Is Your Marketing Amish?

Over the course of my 24-year-long career in the insurance and financial industry, I’ve certainly seen a lot. But one thing that continues to irk me is how poorly we continue to market as an industry. When I started InsuranceNewsNet, I aimed to change that, but I’m sad to report that today I still see financial companies trying 20-year-old marketing tactics that didn’t work then and won’t work today.

It’s understandable. Comfort zones are… comfortable. Plus there’s that old expression “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” but I have to tell you, folks, they’re broke.

But as times change, tactics need to change. Contrary to the story in the Johnny Cash song “One Piece at a Time,” if you try to replace a headlight on a new Cadillac with parts from a 1999 model, your headlight is going to be… broke.

I remember interviewing one of my personal marketing role models, world-famous copywriter Dan Kennedy, for a feature in InsuranceNewsNet Magazine, and we talked about this very problem. He said, “Most businesses, including this one, are very Amish. Everybody is in a circle looking at each other and mostly trying to farm incrementally better but still farming with a mule and a walk-behind plow.”

So what is the solution? To continue with Dan’s analogy, the solution is to stop looking at each other and start looking outside the circle.

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We’ve learned that a great way to do this is to first think about your target demographic, and then look to see who, outside your circle, is marketing successfully to that demographic. If, for example, you’re marketing to retirees, look at campaigns by pharmaceutical companies, reverse mortgages, even cruise lines. If you’re looking to reach a high-net-worth market, look at luxury cruise lines, high-end resorts and watches with five-figure price tags.

Analyze what their marketing looks like. How long is the copy? What tone of language is used? What are the colors and images like? Also, see what types of ads are integrated into a campaign. Television commercials? Magazine ads? And finally, see where they are advertising. Specifically what radio channels and what time of day? Or what websites are the banner ads appearing on? Use whatever different approaches and venues you discover to inspire you to take a new direction outside that usual circle.

Another big way our industry professionals are stuck in the past (and stuck in that circle) is with the use of technology. There is a flood of CRMs, automation tools and other done-for-you marketing out there. Whether you’re marketing to consumers, trying to recruit agents or have a message for carriers, your “audience” has a shorter attention span than ever, and they’re getting hit with more marketing messages than ever. It’s almost as if, in order to get through to anyone, you need to be broadcasting your message constantly so that when someone takes two seconds to look your way, you’re actually there. This kind of reach isn’t humanly possible if you’re not using some sort of automation, tech shortcuts and delegation.

Most important, though, if you want to get with the times, you actually need to get ahead of the times. Quite simply, you need to innovate. As Dan Kennedy says, “If you want to get above-average anything, you will not get that by sticking to norms any more than a reformed alcoholic has much of a chance of staying sober if he frequents bars and hangs out with heavy drinkers.”

Innovation is close to my heart. As a third-generation producer, I founded because I noticed a great void where good industry news should have been, so I gave up the family business to try a new venture. Then, as more and more media companies began leaving print and focusing solely on digital, I launched a magazine. Many might say I did it backwards, but in doing so, I created the industry’s most-read and most-award-winning print publication. I’m proud to count myself among those Dan calls “rogues” and “renegades.”

I challenge you to become a renegade in your own right. Grasp all the best tools of our modern age, look outside the circle, do something no one else is doing — innovate.

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