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Digital Marketing: Use A Vendor Or Do The Work In-House?

Using social media to promote retirement income planning seminars and workshops has become the next big thing for insurance and financial professionals. A few years ago, direct mail was the most effective way to attract people to prospecting events, but that’s no longer the case.

Several digital vendors have emerged and they have proven that digital marketing can compete with, and often outperform, mailers. In fact, these digital agencies have done so well that many mail houses are scrambling to compete.

As recently as three years ago, most of the prospecting events I worked on were promoted entirely through direct mail. Now, more than 80% of these campaigns are purely digital. While the mail houses are now struggling to compete in a digital landscape, I’ve found that most agents and advisors I speak with are becoming well-versed in digital marketing.

Many have tried working with purely digital vendors, some tried working with mail houses that mix in digital ads, and some are even considering using their internal team members to help them run the campaigns in-house.

The Digital Agency Experience

If your practice is new to digital marketing, I would suggest finding one of the many vendors who specialize in using Facebook advertising to generate event registrations. Most have figured out how to quickly and easily set up campaigns that will attract high-value prospects and get them registered for these events.

The vendor will design your ads, build the landing pages and set up everything so that you can sit back and watch the registrations pour in. They will make it easy on you. But this comes at a cost — while these campaigns are often less expensive than direct mail, they still aren’t cheap. Agents and advisors should expect to pay upwards of $2,500 per event.

Clients often ask me, “Why should I pay an outside agency to run my digital marketing campaigns? Can’t I just do it myself?”
I answer, “You can, but be careful. It’s not always as easy as it looks.”

There Is A Learning Curve

Event promotion can seem overwhelming if you’re trying to tackle it all at once. With all of the different ways there are to market your event, it’s hard to even know where to start. Sure, anyone can get into Facebook Ads Manager and set up a new campaign, but there is definitely a learning curve to getting it right.

In-house advertisers need to master concepts like setting up and managing the Facebook pixel, creating look-alike audiences and monitoring multiple ad sets for optimal performance. Often, they find success running these ads, but only after several failed and expensive attempts.

There are three important things to consider before taking your digital campaigns in-house. First, do you have staff available to build, manage and maintain your campaigns? And are they properly trained? Getting these campaigns to work correctly takes time, money and dedication. You will definitely need a team member who can spend a significant portion of their time, or maybe even all of their time, on managing this process. And if you plan on using someone who is already on your staff, consider how much of their time this will take away from their other essential responsibilities.

Second, do you have the tools in place to run these campaigns? In addition to understanding the Facebook Ads Manager tool, you will need a plan for building and hosting custom landing pages, sending out automated confirmation and reminder emails, and perhaps even setting up SMS text reminders for everyone who registers. You will also need to set up a customer relationship management system to manage the overall workflow of each campaign.

Each of these components is important. Imagine if your campaign generates several dozen leads, but you don’t build in an automated system to remind people why it’s important for them to show up. You could generate lots of registrations, but end up with disappointingly low attendance at the actual event.

Third, you will be responsible for making sure that every piece of the campaign is properly reviewed and approved for compliance. This is essential.

Every one of the ads, landing pages, emails and texts must be compliant; otherwise, you add unnecessary risk to your practice. Advisors who work with a broker/dealer should be able to send all of the materials to their compliance officer for review, but if the presenter is a registered investment advisor or an insurance-only producer, compliance approval may be a challenge.

What Comes Next? A Hybrid Approach

Demand from insurance professionals for increased efficiency and control over digital marketing campaigns is now causing several independent marketing organizations to consider providing better, more efficient solutions for the agents they represent. These agents may not have the internal staff or expertise they would need to run these campaigns effectively, but they are also not thrilled with paying the steadily increasing rates that the outside vendors are charging.

Because of this demand, a new model is being considered by marketing organizations as a way of providing a best-of-both-worlds solution. Like any third-party vendor, a digital agency bases its pricing on three things:

  • The cost of online advertising or ad spend
  • Overhead
  • Profit margins

But IMOs that take on this work with their internal marketing teams can choose to charge only for ad spend, instead of being concerned with overhead or profits. Because IMOs benefit more by helping clients grow their business than from charging fees for services, they can justify billing their agents only the cost of ad spend, without any markup.

This serves as a huge advantage for independent insurance agents, who will no longer have to manage the campaigns themselves, but also won’t have to pay for an outside agency’s markups. In essence, if agents order a $2,500 digital campaign through an outside agency, they can probably expect no more than two-thirds of that budget to go toward ad spend.

Instead, if they partner with their IMO to run the campaign under this new approach, the full $2,500 would be spent on ads, greatly increasing the results of the campaign. In addition, some IMOs will assist with compliance review, limiting the amount of risk the presenter is exposed to.

As IMOs continue to develop this hybrid model for their clients, expect the digital marketing space to become more crowded and competitive over the next 12 to 24 months. This will certainly give insurance professionals more choices and better options for promoting their services.


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