Brands

How 3 Insurance Companies Took Content Marketing by Storm

By Amanda Walgrove May 11th, 2016

“Let’s face it,” said Matt Johnson, State Farm’s former head of digital marketing. “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 space that desperately needs creativity and innovation. (For more on this, check out Contently’s recent look into insurance advertising.)

“I had this philosophy that we needed to become a brand publisher,” Johnson said about his time at State Farm. “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 [need it]. 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.”

In 2015, 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 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.

“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 seventy 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: 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 five thousand dollars 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 insurance conglomerates are busy pumping millions of dollars into TV ads, the coast is clearer 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 and 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. And with Oscar’s services and digital marketing outreach, it can be.

This is an excerpt from “The State of Content Marketing: Insurance.” To access the full e-book, please fill out the form below.