Should Your Insurance Agency Advertise with the Yellow Pages?

1st
Mar. × ’13

If the yellow pages* sales person hasn’t made her rounds to your insurance agency yet, she will.  You probably aren’t budgeting as much for yellow page advertising as you were five or ten years ago, but if you are like most insurance agents, you are likely still spending a good chunk of change each month for some yellow page print and internet advertising.

By now we are all aware of the declining use of print in all its forms, whether newspapers or paper directories like the yellow pages.*  Well over a third of the U.S. populations either do not use or do not own a landline phone, and that proportion is growing.  Distribution and use of the print yellow pages has been in steep decline for years now, though some people still use it.

Those who have moved on from the paper yellow pages have taken their quest for products and services to the internet, where they can search for insurance information and providers using Google, Bing or a private directory like the yellow pages.  It is important to keep in mind that online yellow page directories function essentially like search engines with a narrower purpose:  they help you find only information about local product and service providers.  Search engines like Google will provide information related to searches for just about anything, including insurance.  And most of the time, insurance related searches in Google will produce local results, much like the results produced in yellow page search directories.

So, if most people are predisposed to Google to answer their questions and find information, why would they switch to a yellow page internet search to find out about local insurance options?  That is a hard question to answer, but fortunately, it isn’t the most important question.  A better question, and one that can be answered, is who uses yellow page directories and do their demographics match your insurance agency’s target market?

Back in 2011, eMarketer published a survey with demographic data regarding who used search engines like Google vs. who were more likely to use a yellow page internet directory.  I have excerpted a little bit of that data here:

 

Age 25 – 34 

More likely to use search engine – 51%, More likely to use internet yellow pages – 25%

Age 65+ 

More likely to use search engine – 15%, More likely to use internet yellow pages – 39% 

                                               

High School Education or Less  

More likely to use search engine – 19%, More likely to use internet yellow pages – 36%  

Note:  these percentages don’t tally to 100% because survey respondents also used other sources like newspaper circulars and social  media.

The survey also established that rural residents and those with incomes under $40,000 are more likely to use online internet yellow pages.  The survey was published in 2011 but the data is from 2010, so it is reasonable to assume that the percentages of yellow page users are actually smaller in 2013.  Still, a small percentage of a big number can still be a big pool of potential leads.  But are they the right leads for your insurance agency?  Only you can answer that – the data is there.

What About All the Phone Calls?

A yellow page sales person will have some analytic data for you to review, including how often your agency showed up at the top of their directory, what kind of searches were performed within the yellow page directory, and how many times yellow page directory users clicked-through to your insurance agency website.  As to the last piece of data, the number can also be gleaned from your website analytics by reviewing ‘referrer sources’.  I can tell you that the number will be very small, most of the time in the low single digits in any given month.  But consumers who take action after viewing a local search result, and this is true whether Google or a yellow page directory search is used, are far more likely to place a phone call than pursue fulfillment online.

Often, yellow page sales people will suggest using a special tracking phone number so you can tell when a call was generated from your yellow page ad.  And when it comes to to renew your advertising with them they may produce a report showing that you received hundreds of calls through this tracking number in the prior year.  But are all these calls leads?

Consumers do not necessarily discriminate about the specific kind of information they are looking for when searching online.  That is, they do not necessarily use search engines for one kind of insurance search, like ‘what is my insurance agent’s phone number?’,  and yellow page directories for another kind of search, like ‘car insurance Asheville, NC’.  And people do use the internet the same way we used to use phone books – to find phone numbers.

If your book of business is a little on the aged side, a large proportion of your insurance agency clients will tend to use the yellow page internet directory when they need your phone number (see the statistics above).  And when they do, the analytic reports provided by your yellow page sales person will be peppered with calls, not only from legitimate leads, but from current clients.  I have talked to three different insurance agents in the past few months who discovered  that the ‘hundreds of phone calls’ generated by their yellow page ad turned out to be only a few dozen leads.  This is something you will have to sort through for yourself, but just know that the top level number of phone calls can be misleading.

So, What is the Right Answer?  Advertise or Not?

For some agents, the answer will be no, or if not no, then the right thing to do might be to cut back on yellow page spending.  For others, the yellow pages might be just the place to be.  The data is there, and I hope I have presented it with enough clarity that making a decision is easy, even though I haven’t given you the answer directly.

 

 

 

 

*I”m using the term ‘Yellow Pages’ generically.  There are many directory providers using the same model.

