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Hidden Treasures: Mapping Your Data-Driven Marketing Plan

Marketing can feel like a stab in the dark. But what if the light switch was right at your agency's fingertips?
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hidden treasures: mapping your data-driven marketing plan

Marketing can feel like a stab in the dark. But what if the light switch was right at your agency's fingertips?

The switch is data. And independent agencies have a lot of it. From the ZIP codes in an agency management system to the number of visits on an agency website, data can be pieced into insights to enhance your agency's personal lines marketing strategy. 

Trace Meek (pictured below), CEO of Meek Insurance Agency in Clearwater, Florida, learned that lesson when he pulled some telling data from the agency's AMS.

“I would always say, 'If we at least have a personal lines client's home, auto and flood, the client is less likely to leave.' And we thou­­ght we had that for every client," he says. “But once we put the data in and ran a report from our management system, we uncovered thousands of clients that we wrote homeowners for but not auto." 

Data has never been more important to effective marketing. “The way people shop for insurance is changing, the market itself is changing, the way products are being bought and sold are changing," says Michael Howe, executive vice president of product management at Applied. “The opportunity for the agent is to figure out, by using data, how to cut through the noise with clarity and content that's relevant to a consumer who's overwhelmed right now."

The information available to an agency can fall under two categories: unstructured data and structured data. Unstructured data, such as paper files or emails, can be difficult to sift through systematically. Structured data, such as phone numbers or the types of policies each client has, are much easier to work with.

“When agencies use the structured data that they have to pull the right insights, we typically see a 20-30% increase in their book of business," says Luis Pino, CEO of Agentero. “All your clients' life events—home purchases, new babies, children graduating, all those moments when people are thinking about insurance—you can make sure as an agent you are right there in front of them."

But to get there, agencies need to make sense of their data. How can insights be drawn from these points of information? And how does it help?

When Meek took the reins as the family agency's third-generation owner in 2009, he brought a passion for streamlining operations and boosting marketing. His starting place was the agency management system.

Here are five steps to use your AMS to inform your marketing strategy:

TraceMeek_IndependentAgent.jpg1) Store Data in a Digestible Format

Starting off, most of Meek Insurance Agency's data wasn't even in the system.

“We had 10,000 paper files, some bigger than five or six inches," Meek recounts. “Printed emails, printed policies—some of the files went back to the '80s." 

The foundation revolved around turning that unstructured data into a format that could live in the AMS. “We became paperless," he says. “We spent the time to scan the 10,000 files, and we do not create paper files anymore. I got rid of the paper, the Manila folders and the cabinets we kept them in. And we scanned them in using optical character recognition (OCR) so all we have to do is search the document for specific key words."

Ensuring data ended up in the AMS took some purposeful operations changes.

“I looked for a management system that has the rater built in, and I got rid of all other raters," Meek says. “The rater has to talk with my management system, and my agents must create the client file first before they rate."

That means even if the policy doesn't end up being written, the agency has a record. “Often, agents will get a lead, quote it, but end up not writing it so it doesn't go into the management system. Well, how are you going to follow up with that client next year?" Meek points out. “In our management system, we can create required fields, and one of those is email. They can't move forward with the quoting process unless they put the email address in."

Thanks to that improvement in data recording, “we can now reach out to the people who called to get a quote but never ended up doing anything," he says. “You have to follow up with them."

Even paper mail makes it into the AMS. “We scan mail to our virtual assistant, and it drops each piece of mail into the management system and sends it to the agent," he says. “No more passing mail around, putting it on a desk, throwing it away and losing that data point."

“Garbage in, garbage out," Meek adds. “Your data needs to be accurate, reliable and consistent. You can even start by just picking one or two areas in which you want to be consistent so you can pull a report on it." 

2) Start With Your Goal

Facing the mountains of AMS data without direction is intimidating.

