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Uncage Your Inner Guerrilla - An Interview With Jay Conrad Levinson

In today's over-advertised world, it should be harder than ever to reach new clients. But according to best selling author, Jay Conrad Levinson, there has never been a better (or cheaper) time to advertise, market and promote yourself. Although the name Guerrilla Marketing might convey sneaky and covert maneuvers, the theory is anything but. It's about using what's at your immediate disposal to capture more business without spending like the Federal Government. Commonly referred to as the father of Guerrilla Marketing, Jay has been involved in some of the most recognizable campaigns in advertising history, such as the Marlboro Man, the Pillsbury Doughboy, Allstate's Good Hands, United's Friendly Skies, Morris the Cat, Tony the Tiger and the Jolly Green Giant. In this interview with InsuranceNewsNet Publisher Paul Feldman, Levinson shows you how to win whatever battle you are in.

FELDMAN: For those readers who are not familiar with guerrilla marketing, please explain it and what it can do for them.

LEVINSON: First of all, I can't think of a field better suited for guerrilla marketing than insurance, so I am excited about this interview. Guerrilla marketing means to go after conventional goals using unconventional means. Guerrillas have to fight war the same way: they want the goal of victory, but they can't use big government budgets to get the tools they need in order to win.

Traditional marketing has always been geared to big businesses, and guerrilla marketing can be geared to small businesses, individual entrepreneurs and insurance agents. Even though Fortune 500 companies buy up hundreds of copies of the book at a time to distribute to their sales and marketing people, the soul, the spirit, the essence of guerrilla marketing is small business.

Guerrilla marketing says you've got to focus on your profits. That's the only number that always tells you the truth. Many businesses set new sales records but lose money in the process. Guerrilla marketing is pretty much the opposite of what people think it is. It's not shocking or ambushing and it does not result in instant anything... it's oriented to the client. And it does not work instantly because guerrilla marketers realize, "I've got to build up a sense of confidence, and I can't do that immediately."

FELDMAN: What makes guerrilla marketing effective?

LEVINSON: Traditional marketing has always been based on experience in judgment, which is a fancy way of saying "guesswork." But guerrillas cannot afford to make the wrong guesses, so guerrilla marketing is based as much as possible upon psychology, which involves the actual laws of human behavior.

We know that 100 percent of all purchase decisions are made for emotional reasons. People can justify with irrational reasoning, but it was emotions that were behind their decisions. We know the most important thing for an insurance agent, when he or she talks to prospects, is helping them visualize how they will feel after they've made the purchase.

Also, traditional marketing says to always grow your business and diversify. So that leads to companies such as Coca-Cola saying, "Our name means beverages; let's buy a winery," and after they lost nearly $90 million they thought, "Well, maybe our name means soft drinks." So guerrilla marketing says don't think about diversifying; think about maintaining your focus and adding more excellence. It's hard for people to maintain their focus, but in the life insurance industry it seems that it's mandatory.

Traditional marketing says the way to grow your business is linearly; this means adding new customers one at a time. But that's expensive and slow. So guerrilla marketing says the only way to grow your business in this decade is geometrically; that is, in four directions at once. Enlarge the size of each transaction; have more transactions per year or sales cycle with each of your customers. Also realize that everybody you sell a product or service to is at the center of a network, so tap the enormous referral power that all your clients have. All of these ways cost hardly anything. So you are having larger transactions, more transactions, and referral transactions, and in addition to that, you're growing the old-fashioned way, linearly.

FELDMAN: What do you say to companies that believe that one strategy or one method is all they need for their marketing?

LEVINSON: That's nonsense. It's 2011- advertising and PR don't work the way they used to-and most people never learn that just having a website is a sure path to financial oblivion. So, what does work? Marketing combinations work. If you do advertising and you have PR and you have a website, all three will help each other work. The days of singleweapon marketing have been relegated to the past; you need to be practicing what guerrillas call 360-degree marketing, which is talking to people from all angles, not just from your website or your ads or your PR. Experiment with which combinations work best for you. People are smarter these days than ever before, especially when it comes to marketing and business. It used to be thought that the intelligence level of the public was on par with that of a 12-yearold, and now it's thought that the public's intelligence level is on par with that of your mother. Your mother's not going to spend money because of special effects or Flash on a website, let alone because of clever jokes or rhymes. Your mother knows the difference between the sizzle and the steak. She knows to buy substance versus style, though most mothers also occasionally buy style.

