Genuine vs. the Algorithm

Marketing should supplement and promote genuine value not disguise the lack of.

Right now it seems that way, but somewhere in my reading and listening, I again heard what I already have known for a while now; You do not need to adapt to AI, and similar data ideas, but the agents/brokers/companies that do will survive and thrive and those that don’t, won’t.

So combine that with the following things stuck in my head from various reading and listening;

  • Sending out a birthday card is awesome and there are services that do this
  • Who is killing it on YouTube?
  • You must contact your customers 24-36 times

On Birthdays; Mrs. B is the mother of a childhood friend of my wife.  Each year a birthday card shows up for our children and I’m not even sure that she has met our children.  Handwritten.  Maybe she uses an electronic calendar, maybe she doesn’t, but it is real, handwritten ink and genuine.

Has Facebook ruined the birthday greeting?  I mean they remind you about the birthday and they even tell you what to say to the person.  I suppose technically the person “said” happy birthday to you.  Maybe you were even overwhelmed by the “love and the messages…..” But how many of those people took the 5-30 second to personalize it?  You can say the same thing about changing jobs or posting an update on Linkedin.  And yes, if automation is becoming more and more a part of what we do, those that use it better will stand out.  So, sure, a physical birthday card from your insurance agent showing up at your home is nice, sort of.  If you did it merely to keep in touch as part of a formula, is it?

  • Is it really just a self-serving act following a desperate formula to combat an already “noisy” world?
  • Is this just one touch of a formula?

Sure, you are combining data with a pseudo genuine act.  But, you are using what is considered an important, almost sacred, milestone and demeaning it into a marketing activity.

Killing it on YouTube

Cool.  Excited for you.  Especially if it is a goal you set for yourself and now you are accomplishing it.  On the other hand, what aren’t you doing?  Certainly, all that time recording, editing, posting and sharing takes away from other activities.  But, hey you are feeding an algorithm, good for you.

So, I’m confused.  You are recording a video to bring value to others?  Cool, in theory, your video will get to more people.  So the next question, and you need to choose one;  The person that calls you because they watched a video or the person who called you because an existing customer told you about them.  Choose one.

I have no doubt, just like this post, there is value in being found online.  But are you doing the right mix of activities to be found and activities to be valuable?  Be honest, the information you are writing or recording, likely already exists.  Sure, there are new ideas, but not when it comes to talking about the basics of auto and home insurance.  So, you want them in your voice, fine.  But what if you did something new?  What if you were really honest, I mean honest enough it likely annoys some of your partner companies?

Where is the person “killing it” in flood insurance?

Where is the agent who has an amazing internship program?

Is there an agent “killing it” with AMS360(or whatever management system you use)?

Need more ideas, consider these places to be of value immediately that will have positive results but may not simply feed an algorithm;

  • What is your plan for flood insurance?   HUGE changes have begun and will continue.
  • IOT, aka The Internet of Things. Have you tested any devices in your home?  How can they help your people?
  • Telematics; an app vs. a plug in?  Thoughts?  Are your encouraging use of this?
  • What have you done to help your carriers today?  Hint, they don’t need, and many don’t even seem to want, another policyholder?
  • Using PayPal in your agency?  Have you seen them on a carrier yet?  I’ve only seen one.  Why?


Paragraph rants, what if

Attempted to use some voice to text stuff and it produced some really odd paragraphs.  Reinterpreting them a bit below;

