B2C

State of Content Marketing: Insurance

“I hate to break it to you, but there is no such thing as a boring industry. There are just bad writers who aren’t creative.”

For insurance marketers who might use the “boring industry” excuse to shy away from creating content, those words from Neil Patel should serve as a hard truth.

We get it. Insurance executives are in the business of avoiding risk, and this aversion to change can make it hard for marketers to garner support for groundbreaking content marketing initiatives. But we’re here to tell you this: Your clients need to avoid risk—you don’t. In order to attract those clients, you can’t.

As Ryan Hanley, author of Content Warfare, said, “Too often, a content marketing strategy for an insurance agency is based around ‘We sell this insurance. Here’s why you should buy it, and here’s why you should buy it from us.’ … If that’s nine out of ten articles on your site, it just doesn’t work. People don’t care.”

To clarify, people care about insurance. In fact, “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. But buyers need more than just the basic facts if they’re going to choose your company over a competitor. They already know they need to protect their homes, but they want to know how to do it in a big storm. They already know they need car insurance, but maybe you can share great road trips to take while using that car they love so much.

Insurance companies have a hard job. They’re not just trying to sell a “boring” industry, but they’re also tasked with delivering both B2C and B2B marketing: B2B content targeting brokers, and B2C content for brokers to show their consumer clients. And they have to do this while trying to get their work past legal and compliance departments that only want to play it safe. The task may seem difficult, but it’s not impossible. In fact, a few standout insurance companies like State Farm, the Murray Group, and Oscar are revolutionizing insurance marketing.

In this e-book, we’ll explore how these best-in-class companies are boosting their sales with content, how they structure their internal teams, and why they aren’t letting compliance protocol hold them back. Because if you’re an insurance company that wants to shed the “boring” stereotype, the most effective way to prove your worth is by producing innovative content.

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Trends

Magazines

Over the last few years, brands have made a huge impact in their respective industries with magazines. Red Bull publishes The Red Bulletin each month in print and online, and Nike promoted the 20th anniversary of its F.C. collection with an online ‘zine profiling soccer legends. But they’re not the only ones loving magazines. Insurance agencies are also giving consumers some pages to flip through.

Twice a year, Aon publishes its One magazine, which features over 30 pages of case studies, trend forecasts, and insights from insurance leaders. Additionally, both Axa and Brown Brothers Harriman publish digital periodicals featuring industry news and interviews with thought leaders.

In the family of print magazines—but with an appropriately wacky edge—Geico, widely known for its eccentric TV commercials, transported its gecko mascot from the screen to the page with You’re Only Human, which might be the first book ever “written” by a gecko. Even in 2015, it’s still hard to replicate the appeal of a creative magazine.

Sponsored content

For insurance agencies that don’t have the resources to hire in-house writers or publish content to their own sites, there are always third-party platforms that can produce engaging content.

As Matt Johnson, former head of digital marketing at State Farm, told Contently, “Keeping people on our website is not what our company does. 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 during his time at State Farm, Johnson partnered with sites that had large millennial audiences, like Gawker and BuzzFeed. “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.” In the same vein, Esurance also became a brand publishing partner of BuzzFeed, sponsoring posts like “10 Car Accessories That You Never Knew You Needed.” These three examples show how insurance companies can reach different demographics by joining forces with the right publisher, a strategy that most companies can emulate regardless of their experience creating content.

Educating the audience

If insurance companies want to own their media properties, they should be offering consumers educational content, not just product information. A reader can visit and quickly scan a bunch of insurance jargon, but that person will probably never return to the site. If a brand provides posts that are both helpful and entertaining, however, that mindset can help lead to an audience of loyal readers who return for more.

In 2014, for instance, Farmers Insurance created Farmers Inner Circle, a destination for consumers to read up on lifestyle and savings advice. Farmers Inner Circle features pieces covering everything from NASCAR pro tips for safe driving to the best ways to baby-proof your home.

“We know that the more engagement we have with our customer the easier it is to create a lasting relationship and an ongoing dialogue with them,” Amanda Reierson, head of digital marketing for Farmers Insurance, wrote in an email. “We want to ensure that every time our customers interact with the Farmers brand, whether it be through an agent, an employee, or online, they come away feeling smarter about their insurance.”

However, Farmers doesn’t just nurture its consumers with information. The company also invests in the education of its agents. That’s why it launched the University of Farmers, a real place that was recently inducted into Training magazine’s hall of fame as one of the world’s best corporate learning centers. Appropriately, most of the content on Inner Circle is written and developed by Farmers’ trained in-house experts.