“I take time out of each week to check in with all the different teams in our office," says Rachel Alvarez Campbell, marketing specialist at Mountain State Insurance Agency, Inc. in Charleston, West Virginia. “We start with our goals—let's say to increase cross-sales—and then we take a look at our client database and see not only which existing clients would be eligible, but what data makes them eligible. Or, if our goal is to sell more umbrella policies, we look at which of our clients have life components that may make an umbrella a good idea."

Looking for a good marketing goal to start with? “Start by taking a look at who your ideal customer profile is," says Jesse Lipson, CEO of Levitate. “Just take a look at the renewals that are coming up this month and next month, and then look at customers who are renewing versus customers who aren't. Where did those clients come from? What's the source of your happiest customers?" 

3) Dig Into the Data 

“You've got to learn how to get comfortable with getting the data out of the system," Howe says. “You might just have standard reports that come out of the system and indicate the customers you have, where they are, what they have with you. Or, you may have products that provide tools for analysis of the data."

Third-party data can be a helpful addition. “We use a lot of free resources from the state," Campbell says. “For instance, we can pull OSHA records and compare to our data."

“While agencies have a lot of data, it can really be enriched with third-party data," Pino agrees. “For instance, 'What homes are in flood zones?' Or, 'Does this client own a property that isn't insured with me?'" Agentero's program plugs into an AMS to deliver those insights by cross-referencing agency data with the external data.

“Knowing your average policy per client is a good metric for sure," Meek says. “I like to keep it simple: home, home without auto, home without flood, those types of things."

“And then who are your top 10 clients by policy count or top 10 by premium count?" he adds.

When it comes to determining which data you should focus on to achieve your goal, both creativity and simplicity are key.

“In the book, 'How to Measure Anything' by Douglas Hubbard, there's an example of an opera that was trying to measure customer satisfaction," Lipson says. “Rather than going with a complicated solution, they just measured the number of standing ovations—very easy and a good proxy. Don't make things too complicated."

4) Take Informed Marketing Action 

The data doesn't go anywhere if you don't act on it. “Getting access to the data is a prerequisite, but it doesn't suddenly make you an effective marketer," Howe points out.

Lipson builds on his suggestion for a starting goal of creating the ideal customer profile: “Once you have that information about who your best customers are and where they come from, it's easy to make sure your marketing is designed to attract those customers," he says. “Maybe you'll find those that came to you through, for instance, paid search ads, weren't as profitable."

“So, you know what characteristics you want to look for in a pot­ential client," Campbell adds. “Now you can decide to model a specific campaign to attract people like those clients already in your existing database, whether it's through targeted ads or your social media."

Data itself can be front and center in the marketing. “Personalization is key, and you can use your data to personalize simple things around client messages," Pino says. “You should always include their name, but you can also personalize when you send the message—around birthdays, renewal dates or life events."

Now that Meek's agency has gone paperless, “I can easily go in and find everyone that has a homeowners policy with no flood insurance," he says. Additionally, the agency uses Applied Marketing Automation to work within the AMS to generate and send emails. “With a couple of keystrokes, I can then shoot out an email that looks professional to those clients asking them if they'd like to get a flood quote."

And those top 10 clients Meek mentions? “You're writing a thank you note every year for sure," he says.

5) Be Patient

“We're in a relationship-based business as independent insurance agents and marketing is not going to get customers overnight—especially the customers that you probably want as an agent," Lipson says.

To help pace expectations and calibrate strategies, Campbell suggests breaking your marketing goal into smaller chunks. “If your larger goal is to bring in more leads for personal lines, that's a pretty big goal," she says. “How do you get there? Break it down into smaller pieces, and it will help you troubleshoot and solve problems along the way."

“It can help me sometimes avoid scrapping a whole campaign just because one thing wasn't working," she adds. 

“At the end of the day, it's not sexy or fun," Meek says. “You just have people in your database that you don't have policies for, and those policies are being written somewhere—just not with you. Your AMS is the way to make sure that doesn't slip past you." 

AnneMarie McPherson is IA news editor.

Thursday, February 4, 2021
Sales & Marketing