Build your brand
Social media can help you share your story with customers and prospects
By Tim Sawyer
Not only have social media platforms, and the Internet as a whole, shaped the way in which we connect with one another, but both have also undoubtedly played a role in how we perceive certain messages from brands.
In the past, most business owners were marketing their products solely through traditional advertising (TV, radio, newspapers, mailers, etc.). However, with the evolution of Facebook and Twitter, it is apparent that social media is having an impact on our more conventional marketing and advertising strategies.
Proof that social media is affecting traditional strategies lies inside the statistics. According to new statistics from Nielsen, there are more than 500 million users on Facebook and 200 million users on Twitter. In fact, approximately 71% of Americans have a Facebook account. Based on these staggering statistics alone, why wouldn't an independent insurance agency owner utilize social media and blogging to further promote his or her products and services? And for those who have, why is it that some are thriving in this new marketing arena, while others seem to be struggling to adapt?
Setting your agency apart
Unfortunately, there is an underlying problem that has hindered the success many businesses aim to achieve—it's called competition.
What once was thought of as a fad has dramatically influenced the way in which companies generate new business. With business owners across a variety of industries now jumping at the chance to claim their Facebook Place Page or tweet their first tweet, the amount of noise bombarding consumers is almost unfathomable. So how can an independent insurance agency find success amidst the digital chaos?
Truthfully, it all comes down to your unique value proposition. You need to determine what exactly it is that sets your agency apart from your competitors, what extra value or service you can offer to the consumer that no one else can. Once you distinguish these benefits you must effectively communicate this to your target audience.
Despite the availability of innovative marketing strategies such as blogging, social network marketing, local optimization, and link building, many agencies still grapple with the inability to develop a unique brand.
Social media, especially, allows for us to communicate with the consumer in a way that was never possible before. It provides a powerful outlet for smaller companies to grow their image and reputation, allowing them to directly compete with some of the larger, more prominent carriers. Social media and Internet marketing provide the opportunity for direct, nearly immediate, two-way conversation—a cycle of feedback and discussion which is meant to provide value and inevitably grow a mutually beneficial relationship between agent and client.
Currently, Vitamin Water and Jell-O have embarked on an innovative marketing approach. Both have fully utilized social media to their advantage by opting to use Facebook as their Web site host. Since so much of America's population is connected through social media, it makes sense for a business to try to gain exposure in the social media market. Will other industries eventually follow this strategy in the near future?
Establishing your identity
Once you've established your place in the social sphere, it's important to remember why you chose to utilize social media in the first place. Crafting a brand that will really resonate with your community is not a simple task. A strong brand does not simply rely on just one or two "set it and forget it" marketing tactics—it requires attention to detail, dedication, patience and, most important, time.
Your brand has to effectively portray all that is distinctive about your agency; thus, it must showcase your unique value proposition. To truly break away from the pack, you have to distinguish the reasons why a consumer should prefer and trust your agency over another. Are you heavily involved in a local charity initiative? Do you pride yourself on an attention to detail? What about competitive discounts for multi-policy holders? Perhaps you offer unique services like an automatic withdrawal program, which can take the hassle out of insurance premium payments. Whatever it is that you do differently from the standard is something you must highlight.
Once you have established the right message and overall voice, it's imperative to develop a strategy that allows you to effectively reach out to your target customers. Believe it or not, social media can do that for you too.
Prospecting and approaching the consumer
Of all the challenges many businesses face, prospecting and marketing to consumers are high on the list. A business owner needs to determine which audience has the greatest need for his or her products and services. Marketing and prospecting to the proper audience needs to become a much higher priority for small business owners especially, because they are imperative to the survival of the organization. If business owners don't use any prospecting tactics and attempt to build their own network, how can they realistically expect to generate any potential clients or even leads for that matter? Essentially, this creates a "roller coaster effect" for the owner, in which their clientele is greatly limited or, in the worst cases, non-existent.
Social media platforms attempt to make prospecting much easier. Whether you are searching for and pulling leads from Twitter or scanning status updates on Facebook, you now have the unique ability to gain valuable information about your current and potential clients. For example, think about how often the average person updates his or her Facebook page. According to Nielsen, Facebook users are logged in for approximately 20 minutes per day. Many are quick to post pictures and comments about expensive purchases—whether it's a new car, diamond engagement ring or even that rare stamp they have been eagerly waiting to add to their collection. By actively monitoring what consumers are doing and saying, you can reach out to them when they most need your services.
Although that may seem like a stretch for some, using social media to actively prospect is certainly the way the marketing industry is heading. Even if you're not quite ready to scour your clients' social media accounts, making yourself visible on various social platforms can also position you at the forefront of your customer's mind.
As you review the progress you have made on your brand and with social media altogether, one question you should ask yourself is whether your agency's brand has made enough of an impact in your consumers' daily lives. Striving to positively bring some sort of benefit or value to consumers must go far beyond simply selling them an insurance policy. Maybe you brand yourself as the go-to resource for local community news or perhaps you provide all of your homeowners policyholders with seasonal home maintenance tips; whatever extra value you can offer your clients will help tie your entire branding strategy together. Remember, the overall goal is to set your agency apart from the rest and provide an added benefit that keeps your consumers coming back for more.
What to do right now
It may not always be realistic for small business owners to assume they can compete with the bigger fish. However, it is still possible for them to attain success on a smaller scale. As a small business owner, it is vital that you successfully build a solid network of loyal clientele if you ever truly want to grow.
Today, more businesses are using social media tactics to market their brands and help with establishing a distinct identity. Focus on developing your unique value proposition, what it is that causes your agency to stand apart, then effectively communicate what extra value it is that you can deliver to your consumers.
Success will not simply occur overnight, but understanding how to develop a solid online branding plan is the first step to harvesting the power of social media and Internet marketing to effectively grow your business.
Tim Sawyer is president of Astonish Results, a digital marketing firm based in Rhode Island. He has trained hundreds of insurance professionals in every aspect of the business with a focus on leadership, digital marketing, and best sales practices.