As another prime example, U.K.-based motor insurance company RAC offers tips for winter driving, information on avoiding summer breakdowns, advice for driving abroad, yearly motor reports, and a regularly updated blog. RAC even took on Google Maps with its own route planner.

On the other side of the pond, Allstate is winning awards from the Content Marketing Institute for “Best Overall Corporate Blog” and “Best Blog Entry” thanks to clever work that focuses on topics like atrocious car accessories we can’t believe used to be cool. Esurance is also proving that insurance agencies can have the best of both worlds, pairing its sponsored posts with its own blog content.

Microsites

What the heck is a microsite, anyway? Melissa Lafsky answered that question for us on The Content Strategist earlier this year: “A microsite is a branded content site that lives outside of the company homepage and/or brand URL.”

It’s a somewhat scientific-sounding name for something that isn’t all that complicated. It’s also a marketing strategy that insurance companies are taking full advantage of. Prudential, for example, launched “Bring Your Challenges” as part of a multi-platform campaign that focuses on retirement planning and behavior that helps people live longer. Meanwhile, UnitedHealthcare created the “We Dare You to Share” microsite, inviting readers to participate in health and fitness challenges.

The advantages of a microsite are pretty obvious. Lafsky writes: “You build it, you amplify it, you leave it. If you’ve tackled the hard part of creating a great site—which plenty of brands are doing—then you can pat yourself on the back while the traffic rolls in.”

Social media outreach

Just as it can seem hard for insurance companies to make their websites exciting for consumers, it can also be difficult to engage audiences on social media. After all, most social users are giving their attention to updates from best friends, celebrities, and so-called sexier brands in industries like entertainment or fashion. However, a few insurance agencies are standing their ground.

MetLife dominates Facebook by running campaigns like #WhoILiveFor, inviting people to share their responses, and by using Custom Audiences to reach readers within Facebook’s walls. Over on Instagram, newcomer agency Oscar is killing it with its #WeAreOscar campaign, featuring an inside look at the company’s culture. Progressive, meanwhile, uses social media to provide its peppy mascot, Flo, with her own digital presence, going so far as to sponsor the #DressLikeFlo hashtag on Halloween. Finally, on LinkedIn, arguably the most effective social platform for B2B marketing, Guardian Life encourages its roughly 3,000 representatives to create profiles, publish content, and connect with colleagues and potential clients.

By reaching audiences on social media, insurance agencies can communicate with consumers in a space where they’re already comfortable and, ultimately, drive them to owned media properties.

build audience

4 Brands That Have Built an Audience

State Farm

Insurance is probably stereotyped as the most conservative industry there is. For a company like State Farm, one of a handful of agencies pushing the envelope of content marketing, getting innovative projects approved hasn’t always been easy.

As State Farm’s former head of digital marketing, Matt Johnson, said, “Let’s face it. Insurance is not a high-interest category for someone aged 18 to 35. They want to spend as little time as possible thinking about insurance.”

On the surface, the perception of the insurance industry can be a huge hurdle. But at the same time, that perception means there is a great opportunity for insurance brands to make an impact in a relatively underdeveloped space.

“I had this philosophy that we needed to become a brand publisher,” Johnson said. “And it took a long time for that message to start resonating internally.”

Johnson, now head of activation and media for RAPP’s West Coast branch, started by partnering with publishers like Gawker and BuzzFeed to create content tied to what the audience was passionate about, such as advice for picking a fantasy baseball team or protecting your record collection. Basically, as long as the content remained under the umbrella of State Farm’s campaigns like “Better State of Living” and “Like a Good Neighbor,” it was doable.

“The goal is to create engagement,” Johnson said. “You are battling for share of the mind of this human being. For something like insurance, these people don’t know that they’re going to [be needing specific insurance]. So when that happens, they’re going to research two or three companies. We need to be top of mind.”

From the get-go, Johnson’s plan was to eventually house some of this content on State Farm’s website and even publish content created in-house, striking the balance between promoting owned media that was fun and provided the necessary product information.

During his time at State Farm, Johnson also helped the marketing team shift its focus from traditional TV commercials to more engaging video content across different mediums. “We always see this positive correlation between running TV ads and eventual sales, but people aren’t clicking on their televisions,” he said. “They’re not always calling that phone number.”

Earlier this year, State Farm launched its #NeighborhoodSessions campaign—a TNT concert series featuring artists like Jennifer Lopez performing in their hometowns.

