Marketers Have Lost Control of Insurance Buying Process

After careers spent crafting and controlling their companies’ messaging to customers, insurance marketing and advertising professionals have lost control.

Customers and prospects have taken over.

Increasingly, today’s insureds and prospects care more about what other parties have to say than they do about what an insurer or agency has to say about its products and services.

Today’s consumer will leverage pretty much everything except brand-centric content including social influence, ratings and reviews. They’re going to look at the wealth of information that’s out there, available on the Internet, that is published by someone other than the brand,” according to branding expert Kevin Brandt, director of operations for Trusted Choice, the brand for the nation’s independent insurance agents.

Consumers may obtain information from other people like themselves, friends and relatives, experts, fellow customers, consumer advocates, regulators and other third parties.

“They’re going to find what they want and need when they want it. They’re going to choose when to engage. And so, your content absolutely needs to provide relevance and a payoff for those consumers,” Brandt told marketers at the annual meeting of the Insurance Marketing and Communications Association (IMCA) in Nashville.

The typical consumer will visit, on average, 10 places online before contacting an insurer or agency, according to Brandt.

“When they make first contact with the seller, their decision to purchase has already been made,” he said.

In their effort to regain relevance in the buying process, marketers in many industries, including insurance, are turning to content marketing, also know as native advertising or sponsored content. This represents an attempt to win over consumers by providing information that is more help and less hype.

Before offering advice on content marketing itself, Brandt served up some search engine history as a way to explain how marketers lost control and why content marketing is the prescription they need.

How It Happened

As it is with so many things having to do with modern marketing, search engine giant Google is largely responsible for the switch from brand-centric to customer-centric content, from content that advertisers push onto customers to content that customers search, find and pull from the internet to meet their needs, according to the Trusted Choice executive.

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In 2013, Google change its search algorithm that ranked highly any content that used the right keywords. The new algorithm, called Hummingbird, looks beyond just keywords to the quality of the content and what it actually says.

“Prior to the release of Hummingbird, your online content was really all about page mechanics. Your web pages came down to linking structure. It came down to keyword placement and keyword density. You could use keyword stuffing and link farms to pretty much fool the indexers,” Brandt told the IMCA crowd.

“You could have pages upon pages of junk content that was meaningless to the consumer but it still ranked well with the search engines because the search engine indexers were stupid, for lack of a better word. They didn’t know how to put groups of words and phrases together to derive real page meaning.”

But since Hummingbird, the quality of content matters to search engines, he said.

“The search engines, if you think about it, are in the business of delivering meaningful results to their users. If you go to Google and you type in a search phrase and it comes back with a bunch of junk, you’re going to move on to a different search engine. Google has a vested interest in making sure that they deliver meaningful content to you. Their indexing engines had to evolve to be able to meet that need,” he said.

Page mechanics still matter to search engines but today’s search has everything to do with the usefulness of content and whether it’s going to solve a problem for customers, according to Brandt.

Trust in Media

Beyond Google, there’s another reason the quality of the content about a company or product matters more than it used to. It’s the lack of trust in businesses and traditional media.

“You need to trust that what you’re buying as a buyer is the right thing at the right price,” Brandt said.

“Corporate trust and trust in traditional media are really on a rapid decline. The world is becoming very media skeptical. As a matter of fact, less than 50 percent of consumers find radio, television or newspaper ads credible. Less than 50 percent.”

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He said that years ago, people believed what advertising told them. Thus a brand could reasonably correlate sales volume to the frequency with which consumers saw their advertising.

“That’s not the case today. People don’t trust brand. In particular, Millennials don’t trust brand. Their experience with their brand really needs to meet their interests on their time. That’s where content starts to come in,” according to Brandt.

He said traditional marketing and advertising content, which is brand-centered and broadcast-based, is no longer working.

He said the average consumer receives more than 5,000 marketing messages per day and consumers don’t open 90 percent of the corporate marketing emails they receive. Eighty-six percent of people skip over television commercials thanks to DVRs and TiVo. Forty-four percent of direct mail gets thrown away without being opened.

“They prefer to find content themselves. We’re switching from this push environment to a pull environment. It’s inbound marketing instead of outbound marketing. Consumers really don’t want something shoved in their face,” Brandt said.

Age of Content Marketing

According to Brandt, all of this explains why marketing and advertising departments have turned to what is known as content marketing, or sponsored content, and why 70 percent of marketers plan to spend more on content marketing in the year ahead.

He shared Forrester Research’s definition of content marketing: “A marketing strategy where brands create interest, relevance, and relationships with customers by producing, curating, and sharing content that addresses specific customer needs and delivers visible value.”

The goal of content marketing, like publishing, is to produce relevant content that creates longer-tail visibility. In Brandt’s words, content marketing “needs to be focused on long-term engagement and it needs to build relationships.”

He said magazines provide a good model because they have a loyal readership and subscribed readership. “The readership is familiar with the content pillars of that publisher. They’re willing to engage with the brand. These are people who are subscribed to the brand,” he said.

“That is really where you want to get. You want to have people that are willing to come back to you, pull information from you because it’s useful, because there’s a payoff for them.”

He said content marketing is complementary to other marketing channels and not a replacement for them. There remains a need for content that’s “produced simply to be in the game,” enough information to let people know about the company and products and information that will drive quick traffic to a web site.