FELDMAN: What are the keys to Guerrilla ‘Target' Marketing?

LEVINSON: Traditional marketing aims its messages at groups-the larger the group the better. Guerrilla marketing aims its messages at individuals or, if it must attract a group, the smaller the group the better. There's a new word: nanocasting. In broadcasting, let's say you've got a product, Viagra, and let's say you decided to advertise on television because you learned how inexpensive it is now that cable TV is around. You can advertise on television for literally less than $20 on prime time in any city in the United States.

This is because of all the cable stations. So you decide you're going to go on television and you tell the station manager, "I want to advertise my Viagra on your channel." And it doesn't work because you were practicing broadcasting in a way that tries to say everything to everybody, which means you end up saying everything to nobody. So then you get smarter, and you say, "Now I only want to advertise on your stations that are catering to men." See, that's much better, because you're now doing what's called narrowcasting. Still, the majority of men don't want Viagra, so you then get smarter still and you say, "I only want to advertise on TV stations where you're addressing men and you talk about health issues." See, now you're smarter. This is called microcasting. It still doesn't work well because the majority of the audience is still not your people.

And, finally, you become a guerrilla marketer. You learn the word "nanocasting" and you say, "I only want to advertise on TV shows that are addressed to men and that talk about health issues; more specifically, programs where they are discussing erectile dysfunction." Nearly 100 percent of that audience is in your market, but because there are so few people, the advertising cost is even less.

Here are some great facts to remember: At any given point, 4 percent of people will buy what you are selling right now. So, 4 percent of people want a new insurance policy. All they need to know is which one is right for them and whom they should buy from. Then another 4 percent are ready to buy but they don't know who to buy from, what to look for or what to say, so they need a little more information and then they'll buy.

The other 92 percent are just plain not in the market right now, and guerrillas know to ignore those 92 percent now and to aim at that 8 percent who are the hottest prospects.

FELDMAN: You have discussed "intentional marketing." What do you mean by that?

LEVINSON: What's the No. 1 reason that people patronize McDonald's? Clean restrooms. Good French fries is reason No. 2. It has nothing to do with burgers or low prices. It has to do with realizing what marketing is all about; namely, any contact you have with your customers, whether it's in the restroom, at your place of business or with your delivery vehicles, and understanding that you've got to pay attention to all those details. That means everybody who works for you is part of your marketing team, because your company will be judged by the employee who treats people the worst. That's why, for example, you have to be sure your phones are answered by somebody who's very good on the phone.

FELDMAN: The little things make all the difference and every touch point is important. Do you think businesses need to set standards for intentional marketing?

LEVINSON: Most businesses don't think about that. I worked for giant advertising agencies pretty much around the world before I did what I'm doing, and we never learned that about the touch points. We never learned about any piece of contact and the importance of the attire worn by your employees or the amount of pierced body parts or tattoos that they see. You're going to be judged by the employees with the tackiest taste.

FELDMAN: Once a salesperson has made a successful initial contact, what happens next?

LEVINSON: The best you can hope to do with marketing is to gain people's consent to hear more about your business. That's where the word "opt-in" comes from. Most people will withhold their consent because they have other things to do, but at least 8 percent will give you their consent. Your job is to gain that consent and then broaden it. You start the relationship any way you can, and then you start broadening it, and eventually you broaden it to the point where you can talk to people about why they need this particular insurance policy, right now, at this stage of their lives. But they're ready to hear it because they know you earned their trust.

My wife and I lived in London a couple of decades ago. When we got there, the first purchase we wanted to make was a sound system. We inquired to find out the best place to buy a sound system in London. We also did our homework by looking in trade publications; at the time, there was no Internet. We knew what we wanted. We went to the showroom, looked at the equipment and I said, "I want this, and this, and this component, and this one and this one." And the manager actually had the gall to say to me, "I'm sorry, sir, I'm not able to sell you those components." I said, "Why not?" He said, "Come here, let's sit down and let's talk." He sat me in a comfortable chair and asked me many questions. When the conversation was over, he said, "You told me what you wanted to buy. Here's what you need: You need this, this, this and this."