  1. Is your marketing plan simply to produce enough content aka noise, so that one or more algorithms will help people “find” you?  I am not sure that, as a strategy, this is much more than hedging your fear of not knowing where the next deal is coming from.  Hope is not a strategy, nor is relying on things you do not have control of, like algorithms.
  2. The family was on a walk on a nice local path.  On occasion, you would find benches.  In this case, we were a half a mile or so into the walk and there it was, the same bench but covered in advertising.  Cool, you sponsored a bench.  I like it.  But do I need to see your phone number in the middle of the woods?  Do you like that you are interrupting people during leisure time?  How many people walk with a pen and paper?  Oh wait, maybe they’ll take a photo. Exactly, now I might have found a customer who was strolling on a walking path.  Might be time to figure our who your customer actually is.  Then, decide if you actually want the person who knows nothing more than that they saw(were interrupted by, your advertising.
  3. Measure yourself against whoever you want.  But, falling into the trap of thinking your NPS or JD power score, matched against your industry, matters, think again.  If you have a call center, who has THE BEST call center.  Period.  Maybe you need to be more like Zappos.  Saying you are the best call center in an industry not known for service is not a great idea.
  4. Get back to helping people buy insurance.  Sure, Jim Rohn, Harvey McKay, Tom Hopkins, etc. all had very lucrative sales training, motivational, type careers. You might as well.  But, on the other hand, while you are producing marketing videos and blogs the industry is suffering, Your brain power and time are diluted away from the problems that need solving.
  5. Empower the people!!  Had a couple of really nice exchanges with call center people lately. But, they inevitably fell flat.  Why?  Because these wonderfully empathetic people were not empowered to do anything.  They simply had to perform their task, their step in the assembly line.  Such a shame.

Just keep in touch

In the last week, a customer left, no news there, but I have donated to a fundraiser they did and do sort of know them. Yesterday, another customer came in with a gift for me and one of our team.  Actually very tasty olive oil.  The first one checks more “boxes” that most companies look for and spent at least twice as much with us.  The second spends half the amount of money and doesn’t “fit” common profiles of what a company wants.  Below was written May 2014 and has only been updated thanks to Grammarly.

Really, everything a company or a salesperson does seems to be geared towards a sale.  So many places online pitch social media success or “how to drive business  with social…”  Why must everything be about growing your business?  How about strengthening the business?  How about increasing profits?  How about simply using your strengths?  Use social to do all the things that your massive competitors cannot do?  How about realizing that before you spend money to advertise on social or run a contest or promote a post that there are a dozen or so free things that you can do that many of your larger counterparts cannot do.

So I come at this from the side of a developing insurance brokerage.  We tend to work with a pretty select clientele.  There is no advertising done.  So some thoughts;

  1. Before you spend any money, take some time and effort to get to know the people you already have in place.  Seriously, before you head out and get more customers or spend money solidify what you have in place.  Have you LinkedIn with everyone?  Have you shared a Facebook Page with them?  Looked for them on Twitter?
  2. How about recommendations?  Both LinkedIn and Facebook provide excellent opportunities for all these people you already know to say(type) nice things about you.  Just ask.  Start with the ones you think you know best.  While you are at it go and recommend the places you know and the people you have worked with.
  3. How about charity?  In my world, I doubt Geico will ever donate to a local charity and seriously why would your business simply donate to any charity or take out an advertisement in some sort of program just for the heck of it.  Support those that support you.
  4. We know large companies are very good at spamming.  In fairness, small companies can be as well.  Try and ignore the urge.  Seriously, double down on your efforts to keep up with existing customers.
  5. Do the things they do not or cannot; share the posts your friends and customers put up.
  6. Can your large counterparts refer their own customers to each other? Yes, Do they? NO, You can do this.  Connect the web of people you have around you and try and strengthen the weak ties.
  7. Instead of talking about rates be a resource.  Help make logical decisions,  Make an effort to bring them business instead of just taking their money
  8. Cracks me up when I see some sort of “canned” blog article appear on various sites.  I am also thoroughly amused by useless articles on Yahoo Finance and other sites.  Its like they have ten or so articles and simply make an effort to put out useless tips once a week.

Just embrace the fact that you are small and enjoy the heck out of it.  Why wouldn’t you?

Marketing pieces are valid….just not yours

This was the basis for two postcards I had done in 2012.  I liked them, still do. I like most things that hold up over time and the things on here do.

Then the next blurb I wrote was called “What does your agent have” this is a post I can probably write weekly if not every other week.  The same format of a solicitation keeps coming.

In my opinion, and there is a bit of data to support this, mailing campaigns still work.  Period.  We have done several this year and they have all produced several results.  Why?

  • There is a reason for mailing and it is not purely an immediate ROI that only equates to sales
  • The message in the piece is accurate and has some amount of useful information in it

The first point; If your mailing or postcard is purely to generate sales for your company, you have already lost.  You should probably go plant a tree to at least lessen the negative impact you have on the universe.  You have already wasted the time of the postal people and whoever did the mailing.  Purely trying to pull someone in with numbers is not nearly as effective as if you include some value.   Trying to get me to do a quote is “normal” but what if you have a couple of sentences of information that they can use without you?  Build some good will.