“Content marketing is not a replacement for paid media. It will reduce your dependence on paid media, but it will never replace it. There’s always going to be a place for paid advertising. As with all things in marketing, in life, content marketing is not a silver bullet,” he said.

Red Bull

The Trusted Choice executive touted Red Bull, maker of the energy drink, as an example of a brand that is clearly doing content marketing the right way, so much so that the company has become known as much for its content production as for its drink.

He said Red Bull has built an “extremely subscribed audience through some extreme sport and adrenaline focused content that’s designed to bring their target customer to consume their content in a way that still builds brand engagement, but is not an overt advertisement.”

The Red Bull videos feature downhill mountain bikers, big wave riders, and people jumping out of airplanes and spaceships.

Brandt described a video with a man in a kayak who is about to go over a waterfall. The kayak and the helmet have the Red Bull logos on them, and that’s the only advertising involved.

“They don’t need to be more ‘in-your-face’ about it. It’s a subtle integration of the brand there. The reason why the consumer is there is because they want to watch this video. These are the adrenaline junkies that are the same people who buy the energy drink,” he said.

The company’s home page has nothing but this content. “You’d be hard-pressed on their website to find anything about the energy drink,” he said. At the very top is a link for the company and its products.

The strategy has been so successful for Red Bull that it has a completely separate web property for monetizing the content that it produces and the revenue received from licensing the extreme sports videos is approaching that of the revenue that it receives from selling energy drinks, according to Brandt.

One likely reason Red Bull sells its marketing content is that content like this is expensive to produce.

“You really have to have a solid strategy, goals, and objectives and ways that you can measure your return on investment. It is an expensive proposition, so you need to be able to demonstrate the value of your content marketing plan,” he told the IMCA audience.

Content for Marketing

Brandt shared his recipe for producing content marketing.

First, content marketing requires research. Marketers need to identify what their customers’ needs are, and what they’re searching for online, in order to develop the content that meets those needs.

“You need to be able to research what your target customer is looking for and develop content to help solve that problem for them. You need to remember that we’re living in the age of the consumer. The only way that they’re going to know about you and your products and services is if they pull the content, and the only way that they’re going to pull the content is if it’s relevant to them, and meaningful and solve their problem for them, so you really need to build your strategy around what your target customer wants and needs,” Brandt said.

Second, content marketing reflects authority.

“Please be an expert. Your brand has absolutely had to have earned the right to talk about what you’re talking about. If it’s not relevant to who you are, it’s not a relevant part of your content marketing strategy,” he said.

“You need to ask yourself, what is your brand authority? What does your brand allow you to talk about? If you’re in the business of selling insurance your brand probably doesn’t allow you to talk about certain things, maybe lipstick.”

He cited the Red Bull example and how extreme adrenaline sports are “naturally aligned” with Red Bull’s target customer, people who want to consume energy drinks. “Red Bull isn’t talking about tranquil beaches or soothing music. They’re not producing a list of the top 10 ways to lower your heart rate.”

He advised the IMCA professionals to learn what it is their company is good at. “Find what that is, be an expert at it, and develop your content around that, but with one caveat: take the boring out.”

Third, the goal of content marketing is to build a subscribed audience, that is to attract consumers who are willing to return to the company’s site again and again because the content is of value to them, because it “had a payoff, either as entertainment or knowledge.”

Subscribed consumers are the “best form of earned recognition” but they’re not going to come back because they like a company’s logo or television commercial. “They’re only going to come back if there’s a payoff for them. Your end result, your endgame in your content marketing strategy is building a subscribed audience. Absolutely needs to happen. It’s critical,” he stressed.

Getting Started

Brandt urged the communications professionals to first determine what it is they want to accomplish with content marketing. It could be to increase sales volume, establish thought leadership, or develop lead generation.

Next, he advised them to identify any content that is already available that could serve the purpose because developing new content is expensive.

“You don’t want to have to redo it. You really need to go through and look at your entire organization and see where content exists,” he said. This should include looking outside of what the marketing department has for materials to what other department in the company have as well.

He said it is also possible to curate and borrow content through partnerships and relationships with other brands.

But there are limits on using others’ content. “When it comes down to who you are as a brand and what differentiates you from your competitors, create that content. No one else can speak to your expertise like you better than you can,” he said.

Regarding distribution, he said it is important for a company to know who on the web is also influencing its customers and find ways to reach those influencers.

“You want to identify who the loudmouths are. Who are your mavens out there in the social space that are influencing the audience that’s related to your brand,” he said.

“You’re going to have friends and you’re going to have foes. You want to make sure you keep your friends close and your enemies closer. The foes can be influenced. If you influence your foes, you’ll find oftentimes that those loudmouths will become your biggest brand advocates.”

He told the marketers not to expect to establish a perfect content marketing strategy overnight. They should, however, expect to spend some money. “You cannot publish content without having a good editor, please. Make sure you have quality assurance in place,” he said.

He told the communicators to start by picking topics or what he called “topic pillars” that are important for their company and in which they can exhibit expertise.

Next they should develop editorial guidelines that describe their brand’s voice—is it serious? funny? Define it and stick to it, he advised.

Then, identify magazines and other media that address those topic areas, whether they be business, safety, leisure, or other.

Finally, they should develop key performance indicators (KPIs), metrics they can track to see what results they are getting and if they justify the investment in content marketing.

“It’s going to take time, but you absolutely need to kick it up a notch, and you need to start somewhere,” he said.

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