Consumers sometimes tire of seeing ads plastered across billboards, TV, and social media. They want more authentic engagement, and community-based marketing is the way to go, especially as an independent insurance agent.
Although a relatively new term, community-based marketing (CBM) is perhaps the oldest school of marketing. Think back to days gone by when social media, TVs, billboards, magnets, and slim jims weren’t a thing. People learned who to go to for certain services by word of mouth within their operating communities. Have a broken tractor? Oh, well Jerry the next town over will fix it for you in exchange for a couple bags of flour.
Although exaggerated and simplified, this example demonstrates what’s at the heart of CBM — filling needs within the context of well-established communities.
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What Is Community-Based Marketing?
CBM is much less about what you might think of as marketing and more about making connections. Marketers phrase their definitions of community-based marketing in many different ways, but essentially, CBM is as the name implies — marketing that occurs within communities through open communication and shared experiences, the exchange of values, and the creation of mutual meaning. The end goal of a community-based marketer is to identify and fulfill the needs of a community (not sell a certain number of policies or products).
The end goal of a community-based marketer is to identify and fulfill the needs of a community (not sell a certain number of policies or products).
If this sounds complex and heady, it is. CBM isn’t as easy to implement and track as social media campaigns or direct mailers but needs to be part of your marketing strategy anyways. Why? In the wake of pandemic isolation, people are lonely and seeking authentic places where they can meet other people and share stories, ideas, and values. It’s easy for people to tune out the noise of traditional marketing (do you mute ads while watching TV or pay a streaming service for no ads at all?), and the internet is evolving into a place of decentralized information (meaning people aren’t looking to big corporations for their info). CBM may be the best way to help your potential clients see the relevancy in what you’re offering.
What Defines a Community?
If you’re going to market in communities, you need to understand what one looks like. Just because a group of people gather doesn’t make them a community. To earn the title, a community must be a space where people share values and interests and create meaning and a sense of belonging. The space where we foster community can be online (e.g., Facebook group, forum) or offline (e.g., school, office, church). Sometimes these communities are right under your nose in your immediate geographical vicinity. In fact, you may already be part of one! Think hobby club, church congregation, PTO group, or team of coworkers. These are all outlets for community formation.
There’s also something called a brand community, a relatively new concept that’s been on the rise in tandem with CBM. While studying brand communities, researchers noticed the presence of three traditional community markers interacting in the brand context:
- Consciousness of Kind — Members feel a meaningful connection to the brand, but more importantly, feel a strong bond with one another (the “link is more important than the thing”).
- Rituals & Traditions — Members share consumptive experiences around a brand, which solidify consciousness of kind.
- Moral Responsibility — Loyal members see it as a moral obligation to stay with the brand and look out for and assist other members in their consumption of the brand.
Brand communities tap into the social and emotional needs of members — something community-based marketers need to identify so they can fulfill those needs. Remember, that’s the end goal.
Let CBM Influence Your Other Marketing
CBM is not traditional or digital marketing (although it might involve them to an extent). Let us be clear: traditional and digital marketing still need to play a role in your marketing strategy — just not the only role. Let the mindset you’ll cultivate as a community-based marketer inform how you utilize other approaches. Make your traditional and digital marketing as much about emotional connection as possible.
Consider this marketing emotional continuum:
When a client feels an emotional connection to you, they’re more likely to have higher customer satisfaction, give you their loyalty, promote you to others, and believe in (and buy) your products. Humanizing your business through relationships shows your clients that you care more about them as a person with unique needs than about potential profit.
When a client feels an emotional connection to you, they’re more likely to have higher customer satisfaction, give you their loyalty, promote you to others, and believe in (and buy) your products.
Where to Find Community
This might sound all well and good, but where can you find these communities? You have two options.
If you’re really gung-ho, you can create your own communities, or you can engage in communities to which you’re already connected.
Create Your Own
Brainstorming how and what kind of community to create around your business might be tricky. Remember, the purpose of CBM is finding out needs and fulfilling them. This kind of marketing takes time, investment, and an interest in forming genuine relationships. Here are a few ideas to get the ball rolling.
- A bi-monthly morning coffee and conversation group that you host at the local library. You publicize topics of conversation. Pick those that would be relevant to your clients’ demographic.
- Monthly or bi-monthly bingo or trivia nights you host at your local community center.
- A more direct “Questions about Insurance” group that you host monthly at your office.
It’s helpful to have a partner when forming your own communities, as it can be a big undertaking. If you have downlines, consider asking them to assist you. Find other professionals in your area that cater to the same audience and might be interested in helping you plan and host.
Tap into Others
You might already be a part of a community or at least know of existing communities you could join where you can plant the seeds of CBM. Perhaps your library or local community center already hosts book groups, bingo or trivia nights, hobby clubs, exercise groups, etc. Get involved and join one. Don’t come in just advertising your services, though, and be mindful of any group rules regarding self-promotion. Build the foundation of a relationship first; your line of work and knowledge on insurance will come up naturally over time. In the future, you’ll be the resident expert on your insurance niche, and community members will already feel comfortable enough around you to ask questions, express needs, and even employ your services.
Don’t forget the power of affinity partnerships. If you’re already working with other business or organizations in your area to garner leads, reach out to those business and make a CBM pitch! Build on the existing relationship and support each other, either joining a community together or starting your own.
How to Market in Communities
We’ve talked theoretically about CBM marketing and provided some examples of communities you can create or join, but you may be looking for some more concrete examples on how to get started with this type of marketing. There are myriad ways to implement CBM, but before diving into planning an event, take a good look at your mindset.