The second point; Public data is amazing but not perfect.  Using the purchase date of a home is sort of clever, but not nearly as clever as knowing when to interrupt a cycle.  Sure, I do not expect everyone to have identical coverage to me but there are a few coverages that really should be standard.  How would you answer the question “What coverage do you have?”   And the follow up to this is, “Well why didn’t you offer me this coverage?”

It’s their money, help them spend it DON’T tell them how to.

Oh, and if those numbers require “*” and really tiny print, please reconsider how you treat your fellow humans.

I suppose putting together an ” 18 things to do in 2018″ is still reasonable, but 12 in 12 feels and sounds better.  Not to mention, my views on time have evolved a bit since than.  Sure, society agrees that the years end and we all “reset” to some degree.  But to much of that mentality doesn’t work, not sure that it ever did.


Adding value to car claims

Well, I have some relevant experience lately and this post from 2010, updated in 2015, is the same advice I followed and still give out.  But, along the way there where several missed opportunities to add value to an insurance brand.

  • So your car is on its way to the shop or in the shop and you need a rental. Now, my experience with Hertz and Enterprise was as expected; average.  Nothing bad nothing worth noting.  What would I like to see different?
    • There are ALOT of people who cannot or it would hinder them to have to give the $50-$100  hold on their credit card for the rental.  This can be an easy fix
    • I suppose a reasonable amount of empathy from both places.  But, I wonder if they actually understand the insurance claims process enough to empathize?
  • Lots of talk about BMW, Tesla, Volvo, etc. making programs where the car comes with insurance.  There are several affinity programs that exist as well.  But, when I stepped into, as the kids and I called it, The Clown Car.  Really was a Nissan Versa, not a bad ride just “what was available” I was underwhelmed.  Then, accident two happened and I was in a Subaru Impreza sedan.  Ironic but very nice.  That is when it hit if you have a car brand, why are you not working closely with insurance companies as well as rental car companies.  You have a captive audience that can be narrowed down to people who MUST BUY A NEW CAR.  What a missed opportunity.  Sure, there are some people loyal to brands but I bet there are thousands, if not hundreds of thousands who would “try” something either intentionally or because it was an equal option. This could also end up being a place for companies to save money on claims?
    • Look at all the car advertising you see on the internet, in your mail, etc.  Wondering; what is the cost to get someone to buy a car?  What is the average cost of rental cars during a claim?  Well, the coverage typically available is between $900-$1500.  How does that fit with customer acquisition cost?
  • Although I like telematics, adoption will be a challenge in the largest part of the market, the middle.  Why?  Retrofitting older cars?  Well, there is an app for that.  It is more trust that does it.  So I had a new fancy Subaru with all sorts of features my old Scion didn’t have.  This was interesting.  Is this another way to get people used to having things in the car that bring value?
  • I’m not a fan of more advertising, but I am still left wondering why Hertz/Enterprise, again they have a captive audience, didn’t attempt to make me like them?  Both had a nice experience at the counter and I did need to call both and both were ok.  But, again, here is a chance to differentiate.  We travel a few times a year and may need to rent a car.  Who should we choose?  My wife has a corporate program she is a part of, maybe now is the time to really “wow” a family?
    • ” Oh, you are part of the Gold Program, we won’t be putting a hold on your card….”
    • “Oh, I see you have $30 a day, but wait you are part of our Gold program so here is an upgrade……”
  • Maybe you can even go a step further and tell your car renter that, if they need gas during the rental and go to Sunoco(just an example) please scan the card on the keychain for $.10 off a gallon….

Here is to hoping I avoid any more field research with rental cars and claims 🙂

“The System” is stacked

* Reflecting on some older posts in an effort to stir my brain back up and see where my thoughts have gone over the last 8 years*

Today it is off this one, A Day in Court;

The overall financial system we are in is fascinating.  Tough to say that the good the insurance piece of this system is helping or hurting more.  Yes, it allows entrepreneurship to flourish.  Yes, it is the underlying fabric of the entire financial system.  But, on the other hand, we do a lot of work in the personal insurance and micro-commercial space(think 1-5 employees 6 but rarely 7 figure sales).  This is where you see the dysfunction shine.

