Marketing plan: Your road map to success, the

marketing plan: Your road map to success, the

Paterson, Kimberly

A marketing plan can give you a competitive edge by fostering a steady flow of new business and enhancing your standing with carriers.

If you’re planning a trip by car, and you’re an Automobile Association of America (AAA) member, a call to your local office will net you maps, directions and guidebooks. At your request, AAA will also provide a Triptik-a customized flip-book that highlights your route from start to finish, gives travel time between the various legs of your journey, and provides detailed maps of cities along the way. Triptiks make wrong turns instantly evident and detours easy to avoid. Should you happen to stray from your intended course, your Triptik can help you get right back on track.

For independent agencies looking to steer toward success in the coming years, a marketing plan can be your Triptik to prosperity. It pinpoints your destination, shows you exactly how to get there, and enables you to measure your progress along the way. And while you may be able to reach your destination without one, a marketing plan makes it much easier to traverse the twists and turns waiting down the road. In fact, agencies that develop and implement marketing plans arrive at their destinations sooner and in a better position to continue moving forward then their counterparts without plans.

In today’s ultra-competitive marketplace, planning is no longer an option; it is a necessity. Top carriers are becoming more and more selective about whom they’ll work with. In many cases, they’re choosing agencies with well-thought-out marketing strategies and track records for delivering on them. Whether your marketing plan is a simple one-page outline or a complex 50-page document with sales projections and cost analyses, it can give you a competitive edge by fostering a steady flow of new business and enhancing your standing with carriers.

Developing your marketing plan

A typical marketing plan has four key ingredients. They are: a brief summary of your goals; several ways to achieve those goals; a list of resources needed to accomplish the job; and a simple system for tracking progress and evaluating success.

To establish your goals, you’ll need to evaluate your situation and do some basic market research. Begin by taking a careful look at your staff. What are its capabilities, strengths and weaknesses? What is your agency’s image with present and prospective clients? How do carriers view your agency? How much growth can you handle without sacrificing service? Answering these questions honestly gives you a clear picture of where you stand and what you’re capable of accomplishing.

With regard to research, there are three areas you’ll want to explore: marketing area, available products and services, and communications opportunities. When considering your agency’s marketing area, your geographic target market, begin by looking in your own backyard. If you write mostly small or mid-sized commercial accounts, or if you specialize in personal lines, you’ll be most effective where your agency’s name and reputation are well known. What’s more, even in today’s market, it’s a good bet that a fair share of business is up for grabs in your immediate area. If you specialize in a particular type of business, niche, or level of account, you’ll need to increase your marketing area to accommodate your more specialized objectives.

After you’ve pinpointed your marketing area and target customers, demographic research is the next step. You’ll want to learn all you can about your target market, including: population; household income; median age; mobility of population; values and views; consumer shopping and buying patterns; the number and categories of businesses; growth trends; the competition; and the share of business within the market. All of this information is relatively easy to uncover, so don’t be discouraged by this laundry list of subjects. What’s more, doing this research is the best way to determine the particular needs of your audience as well as how to reach them most effectively.

Market research in hand, the next step is to review the products at your disposal and the services you can offer customers. While you could go through the stacks of literature and underwriting guidelines cramming your shelves, carriers are introducing new products, inventing new niches and reformulating their underwriting appetites on a daily basis. For these reasons alone, much of your existing information may be outdated. To get the most current information, I recommend that agents conduct a formal review with each of their carriers. To begin with, there’s simply no better way to stay up to speed. Second, by informing carriers of your marketing initiative, you are showing them you’re hungry for business. As a result, you may find carriers are more willing to support your efforts.

As you review your products and services, look for opportunities to use your existing strengths as a springboard into new or expanded services. For example, if your strength is with a particular type of contractor, set your sights on a different variety of contractor as well. After learning the nuances of the new specialty, you may find you’ve already mastered many of the tools needed to establish your agency in the market.

