, children don’t buy insurance. While this is true, pretty much everyone on planet Earth knows that children are a heavy influence upon the behavior of their parents so, if you can keep little Timmy from having a meltdown, you might be able to write some business before Timmy forces his parents to leave your office.

we all need insurance coloring book

How about offering little Timmy a coloring book? It’s a win-win-win: Timmy is happy because he has something to do, his parents are happy because he’s not creating a scene, you’re happy because you can get the necessary work done AND Timmy isn’t tearing your office apart.

Here’s another creative way to use coloring books to market your insurance agency. Let’s say you’re exhibiting at a local fair or community event. Offer coloring books to the kids as they walk past your booth with their parents. As they approach your booth, you’ll have a chance to strike up a conversation with the parents. Bingo! Another new opportunity to write some new business!

 

 

Insurance Card Holder Pricing Increase

807_04_Black_HRCustom printed vinyl insurance card holders are an inexpensive and effective marketing tool. They provide insureds a convenient way to keep their auto insurance card and registration organized and available quickly in the event of an accident or if they get pulled over by a law officer.

When writing an auto policy, simply insert the insurance card into the insurance card holder and hand it to your insured and tell them to put it in their glove box. Your agency name and contact info will be seen by your insured every time they go to the glove box to change out the insurance card.

Our pricing on these popular items is among the lowest in the country and we want to keep it that way. That said, after 4 years, our supplier is raising the pricing just a few pennies on April 1, 2015. If you’d like to take a look at our selection of insurance card holders, please click insurance card holder options

Promoting your insurance agency with promotional products

Did you have a radio ad in your pocket? How about a billboard? Do you have a billboard in your kitchen drawer? Research has shown that the chances are good that some of you have a promotional product in your possession right now. Do you have a logo’d pen nearby? Do you ever wear a shirt, sweater or jacket embroidered with a logo?

A promotional product is physical advertising. Unlike newspaper, radio, TV, internet advertising and other advertising mediums, promotional products are tangible goods that you can touch and see. Sometimes you can hear them and, yes, sometimes you can taste and smell them. They have a surface on them that can be imprinted with your marketing message and given directly to another human being.

What are promotional products? They’re ad specialties, giveaways, incentives and recognition, business gifts and thank you’s…any product that carries a marketing message that is distributed to a customer, prospect and even an employee. Typical promotional products used for marketing an insurance agency are magnets, pens, calendars and insurance card holders.

Promotional products are no longer the best kept secret in marketing. The industry is a $20 billion industry – that’s billion with a “B” –  and it’s one of the fastest growing of the current marketing mediums even though it’s one of the oldest mediums.

Why is the industry growing? The answer lies in the fact that promotional products are targeted and versatile and offer a low cost per impression. Promotional products are cross between a “laser beam” and a “Swiss Army knife” when compared to other marketing mediums.

Promotional products can efficiently target every demographic and budget no matter how small or obscure the market. If you sell insurance to people in rural areas, promotional products can reach them efficiently. Could you imagine how cost inefficient it would be to run ads in traditional media to get business from this small market? For a few bucks, you could send them each a printed jar opener that would communicate your marketing message for years and years.

In addition, just about everyone hates TV and radio ads so they click mute or flip the channel. In fact, people are using On Demand and DVR’s to avoid commercials altogether. Youtube puts a clock in the corner of the ads that counts down how much time you have to spend watching an ad before you can view the content you wanted to see in the first place. Pop-up ads on the internet are just flat-out annoying. As far as billboards, how many of them do you really recall? Newspaper and magazines; they’re in the decline for their usefulness for marketing.

Promotional products offer an extremely low cost per impression because they are used in our day to day lives. Recipients welcome promotional products and they tend to hang on to them or pass them along to others. The items are used over and over again by the recipients which exposes them to your marketing message a countless number of times. When was the last time you used a radio ad? When was the last time you “lost your billboard” and someone else picked it up? Does anyone welcome more TV ads? When was the last time you sat in front of the TV and said “I wish there were more ads”? On the flip-side, you could invest about $200 on a box of pens and distribute them to your customers and they will see your marketing message over and over and over.

