Independent Agent 2.0: Branding Through Blogging and Beyond

Real time technology is giving agencies immediate access to carrier information on their clients, allowing agencies to quickly and efficiently transact quotes, billing inquiries, endorsements, loss runs, policy views, and information requests with a single workflow.

As real time agency technology gains more and more acceptance, and improves agency workflow and efficiency, agents are freed to explore other Web 2.0 social technologies such as blogs, podcasts, instant messaging, text messaging, customer online accounts, and chat features that facilitate online collaboration with customers and others.

If agents want to be where their future customers are, they may have no choice but to adopt some of the new social technologies. One of the easiest and potentially most effective tools for agents from the Web 2.0 bag is a blog.

Rick Morgan is a senior associate with the branding consultancy, The van Aartrijk Group. He has worked on independent agency technology for more than 30 years, most recently serving as senior vice president of marketing for Applied Systems. He has served on working groups of the Agents Council for Technology, part of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

10 Tips for Agency Blog Content
Check out Blogger ( or WordPress ( to get started with your own agency blog. As for what to write about, consider:

1. Agency News: Agency community activities, employee hires and promotions, educational achievements, awards, expansion, new carrier appointments and product offerings

2. Helpful Advice: Disaster planning tips for businesses and families, insurance coverage recommendations and analysis, seasonal safety tips, risk management for businesses

3. Facts and Figures: on your community, insurance claims, and various exposures families and businesses face

4. Current Events: discuss the insurance angle on a current event or economic trend, focus on a trend affecting your business customers in their industry

5. Polls and Surveys: invite participation and comment from customers on a topic

6. Congratulations: recognize achievements within your community and by your customers

7. Registry Help: information from the motor vehicle department, other licensing agencies

8. Regulatory Climate: Changes in state laws and regulations and how they affect your customers

9. Podcast/Video Links: Create your own or seek permission to link to others that might interest your customers

10. Avoid Copyright Infringement: Always seek permission if using content from other publications. Also, provide links to outside resources.

In the following excerpts from a recent interview with Insurance Journal’s Andrea Wells, Morgan discusses real time technology and the value of an agency blog and other Web 2.0 features to agents.

Are agencies and carriers really making the change to real time technology?
Morgan: Yes … it’s succeeding. … A couple of years ago, when I asked how many people had even heard of real time, I’d get just a few. Now, you ask how many people are using it in some fashion and the vast majority will be doing something with real time.

Is there a role for Web 2.0 in the agency system?
Morgan: Yes, yet I don’t think we fully understand what that role would be. The overall concepts of building a participatory and collaborative environment makes great sense. Also, creating a sense of community using Web 2.0 tools has potential value for agents and carriers alike.

Are agencies today effectively utilizing marketing tools? I see Web sites, some of them are stale and not updated and that’s been a problem for years.
Morgan: The problem is that even though intellectually you know that it needs to be refreshed and kept current, it’s just too hard. You build them once, like you used to do your paper brochure and you say mentally, “I’m done. I can’t do this every month. It’s too much work, it’s too much effort.” That’s why Web sites get stale and old.

What is kind of interesting is what I think is the trend … for Web sites to become thinner with information that is flexible. … What you find today in sites that are more compelling or reaching out to today’s consumers are sites that say, “Here we are, this is basically what we do and we really want you to be part of our community, to know who we are on a more personal level.” This is sort of creating that feeling of community. Pay attention to our blogs, where we might put our press releases. For example it might be not about just what the agency is selling but it might be what that agency does for the community. If the agency supports the baseball team, the girls’ softball team or something; information about that or photographs of the team might be on the blog.

Now for a consumer, it’s no longer the faceless insurance agency I know nothing about but now, “Oh this is my agent. These are the things that my agency does and who they are.”

If agents blog, they also create a participatory environment where the customer has the opportunity to respond, to reply to the comments of the blog. Now, you have really reached your customer base.

Do you think there is a fear by agents to implement blogs?
Morgan: I don’t think there is fear … there might be some. I mean as for blogging, there is that other side … it’s not all that easy. There has got to be somebody who’s willing to make the posts every once in a while, to write something, and they are already buried at work. So now we are saying, “Well, you know, in your spare time, do a blog.”

What would be the benefits for agents to blogging?
Morgan: Understand that they are already probably writing e-mails or doing newsletters or doing special promotions. They are already writing and creating content. Now all we are saying is just deliver it to them in a different way; turn it into a blog.

One of the advantages is that, under the old model of Web sites, things get stale. It was wasted energy in a lot of ways and we created a Web site, six months later it’s gone, it hasn’t been updated, it’s looking old. Nobody is returning. A customer or a prospect came in once and then went away.

You add the blog to a Web site to keep it fresh, current and exciting. For agencies it is a place for them to really become experts. For example, if I’m an agency and it’s prior to tornado season, I start writing about stuff people should do, with experiences I have had in the past about helping people that have gone through tornado damage or something and what kind of insurance is available. You start talking about those kinds of things. You tell them to comment on that post, so they will be asking questions and you will be responding back. … Instead of answering the many questions the agency gets by phone, a blog would allow agents to post the information thus reducing the number of phone inquiries.

Is there risk in agents’ blogging?
Morgan: There can be. If you are sending out a letter or fax or an e-mail or anything else there is always risk. You can always get sued for saying something you shouldn’t say. But we all live with those every day. Does it need to be managed, the postings on the blog? Absolutely, but would that mean you shouldn’t do it? No. For a new generation … it appeals to to them to know who their insurance professionals are.

Looking ahead in the next three to five years, what do you anticipate?
Morgan: The Web 2.0 functionality might allow agencies to change the way that they brand themselves, the way they market themselves, the way they communicate with their customer base. Some of the technology out there has no relevance or value for the industry but there is a lot of other technology that has great value and offers a lot of capability and resulting opportunity for our industry.

We need to figure out if there is a role for text messaging. Is there a role for instant messaging? What about Wikis, what about Youtube, what about blogs, what about all the social networking? The Facebooks, My Space LinkedIn and others? You can’t just ignore it; it’s part of our world.

But … and this is really important … it’s not about the technology; it’s really about the processes and the shift in philosophy that the technology enables. What all of those things that I just mentioned basically do is they shift the way we are perceived and the way agents interact with their customer base. We create a community, we become collaborative, we create a participatory environment. This is very different than the environment that currently exists. The customer becomes an integral part of the agency marketing process. They collaborate with the agency in building of brand and agency identity. So the way you market yourself, the way you brand yourself, the way you communicate and interact with prospects and customers becomes very different in a Web 2.0 environment. Clearly, this is important to the younger generation.

Some agencies … have done amazingly creative things. … They do what they need to do to properly meet the demands of service to their customers, whatever that might be, and they implement whatever technology is necessary to ensure their continued success.