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To Text or Not to Text (Answer: Text)

By Alexi Papandon, CAE

Peter Benchley’s novel Jaws brought us the popular quote, “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water...” When preparing marketing plans, many insurance agents ask a question along these lines: “Is it safe to begin text marketing?”

Whereas beachgoers on Amity Island were worried about being eaten alive by a 25 foot great white shark, agency owners are worried about the perception their audience will have. Will they feel that I am invading their privacy? Do they consider their cell phones to be off limits to marketing? Will it backfire and create a negative impression of my business — exactly the opposite of what I am hoping to achieve? Oh, and how do I do it?

If the experiences of David Gorman Sr. and David Gorman Jr. of Red Gorman Insurance in Dallas, Texas, are any indication, get those swim trunks on and jump in because the water is fine.

A Text Revolution

The Gorman’s agency was founded in 2003. For many years they engaged in somewhat typical marketing activities and experienced typical results. That all changed when Gorman Jr. joined the agency. As a millennial, he knew what anyone with a teenage child knows, millennials would prefer to text on their smart phones rather than talk. The strange thing is, when handled professionally, it is not just millennials who like to conduct business via text.

A couple years ago the Gorman’s decided to embrace text as a way to communicate with current customers and their best prospects. They had already decided to focus on these groups versus unknown prospects because they felt the return on their investment in marketing would be more productive with those people who already knew them. Looking back they know this was a great decision.

They went about researching companies that would enable them to generate texts right from a desktop computer. The first service they initiated allows them to communicate via text to current policyholders for customer service issues. These texts come from the same 10-digit phone number all the time, which is portable to other services should the agency prefer to work with another vendor in the future.

This customer service oriented text service also allows clients to contact the agency via text. These texts are visible to everyone in the agency, who can respond right from their computer. If you think that agency staff love to respond to these texts more than phone calls, you’d be right, especially the younger staff that many agencies want to hire and retain. Customers regularly text to ask questions and send photos of damaged vehicles, drivers licenses, etc. This service has been well received by the agency’s customers, especially those on the younger side.

Text Marketing Machine

The Gormans also enabled a text service to communicate on a more “mass marketing” type basis, but always with a personal appeal and value to the recipient. Through this service they can send up to 1,000 texts at one time, again, right from a computer. They recently texted a pizza giveaway to prospects the agency had quoted, but not sold. As part of the raffle entry, prospects had the opportunity to request a quote from a variety of lines of insurance, some of which they may not have realized the agency offered. The campaign netted 70 entries, five homeowners insurance quotes and one commercial lines quote.

Part of text marketing is, of course, acquiring cell phone numbers. At a recent Cinco de Mayo parade in which their agency participated, the Gormans had banners urging the audience to text Red Gorman Insurance in order to enter a raffle for a flat screen television. When texting the agency, people were automatically sent a reply text with a link to a website landing page with details about the raffle. When entering the raffle, in addition to providing their cell number and email address, prospects agreed to receive future marketing campaigns from the agency (an option which could be deselected for those who did not want to receive texts or emails from the agency). These prospects were then entered into drip text and email marketing campaigns. For those who wanted to increase the odds of winning the television, the agency provided five additional raffle entries if they could provide an insurance quote.Of importance, the campaign didn’t result in any negative feedback. No one felt that a 25 foot shark had just invaded their phone. And if they did, then they would simply unsubscribe just as one might unsubscribe from an email marketing campaign. The Gormans make sure to include unsubscribe instructions on the first text sent to each recipient. On average, they say, about 3-5% of their text recipients unsubscribe over the long haul (not per campaign).

The Gormans recently used a paid Facebook ad as the basis for a raffle of Texas Rangers tickets. Again, the goal was to obtain cell phone numbers so that they could begin a text relationship with new prospects. At a cost of $30 for the Facebook ad plus the cost of the tickets, this was an affordable way to run a highly targeted advertising campaign that increased the agency’s reach while building its database for future marketing campaigns.

The agency recently sent a text promoting a Facebook Live video giveaway they were doing. Recipients of the text were given instructions and tuned into the agency’s Facebook page at a set day and time to view the live giveaway. A recording of the video was captured for use afterward on their website, social media properties and, of course, via text. The Gormans have found that video is much more compelling to their audience than photos. As an added benefit, in order to view the Facebook Live session, users had to “Like” the agency’s Facebook page.

So, will your agency jump into the texting waters or will you sit in the sand while others make loyal customers of those insurance buyers who prefer to text? Please jump in; the water is fine and there are no sharks to be seen.

Alexi Papandon is senior vice president of products and services for PIA National. Email Alexi at alexipa@pianet.org.