Content strategy in the insurance industry: A Q&A with Peter van Aartrijk

Organizations are increasingly aware of the value of a well-defined content strategy, and the role of content marketing as part of their effort to communicate their message and win business. But progress toward developing such strategies and effective content marketing programs varies from company to company—and even from industry to industry. I recently had the opportunity to talk with branding and marketing communications expert Peter van Aartrijk about the state of content strategy and content marketing in the insurance industry. Peter’s well positioned to discuss the topic: he has 30 years’ experience in brand management and branding and he’s co-founder and principal of Chromium, a brand strategy firm specializing in financial services. He’s also chairman of Aartrijk, a consulting firm providing marketing communications services to insurance industry companies. Here’s an edited account of our conversation:

What’s the current state of content strategy and content marketing in the insurance industry? Widespread? Mixed? Something else?

From more of a strategic standpoint the insurance industry does an overwhelmingly good job for consumers. The experience is always rated high despite what people say about the industry. They do a good job. The terrible job I see them doing is in marketing, the lack of a brand strategy and the lack of any sort of marketing plans.

It’s no surprise that these relatively new media are lost on them as well. A companion issue is that there are so many insurance carriers—there are 2,000 insurance companies rated by A.M. Best on the property/casualty side. To consumers they all look the same. If you overlay that with agents and brokers, there are tens of thousands that all look the same.

There are some exceptions. There are some of the specialty areas such as healthcare, manufacturing, construction, employee benefits, property, and environmental that are doing well with thought leadership. When you see one doing it you say well that’s different, that’s cool. Why aren’t they all doing it?

Is it improving? It probably has to and probably will in the future for a couple of reasons. One, the traditional methods aren’t working as well. Two, the audience is starting to see the importance of commercial lines’ use of things like LinkedIn and Twitter. For somebody that’s in personal lines Facebook is big as well and even Instagram and Snapchat and Pinterest are useful. The third reason is the younger generation’s interest in these tools.

Another underlying issue is that these companies are still run by baby boomers and some of them struggle with these tools. To make it happen, baby boomers who might not know these tools have to make a commitment to hire someone who does.

Once the owners of these companies and brokers and agents figure this out, if they haven’t already, it’s a tremendous opportunity because every day they’re creating content with the information they’re giving people. Every day they’re doing things to help people and all they have to do is say “How do we publish some of this? How do we turn some of this good content and research into materials we can share?” Content is answering questions your customers have, something you’re already doing every day.

What are some of the obstacles to effective content strategy and successful content marketing?

What’s the ROI? But then, what’s the ROI on a computer, on the Internet? You can’t use that excuse anymore. This is where your audience groups are and you have to meet them where they are. I don’t think money is a legitimate issue either. A lot of people look at this as an expense rather than an investment. When done well and done as part of a strategy, content marketing is an investment.

Lack of knowledge, maybe lack of confidence is another obstacle. Bring in a fulltime employee or outsource it—just get started. It doesn’t work for you to say we don’t know where to start—you’ve got to start somewhere.

There is no obstacle in terms of available content, the potential content out there. Anybody who’s doing anything in the industry to help consumers is in the content-generating business whether they know it or not. It may not all be written down right now, or in a video right now, or an infographic. But the kernels of good ideas are there and they need to be used to full advantage. There’s really no choice.

For a company looking to develop a content strategy and engage in content marketing, where should they start?

Once you have someone from the top committing to this, you say, “we need to have a publishing plan.” You either hire someone internally to administer the plan or outsource it. Even if it’s something modest: Once a quarter we’re going to have a theme and do a bit of research among our customers, or do a bit of research among the industry or even our own experts here and turn that into a video and share it on the website, put it on one or more of the social media outposts. Start with something like that. Because if you don’t, the only thing customers are going to get from you is a bill. And you’re going to lose customers to companies that are sharing.

If you’re starting from scratch, get back to the very, very basics and maybe just start over and say, “We’ve done this stuff forever, we have a customer newsletter that goes out once in a while, we have our website, maybe start with what is our brand all about, what do we care about. Maybe we can’t afford to be on all of the social media platforms. So which ones make sense for our company? Maybe we have email lists we can use.”

What’s also effective—which is relatively new—is the idea of boosting your posts or buying ads that are extremely targeted to your audience on Facebook or LinkedIn. If what you’re saying is of value they won’t see it as an ad, they’ll see it as content.

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