How to Weather Almost Any Storm

July 14, 2021

Dan Bruck, Smart Choice Chief Marketing Officer

Dan Bruck

This has been quite the year, and all of us need to fasten our seatbelts for what is yet to come. We are in the eye of a perfect storm. We have three hurricane strength forces acting upon the livelihood of independent insurance agents. Brewing for some time, the disrupting clouds of online and consumer-DIY policy fulfillment appeared on the horizon just a few years ago. The second force was, of course, Covid, which accelerated the adoption of direct consumer-to-carrier policy applications. The third force is the rise of “digital noise” with all of us constantly bombarded with emails, retargeting, SMS text messages, website pop-ups, robo calls and SPAM. Now that I have your attention, let’s dig in!

Recent research by Zeldis Research in cooperation with Future One, the 2020 Agency Universe Study is a collaborative effort with IIAMA and several independent insurance agencies. They found that 35 percent of the agencies believed that the direct purchase of personal lines through insurance companies will have a sizable impact on their agency over the next two years. And nearly 25 percent said they were concerned about "small commercial direct purchase or purchase through emerging online providers," according to the researchers. Their concern is both rational and timely.

According to a McKinsey study, carriers rely far less on the intuition of their agents. The increasing sophistication and accuracy of predictive models, and the rise in straightthrough underwriting, are diminishing the agent’s role in risk selection in both personal and small commercial lines.

As a sign of how much has changed, many carriers now actively restrict the ability of even their own field staff to deviate from modeled prices, and are questioning whether the agent plays any role at all in managing profitability – especially in personal lines auto.

With Covid disrupting in-person meetings, most agents were then challenged with the one-two punch of having their key marketing differentiator (personalized, face-to-face relationships) eradicated while carriers advertised non-stop and developed enhanced online commerce mechanisms. To get a sense of perspective and dispel the myth that the world has gone fully digital, the Kinsey 2020 (pre-Covid) agent survey demonstrated that about 90 percent of life insurance agents’ sales conversations and nearly 70 percent of their ongoing client conversations were conducted in person.

Agents are responding to past challenges and the third storm of digital noise by making sure that they are visible to consumers that are shopping for insurance.

This is where digital marketing excels, being in the right place at the right time with Facebook advertising, website retargeting, social media and SEO (Search Engine Optimization). These are purposeful and targeted campaigns that are triggered by a
consumers’ behavior and buying intent.

While communication channels are key to short and long-term success, it doesn’t hurt to have a compelling and differentiated message either! You likely can’t compete from a spending perspective (keeping in mind that Berkshire Hathaway Inc.'s GEICO Corp. spent almost $2 billion on advertising in 2019), but you can with messages tied to localization, specialization or population.

Being a local agent allows you to focus on what matters to consumers in your community. Your message and imagery should reflect the people and organizations close to you while also being inclusive enough that everybody feels welcome.

When it comes to branding and advertising, being different is a good thing -- but there is an art and science to being unique. Choosing an area of specialization requires a very detailed understanding of the relevant competition, emerging industry trends and the profit potential for that specialty. You may also need to factor in regulatory considerations and pending legislation. One of our very successful commercial agent partners, John Farris, started out solely focused on lawyer’s professional liability, then expanded this into broader E&O, liability and risk management after joining Smart Choice. Farris commented, “I strive to be more of a business advisor and perhaps the decision of the buyer can be driven by a little bit more focused around the service and the product as opposed to the price.”

Farris’ brand is captured in his company’s tagline: Welcome to Assurtrak! We are specialty commercial insurance brokers that believe starting with a great plan is the only way to finish with the best result. Let us help you re-think how you buy insurance, and we will show you there is a better way. AssurTrak’s pillars are Passion, Knowledge and Results – and Farris lives those values every day. It is part of his brand’s promise to customers, representing who he is, who he wants to be and how he wants his audience to perceive him. He started the brand building process by deciding this first, then his team immortalized it with words and images – not the other way around!

Also, keep in mind that there is nothing that prevents you from presenting your agency in multiple ways to multiple audiences. Your main brand message can represent you as a typical full service independent agency, but you can also market yourself as a specialist to specific prospects. If you have expertise in a particular field (perhaps based on past roles as a dedicated agent), it is easy to present yourself as a specialized expert in your marketing outreach including unique URLs, website and advertising.

With proper marketing you can weather almost any storm!

Cover of 2021 Issue 4 of Smart Choice Magazine, titled "The Marketing Issue: Weathering Any Storm"2021 Marketing Issue: Weather Any Storm

In this issue of Smart Choice Magazine, we’re providing advice from agency owners, Smart Choice State Directors, Content Marketing Experts, and more, to help you put together effective strategies to finish out 2021 strong. See why now is a great time to be an independent agent in this market and economy in the 2021 Issue 4 of Smart Choice Magazine.

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