Marketers are spoilt for choice in the digital age. But does that mean you should turn your back on tried-and-trusted methods? This guide will help you to find the right mix

Marketing an insurance brokerage is a far more complex task than it was 20 years ago. Where once you could rely heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations, as well as the odd local newspaper or radio advertisement, a dizzying array of marketing choices are now available.

However, more choice means complexity, so these days you need to make sure that you are using the optimum mix of tools – both new and old – to promote your business. These 10 tips will help you to create a commercially beneficial marketing strategy.

1. Know your own brand

You must know what you want to say about your brokerage before you start. The precise nature of a brand proposition, and who you want to target, will then inform all your subsequent marketing and advertising decisions.

Aviva’s corporate sales and marketing manager Allan Fairhead says that brokers must remember that “every communication they send says something about them and their brand, and why people should come to them”.

2. Decide upon a clear, differentiated message

It is vital to develop a clearly differentiated position in the market. As consumers become savvier and turn to the internet as a research tool, they need to know exactly what a business offers.

Nig’s director of sales and distribution, Dave Parry, believes brokers should focus on professionalism and knowledge. “Brokers need to bring added value. They should make the most of their area of expertise, their professionalism and their technical skills, rather than be drawn into a price-driven strategy.”

3. Examine the media options

Traditional above-the-line media, such as television, press and radio, still provide a good opportunity for you to communicate with a mass audience. However, as direct insurance brands and online aggregators spend ever-growing sums on consumer campaigns, it can prove a difficult and expensive way to achieve cut-through.

Direct marketing techniques, such as maildrops and telephone calls, can help you to target prospective clients closely – although their effectiveness is coming under increasing scrutiny. For smaller, independent brokers, the best choice could be digital.

4. Hire an agency

Advertising agencies range from the very expensive large London-based creative ad agencies, such as Saatchi & Saatchi, through to specialists in everything from direct marketing, social media or website building. Many now also offer a complete, multidiscipline range of marketing services.

A series of independent intermediaries, such as AAR, Creative Brief and The Observatory, will give you a shortlist of relevant agencies, although you may find it simpler to look for a local, more affordable provider. Again, you must have a clear idea of what you are looking for from an agency and a campaign before beginning the search.

5. Build an effective website

It is impossible to overstate the importance of a clean, approachable website. Prospective customers need not have heard of you, but once they arrive on your home page they will make instantaneous decisions about the reputability of your business. Clearly outlining how to contact your brokerage – and giving users the option to engage with a person – will win favour.

Use the space to showcase expertise, such as providing free advice for passing visitors to the site, to enhance your reputation. Think too about a customer log-in; internet banking means that many of your existing clients will want to manage their account online.

6. Drive traffic to your site

There are a number of ways in which a business can promote itself online. For years, display advertising – better known as banner ads – was considered the quickest way of attracting attention on the internet. However, digital analyst Doubleclick says the UK has one of the lowest ‘click-through’ rates in the world, with web users clicking on only 0.08% of ads.

Email marketing can prove an invaluable way of keeping in touch with customers, while search engine optimisation (SEO) is the most straightforward way to drive website hits. The range of social networking hubs also provides a marketing opportunity (see number 9).

7. Be SEO savvy

Attempts to boost a company’s position on internet search engines such as Google and Bing have become increasingly competitive. But if you use the correct combination of words on your website, you can ensure that a consumer will come across you when searching with a term or phrase.

However, most obvious search terms, such as ‘home insurance’ and ‘travel insurance’, will be dominated by the direct brands. More specialised business terms such as ‘taxi insurance’ or ‘charity insurance’ give you a better chance of getting higher up the search rankings.

Businesses can also pay to arrive at the top of a search field, with Google even allowing brands to bid to appear on searches for their competitors’ names, but the pay-per-click method is expensive if you’re competing against the direct insurers for generic terms.

“To succeed in search engines, brokers should identify their niche, then invest in search engine optimisation for their chosen business area,” head of digital strategy at agency Pancentric James Prebble says.

8. Hone your email strategy

Most large-scale enterprises now have a customer relationship management (CRM) strategy that uses a database of previous and prospective customers to target for repeat trade.

Supermarket loyalty schemes, such as Sainsbury’s Nectar Card and Tesco’s Clubcard, are the most sophisticated of these. They create bespoke marketing for consumers depending on their shopping habits. Tesco even owns specialist CRM agency dunnhumby, one of the largest players in its field.

The key factor with CRM and email marketing is to drive repeat purchasing and make the most of an existing client base. It is less effective as a customer acquisition tool. Some market research companies sell customer data, but it can prove costly.

9. Be sociable

Social networks can appear intimidating environments for businesses, but you cannot afford to ignore their importance. Individuals often vent their spleens on sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and plot their business decisions via professional networks like Talk Biz Now and LinkedIn.

Don’t be heavy-handed, as Nestlé was earlier last year when it used Twitter and Facebook to scold environmentalists. Instead, use social media to respond to customer gripes, and to offer help to avoid the problem cropping up again.

“Twitter and LinkedIn give brokers the opportunity to promote their businesses to huge audiences. Showcasing their expertise and responding to queries from potential customers in an open forum potentially exposes them to hundreds more in the same position,” Pancentric’s James Prebble says.

10. See things through

Once you’ve decided on a course of action, it is important to be consistent. Flip-flopping from one strategy to another only confuses consumers. Direct insurers relentlessly stick with garish brand mascots simply because awareness is a huge chunk of the marketing battle. Once consumers are aware of who you are, and what you stand for, that provides a platform for further communications around specific products and services.

Nonetheless, you need to keep tabs on the progress of any marketing to understand the impact of any campaign and make subsequent improvements. Aviva’s Alan Fairhead agrees: “Keep records of campaign effectiveness. Understanding and keeping records of the results will help you with your future marketing activity, as well as inform you of which of your customers you have previously contacted.” IT