Social Media, Business And My Cat

"Let's talk about your photo fixation!"

My Cat (©2016 – Clarence Holm)

Although I do not often blog about my insurance career, I felt the subject of a meeting that occurred a few days ago with a marketing representative of a large property casualty insurance company was worth sharing.

Although I am basically retired, I do work with an agency part time (a few hours a week). My job includes writing insurance information for a website, working on computer issues and performing some basic marketing tasks. This week I sat in on a meeting with a company where the representative was speaking about social media and how their company offered great resources that we and our agents could use to build social media presence.

The resources she was referring to were a large amount of prepared content, which could be used on social media sites including our business websites, Facebook pages, Twitter posts and Linked In messages. It was all high-quality artwork and had articles that we could copy and post under our business name. By doing so, the representative suggested we could build a positive following that would result in more business. The rep stated that the company had social media experts writing and designing this content and they knew all about how to make social media successful for us.

What Absurdity!

I was shocked to hear a company representative suggest that I could copy and paste myself to social media success.

Before I rant, let me share some of my background. Early in my business career, I managed a Radio Shack during the time period the first personal computers hit the market. I cut my teeth on the TRS-80 and was intrigued enough with the technology. When I returned to college to complete my degree in English, I decided to take to some computer science courses (this was around 1980). During those classes, I learned programming (FORTRAN and Basic) on the North Dakota State College mainframe computer system. It was back in the days of computer punch cards and readers. At the same time, my brother in law was a graduate assistant in computer science at another college campus in a different city. We realized we could leave each other notes buried in the REM statements of shared computer code uploaded to the State’s University Computer System. It was a rudimentary form of social media (A very early forerunner of a bulletin board.) After graduating I worked for a number of businesses and cut my teeth in sales and marketing. I continued my interest in computers and was an early adaptor of email and websites. I used my knowledge of computers in my insurance career and went on to be recognized as an “Agent of the Year”  for a large insurance company. I also served for a number of years on another company’s national advisory council. Working with a multi-state insurance group, I introduced email concepts and procedures to hundreds of insurance agencies. I was privileged to have had a ringside seat in the growth of business marketing on the internet.

So it was surprising to me to hear a company representative be so completely naïve about electronic marketing in the year 2016. I was half expecting to hear about an emerging “Y2K” problem! It was disappointing to me to listen to a presentation that promoted social media success by foisting canned content on followers and representing it as fresh professional advice on Twitter and Facebook.

Never Tweeted

Of course, what should I expect from a company representative, who is probably not allowed to have a thumb drive for fear that company data might be stolen and are scared to death of the mention of the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act (GLBA). I’m sure they report to company lawyers who must approve all written communications.

I should have known that corporate structures are not fertile ground for social media expertise. In fact, when I questioned the representative she confided that she had never tweeted and wasn’t involved with Facebook or blogging. In fact, she had never seen a tweet and has certainly not kept up with the Kardashians. Yet she had been sent out on the road to give advice to agents on how to run a successful social media campaign.

The whole meeting brought to mind the words in Matthew 9:24 “Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle…”

The goal of social media is to communicate quickly and informally. The goal of corporate structure is to issue a scripted precise uniform message.

Not Exactly Viral Stuff

While arcane insurance law might not be a page turner for the general public, there is plenty of good insurance information that would be of interest to friends and family. While most of my relatives don’t want to get caught listening to me expound on the merits of higher physical liability limits, I do get phone calls on what to do after hail storms damage their roof. And while insurance will never have the same cache as a cat video, who’s to say an insurance blog couldn’t have the following of the car maintenance guru’s “Click and Clack”

But that success will never happen if all the industry does is endlessly ask agents to spit out homogenized articles. It would be much better if insurance companies would follow Justin Bieber, view a Vine and post a cat picture.

Social Media Haiku

passion shared with friends
rarely wasted as a gift
nighttime croak of frog
-Clarence Holm

Social Networking Has Gone Hyper

There are two tragedies in life. One is to lose your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.
― George Bernard ShawMan and Superman

Imagine a world where every device is broadcasting a signal with a message that is tailored to your desires. A pop machine senses you are nearby and displays on a LED screen an offer of a Diet Dr. Pepper (your favorite). The parking meter identifies your car, checks national identity records to see if you qualify to park there and then reads the smart credit card in your wallet and deposits enough money to cover parking for a football game you plan on attending. Finally when you return home, the house lights go on, the garage door automatically opens and the television accesses Netflix with the latest movie you been seeing ads for that are programmed expressly for you.

In July 2014 Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. announced an always-on digital 6th sense named LTE–D. It uses include discovery services that will employ device-to-device technology to broadcast messages to receptive components in the immediate proximity, potentially offering exclusive values to nearby prospects.

