going digitalI have a bone to pick. As an insurance marketer, I always welcome the latest studies showing the strength of the agency system. Recent studies show that independent agents still write over half all property-casualty business and eighty percent of commercial lines. I cringe, however, when I hear agents cite the same data to dismiss the urgency to “go digital”—specifically, to build a modern, interactive website, use social media activity effectively and add mobile connections to their services. The reason is simple: agents’ inaction is costing them money.

Many agents rightly believe their best customers will always need personalized, detailed guidance. Unfortunately, many then make the dangerous decision to put digital tools on the back burner or get to it “when they have time,” I use the term “dangerous” on purpose, because there’s a great deal of misunderstanding about what it means to “go digital” and how to use its power effectively to attract new clients and keep current ones.

“Going digital” does not mean an agency needs to give up its local, independent, personalized, face-to-face approach. Quite the contrary, it means promoting those same qualities that have served the independent agent so well using the power of digital tools. Today’s clients and prospects, including those in the commercial sector, already use these tools themselves, both personally and professionally because it saves time and money. Not surprisingly, they expect others they do business with to use the same tools for the same reason. If banks, doctors and hospitals and financial counselors make at least some of their services available through their websites and smartphones, why would agents believe they are somehow exempt from this trend?

Like it or not, we live in a “I want it now” society. We don’t like to wait in line at the grocery store, we don’t want to be put on hold and we want prompt answers to our questions. Agents tell me that insurance can’t be sold in the same way as a loaf of bread. I agree, however that fact does not let agents off the hook when it comes to making it as easy as possible for their clients to do business with them and for prospects to discover whether or not they want to.

For agents, the objective here should be to create a compelling digital presence in which all the pieces work together as one. The agency website must be more than a static, institutional brochure, social media activity must be consistent and conversational and the app must bear the agency brand. Every tool should also project the same unique agency personality.

The urgency for taking steps to achieve this digital presence is tied to the fact that agencies that lack one drive away business in two ways. I have had agents tell me about business they have lost to more digitally-savvy competitors who make it easier to get answers and stay in touch 24/7 using digital tools. Every agent does his or her best to keep in close touch with clients though it’s almost impossible to do so consistently. Agencies also lose the opportunity to even pitch some prospects when they project an image of a “digital dinosaur” and the prospect never gives them a second look.

Is your agency a digital dinosaur? Ask yourself these questions:
1. Is your website mobile optimized (able to be read easily on a smartphone)
2. Does your website feature social media badges that are not connected?
3. Does it take more than two clicks for someone to find what they’re looking for on your website?
4. How does your website compare with those of your competitors? Do they all look the same?
5. Do you post on social media more than once a week?
6. Are posts tailored to your agency?
7. Do you have a mobile app and is it branded to the agency?
8. Do your digital tools project a distinctive personality and brand?

The answers to these questions provide clues on how well the agency is using digital tools and what steps should be taken. Your future success depends on it.

Reprinted with permission from PIA Connection.