So, how do you market your insurance agency with promotional products?

The most important consideration is the distribution plan. You can have the coolest item ever created but if it never leaves your supply closet, you wasted your money. The plan can be very simple – you can mail the items to your customers, you can hand them out at your office when they visit, you can put them in bags and hang them on door knobs. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it gets done otherwise you will not see a return on your marketing investment.

The next decision is the choosing the product and the message. Think about your end goal. Are you looking for new business from new customers or are you looking for more business or referrals from existing customers? By the way, you’ll spend more time, money and effort prospecting for new business from new customers. Also consider the target market itself and the types of items they would find useful. Studies have found that 91% of people have a promotional product in the kitchen, 74% have at least one promotional product in the office and 55% have at least one promotional product in the bedroom. If you’re like most insurance agents, you work with the general public. Since most people have kitchens, most people work and most people go to bed at night, these types of items could be a choice to market your insurance agency.

As far as the marketing message, most promotional products have enough room for your agency name and phone number. Other items have bigger imprint areas which allows for more ad copy. If that’s the case, use that area creatively. Letting people know about other lines of business you write could help you round out the account or get more referrals.

Lastly, choose a quality product. If the imprint wears off easily or the pen stops writing after a few weeks, you wasted your money. The longer the item survives, the longer it will market your agency.

Does your insurance agency have a great logo?

I’d be willing to bet that a lot of insurance agents would say that a great logo needs to be “memorable” and “creative”. While this might be true, having a creative and memorable logo is not an indicator that it will look great when it’s reproduced when printed on an item. A logo that prints well will enhance your agency while a logo that does not print well may hurt your brand.

I started working in printing and promotional products industry in February 1990 and I’ve printed everything from business cards to whoopi cushions. Most of these items were imprinted with an insurance agency logo. I’ve printed millions of items and I’ve worked with 100’s of logos – some of the logos printed well while others looked terrible.

The characteristics shown below can help you determine if you have a great insurance agency logo. If you don’t have a logo and you’re hiring a designer to create one for you, insist on the following:

  1. The logo needs to be legible at just about any size. This may seem like a simple idea but I’ve seen logos that look great at one size then almost indistinguishable when reduced by as little as 25%.
  2. The logo must first be designed in black and white. When you have something that looks good to you, then you can add the color (or colors) later. There are times when you’ll need to have the logo printed in black or a single color due to cost restrictions. If the logo works in black and white, you’ll have more options on how it’s reproduced later.
  3. If you have a multiple color logo, make sure none of the colors touch one another. If the registration is off (i.e.: the alignment of the colors) when the item is printed, it will be very noticeable. Also, touching colors sometimes add to the cost of imprint. Lastly, touching colors makes it difficult to reproduce the logo in one color when necessary.
  4. The logo should be solid colors and not contain any shading or gradients (for example: black that fades into gray). This effect cannot be printed on some items while on others it can make printing cost skyrocket.
  5. The best logos have no fine details or thin lines. They are difficult to reproduce and often get blurry or washed out when the logo is printed small.
  6. Lastly, make sure you acquire the “native vector files”, the PMS colors (ie: Pantone Matching System) of the logo and the names of the fonts used in your logo and the fonts in your logo are “outlined”. Perhaps what I just said is jargon to you, but it’s a language your designer will understand. A good designer should be able to provide these files and information to you. If your designer doesn’t know these terms and cannot provide these files to you, find a new designer. By the way, when you get these files, you most likely will not be able to open them. These files require design software to open them and use them. DON’T DELETE THEM! Simply save them to a drive and email them when requested.

In conclusion, your logo is probably the first thing a prospect sees before they contact you and it’s imperative to make a great first impression. They’ll see your logo on your on all your marketing communications including your website, billboards, printed communications like newspapers, printed collateral like brochures and on promotional items. My advice is to invest some time and money into having a logo designed for your agency that is not only attractive and represents your insurance agency well but also is easily reproduced. It will pay dividends for you over the long haul.