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Internet Marketing

Word-of-mouth marketing--Amped!

Leveraging location-based services to drive business

By Adam DeGraide

In order to drive business, every savvy insurance agent needs to develop a modern marketing checklist.

Daily Facebook update, check. Re-tweeted three of my most active followers, check. Published my most creative blog yet, check. Now what?

With approximately 48% of all small to mid-sized businesses currently utilizing social media, it's likely that your agency has mastered the basics of social networking and is now ready to tackle a new phase of Internet marketing.

To take your agency's visibility to the next level you must think bigger and bolder. After developing a solid social foundation, it's time to challenge yourself and propel your agency with location-based marketing.

What is location-based marketing?

Understanding the technology is the first step toward leveraging its power. In its simplest form, location-based services (LBS) are used by individuals to "check-in" whenever they visit places. Global positioning satellites have the ability to locate a user and determine at what venue they may be—such as restaurants, athletic stadiums, theaters and more. A user can choose to select a specific location or create a new listing. A "check-in" then becomes a digital message, broadcasting to one's connections where they are right now, or where they can be found frequently.

This feature is great because once you "check-in," you can share your whereabouts with your friends and connections.

Here's an example. You've just "checked-in" to a new local restaurant. You leave a brief message letting your friends know that "the service was incredible, the filet was seasoned perfectly—we'll definitely be back!"

Some LBS allow users to leave location-specific tips for friends to uncover later, many of which involve social competitions and to-do lists or provide the opportunity to unlock digital badges. Businesses can involve themselves by launching exclusive specials or promotions through location-based apps, notifying users of their nearby "deals" whenever they "check-in."

How are location-based applications used?

Location-based applications allow businesses and brands to tailor their marketing messages based on where consumers are located, as well as provide insight as to what users' "check-ins" may say about their habits and interests.

Creating to-do lists for users to explore and building a custom badge for your venue or a special event are some of the more common tactics taken by brands to encourage foot traffic to a location. The goal is to capture a nearby user's attention, get them in the door, and inevitably keep them coming back for more.

Advertising-specific incentives, rather than just your business in general, is most effective. Common promotions span across a variety of "digital deals" such as: raffles, specials for users who check in the most often or hold a "mayor-ship" (top user at a specific venue), first check-in exclusives for a location newbie and digital punch cards.

Why location-based marketing?

In 2011, more than 400,000 businesses began leveraging location-based applications and services. Since then, the use of location-based services for commerce and entertainment has grown rapidly among consumers of all ages—making it important for small businesses to capitalize on the power presented by these geo-focused platforms.

The majority of independent insurance agencies are faced with the challenge of boosting their visibility. Thankfully, location-based services such as Foursquare, Gowalla, Google Places, and Loopt have opened up a new window of opportunity. Location-based marketing has become the modern word-of-mouth for your insurance agency and offers access to an untapped market of consumers who are always looking to buy, try and, most important, refer.

Foursquare offers business value

Today, Foursquare boasts more than 10 million users worldwide, averaging roughly 3 million "check-ins" per day. What makes Foursquare a real leader is that it is the first application of its kind to turn social activity into a gaming experience by rewarding dynamic users. The simple act of recognizing one's activity is transformed into a major incentive, motivating other consumers to explore local venues and consequently boosting foot traffic to area businesses.

Foursquare reports a variety of statistics, based on a weekly or monthly time period, which reflect upon a user's activity. These metrics help determine the influence a user has, while also impacting their rankings, mayor-ships, and the possibility of being awarded select deals:

• "Days Out" refers to the actual number of days a user has been out in the community, checking into venues.

• "Number of Check-Ins" identifies those that the user is connected to and how active they are. Some may "check-in" to a venue once per day or may visit multiple venues within a few hours.

• "New Places Discovered" records how often a user tries out a new venue.

• "Tips" act like micro-testimonials and allow a user to leave a review of their experience, favorite aspects of the venue, etc.

• "To-Do List" allows users to generate a checklist for themselves and their friends, giving venue suggestions and other helpful hints about what's happening locally.

