Agency Marketing Is Not Getting Easier

Nathan Kropp: Insurance Leads, Marketing, For Agents
Saturday, September 21 => Read time: 10 minutes

Traditional Marketing Is Hard, Especially For Insurance Agencies

Experts who give seminars about business love to start their presentation with blanket statements to the effect of, "Forget everything you know about marketing." A lot of times, those statements are simply rhetorical devices, ways to get you to perk up and pay attention to a presentation that hashes over the same old marketing tricks and techniques that you've known for years.

But right now, as the very idea of marketing is changing completely, a phrase like that - one that effectively clears the board on the marketing strategies of the past - isn't only pertinent, it's necessary. You really do need to forget everything you know about traditional marketing, because it's on its way out.

In his book A History of Marketing Thought, Robert Bartels categorizes marketing ideas by decade, starting in the 1900s, with the basic concepts, through the 1970s, where it became necessary to adapt marketing to changing societal ideas and social change because a marketing tool itself. All along the way, Bartels argues that marketing has become more specialized and scientific as systems, management structures and environments grow more complex and the demands on an increasingly media-savvy audience shift..

In the last decade or two, that shift has accelerated more rapidly than it ever has before.

Of course, marketing goes back much further than the start of the 20th Century. Town criers promoted events and other goings-on in ancient times. The invention of the printing press in the mid-1400s led to the extensive use of brochures and fliers. Newspapers and magazines revolutionized information distribution and advertising in the 18th and 19th centuries. Spam existed - on the telegraph - in the 1860s, the same decade billboards first became popular. Trademarks started to be widely used for branding products in the 1880s. And the 20th Century brought a marketing revolution with radio, television, systematization of phone calls, and the academic study of marketing as a discipline.

All these old methods are becoming obsolete, as the most profound change in marketing and communication since the advent of the printing pres takes hold. This is happening even as the basic strategies and goals of marketing - targeting an audience to whom one can promote and distribute a product, setting a price for that product and offering support services that enhance or increase the product's value - remain the same.

Why are the older forms of marketing dying out? One reason, put simply, is that the venues are changing. The old ways of getting your message out to customers - newspapers, magazines, TV, radio, the yellow pages, door-to-door sales, telemarketing - are declining in popularity at a steady pace.

Let's take a look at the numbers

Between 1998 and 2007, the percentage of American adults that read newspapers fell from about 58 percent to about 48 percent, according to the Newspaper Association of America. And number continue to fall for most papers. In 2009, the Washington Post reported only 13 percent of Americans buy daily newspapers, compared to 31 percent in 1940.

Magazines are in the same boat. A survey by the Pew Research Center for People and the Press found that magazines have been among the hardest hit. In 2013, single issues copy sales plummeted 16% on average for 6 of the top news titles.

Other traditional types of advertising and marketing - billboards, door-to-door flyers, etc - can still be marginally effective, but, the rate of return remains minimal. For every hundred or so people who see your billboard, maybe one or two will actually remember your agency the next time that viewers decides to shot for insurance.

The audience is fracturing. Markets are shrinking into smaller and smaller niches. Mass media simply isn't as massive as it used to be. And as that fragmentation continues, marketers are seeing diminishing returns on their ad buys and other mass-media-dependent strategies.

Change Is Inevitable

Speaking of the audience, the people who receive your marketing messages have changed immensely over the past few years. Not only in the way that they buy things and seek out products and services, but in the way that they obtain messages, respond to those messages and interact with them.

In the period where newspapers, radio and TV were the main venues through which customers took in marketing messages, the communication was largely one-way. Viewers took in marketing messages as to whether or not to move forward with buying something or subscribing to a service. The message of an advertisement, commercial or sign was all the customer had to go on, beyond what their friends and family had to say about it.

That's not the case anymore, as your audience and your customers are more involved in the process of determining just what they buy, how they buy it and who they buy it from than ever before. We'll get more into the details of why customers' attitudes are changing in the next chapter - in short, it's about having more say due to increased interactivity spurred by the Internet.

Nathan Kropp
Chief Deal Officer