Your Agency’s Future in Personal Lines Depends on Content Marketing.

30thJul. × ’13

What one skill does your insurance agency need to ensure a future in personal lines?  As the title of this posts suggests, the answer is content marketing.  You may differ with me on this point, but bear with me for a few paragraphs before rushing to judgement.

Almost two years ago now, I attended an industry gathering at which the keynote speaker was the industry journalist/analyst Brian Sullivan.  During the Q&A someone asked him if he thought independent agents had a future in personal lines.  I won’t go into detail on that here – I did a post at the time if you want to get my two-year old take on that –  basically, Mr. Sullivan said that agents with a personal lines future would do so with fewer clients, but would deliver more value-added services to them and have more product relationships with those clients.

run down motel image

Charming, yes. But a relic of the past, or prepared for the future?

Last month, McKinsey & Co. published their own take on the same topic and it’s a sobering read, probably worthy of several blog posts.  For now, I’m going to concentrate on just one facet of the report, having to do with expertise and communication channels, and the relationship of those things to content marketing.  McKinsey cites an increasing unwillingness on the part of consumers to pay for generalist advice that they can find on their own.  If you are prone to respond with ‘we are a generalist insurance agency’ when asked if you can define your target markets, and a significant proportion of your agency revenue comes from personal lines, then it’s probably time to put on your thinking cap.

Perhaps you and your insurance agency colleagues possess a wealth of expertise.  But expertise not shared is like a football receiver with Olympic sprinter speed that can’t run routes and doesn’t know the playbook.  Expertise not shared is wasted potential.

To be sure, the extra services Brian Sullivan alluded to in his talk would include more than just delivering expertise, but I would submit that expertise is the most significant subset of value added services an insurance agent can deliver.  Before your agency can develop and deliver value added expertise, you need to clearly define your target customer in other than line-of-business and geographic terms (homeowners and drivers in River City).  Agencies who have built a practice serving high net worth clients recognize this already.  McKinsey notes that consumers are already seeking more tailored and customized insurance products, which “translates into a demand for more tailored and deep expertise from their insurance advisors. (Consumers) will turn to agents for advice on holistic insurance packages for their personal needs.”  Defining your target market allows you to identify specific challenges faced by the consumer, risk management oriented solutions and model product portfolios – both traditional and non-traditional.

You probably see  a lot of talk about communication channels.  Let me mention a few leading ones here, and as you run down the list, honestly answer how many these you use to communicate with your agency clients on anything more than a one-off basis:  email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, website blog, mobile app.  If you are like most agencies, you probably aren’t doing anything much more than the occasional post for a sparse Facebook audience.

One of the reasons most agents cite for not using these channels is lack of time to develop content for them.  But your expertise is your content, and  once you have clearly defined your target market(s) you can start to assemble an educational inventory for those markets that includes information about risk management, safety and insurance products.  But your content – your expertise – needs to be shared to realize the potential of that asset and that’s where channels come in.  Since you have already defined your target market(s), you will have a better idea about which channels your targets use.

Personal lines distribution has already started to change in terms of consumer behavior and perception, particularly as regards auto insurance.  How far will those distribution changes go and what’s the timeline?  It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems clear to me that those insurance agencies that are honing their content marketing chops today will do alright tomorrow.


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