Take my court example and let us tie it into my two recent accidents( check for a dozen or so posts starting 8/11/18).

On both August 11 and September 1, I was hit by 19-year-old male drivers.  One drives a car listed on his parent’s insurance.  The other has his own plan.  Both accidents were not my fault. Now the But and a few lesser known facts;

  • Yes, both are not my fault.  BUT, there was police involvement so both will “show up” on my record.  It is left to the carriers to interpret how this can impact my rates.  Sideswiped and rear-ended and soon to likely be screwed.
  • BUT, the second driver only had the minimum $10,000 in property damage.  We’ll get to a whole post on this but for now, know that this forces me to use my insurance.  For as much as I know this has been a harsh learning experience for me. Most consumers will not have an agents experience or knowledge(another reason to have one).  Even with that, I’ve seen a few things from MY company that are disgusting.  So not only will The System “get me” later, my supposed partner will attempt to get me now.
  • The first driver, on the parent’s plan, is smart to leverage this and improve his rates.  Otherwise, he’d likely work for 2-3 months at his part-time job while going to college just to afford insurance.  But, now he’ll see elevated rates for up to 5 years;
    • This is worse if he has other infractions
    • He should start working on his credit immediately
    • Funny, but if he gets married it will help
    • Hopefully, their agent knows how to really help…and is willing
  • The second driver was already not taken care of and my insurance policy will take care of things.
  • BIG ***Asterisk; if you are a massive national insurance brand and you are still selling on price.  And/or your people are afraid to offer more coverage even if it is a grande Starbucks a month in the price difference….you have some way bigger issues
  • He should also immediately start working on his credit
  • I’d wager quite a bit we will become his agent and he’ll spend less and get more
  • If his agent(company) is not laying out a plan or willing to help with one, he’s as bad off as the folks pleading down tickets

Enlightened Self Interest is a concept I embrace.  Essentially, helping others helps you.  This is a complete uphill battle and really creates a lot of conflicts for me.

The sooner the overall system improves/is fixed/ changes the better.  It’ll never be perfect but with regulators and carriers not working together with the consumers best interest as their first priority, it will take even longer to get to a better system.

Maybe the insurance industry is just a reflection of society

Reality is this; insurance companies are run by other members of our human species.  They are also influenced by their surroundings both human and inanimate.  They are influenced by many of the same ideals, both positive and negative as the rest of us.  There is a lot of talk about “disruption,” #insurtech, #fintech, and #bigdata.  The industry is “ripe” for change, blah, blah, blah.

Yes I have many of my own thoughts, heck it’s my blog so of course they are my thoughts.  This dawned on me the other day;

Maybe the insurance industry is just a reflection of society.  But how?  In what way(s)?

So it came to me right in the midst of the holiday season.  Many of us buy new gifts for loved ones.  Many households, especially those of us with children, are likely experiencing an overload of toys.  Some of us now have items we don’t need, didn’t ask for and likely don’t want. BUT, I am hopeful we appreciate the effort.

I’m hopeful that many of us still appreciate what we have and don’t simply throw away what we have to replace it with the new and shiny.  

Than again, we will still have building after building of storage units for all the “stuff” we cannot bring ourselves to throw away or sell.  *Not sure where this fits in, are we all, on some level ,hoarders?  Are we so appreciative of “things” that we cannot throw them away?

But how does this fit the industry?

The average retention rate of a company and even brokerages/agencies is not talked about often enough.  When it is talked about, it seems like a “white flag” has already been waived and that they simply accept the fact that they will let customers go

**This is important, whether you are a company, agent or broker you let people leave more than they actually leave you****


No idea really, the math and every basic human as well as business idea/philosophy tends to go against this.  But this is where I am beginning to think that the cause is much deeper than business and math.  Maybe it is deeply rooted in the subconscious.  Maybe it is tied deeply with your personal characteristics and how you are influenced by society.

Let’s face it, most of us ignore the ideas of repurpose, recycling, repairing etc.  Many of these people also simply buy new since it is convenient.  Maybe it is a lack of appreciation for what they have already(think profitable, blindly loyal customers).  But when it comes to insurance this attitude is very, very expensive.  Think SIX BILLION + in advertising expenses instead of less than a billion(my guesstimate) in retention expenses.

