I recently read an interesting article on business2community.com titled "5 Frightening Facts from Forrester and the Good News for Digital Marketers" by Simon Bowthorpe that motivated me to revisit the concept of branding. For the most part, the trend has been to focus on branding the agency rather than the individual agent - and that is a huge mistake.

In past articles I have discussed the current approach to agency wide websites and explained how having a single site that is designed for clients, employees and prospects is a website that is designed for no one. From a sales perspective, I am a proponent of having several idea-specific websites. More importantly, each of these sites should be agent-specific. At the end of the day people do business with people - not with companies, particularly when it comes to insurance.

So let's get back to the Forrester Research report and branding. The key question was: "To what extent do you trust each of the following types of advertising/promotion?"

What should not be a surprise is that the No. 1 most trusted source - at 70% of respondents - was a brand or product recommendation from family and friends. No. 2 was professionally written online reviews at 55%, followed by consumer-written online reviews at 46%. No. 4 at 43% was natural search engine results and No. 5 at 32% was information found on websites of companies or brands.

If 70% of respondents look to the recommendation of family and friends, then we need to focus on generating as many recommendations from this source as possible. While social media sites such as Facebook provide a great opportunity when done correctly, the study also points out that an agency page will not suffice. Only 15% of respondents said that they trusted posts made by a brand or company. In its place, agencies should encourage each agent to create his or her own fan page on Facebook and build their own following. The same would apply to LinkedIn. Rather than have one agency page, encourage each agent to build their own page. Even the ubiquitous newsletter should be individualized rather than agency-wide.


Not me

It is tempting to think that the online aspect of business doesn't apply to your business, but you would be wrong. Wildfire (a Google Company) recently released a white paper, entitled "Rethinking the Funnel: How Your Brand's Marketing Efforts Should Evolve for the New Social Customer Lifecycle," in which Nielsen studied 28,000 consumers. In this study they discovered that the second most trusted source of brand advertising was online consumer recommendations. And, just as in the Forrester's Study, recommendations from family and friends were No. 1.

What all of this tells us is that relationships (word of mouth) are the most valuable source of brand advertising. Our marketing efforts need to be focused on building those personal relationships that will result in word-of-mouth advertising. And in today's technologically driven world there are programs that will help you drive that online buzz. Getting buzz is only one piece of building your brand online. The second piece is engagement, but that is for another time.

Charles Darwin said it best: "It is not the strongest of the species that survives. Nor is it the most intelligent. It is the one most adaptable to change."

Schlesinger is an independent consultant focused on helping benefit professionals double their income. Reach him at (336) 777- 3938 or through getmoregroupclients.com.

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