According to Johnson, Neighborhood Sessions is an example of State Farm embracing its role as a content creator. “We cannot always leave the content creation to our publisher networks, be it MTV or TNT … and then slap our interruptive ad between commercial breaks,” he said. This isn’t just true for digital content, but also video on TV.

“Distribution channels need this content, and the consumer doesn’t care if it was created by State Farm or MTV or Cartoon Network,” Johnson said. “They just want good content.” State Farm recognized this and created the content first before securing television distribution. This is a big shift from a brand going to a network and handing off all the creative responsibilities. As Johnson noted, it’s an idea that’s ahead of its time—one that should encourage other brands to follow suit.

State Farm’s marketers also demonstrated a penchant for thinking outside of the box by becoming the “official insurance” of the Angry Birds Go! mobile racing game with its Angry Birds integration. And the brand was also quick on its feet in sponsoring Gawker’s backup site during Hurricane Sandy. As evidenced by these strategic moves, State Farm understands that it has to meet its audience where they’re already reading and communicating. In this respect, content marketing is not just about meeting demand, but also generating it.

“Who can spend the most dollars is not going to win,” Johnson explained. “It’ll be who can spend their dollars the most wisely. They’re going to have to look at content marketing to do this.”

The Murray Group Insurance Services

With eight years of experience as an insurance agent under his belt, marketing expert Ryan Hanley knows insurance content marketing inside and out. He also has his book, Content Warfare, and some impressive case studies to prove it.

Early on in his career, as an agent at the Murray Group Insurance Services, a small agency in Albany, 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.

“I realized quite quickly that online I could separate myself, tell my stories, share my expertise, and provide value to people in a way that no other insurance agent was doing,” Hanley said. And this was back in 2009, when the term “content marketing” wasn’t as widely accepted as it is now.

While the head of the company wouldn’t let him blog on its behalf, Hanley started his own website,RyanHanley.com, and filled it with his knowledge of the industry.

“Professional lines of insurance, errors and omissions, workers’ compensation… Whatever coverage I was learning about or working on at that time, I would then go back and write about it, amounting to two or three posts a week,” he said.

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. “We were getting no traffic—like 70 hits a week,” Hanley said of the homepage. A WordPress redesign and a few pages of product information were only going to get them so far. Hanley needed something bigger to get the company site 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,” Hanley said. What was his needle of adrenaline going to be?

Hanley points to a campaign that had incredible success but a horrible 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 three minutes or less. After posting each video to YouTube, he embedded it in a blog post on the company site with a bit of added context. 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.”

One of the videos in particular generated close to $30,000 of revenue. “And it all had to do with the fact that we were answering questions that, at the time, weren’t even on the NYS [New York State] Department of Insurance’s website,” Hanley said.

The big money-making video answered the question “What is New York State short-term disability?” It drew so much business because the NYS Department of Insurance dropped that particular service without explanation. Everyone who got a notice went online to figure out why they were being denied this policy, which is how they came across Hanley’s video.

After acting as the director of marketing for the Murray Group, Hanley took a position as head of marketing for TrustedChoice.com, a referral generation platform for the independent insurance industry that helps 23,000 agencies across the country create content marketing.

Now armed with his own marketing team of eight people, Hanley spreads the insurance content marketing gospel, distilling what he learned at the Murray Group so agents throughout the nation can produce their own successful content.

In fact, 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.

Oscar

What would happen if tech experts from Tumblr, Microsoft, and MIT got together to make a health insurance startup? Well, you’d get Oscar, the New York-based health insurance company built to thrive in the digital age.

Oscar has been called the Warby Parker for health insurance. Considering the company’s co-founder, Josh Kushner, was responsible for funding companies like Warby Parker and Instagram, the comparison might not be far off.

The company’s web- and mobile-friendly platform is aimed at making healthcare less confusing, and appeals to digitally savvy millennials. Oscar’s “Simple” plan provides free checkups, free preventative care, generic drugs without a referral, and telemedicine—consumers can talk to a doctor over the phone any time, with the promise of a short wait. By using Oscar’s Flash fitness tracker, customers can also get paid for working out and staying healthy.

As Fast Company reports, Oscar is pioneering digital data usage for health insurance by collecting performance reviews and customer recommendations on the website, amounting to something like Yelp for doctors.

Unsurprisingly, Oscar’s content marketing efforts are as digitally innovative and accessible as its services. The company reaches consumers with a blog called Hi Oscar, which features short, informative posts like “Does an Apple a Day Keep the Doctor Away?” The blog also syndicates posts from Oscar’s Instagram series, where followers can say hi to notable Oscar members who are doing cool things.