How do you/we break the cycle?  At what point will a company “stop the madness” so to speak and start appreciating what they have?  The practical examples are readily available; the older couch goes from the main living room to the play room.  The used car goes from you to the teenager.  We re-use some paint from one room in another.  Leftovers should still taste good the next day or beyond.

Back to the customer; you are hired this year and if you are lean enough you turn a profit this year.  If it takes longer than that, all the more incentive to keep them longer.  But how do we keep them?  If you have a system that automates most task, this could be fairly easy but;

It starts with your underlying principals and philosophy

If you appreciate what you have and show it appreciation it will appreciate you back(stay longer!)

If you own a car and want it to last you’ll change the oil.  It doesn’t mean the car has any less value.  If anything, changing the oil(investing a little into an asset) makes the asset worth more since you can keep it longer and hopefully avoid costly repairs.  Pardon comparing a human to a car but the analogy fits.  Keeping a customer longer does not ensure that they’ll be profitable but you’ll have no chance at profitability if you let them leave.

The big wave is already happening in insurance.  But maybe, actually definitely, those that can profit most from it will likely need to be accepting of a bit of an attitude adjustment.  I’ve written on it before, let’s look at companies like Terracycle.  Let’s look at Zappos.  Heck look at any of your local businesses who you are loyal to.  Now look at your insurance company/broker.  Same feelings?

As much as new technology is needed, technology will not solve the underlying societal problems that have infiltrated insurance thinking.

Dont be perfect, just get better

Dear Big National Insurance company who I want to bring more business to;

We have had a nice relationship so far and I think we both like each other.  I’m confused though, some days it seems like you just don’t want my business.  Now I understand you won’t want everyone but I am still left disappointed.  See we know each other pretty well, I have a nice understanding of who you want to be insured but somewhere in there, something is not working.

It’s not you, it’s me?

Not so sure but I really would like to do more with you.  You are nice, your people are nice, you take care of our new mutual friends.  What’s not to like?  Well, I came up with a list, in no particular order;

  • Please, please, please if you are going to look at an insurance score, which is fine by me, please look at both people I put in.  I’ll be able to bring you more people, they’ll be happier when they arrive and your pricing will be more accurate.  Heck, they’ll be more likely to stay as well.
  • Along those lines, our new friends are the key to all this.  You know, for lots of us, it is very important to set up the auto and home policy with one company.  So why is it that you’ll give them the very best rate for auto insurance and a very poor rate for home insurance?  Yes, I know, supposedly homes are different, the age of roof, protection class, blah, blah, blah.  Good people, like you and me, are good people.  Help me bring you more of them.
  • One of my other “friends”, sorry monogamy is not good business when it comes to being an insurance broker, helps save me time with every quote.  One way is to simply have the code in your quotes for EVERY bank that someone may have a car or home loan with.
  • Knowing the right protection class is critical to your home rates.  Why would you not pull this automatically?  I know we both have lots of relationships.  Let’s face it, some of your partners may be misusing this flaw of yours.
  • Do you know how much housing data is available?  More than I ever thought possible.  The moment I give you our friends address you can pull it all for us.  Saves us both time, makes things more accurate.
  • Following up on that; when was the last time you checked the accuracy of the replacement cost evaluator you use?  Try this, look up new(er) homes in your neighborhood or nearby.  Take those details and see what you come up with.  Could be surprising.  Based on a lot of your calculations it seems like every new home being built and sold is sold at a loss.
  • No matter what, I try and make it easy for people to give me money.  Maybe you could as well?  I’m sure the people at Am** or Di****** are not that bad.  Please try and figure out how to take their cards.  Our friends want to use them so let us help them.  Oh and PayPal.  Wow, it would be awesome and open a whole new market for us if you could do that.

Thanks so much.  Glad you are such a good listener.  We’ll have a much better relationship if we both keep working on improving ourselves.  I really want to make this work.


With lots of admiration,


Billy Van Jura

Let’s be friends

So most of us have friends.  They come in all shapes and sizes.  You are closer with some more than others.  Some you hang out with more often.  Some are “on-line” friends or “work” friends but they all get the label friends.  They all on some level have a place in your world.

