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

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.

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.

New Swedish Discount Announced

Ikeea* Insurance is offering a 17.86% “Ufdah” discount for anyone that can prove that their family tree originated in Sweden. This Ufdah discount coincides with the 225th Anniversary of the Swedish Lutefisk Revolt, when the King (Carl Oscarson AKA King Ole) placed a tax on meatballs in white gravy and the peasants revolted. During the uprising, the Swedish population ate nothing but pan fried trout. After a 15 year struggle, King Ole compromised and ended the tax on white gravy, but continued the tax on the meatballs.

Needless to say the Swedes were so sick of fried fish that they were desperate for something different. That’s when a Lutheran Minister (Martinson Lutherson) nailed his menu to the church bulletin board advertising a hot dish supper of boiled preserved fish, drenched in white gravy. Of course, everyone attended, including King Ole.

When the fish was served covered in the gooey unseasoned gravy, the crowd roared. “Oh min himlarna, det är för tjocka (Oh my heavens, it’s too thick!) The King sensing the crowd getting riled relented and proclaimed these memorable words… “Låt det bli köttbullar!” (Let there be meatballs!) and the Swedish Meatball Supper was born!meatball

To qualify for the Swedish Ufdah Discount (and to make sure no Norwegians are trying to pose as Swedes) a complete family tree proving Swedish Heritage must accompany the application along with two tater tot hotdish recipes.

For sure this discount is available only on April Fools Day and then only to those with a sense of humor – You Betcha!

*Ikeea Insurance is not associated with any retail establishments and exists only in this advertisement. For further information on this fictional discount, please contact Clarence Holm at The InterAgency.

Little Green Lizards

Have you noticed that direct writing insurance companies spend millions of dollars to create personalities that potential customers can relate to? The diversity of their characters is astonishing! Their Madison Avenue creations include little green lizards, mustached generals or 1950’s inspired sales clerks with names that drip homespun charm.

Why would they do that? It’s expensive to build advertising icons. According to David Srere of Siegel+Gale, a global strategic branding firm “Building a world-class brand doesn’t happen by chance. It’s a purposeful endeavor that is rooted in the fusion of disciplined, strategic thinking and unencumbered creativity.” Direct writing insurance companies apparently go through that effort because, while price of insurance is a factor, it is only one component of the sales experience. If price were the only thing that people cared about, insurance would be nothing less than a bidding war, with sales going only to the lowest priced policy.

Branding is built right into your independent insurance agency’s reputation. It was created through your participation in your city’s government, your schools and your church. It was built by your family’s deep commitment to the community. Your brand was built reflecting the care you show to your neighbors and customers. It grows with each purchase of Girl Scout Cookies, school calendars or sport jerseys. It is an advantage you’ve earned through a lifetime of consideration for doing things right.

To downplay your agency’s brand and instead rely on a price war with direct writing companies, willing to spend billions on creating a fictitious replica of you, doesn’t make sense! To build websites that rely on online quoting engines, would be tantamount to joining the people who bet millions that they can replace you with a caricature.

For agents to survive and flourish in today’s insurance marketplace, they need to embrace their advantage. They need to understand that price is not the answer to what insured’s are asking. Independent agents need to realize customers are looking for protection and your agency’s brand and reputation is a big part of that package.

Sure, price is a portion of the sale, but it is a small piece. Your customers want to buy the entire package; they want your judgment as to which company would be a good match for their needs. They want your assurance that when it comes time to report a claim, they will be treated fairly. They want to know that your company will be standing with them, like you have for years and years. 

Everyone Price Shops?

Recently I ran into a group of shoppers that defy the current trend in which buyers flock to the internet searching for the lowest price. Despite sticker prices that were 3 – 4 times lower, a wider range of products and free delivery being offered, they opted for something different. These shoppers not only were billed more for their purchase, they willingly chose to pay more than asked because of the expertise and service the received with the sale.

What strange country was I visiting?

Actually it was Dave’s Town Club, a tavern in Delano, MN.

Day after day in cities all over Minnesota, customers line up at similar taverns to pay many times over what they could buy a beer for at the local liquor off sale. Not only that, customers did that even though off sales offer by far, a much wider range of products that could later be consumed at your home in a comfortable chair with easy access to a refrigerator full of snacks.

Why do they do it? Is it the cleanliness of the bar? Is it the excellent cuisine? Perhaps it’s the fragrant smell of stale beer lingering through-out the century old building! Maybe it’s the excitement of driving home after two beers and noticing a state trooper in the rear view mirror.

The answer is Dave; actually Dave and his staff. People willingly pay more to have a beer brought to their table in this place. In fact, not only do they pay more, they really don’t look at the price until later in the evening when they settle up the tab. How much a drink costs is not a factor, people don’t mind paying a fair price.

Some come for the excitement, others come for companionship(?), some come out just for the event, but I guarantee you, none came because Dave has the cheapest price. People assume the price is fair because they know Dave. Dave is a good guy who lives in town, has kids in the local school, give’s money to the local scouts and marches in the 4th of July Parade. Dave is one of us.

So why is it different when it comes to insurance? The answer is – it isn’t! People will buy insurance locally for many of the same reasons. Price isn’t the most important factor in selling insurance, you are.

A customer may come in your door and list price as one of the reasons for shopping, but unless you make it an issue, the coverage you offer and the explanations you give will have much more to do with the sale than any price discussed. People assume the price will be fair, because they know you and your kids. They’ve seen you at the business expo, and they’ve seen you carrying Girl Scout cookies. You are a good guy (gal)

Who knows they may see you at Dave’s.