Posted in insurance web marketing, Lead Generation, Local Search | Comments closed

Word of Mouth on Steroids? Facebook’s Graph Search

16th
Jan. × ’13

Perhaps you missed Tuesday’s announcement from Facebook.  That’s OK, their new feature, Graph Search, isn’t available to marketers yet.  But CEO Mark Zuckerberg made clear that it soon would be and that’s worth more than a little of our attention.  Facebook is making Graph Search available selectively, and as they gather user feedback, will make the feature more widely available, with the final step monetizing the service by offering it to marketers.

Contrary to popular beliefe, most consumers start their quest for insurance, not by doing a Google search, but by inquiring with friends and family.  Graph Search promises to make it even easier for consumers to find out where their social network go for the best food, fun and…insurance.  There is an old axiom related to word-of-mouth:  Consumers with a bad product or service experience will share it with 9 people; those with good experiences will share with an average of 3.  Social media is already turning this axiom on its head and Graph Search has the potential to make it seem positively medieval.*

Facebook has its problems to be sure, many users are unhappy with their privacy practices, and it isn’t a foregone conclusion that Graph Search will be the next big thing.   But Facebook is under pressure to find ways to monetize the platform and has serious competition from search rival Google, who is working to deliver a social layer in search through Google+.  With the battle lines now being formed, it would seem foolish for growth-minded insurance agency not to include social media development in current marketing plans.

 

*What’s in your network?  The average Millenial Generation (18 – 34) Facebook Network is 318 while older Baby Boomers (57 – 65) average 85.

Posted in Social Media | Comments closed

Growth Expectations and Lead Generation, Part I: Referrals

12th
Mar. × ’12

Over the next few posts, I’m going to sketch an approach to sales planning for insurance agents.  We would all like to see our agency revenues increase by 5%, 10% or more a year, but without plan that allows you to manage lead sources, and manage leads once they have been captured, it just isn’t reasonable to expect any change in sales performance.  There are a variety of ways to generate leads today; some sources are prohibitively expensive; other lead sources will preserve or improve profit margins and stabilize loss ratios.  Insurance agents really need to take an incremental approach to managing lead sources because each source has different characteristics.  I’m going to start with the number one lead source for most agents – referrals – not only because referrals are the most significant new business source for the majority of insurance agents, but also because close rates, profitability, and loss ratios are usually optimal for business from this source.  Referrals are the lowest of low-hanging fruit, so it makes sense to be sure your agency is capturing as many as possible before spending time or money on other lead sources.

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I have talked to a lot of insurance agents in recent months who tell me that agency growth, in terms of client or customer count, has been flat or slightly declining over the last few years.  The economy is to blame and agents are typically casting about for different ways to generate more leads as a way to push agency growth into the positive range.  That isn’t the only way to increase revenues, and it may not even be the right first step for most insurance agencies looking to register some sales growth, but increasing the number of leads and new clients should be part of the mix in any growth plan.

Most insurance agencies, and small to medium sized businesses in general, are stretched for resources and need to employ a triage mentality when choosing where to concentrate marketing time and budgets.  That is, what tactics deliver the most revenue, at the least cost and with the smallest time drain?  Think of a Venn Diagram – I reproduced one below, just in case you forgot your junior high math lessons.  Revenue can come from improved retention, better close ratios, new clients, new policies or additional coverage sold on existing policies.  That’s about it.  I’m not going to draw a Venn Diagram specific to this conversation, at least not yet.  But think of the outcomes of marketing and communication tactics for each of the circles in the diagram (instead of robots or zombies).  The circles might represent new client acquisition, improved retention, and so on.  The intersection of the circles would represent your choice of tactics like local search optimization, lead nurturing, social media marketing, e-newsletters, PPC or traditional SEO.  In fact, you might draw several Venn Diagrams as you consider your marketing triage.  The triage approach would lead you to start with the marketing and communication tactics that impact single revenue source vs. just a few – and one such tactic is referral management.  In the diagram below, referral management would sit in the middle intersection of three circles representing new client acquisition, improved retention, and new policy sales for existing accounts.

Venn Diagram approach to insurance marketing triage

In this post, I’m going to explore the anatomy of leads that come from customer referrals and discuss whether the quantity of  referrals  most agents see is good or bad.  Perhaps more importantly, I’ll explore whether insurance agents should put any effort into capturing more customer referrals and I’ll suggest some tactics for doing that.  I will discuss other lead generation sources in future blog posts.