Change Your Mindset
Cultivating the mindset of a community-based marketer will make or break your long-term success. With CBM, you’re not looking for a certain number of direct mailers be returned or a certain number of likes on your social media campaign. You’re looking for authentic relationships, which are much harder to track and quantify. Keep in mind these tenants to develop a strong CBM mindset:
- Listen more than you talk
- Notice the needs of people, expressed verbally or non-verbally
- Ask yourself, “How can I fulfill these needs?”
If you nurture a good mindset, invest the time needed, and focus on emotional connection first, CBM will work its magic. You might be tempted to reduce CBM down to, “Oh, I just need to get involved in my community,” but it’s not quite that simple. Yes, getting involved is a key part of CBM, but it’s involvement with a purpose — to seek out needs and fulfill them, not just to socialize and have a good time. Go back and look at the definition of a brand community. You’re trying to foster an intentional community (not just the general “community” found in your neighborhood, town, or city at large) that has consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions, and moral responsibility.
If you nurture a good mindset, invest the time needed, and focus on emotional connection first, CBM will work its magic.
With an established focus on fulfilling the needs of others, instead of boosting your number of clients, write down all the ways you can think of getting involved in a community. Don’t filter out any ideas during this brainstorming session. There are no wrong answers! Consider some of these:
- Sponsor a local sports team
- Set up booths at local events (e.g., farmers markets, fairs, community days, etc.)
- Volunteer at a food bank, local board, church, etc.
- Organize a fundraiser and offer a free service as a prize
- Create a mentorship program for young insurance agents
- Cultivate insurance literacy by talking to groups of all ages (e.g., schools, senior groups, etc.)
- Let other organizations use your space if you have room
- Host a movie, game, or trivia night at a local venue for your prospects and their families
- Sponsor a local festival or fireworks display
- Set up talks at senior centers, assisted living facilities, community centers, libraries, or other places where your client demographic spends time
- Join forces with an affinity partner to offer college scholarships
- Hire high school students to mow lawns and shovel snow for your prospects or clients
- Plan a trash cleanup day
- Organize an event where you provide free document shredding
- Host “paint and sip” events
- Run a craft supplies drive for a local school
This list of ideas just scratches the surface! Your list will depend on your personality, interests, budget, and comfort level, among other things. Don’t be afraid to engage communities of all ages, even if your client base is older. You never know how forming connections with younger people will impact your business in positive ways. You’re building a culture of community involvement, which may bear fruits in surprising ways.
CBM does take a good chunk of time and sustained focus but investing in your selected community should pay back dividends.
After you make a master list of ideas, start organizing them into a marketing plan. Prioritize some over others. Pursue one at a time and think quality over quantity. Consider your schedule and how much time you can dedicate to your CBM efforts. Draft a timeline. CBM does take a good chunk of time and sustained focus but investing in your selected community should pay back dividends.
Although tapping into existing communities or creating your own will be easier in person (think emotional connection!), you do have the option of exploring CBM online. Digital communities can stand on their own or be part of your in-person efforts.
Some outlets for online CBM include:
- Broadcast educational Facebook live or TikTok videos
- Join Facebook groups about different hobbies, interests, or stages of life
- Post on insurance forums on Reddit
- Utilize community-building apps like Nextdoor
- Move your usual in-person events online (like a class or bingo night)
- Organize an online fundraiser
- Read insurance blogs and post comments
- Share content on your social media, including Ritter’s Medicareful Living materials
In general, creating unique online communities will take more time and effort to foster, so consider joining an existing community to get your feet wet with digital CBM. And remember, your ultimate goal is to listen and notice the needs of others!
What About During Busy Seasons?
Creating and embarking on your CBM journey is best done outside of any busy season, like AEP or Open Enrollment. Instead, consider building your CBM strategy a “lock-in” focus. You’ll have much less time to invest in your communities during busy seasons when your days are full of client appointments. But this doesn’t mean you have to be completely absent from the relationships you’ve been working so hard to foster. It just means that you’ll have to dial back the involvement and lean on the other members in your community during your busy season.
Try to attend meetings of groups when you can. Avoid planning and hosting anything big that will take up a lot of time. If your community has an online presence, lean into that more (posting and commenting don’t take very long!). Set up any sponsorships of sports teams or local events ahead of time. Hire a temporary assistant or ask another community member to take over some of the backend organizing.
If you’ve created your own communities, try not to let them hibernate too much during your busy seasons. You’ll lose good momentum. Instead, set up a system beforehand (like hiring an assistant) that will allow the community to continue flourishing.
Consider, too, how you’ll plant seeds during your off season that will bear fruit during your busy one. Once you’ve established your presence in a community, try mentioning something like, “My busiest season is coming up soon, so you might not see me around as much. If you’re interested in reviewing your insurance options, I’d be happy to help! You can give me a call and set up an appointment.” Hopefully, you’ll be scheduling appointments with some of those people you’ve met during your CBM efforts!
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Fulfilling needs in your community can look a lot of different ways. You’re working on fulfilling the needs of your clients every day with thoughtful consideration of their time, budgets, and health care needs. Expand your marketing mindset to include CBM where you can tap into powerful communities that foster a sense of belonging and obligation and provide opportunities to answer the needs of others. Once you do, you’ll discover the power of brand community members marketing your services for you! You never know who your next brand ambassador will be.
As you’re going out and creating or joining communities near you, it’s nice to have an agent community you can fall back on for support. As a leading FMO, Ritter prides itself on forming that community. We offer sales support, portfolio reviews, an Ritter’s Round Table Facebook group, numerous online and in-person events, quoting and enrollment tools, educational resources, and more. We’d love to have you as part of our community! Register for free today.