Friday, December 29, 2006

Set marketing objectives

Determining your objectives may take some thinking, because some of the business ideas that you may have considered for a number of years but never implemented may be perfect for this new year's marketing plan.

For example, as the Hispanic market continues to explode across the United States, perhaps as an adjusting firm you've always thought about hiring a bilingual adjuster, or as an agent, a bilingual agent. If this is the case, perhaps one of your key objectives this year would be to target the Hispanic market.

Objectives should be as specific as possible. Assume that you've found a great bilingual employee and you're ready to go. Your objectives might look like these:
  • Increase Hispanic contractor business.
  • Improve my web site for Spanish-speakers' utilization.
  • Advertise in Hispanic trade journals.

Perhaps you have acquired a new market for antique stores or for a workers' compensation carrier that is managing its claims exceptionally well and cherry-picking accounts in your area. Others agents in your area may be ready to gain access, too, and you want to get your message out first. In this case, your objectives might look like these:

  • Improve market concentration with antique dealers statewide.
  • Determine which business classes the workers' compensation carrier seeks and target that market.

Some objectives may be quite simple and easy to implement. One example is to look at your existing customers and mine that base for more business. This applies not just to agents, but to any insurance operation. You might consider as one of your marketing objectives a well-written letter to existing clients asking for referrals or for additional business in areas where they have not traditionally used your services.

For example, you may be writing only one line of insurance for many of your customers. A simple objective may be to mine your existing customer base to write new lines of their business or to ask for referrals. If your customers love your company, most will be more than happy to refer their colleagues, friends and neighbors.

Marketing objectives should be specific and measurable. Is 2007 the year you act on those ideas that you may have had for years to increase your income?

Thursday, December 28, 2006

It's a new year for marketing

With 2007 peaking through our proverbial windows, it may be time to set some marketing goals for your business. A marketing plan can be for as little as one year and in developing a plan, you lay the foundation to increase your organization's visibility.

For the next few days, I'd like to walk through a potential marketing plan with you. Marketing plans can be elaborate and lengthy documents or they can be quite simple. Let's focus on a simple marketing plan, and for the next few days, let's develop a marketing plan for your business.

Here is a general outline of a marketing plan.

  1. What is your objective?
  2. What is your budget?
  3. Define your target market(s).
  4. What methods or vehicles will you use to hit your target market?
  5. When do you plan to roll out which portions of your plan?
  6. Tweaking or "Is it working?"

Tomorrow, we'll look at some objectives of a marketing plan.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Are brochures dead?

Absolutely not. A brochure is still a great way to market your business. In many cases, your brochure is the only shot you have to market your business to a potential client.

Many companies design and print their own brochures in-house. Unfortunately, it often shows. Your brochure should boldly proclaim your professionalism, and there is no substitute for one professionally written, designed and printed. Why scrimp on this critical marketing piece?

Not only can a brochure help you when you attend meetings with the potential for networking, a well-written brochure placed on your website as a PDF file allows potential clients direct access to it. This saves you time and mailing costs as well as shows the professionalism of your firm.

In addition, you may be marketing to several types of clients. For example, auditing firms may market to the Lloyds' market and to stateside carriers. In this case, the two speak English, but very different forms of it. A copywriter who has worked with both markets will tell you -- you write differently for the London market.

Perhaps your adjusting firms wants to pursue surplus lines business. A brochure tailored to the excess markets and managing general agents will help get your foot in the door by showing your knowledge of and commitment to this unique niche.

Today's insurance market is niche driven, and a one-size-fits-all brochure won't always do what you need it to. Designing and writing a brochure is less expensive than you may think. Money well spent on marketing your business will inevitably come back to you, with more.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Lose those adverbs!

What is an adverb and why should anyone care? An adverb is a part of speech that modifies several parts of the language, including verbs and adjectives. Often, adverbs end in “ly.”

Adverbs often answer questions like “when,” “how often,” “how,” or “in what manner.” Here are some adverbs:

· admittedly
· sadly
· totally
· highly
· completely

Adverbs weaken your writing. Most adverbs can be eliminated from text without losing one iota of meaning.

We see adverbs often in insurance writing. Have you ever written any of these sentences?

“Your home was totally destroyed.” If it was destroyed, why do you need to add “totally"?

“Admittedly, you made a valid point.” If you say the point was valid, why add "admittedly"?

"I note that you were understandably confused.” Not only is the tone condescending, but it's clearer to say "I understand your confusion."

We can avoid the use of adverbs in writing by using verbs. Instead of saying “I was badly mistaken,” how about saying “I was wrong”? Or instead of writing “That is highly unlikely,” try “That is improbable.”

Just by searching "ly" with your 'find' function, you can search out and destroy those adverbs! Your writing will be clearer and more concise.

Even the best writer needs occasional help to deliver the best message in the fewest words. A copywriter can turn your raw text into streamlined communications!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Great writing at its worst

The web is a wonderful place for some laughs. I came across some amazingly bad writing from high school essays submitted by English teachers across the country, God bless them each and every one.

  • His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliances like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
  • He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
  • She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like the sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
  • Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
  • He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
  • The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife's infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
  • He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant and she was the East River.
  • McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
  • From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you're on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. instead of 7:30.
  • Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. at a speed of 35 mph.
  • Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
  • The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
  • He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
  • The ballerina rose gracefully en pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
  • It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
  • He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

I couldn't have said it better myself.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Organizing an advertising project

Any copywriter you hire must work closely with you and your organization to determine your advertising needs. Before you meet, here are some key questions to consider to save time, money and to better target your marketing.