For our purposes here, I’m going to define a lead as any opportunity to provide a quote.  Another name for what I am defining here as leads is ‘prospects’, consumers from whom (or for whom) you have obtained contact information and have qualified in some way.  Traditionally, leads aren’t considered to be prospects until they have been qualified but  I think we are safe considering the term ‘leads’ to be synonymous with prospects when the source is customer referrals.  Referrals are more likely to resemble the demographic profile of an existing book of business and referrals convert at a much higher rate than leads from other sources.

A large insurance company survey from a few years ago found that, on average, 69% of insurance agency new business clients come from client referrals.  I’m going to round that number up to 70% (to make any calculations easier on me).  And I’m going to make the case, that for most insurance agencies, the acquisition of leads through referrals is largely a passive activity .

More consumers, at 37.5%, start their insurance ‘research’ by asking friends and family for recommendations than start with any other method (32.5% start with the search engines, e.g.); I discussed some of these numbers in an earlier post on social media and insurance referral dynamics.  What this consumer behavior suggests is that insurance agents are going to get a certain level of referrals, not because of what they do, but because seeking references is a pervasive consumer behavior;  a certain level of referral leads is going to be based, in large part, on the number of customers an agency has.   The question is, can the number of referral leads an agency receives be considered a good number and should an agency put some effort into increasing that number?

Let’s suppose that an insurance agency has 2,000 customers.  At a fairly normal customer retention rate, the agency might keep 92%, or 1,840 customers, over the course of a year.  So this agency probably has to replace 160 customers just to maintain a flat customer count.  In a typical agency, 70%, or 112 of these new clients, would come from referrals and just 48 would come from other sources.

Some light research, from a variety of casual resources1, would suggest that consumers switch, or consider switching insurance every three to five years, let’s split the difference and call the number  4.  The number seems to be consistent whether the line is personal auto insurance, homeowner insurance, business or life insurance.

Further, and please indulge me in some conjecture based on anecdotal data, suppose that most of us really have only 5 or 10 people that we are likely to ask for advice or references.  This number is a combination of the of the people in whom you really trust and the subset of that group with whom you are in regular contact and feel comfortable approaching for advice.  It seems reasonable to assume that this number is a two-way street:  if you have five or ten people you are likely to ask for insurance references, there are five or ten people likely to ask you for the same.

Conversion rates, the number of quotes that result in new clients, is unusually high for leads from referrals, often between 40% and 60%.  This isn’t surprising.  Referral leads are sufficiently motivated to seek out advice, and by definition, are well into the sales funnel.  They are also extremely warm leads, having been introduced by a trusted source.

Let’s put these numbers together and see how they compare with the number of new clients this insurance agency actually obtained through referrals.  Collectively, between 10,000 and 20,000 friends and neighbors of this agency’s clients could ask those clients for insurance references (2,000 customers times the number of people that might ask them for advice – 5 to 10).  However, only 25% of this pool of reference seekers would be shopping for insurance in a given year.  That being the case, the number of possible referrals would would start with a range between 2,500 and 5,000.   37.5% of this pool will start their insurance quest by asking for advice; so the range of potential referrals is actually between 938 and 1,876.

If this agency’s conversion rate is 50% when quoting referrals, obtaining the 112 new customers from this source would require 224 leads.  That would mean that this agency received between 12% and 24% of the possible customer referrals.  Is that good or bad?  …I don’t know, but it does seem like there is a lot of untapped referral potential in this agency’s customer book.

Suppose instead that most people only have three to five people to whom they would turn for insurance references.  Then the pool of potential referrals for this agency would fall in a range between 563 and 938.  If those numbers are right, then this agency is receiving 24% to 40% of potential leads from customer referrals.  Better, but still some untapped potential.

It seems that some effort toward increasing the number of referrals should result in some additional new clients.  An insurance agency probably has little influence in the proportion of consumers who are likely to start their insurance shopping by asking for references (the 37.5%) so increased referrals likely would be due to one of the following:

  1. Serving more customers – if 37.5% of consumers ask for references first, then a larger customer base would necessarily mean more referrals, all else being equal.  But this is a little like putting the chicken before the egg.
  2. Make your customers happier so they are more likely to refer you when approached, or even, so that they proactively seek referrals on your behalf.
  3. Make sure your agency is top of mind with your customers, so if they are asked for insurance recommendations, your name naturally pops up.  Putting a renewal reward program in place or simply asking for referrals in email signatures, etc. might accomplish this.  But in both 2 and 3, the agency has to have regular, value-added communications with customers.