At the same turn, each of them needs or wants something from you.  Some need/want more than others.  At various times one or more of them may need a lot from you.  Over time some friends sort of increase in value(feelings) while others get less.  But they are  all still your friends.

If you wanted to get morbid about it you can break it down like this;

  • Some friends will come to your funeral to see you one last time
  • Some will come out of respect for your family even though you are not so close
  • Some will not make it but may say a silent prayer and take some time to grieve or celebrate you
  • Some will hear of your passing, feel bad for a moment and move on

I think the key in that scenario is making sure that no one is happy you passed.

So how do you treat your friends.  Like I wrote earlier, they are all treated a little different but on some level they are all the same.  They may have different levels of value and importance but they are all still valuable and important.  We also know that at some point, one or many of them may have some difficult times that you may choose to or have to help with.

Do we charge them a fee for this “extra” help?  NO we know it is part of the equation.  We know that friendship is a long term thing.  We know that if we choose good ones, some would even say the right ones, the good times will far outweigh the bad.  **We know we are not for everybody but we try to be good humans and be flexible.  We don’t treat anyone as a lesser human, we are just friendlier with some more than others** We know that friendships come with a lot of things that really cannot be measured.  We know that most friends know that friendship is a reciprocal relationship.  We know that when we can, we take on a little more responsibility.

So if this is how most of us live life, why should how an insurance company treats a customer be any different?

Being a resource

So it is pretty common that when you need something; a resource, a person, a restaurant review, etc you can spend some time online doing some research.  As part of this, it is pretty common to ask friends for their recommendations.  Yelp, Trip Advisor, Angie’s list, etc are nice but I much prefer to trust friends from various places than strangers.  Now people have always been doing this but they likely asked them over the phone or while at a social gathering.  Plenty of people still do it this way and many, myself included, have added in using Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn to also gain some insights.   It’s still cool to do both but not necessary.

Asking people for help is not modern but using online tools is.

The thing here is by using online tools you speed things up dramatically.  That’s a good thing for everyone except those that struggle to keep up.  It’s also a bad thing for those that haven’t realized how things are done online is a bit different then the “old days,” you know like 8 or so years ago 🙂   See asking on-line opens opportunities for discussions and interactions with people you may not have normally asked.  THIS IS AWESOME! That random painter who sealed your deck may have just went out to that new restaurant you are thinking about going to.  Many times our assumptions and basic correlations would eliminate this serendipity from occurring, not anymore.  But unless you ask how will you know?

See asking through something like Facebook is a personal request because you are opening up yourself to public discussion.  You are sharing something private you are looking for with people that on varying levels you trust.  It is just like opening your phone book accept you get to call everyone all at once.  Heck if you called everyone in your contact list and waited you would not get anything done.  This makes an impractical task pretty practical.

If your feelings get hurt because you were not called “first” or you feel like your opinion is not being considered that is a “you” problem.  Please don’t get in the way of serendipity.  Accept the fact that you were “chosen” when I allowed you to be an online friend.  Accept the fact that me being willing to share online is an opportunity.  It gives me the chance to keep up with people who can bring value to your life now and later.  It’s a chance for you to introduce me to one of your friends who I may need or be able to share in the future.

Many times collecting money in the short term is worth a lot less than staying in touch for the long-term deal that may be waiting.

Oh yeah, so when you are giving information on-line actually give information.  See if I wanted to ignore your advice and go to Google I would but I didn’t so now it is your turn.  PLEASE include that person contact information in your reply.  Including a link to their business is easy as well.  If in your network you have “a number of people who can help…” SHARE THEM HERE.

Me asking publicly is permission to post your friends’ information.

I am asking on-line to save time not to add more things to my to-do list.  Heck, you can e-mail me directly and include the information or even make an introduction to that contact via e-mail. I might have already called the people I want to call and this is just a little extra.  Besides, the reality is I am calling on friends for most things and acquaintances for others.  That doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with you, maybe I’ll call next time.  Probably not, but maybe.

We are all busy and hopefully all trying to get as much out of this finite amount of time called life that we possibly can.  Please consider adding to this time and making it more valuable.


Just some thoughts.