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Thought Leadership Marketing

There is a solicitor in America who has become very successful. He specialises in defending people charged with drink driving and he gets a remarkably high customer acquisition rate from his website. He doesn’t use Search Engine Optimisation or Google Adwords to attract people to the site. In fact, he doesn’t advertise at all.

What he does is provide information, lots of it. The website is packed with case studies, law changes and what they mean to defendants, frequently asked questions based on real questions, the ones his clients ask and much, much more. The information is so in-depth competitor solicitors admit to using the site to help them prepare their own client defence cases.

So why are people keen to use his services?

One of the reasons is that he is very subtly educating potential customers on the broader problems his services address – he is emphatically not just ‘selling’ his services. He is practising something called Thought Leadership Marketing. We’ll talk about that in more detail later but first we need to look at how buying habits are changing.

The way customers buy, whether it’s in the B2B or B2C market, is changing and the Internet is driving many of those changes. Information on the Internet is plentiful and nearly always free. Businesses and individuals do research before buying, instinctively discounting what organisations say about themselves via traditional marketing. Consumers have become good at screening traditional marketing messages out, mentally and physically, not least: caller ID, anti-spam software, marketing opt-outs and the Telephone Preference Service. Purchasers these days are more likely to seek out evidence to back up marketing claims, hence the high levels of research. In other words its no longer good enough to say you are good.

I cast an unscientific eye over ten commercial broker websites for this article (large nationals through to small high street operations). Without exception they concentrated on three things: their pedigree (invariably professional, experienced, qualified), their products (always competitive, widest cover, great value), their uniqueness (big and successful, small and focussed). Different words, same message.

None offered any evidence to back up their marketing claims. Their sites told me how experienced and professional they were but none demonstrated it. Without exception they talked about themselves. How many people have you edged away from at parties who do the same? Traditional marketing often makes the mistake of talking about what a business can do. Thought Leadership Marketing is about demonstrating an organisation has a real understanding of the underlying issues in its customers markets. It’s an approach that makes it easier for customers to believe a business is well placed to help them. Thought Leadership Marketing isn’t a new thing, IT companies have been using it for years, as have the big accountancy firms. If you want a great example go to www.pwc.co.uk/eng/industries/insurance.html where you will find Price Waterhouse debating the big issues facing the insurance industry and offering some free and useful information on, amongst others, Solvency 2.

You’re probably thinking PWC with infinite marketing resources are a poor example with no application to insurance brokers or the insurance market. In my experience brokers are often guilty of believing that the insurance industry is somehow unique: it’s not. The insurance industry would do better by learning and adapting marketing methods that have been successful in other sectors.

So the real question is how can brokers practically apply Thought Leadership techniques to their marketing? I could reel off a list but I’m going to concentrate on one: case studies.

Insurance is a simple product that addresses many complex issues. Management of risk is a fundamental issue for any business and insurance is a significant tool in helping businesses manage it.

Putting case studies on your website doesn’t have to be expensive: well written case studies in PDF format will only cost you a little time and effort. Incorporate the key components found in well written case studies. Here are a few important ones:

1 – Novelty – tell your prospective audience something they didn’t already know. This could be how slightly changing working practises reduced premiums.

2 – Keep it relevant – remember good case studies highlight the issues and the positive outcomes for your clients.

3 – Validity – back up assertions with evidence. If you excel in a particular sector tell customers how many similar businesses you advise, it will give them confidence.

You can demonstrate your competency and your understanding of your customers market in plenty of other ways. The important thing is to understand the Thought Leadership Marketing principles and give it a go. Used properly it’s a very effective way to open a dialogue with customers and prospects about things that are important to them. And that can only be good for business.

This article was written by Mike Millard, one of our Directors, and originally appeared in Insurance People in 2010.