The Value of a Handshake: Real Life vs. Digital Marketing for Independent Agents

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  • When investing time, money and resources into your insurance agency, you want to know they’re not going to waste. You want to maximize your return on investment and generate the highest possible volume of qualified leads. 

    One of the biggest dilemmas for independent agents is whether to invest in real life or digital marketing tools. Both have their pros and cons, but which is most likely to get legitimate results?

    In this post, we’ll see whether there’s any conclusive evidence about whether face-to-face marketing works better for independent agents than digital marketing and offer advice on charting the right course. 


    Marketers Are Spending More on Digital Marketing 

    Ad tech writer Ronan Shields explains that in 2019, total digital ad spend in the U.S. will reach nearly $130 billion, with traditional offline spending at about $110 billion. This marks 2019 as the official tipping point where the amount of money spent on digital marketing surpassed that spent on offline marketing. As a comparison, U.S. marketers spent only $108 billion on digital marketing in 2018 and nearly $115 billion on offline marketing. 

    “In some countries, including the UK, China, Norway and Canada, digital has already become the dominant ad medium,” says Jasmine Enberg, senior analyst of global trends at eMarketer. “This year, the US and the Netherlands will join that group, with digital accounting for 54.2% and 52.6% of total ad spend, respectively.”

    Shields also points out that total online media buys are predicted to hit over $172 billion by 2021, while traditional media spending will shrink to $104 billion. These numbers make it clear that marketers are spending more on digital marketing than they are on real life marketing. And this is a trend that will only continue in upcoming years.

    hands a table; representing real life marketing

    Digital Marketing Gets Serious Results 

    Digital marketing is a wide umbrella that can include everything from search engine optimization and social media to content marketing and pay-per-click advertising. Andrew Hutchinson at Social Media Today, offers up several stats to illustrate just what digital marketing can do for independent agents. 

    One is that 28 percent of consumers who search for a product or business nearby end up making a purchase. So if agents market their business well digitally and appear in targeted local searches, they can expect a sizable number of qualified leads, with nearly a third converting into customers. 

    He writes that in mid-2018, Facebook alone had 1.47 billion daily active users and 2.23 billion monthly active users, making it an excellent resource for connecting with prospects and building up an insurance agency. Blair Symes at call tracking company DialogTech adds that optimizing for mobile and targeting offers for local customers can help agents get the most out of Facebook.

    Hutchinson also mentions that video marketing is on the rise and that nearly one-half of internet users look for videos related to a product or service before making contact with a company. Creating relevant videos for insurance products can increase purchases by as much as 144 percent.


    But Face-to-Face Marketing Can Still Have a Big Impact

    Although digital marketing tools are more popular as a whole, many experts still consider face-to-face marketing to be a potent strategy. According to brand experience solutions agency Mc2, the majority of event marketers believe in-person events are the number one most effective marketing channel. 

    They go so far as to say that events are more effective than digital advertising, email marketing and content marketing. Event marketers are so confident that most plan on spending more money on live experiential marketing events in the future and will increase their event marketing budget by over $4,500 in the next year.

    Melanie Singer at end-to-end event marketing technology provider Splash agrees. She writes that 52 percent of business leaders say that face-to-face marketing has a  higher ROI than any other marketing channel.

    Its effectiveness is impressive. The team at marketing company Promotional Space reports that 80 percent of people say live brand experiences influence their purchase decision, and 70 percent become regular customers after an event.


    Key Advantages of Digital Marketing 

    When it comes to specific benefits, each method has some distinct selling points. 

    Digital marketing agency Lasting Trend lists long term exposure as being one of the main advantages of digital marketing. For instance, SEO and content marketing are both strategies that involve a continuous process where leads can be generated 24/7 even if an agent isn’t actively networking or speaking with a prospect.

    It also allows you to reach much larger audiences, says Alissa MacDougall, content manager at marketing automation software company SimplyCast. Rather than being limited to whoever is in front of you or in the room at an event, you can reach an enormous audience through the Internet.  

    Besides that, online marketing offers a level of measurability that face-to-face marketing simply can’t. “Online marketing tools like Google Analytics and AdWords make gathering data and analyzing the multitude of metrics available on the web easy and intuitive,” writes the team at Lasting Trend. “They can show you the indirect and indirect impact an online marketing strategy has on your ad visibility, clicks and most importantly conversions to ecommerce sales.”

    a businesswoman and businessman video chat, representing digital vs real life marketing

    Key Advantages of Real Life Marketing 

    On the other end of the spectrum, real life marketing has some strong benefits of its own. Although it may seem simple, shaking hands with prospects has an irreplaceable value, says Nicole Green at Event Marketing Strategies. She cites research that finds people form a more positive impression of others after greeting them with a handshake. In an industry like insurance where trust and rapport are essential to building long-term relationships, this can be a tremendous asset.

    Another is being able to communicate more clearly. “When we communicate in person, we come off as more natural and more sincere than when we communicate online, especially in text,” explains the team at online business platform Kajabi. “Others can see our facial expressions, our body language, and the way we present ourselves.” And this can go a long way when you’re trying to build bonds with insurance customers. 

    Lastly, it can greatly improve your word-of-mouth marketing. Any time you find yourself in a situation where you’re having an engaging conversation with a customer, there’s a good chance they’ll feel compelled to tell others about you. Needless to say, this can be crucial when you’re trying to get your name out there and earn a reputation as a trusted insurance agent in your area. 

    You can encourage word-of-mouth by handing out two business cards to new contacts — one for them to keep and one to pass onto someone else, adds small business marketing agency Marketing Donut.


    Choose a Strategy Based on Your Specific Goals

    When asking any expert which strategy is better, they’ll likely say, “it depends.” Maybe handing out pens or glad-handing at events is good at achieving one business goal, while having a strong LinkedIn presence is good at achieving a different one. So when deciding where to place the bulk of your attention, you’ll want to choose the strategy that best aligns with your specific objectives. 

    If you’re looking to reach a large audience and be able to measure virtually every key performance indicator, for example, then digital marketing is usually your best bet, says digital marketer Sowmya Nagarad

    Digital marketing can be less costly than offline ad campaigns. It’s not just the purchase price, explains Maximilian Claessens at Marketing Insider EU. “The major difference in costs shows up when it comes to targeting: while the whole campaign may cost the same, the costs per lead are significantly cheaper in online marketing,” he writes. Exposure is another cost benefit to consider in that you can target the global marketplace, which is simply not the case with offline advertising.

    However, if developing and maintaining strong relationships with people right within your community is your main objective, it’s hard to argue with face-to-face marketing. This is quite possibly the best way to form relationships and establish credibility, says Chris Edwards at display solutions provider VisproNet. Not only does it provide you with an opportunity to get to know prospects one-on-one, but you can also read their body language and adjust your pitches to meet their exact needs. 

    Similarly, if increasing word-of-mouth recommendations is a top priority, in-person marketing should be a point of emphasis. While digital marketing can also lead to word-of-mouth suggestions, it’s unlikely to have the same impact as when you get to know prospects on a personal level. 


    How to Best Market Your Business

    For independent agents operating 10 years ago, there probably wouldn’t be much debate as to which type of marketing they should focus on. Most would wholeheartedly opt for face-to-face. However, as we move deeper into the digital age, things have changed dramatically. With tactics like SEO, social media, video marketing and blogging clearly getting results, agents need to carefully consider their marketing approach so that it’s aligned with their goals.

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