Can a captive insurance agency be unique?

Is there such a thing as a Unique Captive Insurance Agency? – It’s your name on the agency sign paired with the insurance company name and logo. But, your sign is exactly like every other agency for that company.

Captive insurance agents aren’t exactly employees of the insurance company they represent, they’re basically franchise owners. This is not a bad thing. It comes with some great perks for the agency owner.

  1. Brand recognition because of the national company’s branding and marketing.
  2. Professional training and a “performance track” built by the company to assist in agent success.
  3. A single resource for claims and policy service.

These are all great benefits that a captive insurance agent can take for granted.

But, how does an agency stand out from the other company agencies? Insurance companies market and advertise the company brand. Individual agents and agencies are not really promoted.

Insurance is ultra-competitive in the macro-environment of national insurance brands. Most of the advertising has a similar message, “Switch to (fill in the blank) insurance and we’ll save you (fill in the blank) dollars per year.

But, unless people buy their insurance directly over the internet, they don’t buy directly from these insurance companies, they’re buying insurance from a local agency. That local insurance agency will be as close to the insurance company as most consumers will ever get. Individual insurance agencies have to find a way to get the attention of people on their own. That’s why it’s important for a captive insurance agency to build an identity that transcends the brand of their captive insurance company.

Insurance is also ultra-competitive at the local level. If you haven’t noticed, there’s an insurance agency for just about every brand and flavor on every street in town. So, how can one stand out as unique?

Old Dogs and New Tricks

Insurance is still an “old-school” business.  Many local insurance agencies rely on passive ways of marketing and acquiring new business. They may connect with some realtors or mortgage brokers to form a referral network. Maybe they’re members of the Chamber of Commerce. The plan of most traditional insurance agencies boils down to hoping people will find their agency phone number and call in for a quote.

Personal referrals have historically been the best source of new clients for any insurance agency. Referrals are extremely valuable. Insurance is one of those services where people still ask their friends, co-workers, and family for recommendations.

People ask Google for recommendations more than they ask their friends and family.

Instead of just picking up the phone and calling the agency that was referred to them, people will first do an internet search. It’s easy and free. Plus, within just a few seconds they’ll get an impression of the agency which will lead to either a connection or a continued search for something “better”.

In the internet economy, most people start their shopping online – Statistics show  that people who are looking for, or comparing insurance options, would still prefer to talk with an insurance professional before purchasing coverage though. This should be great news for a local insurance agency.

The challenge for an insurance agency owner is creating a bridge from the online insurance shopper to their agency.

This bridge is a little harder to build for a captive insurance agent. If someone goes to the insurance company website and decides they want to get an insurance quote, there is no way for them to really see a difference between one company agent and another.

Even a unique captive insurance agency will have a corporate website. It looks pretty much like every other captive agent’s website. Plug in the agent’s headshot into the corporate template and the website is done.

This isn’t a knock on corporate websites, but it illustrates the importance of having a “personal brand.”

A separate website for a captive agency?

Having a separate website may be a good idea for a captive insurance agency because it provides a platform where they can present what makes them unique with the content they’ve created. Having a blog gives you a place to express your unique voice. YouTube videos can give people the opportunity to “meet” you.

Helping people build an efficient, effective insurance plan is a local insurance agency’s value proposition.

An insurance agent should be willing to provide people with the knowledge of how to best build their insurance plan, regardless of whether a purchase is made from them or not. “Value” is a stronger motivator in a purchase than price in most cases. An insurance agent can share this one secret that most insurance consumers don’t know…

There’s not ONE insurance company that’s the best, or cheapest for everyone. But there can be a “best” agency for an individual.

What are all insurance agencies fighting against?

Unfortunately, it’s the commoditization of insurance, particularly car insurance. This means insurance policies are perceived by the public as “all the same.” The national brands focus their advertising on the price of insurance instead of the protection insurance provides in catastrophes. So, the perception of an insurance agent as merely a salesperson instead of an advisor is frustrating for professional agents.

The national brands are very creative advertisers. Insurance companies spend billions of dollars on advertising. These ads say almost nothing meaningful about the service and value of insurance. Instead, their laser focus is on the amount of money you can save by switching from your insurance carrier to them. It’s all about price, not value. As an insurance agency, it’s difficult trying to live up to the hype of being “cheap” and still convince people you are a valuable advisor.

These ads are entertaining, but they underestimate the value people put in protecting their most important and valuable assets.

Professor Burk, Flo, Mayhem, and Peyton Manning make for great entertainment (which is all insurance commercials really are). As a local insurance agent, you have to get a consumer’s attention and create a call-to-action that will, hopefully, put those consumers in a conversation with you.

Insurance agents aren’t advertisers. So, don’t try to be.

The national insurance brands are not the competition of a local insurance agency. As Ryan Hanley says in his book, Content Warfare, “If we try to beat the big boys in the advertising game, we lose every time.”

The competitive advantage a local insurance agency has is its story.

The internet and easy mobile access to information has leveled the playing field for anyone wanting to compete for the attention of a consumer.

The field has been leveled, but it’s a HUGE field.

The amount of content available online is staggering. So, the key to getting attention is more than just advertising for a local insurance agency – the content has to connect with people.

And a local insurance agent has an advantage there because they’re local. They have a story that will matter to people and a way of telling their story that is unique.

How can a person know if one agent is any different or better than another? Answer: Online content and customer reviews.

Creating online content that’s engaging and educational is easier said than done. But in an era where online attention is the key to acquiring new clients, every business has to be a marketing/media business.

Blogs, YouTube videos, and social media, in general, give all small businesses a platform to present their brand. And it’s free! I don’t think most agency owners realize the opportunity the internet has provided them to compete for the attention of consumers. Gary Vaynerchuk describes it as a “digital land grab” for those willing to do the work.

I’m not saying content marketing is a stand-alone strategy for success as an insurance agency owner, whether it’s a captive or independent agency. Facebook and YouTube ads, direct mail, referral partners, internet leads, and even cold-calling will generate sales activity for an agency.

Let’s face it, we all shop differently now.

If I look at my own shopping behavior, I will likely do an internet search for products and services before deciding on a purchase or service provider. I will review their website and take note of the online reviews from those who have used them before? It’s what most people do.

It’s been noted that online reviews are just as trustworthy to people as a personal referral. In the noise of a Google search, most people don’t look past the top 3 choices they’re offered. (Most of us don’t even stop to consider how the top 3 choices were determined. It’s amazing the trust we put in a Google search, isn’t it?)

I see a number of independent insurance agencies who produce great online content to build their agency brand and place themselves in the buying path of consumers. But I don’t see many captive agencies doing the same.

Maybe a unique captive insurance agency is harder to achieve because of the dominance of its national brand. But the internet has changed everything about buying and selling. It stands to reason that the success of a local insurance agency will be, in large part, the result of its online curb appeal and content. That will be true for captive and independent agencies alike.

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