The Oscar YouTube channel is also populated with helpful content such as animated ads in English and Spanish, as well as a video series called “Fixing Healthcare,” in which Oscar CEO Mario Schlosser explains how the company plans to provide more personal experience for healthcare customers. Schlosser hopes to do this by catering to individuals instead of corporations, providing services that are actually useful, not just tolerable.

Oscar has the major advantage of being a health insurance company that was built from the ground up in the digital age. Its creators know that accessing your healthcare options shouldn’t be a grueling process. With smartphones and tablets always at our fingertips, it should be as easy as scrolling through your Tumblr dashboard or picking out a pair of sunglasses. With Oscar’s services and digital marketing outreach, it can be.

Aon

Along with its biannual magazine, One, Aon publishes a collection of educational resources for its B2B audience, including market updates and forecasts, risk newsletters, and webinars. These materials cover a range of topics about risk management and even incorporate insights from Aon’s internal teams.

According to a case study from the marketing agency McMurry, there were over 11,000 copies of One in circulation in 2012. And just 45 days after the magazine launched, Aon started to see impressive results. 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.”

Aon may have been reaching consumers interested in insurance, but for Phil Clement, the company’s global chief marketing and communications officer, this wasn’t good enough. With a presence in 120 countries—nearly half the world—Aon still had a huge issue: It wasn’t marketing to its global potential, and a lot of people didn’t know who it was.

That changed rapidly after Aon struck a partnership with Manchester United, recognized as the most valuable team in the world. Back to 2009, Aon reached a four-year, $130-million deal for its logo to appear on Manchester United’s jerseys.

“Manchester United is understood in every country,” Clement told Social Media Today. “Having a globally established brand is important. The Manchester United sponsorship has been a big part of that because we can use the same team, same language, same sponsorship material…”

So the company had exposure, but there was still something missing. Millions of people knew what Aon was, but they still didn’t know what it did.

“If you look at emerging markets, kids eight years old to 19 will all be thinking of Aon as a big important company,” Clement told AdAge. “More people on the planet recognize our brand than don’t. They just don’t know what we do.”

As a B2B risk advisory company that helps businesses organize their internal insurance practices, it wasn’t exactly simple to explain.

That’s when Aon revved its content engine. The company started a new deal with Manchester United in 2013, giving Aon naming rights to the team’s practice facility, placing the logo on the team’s practice jerseys, and making the brand a sponsor for off-season tours. And once anyone searched for Aon, the company was going to be ready with information. The marketing team launched 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 adheres 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.”

For example, Clement uses this guidepost to focus on creating a few campaigns that cut through the noise, rather than pumping out hundreds of reports filled with confusing data. Aon also created an interactive, color-coded risk map. It serves as a tool for companies looking to track investment-impact and risk exposures, and established Aon as an expert in understanding risk.

To distribute the content, Clement’s team uses a mix of social media and direct distribution via seminars and PR outreach to target this soccer-loving audience. “‘Build it and they will come’ is not a good strategy in content marketing. You have to focus on distribution as much as the creation,” he said.

It’s not an easy task to create a cohesive brand image for a company that spans nearly half the world with over 600 offices. But as Clement told CMO.com, that’s why his partnership with Manchester United was such a turning point for the company’s marketing strategy.

“Instead of putting a marketing representative in each of those countries, we can run one campaign that we call ‘Aon United,'” he said. “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.

The result? A double-digit increase of awareness since the beginning of the partnership.

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What the Experts Are Saying

“Thinking about your digital experience on the mobile platform is no longer optional, especially as we look at the largest growing segment of new insurance buyers—19- to 34-year-olds. In 2014, 60 percent of total digital media time was spent on smartphones and tablets.”

Amy Widicus, Managing Director for Healthcare and Customer Engagement at Tahoe Partners

“I would become a Wiki for every insurance product I sell. Not boring corporate insurance barf-speak information… but real-life human beings talking about insurance products the way real people talk about things. I would pick apart every single concept no matter how big or small and explain its impacts on customers.”

Ryan Hanley, Head of Marketing at TrustedChoice.com

“For us it’s about telling stories and making our brands make sense to a public that may not really know why financial services or insurance services are a good thing, why they matter, why they’re important in their everyday lives… I think it’s the direction that many companies are going to in an out of the financial services segment.”

Tara Meehan, Head of Social Content at Guardian Life Insurance

“Offering ongoing advice is now critical, with today’s consumer choosing products and suppliers not on the advice of a single expert at a single moment in time, but on an accumulation of information from a variety of sources over a period.”

