Reaching “top-of-mind” status among your vital customers

Reaching “top-of-mind” status among your vital customers

Cecil, Jim

Nurture strategy to create awareness depends on planning and patience

When, in an enduser’s mind, your brand or your firm is synonymous with an entire product or service category of risk and/or benefits solutions, you have attained top-ofmind status.

“You don’t want to be considered just the best at what you do. You want to be known as the only one who does what you do.”-Bill Graham, concert producer

I don’t have to tell you: it’s a competitive insurance world out there. Worthy opponents are constantly angling to get a leg up on you in the marketplace. They know that in this eternally softening market, new volume is the only hope for long-term survival. Under such constant competitive pressure, it’s a tremendous challenge for you just to retain “A” customers much less find the time to identify, attract, persuade and close new ones-obviously critical if you are to flourish and thrive.

But what if there were an equalizer-something that could successfully help you strengthen relationships with your “A” clients? What if there were something that would make you so strong that when a need arose for the unique types of insurance products and services you provide, your name and company would automatically spring to mind? Sound like a dream? Well, that’s what’s known as a “top-ofmind” position, and I believe that customer nurturing causes exactly that to happen.

So before you go rushing out to scale the top-of-mind mountain let’s at least define it and decide what we are trying to accomplish. Once done, the rest is easy. When, in an end-user’s mind, your brand or your firm is synonymous with an entire product or service category of risk and/or benefits solutions, you have attained top-of-mind status. What’s your brand? Swimmers wear Speedos. Runners wear Nikes. When you think burgers and fries, you often think McDonald’s. And what goes better with that combination than a Coke? Over time, these enterprises have focused their message and bombarded us with a consistent stream of messages, using varied media, conveying the message that they know our pain, certainly what we want and that they are naturally best-of-class in providing what we want.

A case in point on the nurturing approach: His name is Frank and he manages sales and new business development for a property/casualty agency, and when he called, he had a problem. Frank’s agency discovered a unique form of insurance that would prove very valuable to corporate employees. Naturally, he wanted to share his discovery with as many companies as possible. He had the option of using traditional advertisements, but with a tight communications budget that wouldn’t have been the most efficient method. After all, he didn’t want to reach everyone in the state; he needed to reach specific human resources (H.R.) executives in specific, large Washingtonarea corporations.

Rather than spend thousands of dollars in advertising, educating a massive, mostly inappropriate audience, he began a narrowly focused drip-irrigation approach of letters, e-mails and small gifts that hit his target prospects dead on. He compiled a database of prime prospects and began composing personal, hand-signed letters to be delivered once a month for a period of one year. The ultimate purpose of the Nurture campaign was to provide business solutions value to the readers in such a way that they would grant Frank permission to stay in touch.

Wisely, he chose not to use the sales-pitch marketing approach. Deciding to use a respectful and patient strategy, he used a knowledge-based, more resource centerpositioned contact. He assumed the role of an ally, one with access to innovative and intelligent solutions rather than simply a purveyor of an insurance commodity merely scavenging for available low-hanging fruit. In his letters, he provided specific information about the unique H.R. problems that his discovery helps to resolve. Ignoring selfpromoting language, Frank only occasionally and very casually made mention of being able to address those problems in greater detail and in person.

The results? Well, for a cost of about one to two dollars a month, per individual nurtured, Frank found a way to stay in touch without being a pest. He got his story told to the right people and his bigger message was delivered in small enough pieces that his ideas could be digested and remembered. He did attain top-of-mind position with his desired target and as a result received numerous responses to his letters in the first year. His Nurture campaign continues to this day to produce in-bound calls from interested prospects and clients seeking help.

Frank reported that prospects actually called in to thank him for sharing his insights and in doing so, extended permission to Frank to deliver even more value. (See last month’s column for a further explanation of “Permission Marketing.”) So Frank persevered. The communication exchange expanded and, ultimately, he was able to establish a dialog that led to an audit, a proposal, and ultimately a client. Because of his persistence he feels that he has attained a true top-ofmind position with several key prospects on his target list.

Clear positioning is obviously a fundamental requirement and benefit of marketing. Its goal is to occupy a specific space in your prospect’s mind. So the question becomes, “How do I go about attaining it?” To answer that Questions answer these first:

Who are the individuals we want to influence-the ones for whom we want to occupy “top-of-mind” status?

Have I determined exactly how I want them to define my company?

Do I know how many contacts it will require before permission occurs?

You’ve got to assign answers to the first two questions yourself. As for the third, research shows that it takes approximately 13 contacts before there’s any reason to believe a company will even remember to think of you. The power of positioning: It breathes life into all your communications and all your contacts with customers and prospects. If you want customers to consider you the best, you have to give them a clear and sufficient reason to do so.

The author

Jim Cecil helps insurance teams tell their story and stay in touch with critical constituencies using letters and e-mails. With questions or for a

further discussion and access to key books on nurturing you can reach Jim at www.nurturemarketing.com or at (800) 474-7951.

Copyright Rough Notes Co., Inc. Sep 1999

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