Reaching out proactively – and with other than sales messages – whether by e-newsletter, the occasional snail mail note or card, or through social media are tried and true methods for making customers feel more wanted and keeping your agency top of mind.  If this hypthetical agency acquired just 20 additional new clients, a little more than one a month, then instead of being flat, the agency would grow by 1%.  Getting a few more referrals, because the close ration is so high, seems like a good place to start the sales growth journey.

If the hypothetical agency discussed here were to start a client communication program including an e-newsletter, and one or two traditional mailings a month, their new business from referrals would probably increase to more than 70% of all new business.  That’s not the point of this exercise though.  The referral source is just one of several I will analyze as I walk through a sales planning review.

At the outset, it may have struck you as odd, a piece on customer referrals in a forum dedicated to insurance agency internet and digital marketing issues.  But referrals have been taking place in digital mediums like forwarded emails and online social networks.  The digitization of referrals is likely to accelerate with new developments like introduction of a social layer in Google search results (G+) and referrals that happen across your backyard fence are more and more likely to result in branded searches on the web.

The bottom line is this:  traditional sources for new business are still important and often undervalued and are under-optimized.  But now there is a new, internet wrinkle that needs to be considered when managing old school lead sources, even for tired, old referrals.

 

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1.  There are some definitive sources for these numbers that might differ from my numbers.  I would be happy to plug those into my calculations, but the results and conclusions are not likely to be significantly changed.

 

Posted in conversions, Email, Social Media, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Low Tech Website Traffic for Your Insurance Agency

27th
Feb. × ’12

Or:  GEICO is Everywhere

I spent a day at the Daytona race track this last weekend, and couldn’t help but take note of the presence (or lack thereof) of insurance companies.  GEICO was omnipresent, on land and in the sky; in the infield and outside the race track grounds, as you might expect.  Farmers Insurance made a modest appearance, and one of course, Nationwide Insurance sponsors one of the NASCAR racing series.

GEICO banner at the Daytona International Raceway Infield

I would love to get a look at GEICO or Nationwide’s website analytics, but even without seeing them, I know they get a spike in website visits and leads every time they do a big event like the Daytona 500.  I know that because independent insurance agents see the same kind of results, though on a smaller scale, whenever they advertise or send flights of direct mail.  Many of the more active insurance agency websites hosted by Confluency Solutions are owned by local agents who are constantly getting their name out there around town, on billboards, at realtor meetings and at community events.

There are a lot of internet based options for creating brand awareness and all agencies should pay attention to those as well.  But driving traffic to your insurance agency website isn’t solely about SEO, social media or PPC.   The old school stuff still works.  Just ask GEICO.

Posted in insurance agency website | Comments closed

Do Your Insurance Agency Customers Love You?

12th
Dec. × ’11

As a follow on to the post on The Future of Independent Insurance Agent in Personal Lines, though this post is applicable to all lines of insurance and insurance agency customers..

I recently was contacted by one of Confluency’s client agencies who was concerned that their satisfaction ratings were lower than average.  A prospect/client survey report card is included as part of our website admin so some data is provided to all agents after a website service or quote request.  In this case, the ratings were low across the board:  timeliness of response, satisfaction with explanations and information, etc.  But the real vote of confidence is in this question:  Would you be comfortable referring a friend or family member to us for their insurance needs?  Clients who provide referrals, as well as those that don’t, are voting with their feet, so to speak.  Most of the rest of the questions have to do with why clients are happy or unhappy  – learning about that gives you an opportunity to influence future survey results (and ultimately, retention, account sales and referrals).

So if you ask your clients if they are satisfied that you have explained insurance coverage and options adequately and a disproportionate number answer ‘no’, then you obviously need to spend a little more time with each client.  Spending time with clients is a real key to happiness.  Let me digress a little and share information from the medical world.  A few years ago, a medical malpractice insurer correlated malpractice lawsuits with the amount of time doctors spent with each patient.  Some doctors that spent, on average, just a couple more minutes with each patient.  And those doctors were sued a lot less often than doctors who hurried on to the next patient.  It’s harder to sue someone you like and you are more prone to ‘like’ a doctor who actually spends a minute or two talking and listening to you.  In the same way, clients who feel ‘loved’ by your insurance agency are far more disposed to ‘like’ you and are less inclined to shop their insurance elsewhere every time they experience a minor bump in the road.

In this context, love is synonymous with communication.  You can’t do a better job explaining insurance coverage and options to clients unless you spend just a little more time with them.  You can do that by being more efficient and taking advantage of every low-cost communication medium you possible can (i.e., your website, email and Facebook).  But even if you do that, insurance agency management will need to spend a little more time by taking a moment or two each month to communicate with all clients (newsletter, social media) and your CSRs and producers are going to have to spend just a bit more time with each client and prospect on the back end of every transaction.  Time is money, so at the end of the day, that means that the pot of gold used to pay salaries and bonuses will be a little smaller, at least at first.

Most insurance agencies are working at capacity – maybe your staff isn’t necessarily spending time as efficiently as you would like or maybe they aren’t choosing the tasks they spend time on wisely – but there is no doubt everyone is busy.  Something has to give.

What Kind of Communication Makes Insurance Consumers Happy?

Writer’s block is the bane of all authors, and that includes insurance agents who want to pen newsletters or post to Facebook or start a blog.  The first hurdle, coming up with a topic to write about, is often insurmountable.  Here’s a clue for insurance agencies, courtesy of a recent survey conducted by Siegle+Gale:  consumers find every single touch point in the insurance relationship to be complex.  And they are willing to pay more if the insurance experience can be simplified – the study suggests 5% – 6.5% more.

Insurance Complexity Survey Chart

Survey Data from Siegle+Gale Global Brand Simplicity Index 2011

So take advantage of all the inexpensive and easy-to-use communication channels that are available to your agency and start to develop strategies to simplify insurance for your customers.  They will love you for it.  Just as important, they will be willing to pay a bit more for their insurance.

 

Posted in Customer Development, Insurance Agency Communications | Comments closed

The Future of Independent Insurance Agents in Personal Lines

30th
Nov. × ’11

Your Agency and the Independent Agency Distribution System

For thirty-years now, pundits have been predicting the demise of the independent agency in personal lines.  It still  hasn’t happened.  Oh sure, there have been losses in market share over the last several decades, mostly to captive agency companies, but also some to the direct marketing companies.   But there are still plenty of insurance agencies making a good living producing personal lines.  Can it last?  I think so, but I’m betting that over the next 10 years there will be a far smaller number of agencies with the majority of their revenue coming from car and home insurance and those agencies that are 60% commercial today will be 75% – 80% commercial.  That means less income stability year-to-year for most agencies; personal lines, while not sexy, doesn’t exhibit quite the same rate and underwriting volatility that commercial insurance does.

But some agencies will continue to thrive in personal lines and I have a good idea which ones.  Here’s how to tell if your insurance agency is likely to be one of the personal lines survivors – just answer this question:  How many policies does your agency have per personal lines account?  Here are your possible answers:

  1. I have no idea
  2. about 1.5 policies
  3. 3 or more policies

If you chose answer 1 or 2, and you don’t make some changes to your customer development programs (i.e., actually implement some customer development programs) then your agency has no future in personal lines.  If you chose answer 3 then you probably will continue to produce personal insurance business profitably.

What has really changed in 20 years?  A lot, yet in some respects, nothing.

I was at an industry conference in the fall of 2011, the keynote speaker was Risk Information’s Brian Sullivan.  As always, he delivered some thought provoking information in an engaging way.  During the Q and A, someone asked him what he thought about the future of personal lines for independent agents.  His answer, more-or-less, went like this:  Independent agents can continue to grow in personal lines but they have to do something to justify the extra cost of doing business (within the independent agency system).  The only way to do that profitably is to do more business with fewer clients.  Today, most agents don’t do anything extra and the average number of policies per personal lines account is 1.4.

Over 20 years ago, I spent time in a lot of insurance agencies, helping them analyze their marketing opportunities and one of the things I measured was the number of policies per personal lines account.  Guess what that number was.  If you guessed 1.4, you would be absolutely right.  The number hasn’t changed in over 20 years; the conclusion I would have to draw is that most agents, despite all the rich and inexpensive communication mediums available today, still don’t communicate regularly with their customers.  That is, there is no systematic communication process to capture more account sales, improve retention, and earn more referrals.  However, the agencies that have 3 or more policies per account are on their way, and for the most part, these agencies are using their website blog, Facebook, and email newsletters to build relationships with customers and reinforce their value proposition.