Terry Golesworthy, President of the Customer Respect Group

“There isn’t such a thing as a ‘boring’ industry, so you should be able to use content marketing for any business… You just have to be willing to invest the time and energy. And when you start leveraging it, make sure you give yourself at least six months of creating high quality content before you judge your efforts. You won’t see results right away…”

Neil Patel, co-founder of Crazy Egg, Hello Bar, and KISSmetrics

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Predictions

More video

Hanley kicked off the explainer video trend for insurance companies at the Murray Group, but that was back in 2009. So what’s happened since?

Many insurance marketers are still getting their bearings when it comes to producing digital content marketing strategies. Geico runs a YouTube channel with videos that are part of its #BrakeTheHabit campaign for safe driving. But its web content still isn’t nearly as popular as its TV commercials. John Hancock tried to bridge the gap between TV and digital video with its “Choose Your Own Adventure” campaign that had TV ads inviting viewers to watch the rest of the story online.

Still, we’ve yet to see a video series that really replicates or outdoes the success of Hanley’s. Perhaps agencies just need to build up the resources first.

Mobile mastery

According to Tahoe Partners, the largest growing segment of new insurance buyers is 19- to 34-year-olds, and those consumers usually need to be reached on the go. They’re using their phones to read emails, scroll through news feeds, and make purchases with the click of a button. Insurance companies can reach this demographic by making sure their websites are optimized for mobile screens as well as by taking advantage of new insurance technology like direct-to-quote services that speed up the buying process.

As Search Engine Land reported, on average, each mobile campaign run by an insurance provider saw a 10:1 return on investment, and click-through rates for insurance agencies via mobile were 60 percent higher than on other platforms combined.

Thinking internally

When it comes to content marketing, the biggest question insurance companies seem to have is how to structure their internal team. What’s the difference between corporate communications and the people who manage websites? Is the content being produced in-house or by a third party? Where do you even find people who know how to write about annuities and swaps?

Johnson has a simple answer: “One man’s source of will and great partners.” At State Farm, there wasn’t any content being created internally for a while. It was all outsourced to agencies and publishing partners, but Johnson was slowly trying to have more of the content responsibilities under the marketing department’s purview.

“There are inherent challenges about being in a small town in Illinois,” he said. “There weren’t digital content creators and writers who were like, ‘I want to move to that small town! It’s my dream.'” And this is an issue across the industry. Allstate has some advantage being based in Chicago, but Geico is off by itself in Cleveland.

Hanley’s solution is to hire at least one full-time content creator to start, and if you don’t have the bandwidth to do that, designate one team member to be the owner of sourcing content from employees within the company. “If everyone takes a little piece, it could be successful in that way,” he said.

Carlos Vargas of Massachusetts agency Vargas & Vargas holds monthly webinars to educate his two largest referral sources—real estate agents and mortgage brokers—about social media, regulation, and business practices. As a result, he is dominating the personalized market in northern Boston because real estate agents look to him as their source of information. How does he do it? Virtual assistants who help out from across the world.

Overcoming compliance

“A lot of the compliance issues people use as a reason to not get involved in this are made up,” Hanley said. “Compliance comes down to two things: You can’t use people’s personal information, unless you have their express written permission, and you can’t talk in absolutes.”

For example, you can’t say, “If you have $300,000 in liability on your car, you’ll be set for life and nothing bad will ever happen.” But, as Hanley noted, those restrictions apply to in-person meetings, telephone calls, emails, and every other form of communication in the insurance industry. There’s no special exception for social media.

In other words, these compliance demands are nothing new for insurance agencies, and those that blame legal issues are avoiding the inevitable work that goes into making great content.

When it comes to dealing with all of the red tape, Tara Meehan, head of social content at Guardian Life Insurance, told The B2B Marketing Leaders Podcast: “Sometimes I feel like I’m working at the CIA.” But even the CIA is on Twitter now! No excuses.

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Conclusion

Insurance agencies have survived by coloring within the lines. So it can seem risky for them to think outside of the box and launch groundbreaking content marketing campaigns. But now is the time to take that next step. Now is the time to reveal the human side of the insurance industry—you know, the industry that promises to protect your life, health, children, pets, and parents.

“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.”

Running with Hanley’s earlier allusion to Pulp Fiction, start figuring out what your adrenaline shot can do to help your business, what your content marketing needle will be, and how you can aim for the heart. In essence, the insurance industry needs a jolt. So what company will be the next leader to step up and provide it?

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