The fabric of America—its people—is vastly different than it was a generation or two ago. But that’s no surprise to anyone. What is surprising is the number of independent agencies now tailoring their marketing to reach various ethnic and other demographic groups.
About half of more than 2,500 agencies surveyed this year said they’ve acted to meet the needs of emerging markets, including women, LGBT, Latino/Hispanic, African-American, Asian-American and American Indian consumers, according to the 2012 Agency Universe Study by Future One, a cooperative effort of the Big “I” and independent agent carriers.
Some agents say they’re using a mix of techniques to market successfully to these groups, from diversifying their staff to joining or networking with demographic-specific organizations in the community.
HNH Insurance Partners in Houston built its agency over the past three years by focusing on Asian-Americans and women, says agency partner Robert Su, who is Chinese-American and owns the firm with his wife Andrea Hoang, who is Vietnamese-American.
Hoang has used her family network to arrange introductions to other successful Vietnamese-Americans in the sprawling city, many of them female entrepreneurs like herself. Eighty percent of the firm’s clients are Vietnamese and 70% of those clients are women.
“They range from high-end accountants and attorneys to small businesses like commercial real estate firms,” Su says. “The other 20% of our book runs the gamut, including Latin-American, Jewish and Caucasian; most of this [is] personal lines. After all, we speak Chinese, Vietnamese and English here.”
Other agents too are marketing to their respective clientele by hiring people like the prospective customers they’re hoping to reach.
Coughlin Group Inc., headquartered in Calabasas, Calif., has hired three gay and lesbian individuals over the years, including one in IT and another in sales for his agency.
“Frankly, he’s our best salesperson—just phenomenal,” Coughlin says. “Nevertheless, most of the staff of 25 here is straight.”
Coughlin Group, which also has offices in New York, has a substantial gay and lesbian clientele, among customers from other demographic and ethnic groups. Coughlin began marketing to the LGBT community before coming out as gay himself.
He and his brother bought the 65-year-old business in 1997 from their father. At the time, the agency had only a few gay clients.
“I remember this marketing brochure from Chubb that had a gay couple on the cover,” he says. “The policy made no difference between a married couple and a domestic partnership. It was the only policy and advertising material of its kind at the time, and it had a powerful impact on me.”
So powerful that Coughlin subsequently wrote a letter to Chubb, thanking the insurer for the marketing brochure. He told the company that his agency would back the Empire State Pride Agenda, a LGBT advocacy organization in New York, which Chubb supported.
“Their backing of Empire State Pride had given me the courage to also back it, as well as other gay initiatives,” he says. “If a company as old and well-respected as Chubb said this was okay, then it couldn’t be all that bad.”
“That’s when I came out to my parents and friends,” he adds.
In addition, Coughlin and Scott Hauge, president of CAL Insurance Agency Inc. in San Francisco, use more traditional marketing strategies, such as advertising in gay-themed publications.
But, as Hauge points out: “If you don’t have the producer backup, it’s just not very effective. Getting solid producers—whatever their ethnicity or lifestyle—is difficult.”
Meanwhile, Ricardo Del Rio, vice president of Actinver Insurance Services, says a personal touch is vital to building business. His San Antonio agency markets to a largely Hispanic community.
“I’m a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, as well as the greater Chamber of Commerce, and I’m active in doing things for the community,” he says. “That’s really made the difference.”
Russ Banham is an IA senior contributing writer.
Look for the December issue of Independent Agent magazine in your mailbox to learn more ways your agency can tailor its marketing to diverse demographic groups.