Premium Publishers: How the Insurance Industry Learned to Love Content

This piece is a modified excerpt from our latest e-book, “State of Content Marketing: Insurance.” Download the full e-book here.

Until now, insurance agencies have survived by coloring inside the lines. In fact, their whole industry is built around avoiding risk. So it wasn’t exactly easy for them to drop old, traditional marketing strategies and jump headfirst into new content campaigns. But, as many have learned in the last few years, in order to get people’s attention in a crowded digital world, companies that don’t ditch the confusing business jargon will get left behind.

For insurance brands often plagued by compliance issues and the stigma of operating in a “boring” industry, pulling back the curtain to show off the human side of their companies may seem difficult—but it’s not impossible.

“A lot of the compliance issues people use as a reason to not get involved in [content] are made up,” said Ryan Hanley, head of marketing for Insurance companies deal with legal demands every minute of the day. In fact, if any industry is primed to handle the stresses of compliance, it’s the insurance industry. Here’s how a few agencies are using premium content to change the way consumers perceive them.

Partnering up

What’s the catch? Or at least the main catch? Trying to get executives to buy-in to creative content initiatives.

When Matt Johnson was head of digital marketing at State Farm, he knew the company needed to become a brand publisher in order to develop an audience of loyal readers. But it took some time for that message to start resonating internally.

“Keeping people on our website is not what [State Farm] does,” Johnson said. “We’re insurance people. But the publishing industry has made a living getting people to stay on their website and come back for more.”

So Johnson, now head of activation and media for RAPP’s West Coast branch, turned to third-party sites that had large millennial audiences, like Gawker and BuzzFeed, to help produce and host the content for State Farm. “We said, ‘We want you to talk like you. But we want you to talk how you would talk about our products to your audience.'”

State Farm’s partnerships resulted in pieces like “12 DIY Hacks to Create Your Dream Apartment” and “The Definitive Guide to Planning Your First Fall Road Trip.”

By joining forces with the right partner, almost any company can reach new demographics, regardless of its resources or experience creating content. And brands don’t only have to team up with publishers in order to sponsor their messages. Look at Aon, a global insurance company that decided to sponsor the most valuable sports team in the world.

Back in 2009, Aon had a presence in 120 countries—nearly half of the world—and yet a lot of people still hadn’t heard of the brand. That is, until the company reached a multimillion-dollar deal for its logo to appear on Manchester United’s soccer jerseys.

“Instead of putting a marketing representative in each of those countries, we can run one campaign that we call ‘Aon United,'” Phil Clement, the company’s global chief marketing and communications officer, told “We can execute on that in all countries around the world because people have a general understanding of the sport almost anywhere we do business.”

Educating your audience

Once people knew what Aon was, it was time to tell them what Aon did. So Aon revved its engine, launching a content hub where employees could explain exactly what they did across six services: Talent, Health, Risk, Capital, Retirement, and Data & Analytics. When it comes to creating content, Clement adhered to an acronym: CUTT, which stands for compelling, useful, timely, and transactional.

“A lot of marketers are good at hitting one of the four,” Clement told The Drew Blog. “It’s a constant challenge to get teams to think about hitting all four.”

To this day, Clement uses this guidepost to focus on creating a few campaigns that slice through the noise as opposed to pumping out hundreds of reports filled with confusing data. For example, twice a year, Aon publishes its One magazine, which features over 30 pages of case studies, trend forecasts, and insights from insurance leaders.

According to marketing agency McMurry, Aon started to see impressive results just 45 days after the magazine launched. Visitors to Aon’s site were spending an average of almost nine minutes reading and browsing, and 46 percent of visitors were referred from a search engine after using highly relevant keywords like “risk management,” “risk management strategy,” and “crisis management insurance.”

Those stats are impressive, especially considering “insurance” is the most expensive keyword on Google AdWords, meaning insurance companies are paying super-high CPCs in order to compete for a top spot in Google’s search results. However, as the success of Aon’s content shows, buyers need more than just the basic facts if they’re going to choose your company over a competitor. For example, they already know they need to protect their homes, but they want to know how to do it in a big storm.

That’s why in 2014, Farmers Insurance created Farmers Inner Circle, an online destination for consumers to read up on lifestyle and savings advice. Farmers Inner Circle features unique pieces that cover everything from NASCAR pro tips for safe driving to the best ways to baby-proof your home.

By pairing educational facts with entertaining and shareable language, a few standout insurance companies have started to build owned audiences and position themselves ahead of the pack.

The multimedia swing

Looking ahead—beyond the blogs and white papers—multimedia content may be the future of insurance content marketing. After all, one of the most impressive insurance content case stories to this day is built on a wildly successful video series.

Early on in his career, as an agent at the Murray Group Insurance Services, a small agency in Albany, Ryan Hanley realized he was getting his butt kicked by agents who had been in the business for decades. He was feeling dismal about his prospects—until he turned to content marketing.

Hanley started his own website,, and filled it with his budding knowledge of the industry. It wasn’t long before the agency’s executives realized they were getting direct revenue from Hanley’s efforts, so they let him work his magic on the company’s site. But Hanley needed something big to get the project going.

“The only analogy that’s ever popped in my head is in Pulp Fiction where John Travolta shoves the adrenaline needle in Uma Thurman’s heart,” he said. What was his needle in the heart going to be?

Hanley points to a campaign that had incredible success even with an unsuccessful title: The “100 Questions Answered in 100 Days” video series. Hanley polled everyone he could via Facebook, email, and in the office to ask: “If you could have one insurance question answered, what would it be?”

He collected 147 answers and pared them down to 100. Beginning in January 2012, Hanley answered each question one at a time in a YouTube video that was under three minutes. After posting each video to YouTube, he embedded it in a blog post on the company site with a bit of added context. And he did that every day for 100 days.

“If you look at the Google Analytics chart, it’s ridiculous,” Hanley said. “In that time period we went from 70 hits a week to over 500 a week. And just in those 100 days, I can attribute over $5,000 of revenue to people who said they were calling in because of the campaign. Since that time, it’s tens of thousands of dollars.”

If Hanley’s Murray Group case study proves anything, it’s that content marketing is not just for major players. While too many internationally recognized insurance conglomerates are busy pumping millions of dollars into TV ads, the coast is clear for smaller agencies to carve out a niche and develop strong relationships with customers online.

“More agencies need to embrace the fact that people want to connect with them on a personal, deeper level, and the insurance piece is just a byproduct,” Hanley said. “It’s business story time. And I’m not talking about Lord of the Rings. I’m talking about what makes people connect to your agency.”

And for those who are still weighing the risk of publishing content, Hanley doesn’t want to hear any complaints about compliance issues. When it comes to dealing with all of the red tape, Tara Meehan, head of social content at Guardian Life Insurance, told the B2B Podcast, “Sometimes I feel like I’m working at the CIA.” But even the CIA is on Twitter now! So no excuses.

For a comprehensive overview of content marketing in the insurance industry, download our e-book, “State of Content Marketing: Insurance.”

Image by Ilin Sergey

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