Canadian Underwriter

Marketing Masterclass

May 17, 2017   by Terri Goveia

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When people talk about insurance, Adam Hare wants them to talk about Insurance Jack. The Oshawa-based online brokerage’s chief operating officer knows that standing out against mainstream advertising can be hard for small or mid-sized businesses like his. Few have in-house marketing directors, and, “you don’t see big TV or Facebook commercials for local brokers because they don’t have the budget,” he says.

A gecko might charm insurance shoppers in one ad and Michael J. Fox may inspire them in another, but brokers can take heart: they don’t have to battle bigger brands to find success. However, they can learn key lessons from the big brands on what to do, and what to avoid to get the most out of their marketing.

It’s no longer about getting market share…it’s about getting share of the customers”

DON’T: Copy bigger brands outright

Brad Breininger has worked with brands like Ikea, BMO and Aviva as a partner at Zync Agency in Toronto. Brokers with smaller budgets can have just as much impact as those companies do with a fine tuned marketing strategy, he says. “No matter the size, a brokerage is still a business. It behooves them to ensure that customers can find them and understand them.”

Should they try to imitate a splashier, high-profile brand? Breininger’s advice: no. Brokers should start off on their own footing because their goals are different, he says.

For example, insurers can talk about protection because they’re going to pay the claim, he points out, but brokers have another role to promote: “they’re the connector, the service provider, the relationship builder.”

Instead of aping a bigger strategy, David Lewis, marketing consultant and professor at Ryerson University, recommends that brokers follow relationship marketing principles—zeroing in on customers, differentiating between them and interacting in customized ways to create relationships—so that marketing ultimately becomes a collaborative effort. “It’s no longer about getting market share,” he says. “It’s about getting share of the customers.”

Making connections

Brokers who want to reach a specific market should know more than who they are, says Dana DiTomaso, partner and president at marketing firm KickPoint. They also need to know where to reach that market and what it wants.

A brokerage that wants to sell tenants insurance to millennials might know they spend time on Instagram, but that’s not enough, says Brad Breininger, partner at Zync Agency. He suggests that brokers make sure that their business can reflect those customers in some way. “If your employees are all over 50 and you’re putting all your resources into Instagram? There’s a disconnect there.”

Knowing what audiences value is also important in connecting with them, he notes. “If you look at what millennials or GenXers are looking for, it’s not years of experience, [so] choosing a firm that highlights years of experience is a [another] disconnect.”

DO: Make your message about the client

It’s never been easier for brokers to reach those customers. While “getting a billboard on the Gardiner Expressway [in Toronto] is completely unattainable for most organizations, getting an ad on a website that gets just as much traffic as the Gardiner at four o’clock is within their reach,” says Breininger.

However, it’s easy to make missteps: this is where brokers should follow big brand strategies. First, they should pinpoint goals for all online or social media efforts. If they set up a Facebook page, “what kind of engagement do they want?” asks Dana Di Tomaso, partner and president at Edmonton marketing firm Kick Point. “Is it to show we’re a fun company? Is it a customer service channel?” Organizations don’t need all platforms—she urges brokers to ask customers where and how they’d like to hear from them. “If they say, “I go on Facebook to watch videos,” maybe you’ll do a Facebook page that features videos.”

No matter the size, a brokerage is still a business. It behooves them to ensure that customers can find them and understand them.”

Digital strategies often fail because they’re focused on the tactic — “We’re on Instagram!”— rather than the strategy behind it, she says.

And, businesses often mistake social media as an opportunity for mass branding: a barrage of posts urging customers to “Like us on social media” or “Call for a free quote” is actually a form of social media spam, notes Lewis. “Don’t do it. Your customer has to feel like you identified them personally, you treat them differently, [and that] you’re listening to what they’re saying and changing your response as a result.”

Breininger is more blunt: “Stop talking about yourself and start talking about your customers,” he says.

At Insurance Jack, Hare is working to make their social presence stand out: he recently posted short Facebook videos featuring insights on the current housing market in Durham region, and on Airbnb — things that people are talking about that happen to overlap with insurance. That’s a useful approach, if it’s continuous, says Breininger. “You have these YouTube celebrities—the reason you remember them is because they do it over and over.”

Big bang budgets

Not everyone has a sky-high marketing budget. David Lewis, marketing consultant and Ryerson University professor, points to simple ways to maximize digital campaigns:

SMALL BUDGET: Brokers have a choice — either create an online spam campaign that has no result, or zero in on valued customers with customized messages, he says. Digital tools and social media allow brokers to know their recipients and vice versa, so a small-budget campaign should have “fewer contacts, but higher quality” and a focus on measurement, he says.