This is not the future we’ve dreamed about; it is the reality of our age. All of these devices are available now or on the wish list of the neighborhood supermarket deli manager. It pretends to be just another means of marketing.

Every Move You Make, Every Step You Take, The World Will Be Watching You

As we descend into a digital version of The Truman Show, everything you hear or see is customized to appeal to your desires. Your normal becomes the standard! Suddenly your world is rosy and well ordered. It’s like shopping on Amazon where your desires are anticipated based on past purchases, or like Netflix – where viewing suggestion are offered specifically for you based on your searches and downloads.

This future, based on positive affirmation featuring your thoughts and deeds, offers the potential fragmentation of society into like social groups usurping the need of greater consensus. National identities may disappear, replaced by legions of digital tribes loosely affiliated to their preferred browsers, browsers that set the standards and rules as to what is truly important and relevant.

It appears digital freedom comes with a price and that price may be virtual enslavement.

The Sharing Economy – Sharpen Your Fork

-Clarence Holm

Lyft, Airbnb, and Uber have created quite a stir. Some have claimed it’s  “The End of Capitalism” or “The Millennial’s American Dream” another says. Social medial can’t seem to get enough of the “new” ways to provide goods and services.

To the proponents of these dreams, I say “Beware, sharing is not all it’s cracked up to be!”

First of all, I must acknowledge that I have a predisposition to suspect the motives of anyone who wants to share. From a very early age I learned to be leery of anyone who asks for you “a little bite” of your hotdog or a “sip” of your chocolate milk. Experience taught me that not only would the little bite from the hot dog not be small, but there was a good chance they would also take the remaining wiener, leaving you with only a smear of ketchup and mustard on an empty, soggy bun. And as for sipping your chocolate milk, if it wasn’t slurped in one big gulp, chances are very good there would be left over hot dog bun floating on the top.

If the “no sharing” lesson didn’t take hold in grade school, college should have finished off the sharing spirit. It only took you one time to learn that if you hold a keg party in your house and put a cup out for people to “chip in” not only will you not get any money, but someone will steal the cup. At the same time the keg is being emptied other “guests” will share everything in your cupboards or refrigerator (cooked or raw).

Of course, everything changed when I graduated from college and entered into the world of grown-ups and business. Times were tough and because I was living on a tight starting salary it made sense to me to share an apartment. It turns out that sharing included roommates skipping out in the middle of the night with my record collection in tow and leaving me to discover that he had a girlfriend four states away that loved to talk on the telephone –funny how he thought it would be a great idea to get a phone line under my name only.

Now I hear of the great idea called Airbnb that suggests sharing my home with completely unknown individuals, who were paired with me by a computer program, over the internet. I mean what could go wrong with that idea? Or better yet, I should drive and pick up a stranger (Lyft anyone) and take them on a ride like a taxi to a destination of their choice. Again, what could go wrong with that? (Hasn’t anyone noticed that taxi cabs have sturdy bullet proof dividers between them and their customers?)

Now many would think that I am over reaching and my fears of “someone is being taken advantage” of are totally unfounded but, I still have misgivings. I guess it is hard to get over going to a local diner with high school buddies and ordering french fries. I learned pretty quick it was a good idea to order that side of fries with a sharp fork to defend them with.

Below the poverty line, wages affect everyone.

The owner of a small restaurant in Minnesota recently added a 35¢ line item surcharge to his guest receipts, supposedly to make up for an increase in the state minimum wage law.

It was his way of making a political statement, that this increase is an added hardship for his business.

I for one am sick of companies that are allowed to pay employees less than a living wage on the pretense of keeping expenses low and saving customer’s money. It does not save me money when an employee of a company works full time and yet is under the poverty line requiring subsidized food assistance, subsidized health care, subsidized mass transit, etc… all of which add to my tax burden

The cost shifting of employee compensation from private to public entities is a practice that needs to be abolished.

The minimum wage started as part of the New Deal legislation with the goal of leveling the wage negotiations between a single employee and a large corporation. The goal of the program was to bring the minimum wage to a number near the poverty line. From 1938 to the 1960’s the minimum wage rose with inflation and the wages rose.

However in the late 60’s the real value of the minimum wage was allowed to fall resulting in a wage that reflects a 25% decline in real value today. That 25% that had to be made up somewhere else and that turned out to be social assistance.

There are many causes for the decline in workers wage value. The decline in union participation has eliminated much of the collective bargaining. The entry of Walmart (and stores like it) in almost every market has eliminated small entrepreneurs who had a stake in the community they lived in. (It is a lot harder to not pay someone a fair wage if you have to see them in church every week.) Third, corporations have moved many of the higher paying blue collar jobs overseas to capture cheap labor.

What needs to happen is a new social contract needs to evolve, allowing everyone who works in an industry to have the opportunity to make a living wage without the need for a subsidy. Private Industry and business should pay for the labors they require and shouldn’t be allowed to cost shift their moral responsibilities to the public sector.

This new social contract should include a linkage between the fiduciary responsibilities of a corporation to make a profit and the moral imperative of a corporation to treat human beings fairly.

Zombie Attack Preparations

Zombie Attack Representative

Zombie Attack Representative

Important Information in Case of Zombie Apocalypse Attack

-Clarence Holm

You already know about the importance of having insurance to cover your home, your auto, and your business. However, there may be limitations or outright exclusions in your standard insurance policies that may deny you coverage against the potential dangers that may be lurking in your future, a future that is increasingly at risk because of Zombie based insurance exceptions.

For example, did you realize that the Terrorism Risk Insurance Act (TRIA) is a federal legislation signed into law on November 26, 2002 by George W Bush, (This law was created in a bi-partisan congressional effort and was designed to act as secondary coverage for primary insurance coverage that are associated with acts of terrorism. This law was set to expire in 2005 but has been renewed a number of time, the latest of which is set to expire again on the last day of 2014) has no automatic coverage associated with it in the event of a likely Zombie Apocalypse Attack.

Some are familiar with Woody Allen’s graphic portrayal in his movie of “Take the Money and Run” when the main character is accosted by what seems to be an aggressive life insurance salesman, carrying a briefcase (supposedly filled with insurance documents and pens). The salesman is depicted as offering a whole-life policy, but what about the protection of an after-life event?

While this at first glance appears to be a classic Hollywood oversight, it may be part of a systematic effort to deny coverage for you and your family.

There have been many examples government conspiracies that may or may not have any association with the risk of a Zombie Apocalypse. For example, The Philadelphia Experiment was intriguing experimentation to make warships invisible. Unfortunately the end result was disturbing rumors of men severely harmed in shocking ways. Another example would be Chemtrail Theories where clouds of suspicions remain about contrails appearing in near space. Details of the chemicals involved in these sightings, and the threats that they are designed for, have not been shared with the general public.

Another frightening aspect of deficient Zombie Apocalypse Attack coverage insurance is the lack of a systemized follow-up care for you and your family. The U.S Small Business Administration (SBA) has five guiding principles.

SBA is constantly prepared to respond
SBA is well-trained to respond
SBA response at higher post-disaster demands requiring a “One SBA”
SBA takes pride in quality assurance
SBA’s plans are coordinated with its’ government partners

While these guiding principles are designed to support reassuring outcomes, none of them address our imagined insurance dilemma!

What is needed in a Zombie Attack insurance is a customer-focused, protection-driven model of partnerships that combines timely decision-creation, utilizing available insurance resource language with government jargon which would then purport an instituted coverage for multi-lived individuals. This High Urgency Regulatory Team would develop an Enveloping Strategy. (Also known as a “Hurt Bag) Once in the “Hurt Bag” the Zombies would be contained until a disposal unit could be assembled.

This protection comes with a cost, in most cases a cost too high to be covered by one individual, family or business. That why insurance protection needs to be purchased to help you deal with a real attack situation.

Talk to a trusted quality Zombie-Attack Representative. Ask for a policy to protect you from the costs designed to supplement any “Hurt Bag” sponsored program.

Individuality and Growth

-Clarence Holm

– Disputing Saxon White Kessinger

If one subscribes to the philosophy that everyone is an individual, with different strengths and weaknesses, then one must also agree that if someone is considered replaceable they are not being effectively exploited in an organization.  In order to maximize ability, performance should constantly be adjusted to changing circumstances.

To achieve a consistent level of output, an organization can choose to be throttled to only allow the weakest piece of equipment to function at its maximum. While this might yield consistent performance, it will never allow an organization to exceed its governed potential.

Individual performance should run at different rates allowing for increased potential to be maximized. If a piece of the organization seeks to slow the process, rather than allowing deceleration, more resources should flow to that area to allow unrestricted production.

Successful organization should continuously identify choke points and work to enhance the weakest area. Growth is a symptom of an aggressive company, while stability, while at first glance, seems desirable,  signals a weak organization.

While some would point to the poem of “The Indispensable Man” where a man’s hand in place in the water as proof of concept. I would also remind you of the ostrich that puts its head in the sand to let the world pass it by.

