Tony has spent the last 2 years helping small and medium independent agents grow in the incredibly competitive Northern California market. During this time, he’s visited a LOT of different agencies with different personalities, strategies and results. Many smaller local agents have been hit hard by the perceived commoditization of personal lines and fierce competition from the direct writers. These agents are having issues since they largely cannot compete on price. All of the good ones understand that an independent agent today has to focus on great coverage and great service in order to be competitive. The tricky thing is getting through all the noise that billions of dollars of ad spending buys for the direct writers and getting noticed in their local market.
The most unique of the 200 or so agencies is without question Barber Insurance in Santa Rosa. This family-owned agency led by mother and daughter team Jo and Cheryl stands in a league all its own in making the customers feel like part of the family. Jo manages the manufactured home book, Cheryl handles commercial lines, Cheryl’s daughter (who swears she’ll never work in insurance full-time) manages their social media presence and RoRo handles personal lines and rapping, you read that right, rapping!
When you walk into their office, you are welcomed by their fish tank, bird cage, and two friendly dogs roaming around. They really make it feel like visiting your favorite aunt’s house. The office is one thing, but the real genius is in their social media presence. Barber has created some of the funniest and most memorable YouTube videos you can imagine. Whether RoRo is rapping about giving you an insurance checkup, celebrating other local Santa Rosa business, or sending you an awesome birthday message, their heartfelt marketing means when their customers think insurance, they’re bound to think Barber! Thus, they’re very unlikely to pay attention to the billions of dollars Geico and Progressive are spending. After all, you wouldn’t turn your back on family.
Some of my favorite of their videos:
Barber and We Know It: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Y4mf6Q84II
Barber Shop: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s7-fwejbVDE
Local Style: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u99CdPmo35k
Barber Maybe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rxseRbIirE
When Carly worked for Bonnie Perkins, a local Farmers Insurance agent in Minnesota, Bonnie made truly personal connections with her clients and would even call them to sing happy birthday. She would also host an Annual Open House with ice cream sundaes and root beer floats each summer. Many clients appreciated the personal connection and would stop in from time to time simply to say hi and get a question answered, when it would have been quicker for the client to call.
Another one of Tony’s agents, employee owned Minard Insurance in Sacramento, has chosen a Monopoly theme for their real-estate focused agency. They have cards that look like the cards from the board game and even have a custom Monopoly board they take to events.
Outside of insurance, examples like Zappos speak to the idea of recognizing your client as an individual and using your agency’s culture to impress potential clients and existing clients alike. If you’re a local agent, there’s a lot to learn from both these examples and from Tony Hsieh’s book about the Zappos culture, Delivering Happiness. Obviously, just copying any of these exactly will come across as inauthentic but finding your own crazy ways to be unique and visible, while remaining authentic to who your agency truly is, can be a strong differentiator in your local market. You can’t out-Geico Geico, but they can’t touch your ability to make real connections and a meaningful difference in your local community.
What have you seen that has impressed you and convinced you to shop local-for insurance or otherwise? What is your business doing to compete with direct writers and price-focused competition?