BIG BUDGET: More marketing investment allows for a larger-scale campaign, and investment in customer relationship management systems that can further customize messages. While at ING Direct, the company’s call centre tracked weather across the country so service reps could connect with customers on an everyday level. “It changed the script,” he says.

DO: Make messages interactive

Bigger budgets don’t always mean a better campaign: when Lewis was head of advertising for ING Direct in the U.S., “we spent $100 million and a sizable proportion of that was a complete waste,” he says, noting that some elements of one campaign, which included print, radio, direct mail and online, worked better than others. The winner? Customized, interactive communications.

That’s something brokers can adopt, or fine-tune. Instead of sending out blanket statements about winter driving, try using the data you have—or customer relationship management software—to personalize those messages, he says. One that reads “Dave, I know you have a cottage in Northern Ontario, here are some tips to reinforce it for bad weather,” will go a lot farther than a general rundown of winter driving tips sent to everyone, he says.

If you’re a brokerage, you have to make sure that every dollar you spend is targeted. Use it to sell, don’t just use it to brand.”

Similarly, a mass email that informs clients about new fire regulations won’t have as much impact as messages that target specific industries, such as “here’s how this will affect your business.” Mass messaging often backfires, Lewis notes: “Although it’s low cost, it has low response, so what’s the point?”

There are other ways to reach out one-on-one: Hare scouts hashtags on different social media platforms to see who’s talking about insurance in his area, creating an easy route to personal conversations with potential shoppers. If someone is upset about a claim or a quote, he’ll reach out. “I can say, ‘I’m sorry about your experience, I guarantee we can make it better.’” It has dual benefits, he adds, “It changes the experience and changes Bob Smith’s perception that insurance sucks.”

Measure for measure

Analytics can be a big stumbling block. Brokerages should track results with an eye on data, not “likes,” says Di Tomaso. “You can’t pay the rent with likes.” Instead, they need to set up tracking goals: clicks on a Facebook article link should go into Google Analytics — that’s a goal. Someone tapping on a broker’s phone number is another a goal, as is signing up for your newsletter or filling out a form, she says. “If you have no goals set up, how are you going to track success?”

DO: Create “emotional loyalty”

The timing is right for brokers to boost their brands—and relationships, says Hare. With people primed to talk about coverage because of issues surrounding Airbnb or Uber, “for the first time, insurance is becoming a hot topic,” he says.

Making the most of that opportunity means honing strategies, according to Breininger. “If I have a billion dollars to spend, I can build awareness and build brand,” he says. “If you’re a brokerage, you have to make sure that every dollar you spend is targeted. Use it to sell, don’t just use it to brand.”

Old-school efforts still have their place. Take direct mail— actual mail can get more attention because “[people] get so much email,” notes Breininger. At his brokerage, Hare often selects random customers to get $25 Cineplex cards as a token of appreciation. “I don’t know if I’m going to turn them into an Insurance Jack ambassador, but I’m willing to take a gamble,” he says.

Your customer has to feel like you identified them personally, you treat them differently [and that] you’re listening to what they’re saying and changing your response as a result. ”

Small gestures like that can seal company-client relationships by creating “emotional loyalty,” says Lewis. He suggests that brokers think about what ties them to their own favourite brands, whether that’s a car company or a restaurant. “Look at a company that you have an emotional relationship with and think about how that relationship developed,” he says. “Then do that in your own business.”

That selectivity is key, stresses DiTomaso. “People can be paralyzed: they think they should be doing all the things, but all you really have to do are the things that are right for you.” As long as they’re doing something, says Breininger. “If you’re not out there, then you’re not supporting your business.”

Customer 101


Banks actually do this quite well, says David Lewis, consultant and Ryerson University professor. “They all have the same product — money. But they differentiate on relationships and customize everything.” To do the same, brokers should:

  1. ID their customers,
  2. customize their interactions, and
  3. forge “emotional loyalty.”


Focus marketing on supporting and listening to consumers, not asking them to “like” a Facebook page. And, avoid talking about years of service or number of brokers in your shop. Put that on the “About” page on your site, not in your marketing, says Brad Breininger, partner at Zync Agency.


Instead of padding Facebook or Instagram with stock messages about risk, ask customers why they use a certain platform and what they like to see in their feed, says Dana Di Tomaso, partner at Kick Point.


“What we do really well is talk to people,” says Adam Hare, COO at Insurance Jack. “It’s just that there’s a new way to do that.”

Copyright © 2017 Transcontinental Media G.P. This article first appeared in the May 2017 edition of Canadian Insurance Top Broker magazine

This story was originally published by Canadian Insurance Top Broker.