I have seen estimates of seven as the average number of ‘personal’ insurance polices held by the average person.  I can’t cite the source however, so instead, let’s think about policies a person should have in three groups:  Must Have, Should Have, Might Need…

Must Have (Bought Products)

  • Car Insurance
  • Home, Condo or Renters Insurance

So there’s two.  They are in the Must Have group because (with the exception of renters insurance) the state or the bank require most of us to have this kind of insurance.  These insurance policies are what I call ‘bought’ products, meaning you don’t have to create demand for them – people will shop for them and buy them because they have to.  Because of that, most insurance agents start their personal insurance relationships with one of these products.  Unfortunately, most agents also end their customer relationships with these products as well.

Should Have (Sold Products)

  • Life Insurance
  • Health Insurance
  • Disability or Accident Insurance
  • Critical Care Insurance
  • Inland Marine (Valuable Articles)

I’m counting Inland Marine as a separate policy because it is often written on as a separate line from homeowner insurance.  Most people, even renters, have some personal property that is not adequately covered by unendorsed home, condo or renters insurance.  Yet how many property policies in your book-of -business include some inland marine policies?  Individuals may get basic life insurance through their employer as well as health and disability, but we all know that employee benefits have been slashed over the last several years and far fewer people have employer-provided coverage today.  Maybe your agency doesn’t write life, health or disability.  That’s a business decision and is certainly your call – but if that’s the case, instead of 5 more potential product relationships you are limited to one.  These policies are different than the Must Haves in that there is generally no government agency or financial institution telling people they have to buy one of these policies.  For that reason, I call these products ‘sold’ products; you have to create a demand through education and that requires customer communications.

Might Need (could be Must Have or Should Have)

  • Boat Insurance
  • Home Business
  • ATV, RV
  • Motorcycle
  • Pet Insurance

There are more of these, of course, but these insurance policies are the most commonly needed.  Sometimes, as in the case of motorcycle insurance, the products are actually ‘bought’ products courtesy of the DMV licensing process; other times, individuals will finance a boat or RV and the bank will create demand for you.  Home business insurance and pet insurance are most always ‘sold’ products – you’ll have to do a little work.

So in short order we have a list of 12 fairly common personal insurance policies.  The average of 7 per person is starting to look very plausible.

Developing deep customer relationships in personal lines requires systematic communication.  That communication can be scheduled in advance – a newsletter, for instance.  That communication can be planned in advanced but developed ad hoc, as information becomes available – Facebook or blog posts, e.g.  But systematic communications should also be situational.  For instance, I recently filed two auto insurance claims.  In both cases, I contacted the insurance company claims department directly, because that’s what I was instructed to do.  The insurance company did a good job for me in both cases (of course, I haven’t seen my renewal premium yet).  I knew what to expect, was kept apprised of the process and settlement was speedy.  And the number of times my insurance agent checked in with me during either claim?  Zero.  If I were a cynical person, I might start to ask myself why I have an agent at all.  And when my renewal does come, and most likely with a premium increase, do you think I will hear from my insurance agent then?  Probably not.  It’s scenarios like this that predispose consumers to shop their insurance – and never tell their agent.  If I were to move my car insurance I would become a one policy account instead of two…and I’ll bet my agent’s policy per account ratio is 1.4.  Does he have a future in personal lines?  I’m dealing with anecdotal evidence here, but it doesn’t look like to me.

How about your insurance agency – do you have a future in personal lines?

 

 

 

 

Posted in blogging, Customer Development, Email, Insurance Agency Communications | Comments closed

Does Your Insurance Agency Have Any Friends?

7th
Nov. × ’11

The short answer is yes, of course your insurance agency has friends.  And now, there is a way to count your friends through the number of likes your agency gets on Facebook or the number of Twitter followers you may have.  Confluency Solutions tracks about 6,000 insurance agency Facebook pages and the average number of friends is…(drum roll)…96.*  But whether an agency has 50 friends or 250 friends, there seems to be a limit to social network growth once a certain number of fans has been reached.  Here is a graph snapshot of Facebook friend activity for an agency with 153 fans:

Graph of Facebook Like History - Typical Insurance Agency

What you notice is the sawtooth up-down activity of gaining a friend, losing a friend.  We see this pattern with most agencies.  Some agencies will pick up five or six new likes in a day, but inevitably, they also lose a commensurate number over the next 30 days or so.  It is a rare thing when we see an agency move beyond a core of their personal social network.  When they do, their graph looks more like this one:

Facebook Like graph - insurance agency with network growth

This agency loses a fan once in awhile.  But for every one they lose, they pick up 5 to 10 new likes.  So the question is, what is the difference between what the two agencies are doing?  The goal of social media is to gain new prospects and sales over time through increased awareness of your insurance agency and your value proposition.  So simply having a Facebook page is not enough; you need to build a network and get that network to engage with your Facebook (or other social media) page.  Here are some lessons learned from observing the first kind of agency – the typical graph – vs. the second kind of agency – the exception.

  1. Make sure your agency page can be viewed without requiring someone to first be logged into Facebook.  You can make sure your page is public by not restricting any access in your page permission settings.  Right now, the only restriction option are for country and age.  A number of agents have restricted their page to U.S. viewers only; Facebook doesn’t necessarily know anything about where you are from or how old you are unless you are logged into Facebook.  Using these restrictions will keep a lot of people out of your Facebook page and will also make it invisible to the search engines, which is bad for SEO.
  2. Make sure you post often enough, but not too often.  Three to five times a week is plenty; three to five times a day is too frequent.  Automatic Twitter feeds can really get you into trouble here, especially if you are tweeting with some frequency.  Celebrities and news organizations might be able to get away with multiple short posts every day, but most of us don’t have anything interesting enough to say that often that people will allow you to stay in their news feed (see graph #1 to support this).
  3. Mix up your posts by adding a myth-buster or some interesting factoid once in awhile.  Photos and video get a lot more interest than text posts so try to include this kind of content.  And be careful of sounding too much like a salesman.  People who peruse their news feed aren’t generally looking to buy insurance.  Facebook, and social media in general, is a branding space, not a sales space.
  4. Try some basic contests from time to time and restrict participation to your Facebook network.  This will help you get and keep fans.  Contests can and should be promoted within your Facebook page  – with photos and video if possible.

*The average is calculated by first excluding the small number of agency Facebook pages with fewer than 2 or more than 1,000 likes.

 

Posted in Social Media, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Internet Marketing – Long and Short Term Objectives

13th
Aug. × ’11

What Kind of Internet Marketing Should Your Insurance Agency Be Doing Right Now?

I’m going to vastly oversimplify the exercise of choosing internet marketing components by making these assumptions:

  • You know your insurance agency’s target customers, your key products, and your geographic marketing area;
  • You have decided upon which traditional marketing programs you will use -direct mail, print advertising and the like;
  • You have a budget for marketing and you know how much of that budget is available to you;
  • You also know which programs will be implemented in-house and which ones will be outsourced.

So it’s August already…and your insurance agency is coming up a little short on some sales commitments that could cost you some contingency income and maybe some other preferential treatment from one or more of your insurance companies.  Your problem is short term in nature and you need a short term fix.

For most agencies, the main internet marketing options are these:

  • Email marketing (in the short term, this would be confined to your current list)
  • Local Search Optimization
  • Organic Search Optimization
  • Social Media Marketing
  • Pay-Per-Click (or PPC)

On a relative basis, the costs for reach line up something like this:

Insurance Agency Internet Marketing Options - Costs

Since we assumed you know your insurance agency’s available marketing budget, you may be able to rule out an option or two at the outset.  But budget aside, each program has different lag-time to sales and each program has a different sales production curve as you move to and through program maturation.   The next illustration shows the different lag times as you move through implementation phases:

Insurance Agency Internet Marketing Comparison - Sales Lag Times

This should make your choices fairly easy.  In the short term, Local Search Optimization and Email Marketing are probably your best bet.*  If you don’t have a good email list, one that has been updated, then your option may winnow down to just Local search optimization.  But September is right around the corner and your insurance companies, if they haven’t already done so, are going to start talking to you about marketing plans and commitments for next year.  So it’s a good idea to also consider the longer term sales potential of some of these programs.  Relative to each other, that potential over time looks like this:

Insurance Agency Internet Marketing - Long Term Sales Potential Comparison

When you have the luxury of time, return on investment (ROI) should enter into your decision criteria.  The chart below shows ROI ranges for both social media marketing and SEO.  There is some risk associated with each tactic for multiple reasons (I may blog about that later, if someone asks me to).  But the range of risk is something like good-to-great as opposed to horrible-to-good.  Risks associated with SEO and social media marketing are something most of us can accept and still sleep at night.  PPC would appear to be another matter.   PPC can produce acceptable ROI, but because insurance keywords are so expensive, pay-per-click ROI is unacceptably low for many insurance products.