  • What service or product do you offer?
  • What project do you have in mind?
  • What is your budget? This allows the copywriter to help set your expectations for the scope of the project.
  • How will you get your message across? Are you considering direct mail, an improved website, press release campaigns, or perhaps radio spots?
  • What is the goal of the project? Be specific. For example, “I want to increase the amount of long-haul trucking coverage that we write," or "I want to obtain more adjusting business from managing general agents."
  • Who is your target market? Be specific.
  • How will your target market benefit from you providing these services as opposed to your competitor?
  • What else are you doing toward this goal? In other words, is this part of a bigger advertising plan already in place?
  • Who are your competitors? What are they doing?
  • Describe why your product or service is better than your competitors.
  • What have you done in the past regarding this endeavor? Describe similar projects. How well did they succeed? Why or why not?
  • Has your competitor done something you like? What about something you don’t like? (Raid your “swipe file.”)
  • Who is the contact person at your agency for this project?
  • Who authorizes acceptance of the project?

While you may be a good communicator, a copywriter can help you hone your message to a few key points. This saves money and helps to ensure that your copy does its job -- bringing in business.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Start a “swipe file”

Does your competitor have an impressive ad campaign? Did you receive an effective direct mail pitch? Did some magazine ad, insert, direct mail postcard or newsprint advertisement catch your eye? When you find great advertising examples, cut them out and place them in a “swipe file” for future reference.

If you see a web site you like, keep a copy of it in a “favorites” file on your computer. When you hear radio clips that are well written and speak to you, make some notes and consider how these types of ads could be used to promote your business.

Don’t limit yourself to insurance-related advertising. Almost any copy can be adapted to your business with a little imagination and skill.

A swipe file doesn’t mean you are stealing anyone’s ideas. Swipes simply help you consider the many methods available to better portray your business. Your swipe file can be invaluable when you decide to better target your marketing or begin a new ad campaign.

There is one caveat to the swipe file. Don’t assume that all the ads that you like will work. The best-written ad can fail for a variety of reasons. A copywriter can help you target your marketing for maximum advantage.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Customer service

I spent the day Christmas shopping and two saleswomen who waited on me possessed exemplary customer service skills. Yesterday I was speaking with a claim manager who is having trouble with employees with poor customer service skills. Technical skills can be taught, but it is very difficult to teach soft skills, the people skills that help insureds navigate an insurance-related loss or injury.

My father was an independent agent for over 50 years. He had that extraordinary ability to make anyone, even someone he'd just met, feel special. When I tagged along with my parents as a child (my mother was his business partner and a fine agent as well), my father was always prospecting. He talked to everyone like he or she was already a friend.

If he ate at a restaurant he liked, he left his card and a pen or perhaps an agency calendar. If he saw a fleet of commercial trucks that looked clean and well kept, he would jot down the name of the company, then call or drop by and ask for an expiration date to quote their renewal. Do you know how many business owners tell me that literally dozens of agents ask for their expiration dates each year then never follow up to quote them?

Great customer service is a skill, but to some, it comes naturally. Claim managers and agency owners often spend thousands of dollars and hours of their valuable time training agents and adjusters who wash out because they lack people skills.

Why not prospect for great employees? Does your friend rave about the service she routinely receives from an employee at a local flower shop? How about a favorite waitress who you know is working her way through college? Perhaps they would consider a career that allows them to make a difference in people's lives and provides a more lucrative income.

There are many examples of customer service people who would make great CSRs, agents or adjusters. It's simply that an insurance career is not a job that most people would envision until someone presents them with that possibility. Most people have no exposure to the insurance industry other than paying their auto premiums. They are spending their time selling with little hope for advancement or servicing other people's customers with distinction. They may appreciate a chance to expand their horizons and you can offer them that chance and benefit, as well.

Are some of your best prospects right under your nose?

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Weasel words

Do you use "weasel words"? I don't mean a furry critter that goes through your garbage "of an evening" as they say in Missouri. Weasel words are terms and phrases that are deliberately fuzzy. Rather than providing clarity, weasel words obscure your message.

Weasel words get their name from the crafty weasel, who sucks eggs without breaking the shell. Similarly, weasel words suck the meaning out of your message. If you communicate with phrases like "highest quality," "prompt service," or "highly qualified," you may be weaseling.

Before you write, ask yourself, "What exactly am I offering?" If you believe your product is of the highest quality, explain why. For example, tell your customers that you represent only A-rated carriers and briefly explain the importance of a rating. This offers much clearer information to your potential customer.

If you offer prompt service, you might say "We return all phone calls within 24 hours." No matter what product they are buying, everyone wants to be a priority customer. This clear message informs people that "We are so committed to excellent service that we offer you this promise."

"Highly qualified" doesn't explain the depth of your expertise. "Meeting the insurance needs of my community for over a decade" gives potential clients a clear look at your knowledge.

What about "with all due respect"? If you disagree with someone's opinion, don't bother telling them that you respect them. State your case and then offer to discuss their concerns with them personally. This leaves the door open for more communication.

Weasel words can destroy communication. No matter well you write, it's easy to slip into fuzziness. A professional copywriter offers you an objective edge. She can take your raw copy and help you develop communications that are specific and tailored to your audience.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Why hire a copywriter?

Insurance isn't the sexiest of topics. Neither are issues like risk management, personnel problems or safety. Therefore, it's often almost impossible to get your message across to your target audience because you can't get your foot in their door with your literature.

A copywriter can help. You know your target audience and we know how to woo them. Let provide high-impact copy at a reasonable price.

With over twenty years in the insurance business, I have worked in most phases of the property and casualty industry and can target your message to consumers, agents, brokers, claims people, MGAs, the Lloyds' market and other business professionals.

Why work with a copywriter who doesn't know a retention from a deductible or an exclusion from an endorsement? Visit us soon and put our experience to work for you!