Since the arrival of Direct Line in the late 1980s, Insurance Brokers have faced a constant stream of disruption. The market has contracted significantly as more insurance is bought online, direct brands have risen and technology has failed to keep pace with customer demands. While this may have put some brokers at a disadvantage, others will have embraced change.
The question this research addresses is whether smaller Insurance Brokers have adopted contemporary digital marketing techniques. Specifically I wanted to understand how they are using content and social media as a way of attracting and holding the attention of customers being bombarded by larger, more powerful brands. In January and February of 2020 I reviewed the sites of 50 brokers with fewer than 5 branches against criteria, including several used for my research into mobile fashion product pages.
The research showed smaller brokers are not using the web effectively. Content and social marketing is limited, brand positioning unclear and online quotes still not widely available. There appears to be a significant opportunity for brokers willing to engage with content.
Branding and positioning
There appeared to be three dominant themes used by Insurance Brokers in website branding: people, location and specialism.
People presented individuals within the business as Insurance experts or ready to take a personal call from a potential client. Images of employees were used on these sites, although some stock photography was also present. However, this was not reinforced with blog content presenting their expertise or thought leadership.
Location presented the broker as serving specific geographies. These varied from individual towns through counties to regions. Imagery included local landmarks, with emphasis on “your local broker” within calls to action and about pages.
Specialism presented the broker as an expert in some aspect of Insurance. At one extreme this would be a specific scheme, at the other a general theme such as “business” or “boats”. Page designs were usually structured to guide the visitor to find more information about the specialism.
While these themes existed in most brokers, they were rarely reinforced within content. For example, I found one broker presenting a strong personal brand for its individuals, yet its content was written by the marketing manager. An opportunity to build the reputation and standing of its experts had been lost. Another presented itself as a Commercial Lines specialist, while content included guides on dealing with frozen pipes and car insurance claims.
It’s worth noting few brokers promoted their brand exclusively against these themes. When they did, it was based around a specialist scheme. Most common was presenting the brand as being specialists in business insurance with a strong echo of location. They rarely mentioned personal lines unless the Insurance Broker was also offering financial services or there was a specialist scheme.
Analysis of content and social media marketing
Content and Social Media have become staples of digital marketing. This review suggests Insurance Brokers are not making wide use of these business fundamentals.
Less than half of Insurance Broker websites have blog-like content, and half of these are no longer being updated. My review of over eighty articles spread across these blogs found an even mix of lifestyle themes, practical guides and commentary on general and insurance industry news.
Most articles were written in a formal tone of voice, with the first-person as the dominant pronoun. The tone and content, while useful to someone in the insurance industry, was judged not to be engaging for non-insurance professionals. I found little evidence of accepted SEO practices such as outbound links, while inbound links were almost non existent.
Active sites were promoting their content on social media, and ten percent offered an email newsletter subscription. It was worth noting one site without an active blog was still encouraging visitors to sign-up to its newsletter.
Social media marketing
Fewer than half of broker websites linked to social media accounts, with Twitter and Facebook the most popular. Brokers targeting B2B markets also tended to have LinkedIn pages, although they were rarely updated or used purely for recruitment. Over 10 percent of sites had a link to the defunct Google+ network.
I found Facebook was the most commonly updated social network and was the most likely to be updated once a week or more. This was closely followed by Twitter. Almost half of social media accounts had not been touched in over six months, suggesting they’d been abandoned. These accounts had low numbers of posts and few followers, signs of not being used effectively at the outset.
There was a correlation between brokers who were updating websites regularly and being active on social media. I found one exception: a broker was using Instagram almost exclusively to promote their specialist scheme. Their website was a single page design with no content marketing on site.
Mobile friendly sites
Only 10% of sites had no mobile capabilities and there was a strong correlation with poor hygiene, suggesting the Broker had abandoned the site. The vast majority of mobile friendly sites were well designed, with clear menus, navigation and on-page content that sat well in the design. However, 13 percent of mobile sites had an issue. The most common problem stemmed from images that were wider than the viewable screen.
In one case I found a website referencing being authorised by the FSA. The site belonged to a broker who was still active and registered with the FCA.
Challenges for insurance brokers
Insurance has some peculiarities by virtue by virtue of the product. Customers tend to purchase it because they have to be insured rather than they want to be. There’s evidence to suggest sites such as Compare The Market have stronger brand affinity and trust than the companies who ultimately carry the risk.
In the B2B market, a generation of business leaders is emerging who expect to deal with suppliers online. They value social media, engage enthusiastically with brands and are used to subscription-based products. This suggests a market is opening up that would welcome more digital behaviour from insurance brokers.
Analysis of search suggests smaller brokers are drowned out by their larger competitors in both commercial and personal lines. Competition for keywords is high and per-click advertising costs higher. It suggests brokers with limited marketing budgets and sites lacking online quotation tools are likely to see poor return on investment.
Reaching increasingly tech-savvy customers will require smarter marketing techniques. Content and social marketing have a role to play in this, although changes will need to be made to how Brokers approach it.
Clarifying the brand will help find a focus for content. A people oriented brand will lean towards promoting individuals as subject matter experts. Local brands may place emphasis on working in their community. Specialists will want to promote their domain knowledge as a business.
Publishing regularly is the cornerstone of content strategy and Brokers will need to commit to a regular schedule. From the outset this will mean setting an achievable publishing frequency. It’s usually better to start slowly and build momentum as experience grows.
Content needs to be aligned with the brand and customer. Finding topics that will resonate is the start, but they also need to be written in ways that engage. This may need some experimentation to find what resonates with a target audience.
Using social media to promote new content is an effective option Brokers should explore. It also has a use recirculating older, yet still relevant content, and in finding potential customers and influencers to amplify messages. Return on investment from email remains high, particularly in B2B markets, and is one that should be explored.
Smaller insurance brokers are not engaging with their digital markets effectively. The majority are not providing regularly updated content, social media use is sporadic and there’s evidence what content is being provided hasn’t connected with audiences.
Although disappointing, this opens opportunities for brokers willing to engage in content and social marketing. It requires strong branding, consistent and engaging delivery and willingness to promote content across social media and email channels.