ACG - Agency Consulting Group

The PIPELINE

A national monthly newsletter for agency principals dedicated to agency management topic

Strategic Planning 2001

We often encounter agents whose growth goals require them to penetrate new geographic territories. They open offices, hire or move employees and expect a flow of business. Unfortunately, whether the area is under-serviced or not, a new agency is considered a foreigner and is often treated that way. Hiring local residents does help. The least success comes from an agent who moves into a new area, opens a location, and promptly begins solicitation of the businesses and residents of the area. Unless the local agents are totally inept, they have had years to establish relationships and make friends. Any incursion into their customer base will be viewed as a purposeful effort to undermine and harm agents who have been a part of the community for years.

However, agents do successfully penetrate new areas every year. Those successful expansions seem to have a “success template” that is rather common, which includes Familiarization Campaign, Targeting Centers of Influence, and Focused Target Marketing.

Obviously, the best time to go into a territory is when the local Yellow Pages book comes out. Whether a line ad or display ad, the public (incorrectly) assumes credibility of a business if they are listed in the telephone book with a local address. Remember that the deadline for entry into telephone books is often three or more months before publication. You must have a location and telephone number by then. However, the telephone book as the final arbiter of the timing of a new office is only important if you count on the business generated from the telephone book for a substantial percentage of your contacts (i.e. non-standard auto). For standard and commercial P&C and L&H, the telephone book is secondary, and a confirmation to the public that you are for real.

FAMILIARIZATION CAMPAIGN

Whenever someone sees the gecko on television they think of GEICO. Most people do not know what GEICO stands for. Whenever someone sees or hears a duck quacking in an ad they think of AFLAC (again, without knowing what AFLAC stands for). These companies have effectively made the public familiar with their names, and, familiarization breeds sales. So when they need an auto quote they may call GEICO, and when they need health insurance, they think of AFLAC.

What GEICO and AFLAC do on a national level, you can do on a local level.

Some 70 years ago a salesman found that his product, although new and revolutionary, wasn’t catching on because he couldn’t get people to ask for it at the local stores. So he decided to post signs where people could see them from a relatively new mode of transportation, and since people go past signs relatively quickly, he felt that they couldn’t absorb the message he wanted to convey on a single sign, so he placed sets of staggered signs along roadways in middle America, and the Burma Shave signs were born. When he started rhyming the lines, and making them entertaining, people actually looked for them and slowed to read his stanzas. Suddenly thousands of people were asking for Burma Shave (a brush-less shaving cream in the days of shaving brushes) at their local pharmacies and the company TOOK OFF!

The same concept can be used by insurance agencies to familiarize communities and target markets with their names. However, cars move too fast to read a series of signs at the side of the road (although this concept is still used by South Of The Border, on U.S. 95 on the way to Florida, and for several attractions in the south). Sign restrictions exist today that didn’t exist when Burma Shave was popular. So new venues need to be considered. The answer is in the electronic age, in storefront advertising, and in flyers delivered to homes by hand.

A coordinated effort works best. Imagine a series of post-card sized “road signs”, like the one below, being delivered to a targeted community on a daily basis for a week. On Monday a card is dropped off with one line on a road-sign imaged on the card. Each successive day a new card would be dropped off adding a line to the stanza until, on Friday, the agency name and address is presented at the bottom of the completed slogan.

WHEN YOUR HOME,

YOUR CAR, YOUR LIFE

NEED PROTECTION

AGAINST STRIFE

REACH FOR THE PHONE,

JUST STAND TALL

ALL YOU NEED TO

DO IS CALL

Agency Name, address &

Phone Number

By the second or third week of the marketing program, whether they are entertained by the stanzas or not, the people targeted by the marketing program will know who and where you are. You will now be familiar to them. Simultaneous to the delivery of the cards, place a lit sign in front of the agency (or in it’s window) that presents the same series of lines, one per day. People will find themselves driving past the agency just to see how the stanza develops.

Some agents have purchased e-mail lists and have presented the same advertising by e-mail. However, we understand that the backlash from severe “spamming” on the Net has made this option less productive than other methods.

Prior to the Familiarization Program agents should consider a flyer (or mailing) coordinated with a newspaper ad announcing the opening, and inviting people to drop by for a free gift (a pen, a card-size calendar, a magnet). The flyer should have an agency magnet (the BEST long-term advertising tool for personal lines) attached to it that people could put on their refrigerators).

TARGETING CENTERS OF INFLUENCE

If your agency sells auto insurance, you should certainly be known by the car dealers in the area. If your agency sells homeowners insurance, you should be known by the realtors in the area. If your agency sells commercial lines and/or life and health insurance, you should be well known by the accountants and attorneys in the area.

Each of these groups should have a marketing plan established for them to introduce yourself and familiarize them with your agency. Auto dealers and real estate firms react well to personal visits by friendly people, bearing gifts of boxes of candy or flowers. However, doing it once is useless. In order to make them comfortable with you and your agency, you should re-visit every few weeks. One very effective medium is to deliver a box designed to advertise your agency containing two sections, one for agency brochures and the other for candy or lollipops. This gives you an excuse to visit and become friends with the staffers at each dealership or real estate office, as you re-fill both sections. Remember, the goal is to establish relationships, then the sales will follow as they begin to refer clients to you.

Flowers work well for accounting firms and lawyers offices (i.e. your agency imprinted coffee cup filled with the flowers of the season), but these professionals need more than a drop-in. In each case you should be prepared to show the professional how your participation could help them both with their clients, and through referral of your agency clients to them, should the need arise for their services. These firms are also constantly on the hunt for centers of influence, and you are one for them if you represent yourself as an insurer of the types of individuals and businesses to which they also cater.

Finally, do not attempt to drop by every business in the area offering them your services. Being all things to all people make you a “specialist” to none. You will accomplish the same goal by marketing to one business segment at a time (contractors, retailers, professional offices, etc.) representing yourself as a specialist in their type of business, and getting referred from one business owner to another in that target market.