And it was actually a little bit less money than I was planning on spending. So, I told all my friends, "Go to this showroom because they don't sell you what you want," and that one sale was multiplied many times over from my referrals and so on.

If you sell people what they want and it's the wrong thing, you're going to get in trouble down the road with bad word of mouth. It spreads faster than wildfire nowadays. With Twitter and Facebook, people talk to lots of people, especially about bad experiences that they've had. Guerrillas do not sell people what they want. They ask questions. They learn about the people and they sell people what they need. And it's hard to say "no" to what you need.

FELDMAN: What are some good strategies for insurance producers to develop relationships?

LEVINSON: If, for example, you've got a potential client who's got a dog and you have a new dog, that's a terrific meeting ground. You can say, "Hey, wait till you see my puppy. He's absolutely nuts, and you'll laugh your head off at a couple things he does." Well, another dog owner is going to appreciate that.

It has nothing to do with insurance; it has everything to do with the warm relationship. I remember going to my friend's house and seeing his dog, and it had nothing to do with insurance. I'd like to say I was thinking he was going to bring up insurance, but I knew he wouldn't because I knew our relationship was beyond that.

FELDMAN: While it's sad to say, most businesses don't have their own marketing plan, not even a simple one. You've said that a simple marketing plan is better than an extraordinary marketing plan, as long as it gets done. What are some strategies to get a simple plan started?

LEVINSON: Most people are intimidated by the thought of writing a marketing plan, which is why they don't write it in the first place. That's why a guerrilla marketing plan has only seven sentences.

They don't want to get it wrong. So rather than make a mistake, they just don't write marketing plans. I always say, "Well, all you need to address is seven points. It's only seven sentences long."

When I have my students [at Berkeley] create a marketing plan, I give them five minutes to do it. I tell them I've been doing this since 1984, and never before has anyone needed more than five minutes. When I see guys like Steve Jobs or Bill Gates years later, they tell me the marketing plan that they did in my class is still what they're using. Still seven sentences.

If you don't make it simple, people won't do it. The two keys to success in much of life are to have a plan-that's the easy part-and to commit to that plan-that's the hard part. Almost anybody can start with a plan but hardly anybody can commit to a plan. They think marketing brings about instant results.

They get a Facebook account and become active on Twitter. They think the social media will work for them. It doesn't work in a hurry. But it's so uncomplicated if you go about it in the right way, which is not complicated or expensive. The key element is the same one you need in insurance-it is patience, because the best-crafted marketing doesn't work instantly.

Those that are successful, had a vision, committed to that vision, and put it into writing because you've got to just start ‘cause not having a marketing plan is like entering battle under a commander who says, "Ready. Fire. Aim." It doesn't work if you do it in that order.

You've gotta be ready, you've gotta aim, and then you've gotta fire. And then you've gotta fire again, and again, and again. You've got to realize that you're competitors aren't going to have as much patience as you are. They're not going to hang in there as long as you. That's what guerrillas are able to do. They're able to outlast their competitors in the area of patience.

FELDMAN: How long does it take for a marketing campaign to work and when should you abandon it?

LEVINSON: Only through experimentation are you going to find out what's working and what's not. And insofar as when to quit, it's not as soon as you think, it pretty much varies, but it's never a short time.

The most successfully marketed brand in history, Marlboro cigarettes, took a year and a half for the company to see that the Marlboro Man was working. Marlboro was doing everything right and, at the end of the year, we felt horrible that everything we had done wasn't working. But they said, "Well, you fellows said that we should hang in there."

So they did, and after 18 months they started seeing a glimmer that the campaign was working, and their sales have gone up every month since then. I hate that it's about cigarettes, but it's really about patience and it's about realizing that success rarely happens inside of six months.

Eighteen months was a long time. That's longer than it usually takes. But I tell my clients, "Let the person who sees your financial figures be in charge of whether we're going to abandon this. Realize that anything that happens in the first six months is going to be pure luck. After six months, however, you ought to start seeing glimmers that this is working."

The graveyards of marketing are littered with terrific campaigns that were abandoned too soon. People think, "This should work in a hurry," but marketing doesn't. And if you think it does, you're going to be in for a life of grief, frustration and Tums because it doesn't work instantly; it does, however, work eventually if you commit to it.

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