To Increase Sales – Frozen Pizza Maker Cans the Brand

It might sound like a recipe for disaster, but a regional frozen pizza maker, whose pies were formerly known as Bernatello’s, has dropped that brand name in favor of pursuing an upscale clientele.

In a market where sales are declining nationally, studies have shown that customers are heading back to their favorite restaurants, instead of popping in a frozen pizza. It turns out that people prefer a fresher better tasting product. In order to compete, Bernatello’s Foods has had to increase the quality of their product to meet this new customer focus and downplay their former brand name.

Bernatello’s Foods has its’ roots in a small Minnesota Tavern where is began its’ corporate life in 1970 as “Bud’s Pizza”. In 1982 Marigold Foods purchased a 50% share and changed the name to Bernatello’s. From there it has grown to a multi-state venture employing about 400 people.

Now despite 10% annual growth and yearly sales of over $80 million the company has seen the writing on the wall and is dropping their name from the packaging to emphasize their new push to quality.

Despite competition from multi-national brand like Nestle’s Digiorno or Tombstone and regional giant Schwan’s Red Baron, local Bernatello’s continues to hold fast at #2 in the Twin Cities and Milwaukee markets.

So why should a small town agent care about this change of sales strategy, besides getting a good tip on where to get their next frozen snack.

This sales strategy should be a road map for a successful independent agent. By focusing on quality, sales can go up even in the face of national competition. Insurance agents need to understand that they will not be able to make their voice be heard over the billions of dollars being spent to build insurance brand names. In order to prosper you must rely on a value proposition of service, quality and dependability.

A newspaper article published in Business Horizons back in 1988, “The Service-Quality Puzzle” still rings true. “To earn a reputation for quality, an organization must meet-or exceed- customer expectations.” Stanley Marcus of Neiman Marcus is quoted as saying “The dollar bills the customer gets from the tellers in four banks are the same. What is different are the tellers.”

If insurance agents continue to sell based on price, they will fail to differentiate themselves from the other dollar bills. The surest way to avoid that is to emphasize quality and value. That recipe is the surest way yet to get a larger slice of the pie.

Chicken Soup For My Soul

More years ago than I like to admit, I was raised on a small grain farm in North Dakota. It was about 500 acres of sandy loam soil that needed more water then it got and required all 6 of the children to work hard with my parents to scratch out a sharecropper’s living. If I learned anything from the experience, it was the value of good food to fuel my body for a hard day of chores.

The only things we had in abundance on that farm were vegetables from our huge garden and mean old clucking hens. As one of the younger children in the family, it was my daily job to gather the eggs from the coop. Everyday I had to confront those same old clucks who were intent on guarding the eggs in their care. With most chickens, a simple waive of the hand would send them running, but these evil creatures fought me hard with their beaks and claws.

It’s no wonder my favorite soup was chicken!

Of course I’m not talking about the soup that comes out of a red & white can! I’m talking about a soup that’s thick with chicken and vegetables and had battleship sized dumplings floating on the top. A soup that started on Monday, simmered on Tuesday, and only by Wednesday was ready for the table. It was the type of soup that didn’t need crackers and was served as a meal to give you the energy to work hard all day long.

Years later I’m finding, the values I learned on the farm are still valid today. Number one is, nobody likes an old cluck and two, that there is a huge difference between quick and easy and real homemade quality. People understand and appreciate the time and effort it takes to expertly combine high quality ingredients to make a product that satisfies.

Introduce Your Pooka

Over 60 year ago Elwood P. Dowd introduced the world to Harvey, an invisible 6’ 3.5” pooka. For those that are not fans of eclectic motion pictures, a pooka is an invisible mystical Celtic creature who is drawn to societal oddballs. Elwood P. Dowg spends his day shuffling through life with his constant companion, whom he introduces to all that will listen at every occasion.

Harvey Jimmy Stewart

While the film has many great lines and scenes, one of the best is when Elwood sister, Veta explains to her daughter how anyone could possibly believe in an invisible rabbit.

“Myrtle Mae, you have a lot to learn and I hope you never learn it”.

Many independent insurance agents operate much like Elwood P. Dowd. They plod along through their live with their own “pooka” (In the case of these insurance agents a “value” proposition) In order to stay in business, they must convince customers of the existence of the invisible benefits of service. To flourish, they need to find and identify prospects that can see value. As with Elwood, the insurance agent soon finds that the world is divided between those that can believe and those that can’t.

Service and value may not seem to be able to blow away the competition, but their irresistible attraction will serve you well. As Elwood explained to Dr. Chumley,

“Years ago my mother used to say to me, she’d say, “In this world, Elwood, you must be” – she always called me Elwood – “In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.”

Never be afraid to introduce your pooka. If you don’t truly believe, no one else will either.