Since Foursquare is already the most widely recognized and utilized location-based app, it has the most growth potential and, better yet, currently yields some of the strongest marketing influence. Why wouldn't your agency want to take advantage of its clout? Better yet, how can you?

Agency case study

Berry Insurance, of Franklin, Massachusetts, is a leader in terms of effective Foursquare implementation. Throughout 2011, the agency has done an exceptional job of cultivating an active social media presence while also taking advantage of LBS to increase their agency's Web site visibility and foot traffic within the local Franklin community.

Today, Berry Insurance has garnered a total of 453 Foursquare friends while also following 59 other businesses, media outlets, and major brands.

Over the last 151 "Days Out," they have registered a total of 232 "check-ins" and have 5 "Things Done," which are attributed to their user-generated checklist. Additionally, they offered a list of "Tips" for other users to test out, while taking their activity on the platform to the next level by creating their own custom list titled "Best Places in Franklin, MA."

Berry Insurance continues to leverage Foursquare's features to enhance agency brand awareness and develop a constant social awareness within the surrounding Massachusetts community.

From leaving positive reviews and tips on local restaurant pages to suggesting their friends visit particular venues or businesses for specific products, the team at Berry Insurance is going above and beyond the average, baseline social media strategy.

Utilizing Foursquare's "Tips" feature has allowed Berry Insurance to directly impact the new wave of word-of-mouth marketing in their community. Recently, the team decided to visit their favorite sandwich shop, Isabella's Groceria, because they continuously are met with great customer service. After one of their most current "check-ins," they added a user tip and shared their positive experience: "We order for company lunches sometimes. Greek salad is very good!"

What may seem like a few simple words is easily turned into a credible promotional pitch used to help boost local business. However, Foursquare's ability to infuse cross-promotion into your agency's social strategy is just the tip of the iceberg.

Leveraging Foursquare at your agency

When infusing location-based applications into your insurance marketing strategy, it's important that you keep the overall goal in mind—traffic. The more customers and prospects you can physically drive into your agency, the more opportunity for "check-ins" and word-of-mouth promotion.

You're probably wondering how you are supposed to increase foot traffic to your location. With the prevalence of the Web and digital communication, who wants to actually visit an agency?

That's where your creativity must take flight and soar. The single best thing about owning an independent insurance agency is your ability to pull the community together; so do just that, give your consumers a reason to get up and get active. Brand yourself as a leading expert, a fixture within your city or town, and then capitalize on this home-town image to motivate those around you.

Get started now

Start simple. Think seasonally. As the holidays approach, how can your agency leverage this time of year to direct customers to your office?

Perhaps you plan a canned food drive or clothing collection. Why not launch a Foursquare campaign? It's as simple as notifying your customer base of your initiative, encouraging them to participate, and asking individuals to "check-in" when they arrive at your agency to drop off their donated items. Make this event something special; greet each participant with warm apple cider, strike up a conversation, and keep the atmosphere lighthearted. The more memorable the experience, the more likely it is that your consumers will share their positive thoughts with others.

Your campaigns don't have to be elaborate either. Simply offering a free policy review or quote to any individual who "checks-in" at your location can do the trick—send out a quick alert on a bi-weekly basis and you may be surprised at who in the area stops by.

Don't forget the opportunity Foursquare grants you to build relationships with other local businesses. Do you participate in any community events? Charity work? Do you have a favorite lunch spot? Utilize your agency's activity, and your own "check-ins" to encourage those around you to try something new. Leave tips, create lists, and follow in the footsteps of some of your peers who find location-based marketing successful.

Most important, have fun. Incentivizing and rewarding your customers to act is the best way to leverage your location-based marketing campaign. Ultimately, if done right, this can further enhance customer loyalty and cultivate your business.

The author

Adam DeGraide is a veteran Internet marketer, sales guru, entrepreneur, record producer, and motivational speaker. In 2006 he founded Astonish Results, a digital marketing company, and since then he has been encouraging independent agencies across the country to "Join the Internet marketing revolution, or get left behind!"


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