Insurance agency internet marketing comparison - ROI

*although as your short term gets shorter your only option may be to purchase leads

 

 

 

 

Posted in blogging, Email, insurance web marketing, Local Search, paid search, Search Engines, seo, Social Media, Uncategorized | Comments closed

Competition for Insurance in PPC

22nd
Jul. × ’11

PPC, through Google AdWords or Bing, seems like an easy way to gain visibility and acquire insurance leads on the web.  Those of us who have managed pay-per-click campaigns have long known just how expensive insurance related keywords can be.  Google lives and dies (and least right now) on the health of their paid search services (AdWords, AdSense).  And apparently, a significant amount of Google’s second quarter revenues resulted from insurance agencies and companies bidding for insurance related terms.

Insurance Keywords Most Expensive in PPC Bidding

Most Expensive PPC Keywords

Of course, cost-per-click is only part of the cost-per-lead story.  Well crafted (i.e., tested) ad copy coupled with effective ad landing pages might generate one lead for every 4 or 5 click-throughs.  But just because someone clicks on your PPC ad doesn’t necessarily mean they fill out your form.  Those that do become leads.  At the top end CPC of $54.91 for insurance terms, the best case scenario for cost-per-lead would be in the $200 to $250 range.  If your insurance agency’s quote to conversion rate is 25% then actual customer acquisition costs for PPC would be up around $1,000.  If your ad and landing page are not well crafted and lead quality or inconsistent sales management result in lower ultimate conversion costs, then customer acquisition costs could easily be $2,000 or more.

So, does PPC make sense for your insurance agency?  It certainly makes sense for Google.  It might make sense for your insurance agency as well, considering that most agency customers stay on board over several renewals.  If annual average commission is high enough, the lifetime customer value might justify the lead cost through PPC.  But cash flow would take years to balance out – not every agency can take a hit to cash flow that won’t be recovered for several years.

Infographic:  WordStream

 

Posted in conversions, paid search | Comments closed

Will Social Media Change the Referral Dynamic for Insurance Agents?

11th
Jul. × ’11

I recently attended a series of insurance company events during which one of the vendor presenters repeated this statistic:   85% of insurance consumers start their research with the search engines.  That sounds plausible; the problem is, it’s not true.  A 2010 study by AIS Media found that only 32% of consumers begin their insurance quest with the search engines (not that that’s insignificant, it’s just not 85% – by any method or rounding up).  The number one place where consumers start their purchase research?  By asking family, friends and other acquaintances where they have their insurance.  As noted in Confluency’s June newsletter, this behavior is the reason referrals are the number one source of new business for most agencies at 69%.  But there’s even more.

An article posted by eMarketer today cites data from surveys performed by Knowledge Networks and MediaPost Communications who find that 37% of social media users trust what friends and family say in social media about a product or service.  That percentage is strikingly similar to the AIS Media survey results:  the percentage of consumers who begin their insurance research by checking with friends and family is 37.5%.  And there’s more.

Mobile search is on the rise, but is still less than 10% of all search (that’s projected to change rapidly in the coming two or three years); however, 40% of social media users access social media via mobile devices on a regular basis.  Think about the typical scenario…I’m out shopping, maybe for a car, and the topic of insurance comes up.  Or I’m about to close on that home or refinance and the realtor or mortgage broker brings up insurance.  Or I’m at work, grousing about that that insurance premium rate increase I got in the mail yesterday.  Who am I going to turn to?  If I’m like 37% of the population (or 37.5%) I’m going to check with my friends and family – my social network – and there’s a pretty good chance I’m going to do it on my smart phone by accessing social media.

Emarketer Graph:  Who Do People Trust for Referrals?

So the question most insurance agents should be asking is this:  Will my customers’ friends and family see my agency when they engage with my customers through social media? For those agents who have established profiles on Facebook and other social media, and have been engaging their customers there, the answer is probably yes.  For the agents who have not, the answer is less clear.  But I’m willing to bet that the level of referral business will drop for agents who do not engage  in social media.

Posted in Insurance Agency Communications, insurance web marketing, Social Media | Comments closed