The next step is to match your products, services and greatest strengths with the opportunities in your marketing area. For example, say one of your carriers has an especially competitive homeowners policy, and you have an aggressive and competent personal lines staff Through market research, you learn that a subdivision of homes is planned for the open field across town. In this situation, a program targeting those residences may boost sales dramatically. If you go through this process for all your products and services, you’ll probably find a number of opportunities. The challenge lies in identifying and prioritizing the opportunities that offer the greatest potential.

The final portion of research you’ll need to complete involves communications. Building a strong image and maintaining visibility are critical parts of attracting and winning new business. They can also help you keep a tight grip on your current share of the market. For these reasons, you’ll want to investigate all the communications options available in your marketing area. These may include: local radio and television; newspapers; cable television; the Internet; e-mail; billboards and other forms of outdoor advertising; trade, local, regional and national magazines; sponsorship opportunities; and public relations.

Depending on the particulars of your market and your target audience, any or all of these can play a part in your media strategy. As you look into these possibilities, obtain as much information as possible on the costs as well as the audience each medium reaches.

Putting pen to paper

Once you’ve completed the steps up to this point, you’re ready to develop a plan of action. Identify the three or four opportunities with the greatest potential and establish an objective for each. For example, if that subdivision holds a lot of promise, make it a priority and set a feasible goal. Maybe you want to write 25% or 50% of the homes. Assigning specific numbers to your objectives gives you a tangible way to measure success down the road.

With your goals and objectives on paper, the next step is to determine exactly how you’ll achieve them. Ask yourself what kind of personnel you’ll need to implement the plan, how long it will take, and if your people have the time to get it done. But before you answer, think carefully. If you’re going to meet your objectives, you must have realistic expectations. In fact, there’s nothing worse for morale and motivation than setting unattainable goals.

Expectations decided, the next step is to determine how you’ll deliver your message. In a perfect world, you’d probably blanket your marketing area with a combination of advertising, direct mail, public relations and other techniques. But since ours isn’t a perfect world, and none of these comes free of charge, you may have to make some tough decisions about budgeting. Your marketing plan can help you with these decisions. Once you’ve developed a plan, think about the short- and long-term benefits of achieving your goals. Considering the impact those benefits could have on your bottom line is the best way to determine how much to invest in your marketing initiatives.

Next you’ll want to establish a time frame for meeting your goals and a simple system for tracking performance. Assign dates to your goals and track your progress along the way. With our homeowners example, the phases of construction offer a built-in time frame. If your goal is to write 50% of the homes, be determined to write 50% of the homes that go up in phase one. As phase two begins, gauge your progress and adjust your efforts accordingly. Along those same lines, when running an advertisement or direct mail campaign, record all the leads and track them through to the eventual result.

After you’ve taken a close look at your agency, conducted the necessary research, and developed and implemented your marketing plan, you may think your work is through. Actually, it’s only just begun. Throughout the year, it’s important to revisit your plan to make sure you’re still heading in the right direction. Have your needs changed? Has the market changed? Has any of your carriers altered its focus? Meet regularly with your key players to keep abreast of these issues and make sure all is proceeding accordingly.

Through it all, putting together a marketing plan isn’t easy. It takes time, energy, persistence and creativity. But when you consider the competitive intensity of today’s industry and the fact that it’s only going to increase in the coming months and years, marketing plans have become an absolute necessity. After all, when there were just a few roads leading to your destination, it was possible to pick one and just hope for the best. But ours is now the era of the superhighway; and unless you have your own personalized map, you may be heading full speed down a dead-end street.

The author

Kimberly Paterson is founder and president of Creative Insurance

Marketing Company (CIM), a marketing communications firm located in Red Bank, New Jersey. CIM combines marketing and research / analysis with creative advertising services

exclusively for the insurance industry. For more than 15 years the firm has worked with marketers from every facet of the insurance industry.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Jun 1997

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved