Posted on 01 Dec 09
During the last six months, we’ve been featuring articles about social media and the insurance industry. Most recently, Charles Wasilewski of Aartrijk suggested I contact Laura Bergan, VP, Marketing of American Collectors Insurance, whose company is active in social networking and using various platforms effectively to communicate, interact, and engage with agents and consumers. Founded in 1976 by Tom Kanyuk, American Collectors Insurance is based in Cherry Hill, New Jersey and has a staff of 100. It is the leading national provider of collector vehicle and collectibles insurance, with programs available in all 50 states, including Washington, D.C.
Laura has been with American Collectors Insurance for nearly nine years, having started in its call center, speaking to agents and customers about collectible cars and the risks involved. Her experience in the call center provided her with first-hand knowledge of the high level of service her company provided and gave her a great sense of what the product is and how to go about marketing it.
When American Collectors Insurance began, it provided Agreed-Value insurance for collector vehicles – antiques, muscle cars, street rods, custom vehicles, and what now is referred to as exotic cars. About 15 years ago, the company also began to insure other collectible items. As Laura explained, “we found that our car-collecting customers often had other items they collected. For example, it’s common for someone who collects cars to also collect die cast cars or vintage gas pumps. There were tremendous memorabilia collections that needed proper programs, and no one at the time was addressing this. We saw an opportunity and created programs to service this niche.” Today, American Collectors Insurance insures many different types of collectibles in addition to cars, including figurines, model trains, dolls, teddy bears, advertising memorabilia, etc.
American Collectors Insurance distributes its programs through three avenues: independent agents; directly to consumers; and strategic alliances with some direct writers and national carriers that have captive agents or call centers that want to serve their client’s needs but recognize the disadvantages in developing their own in-house program.
When speaking with Laura, she illustrated how this niche offers a great opportunity for agents to get their feet in the door and talk with potential clients who are collectors…. “Savvy agents will use our product because it provides better value than a standard Auto policy at a fraction of the price…and it’s a great way to show a client that they are really looking out for his/her interest. What’s more, these individuals typically have a higher net worth than average with additional insurable interests. You can cross-sell other coverages, such as Homeowners, Auto, Umbrella and more.”
Let’s Get Social
Annie George (AG): Laura, let’s discuss how you began to incorporate social media and Web 2.0 into the mix…
Laura Bergan (LB): “As a company, we have always been ahead of the web technology curve, capitalizing on emerging technologies as they are developed to provide our two core audiences – insurance agents and collectors – with what they need and want on-line. For example, we were the first collector vehicle insurer to put a quote engine on-line back in the 1990s.
“And as more and more people get used to the Web and do everything on-line, they are looking for instant gratification. The agent wants to be responsive to his/her client; the consumer wants the information now. To that end, from a service standpoint, it’s very important that we make available the necessary tools on-line to respond to both. Our agents can go on-line, get a quote, and if they like the quote, submit the information. If the risk is accepted, payment can be made and they will get an instant binder, and be able to service their client immediately.
“When we were looking at Web 2.0 and social networking, we wanted to see how we can capitalize on the technology to enhance our communication and our relationships with both audiences and almost bridge the gap between them. We were accustomed to speaking separately to collectors and agents. But what we really want to do is make that communication more interactive, and we feel that we can help our agents quite a bit by connecting them with the hobby, with the collectors.”
AG: How did you go about doing this…connecting to both agents and collectors on-line?
LB: “We try to make our website a destination place where people not only come to get factual and practical information but where they will find entertainment related to the industry…where collectors, for example, can upload photos of their cars and post their stories, their experiences. In doing so, we get a lot more customers visiting the site and we are able to help the agents know the market even better, more intimately, through these consumer stories and posts. We want both agents and customers coming back to the site time and time again so they get info that is worthwhile and fun.
“We began the process of evolving our site slowly, step by step, with basic stuff. We didn’t bite off more than we could chew, which allowed us to progress in a steady fashion. We first put an Event Locator on the site. Then we introduced our blog, which has enabled us to provide info both to agents and customers quickly. Each of our targets receives solid, relevant, factual information from which they will benefit. I subscribe to quite a few blogs and I only keep subscribing to them if they benefit me, so we are very aware that we must do the same for our readers.
“Agents in particular are very busy, so we want them to feel as though they can take 30 seconds to read a blog and walk away with something extra in their back pocket that will, at the end of the day, allow them to capitalize on the information and sell more insurance.”
American Collectors Insurance currently produces three separate blogs: one for the agent, the other for the customer and one that is written by Founder and Chairman Tom Kanyuk. Tom’s blog will eventually fold into the customer blog, but it is currently being advertised as a separate feature.
Tom’s blog, “Journey of a Restomod,” began after he received an original 1957 Ford Fairlane 500. “It was bone stock,” says Laura, “and didn’t have any of the modern comforts we are used to today.” Laura explains that Tom is a car guy, and a purist when it comes to classics. He didn’t like modifying them, but when he got the ’57 Fairlane and took his grandchildren for a ride he realized that he wanted to add some safety features…along with other things. Thus began his journey into completely customizing the car…and his entrée into blogging about his story.
“I suggested to Tom that he blog about his experience,” says Laura, “to share with our customers what he encountered along the way. The blog is an entertaining story about how the ’57 Fairlane started as a bone stock car and now has been completely customized. It’s called a restomod. The customers love it… it’s fun for them. The collectors totally relate to what Tom is writing about.”
AG: This is a perfect illustration of what blogging is all about…and how to relate to your customers on a different level. Does Tom enjoy it? Was he at all reluctant to do it? I ask this because so many agents and industry people are hesitant to jump into blogging.
LB: “Tom loved the idea of sharing his story, and he loves writing, but he was a bit unsure initially because of the time commitment involved. As you know, a blog is only successful if you’re committed. But the more he writes his story, the more he loves doing it. It’s been a great experience for him and he enjoys the feedback he receives from our customers.
“Tom’s blog is a great way to connect with our customers. He writes nothing about insurance…he is writing about a personal experience that he is going through right now…he is relating first-hand experiences about something our customers live and breathe day-in and day-out. There is really no better way for us connect on a brand level than to tell his story.”
AG: Who writes the other two blogs [consumer, agency blogs], what is the process?
LB: “As I mentioned earlier, we made sure to take baby steps when entering the social media fray…to make sure we were ready for the commitment that it involves. We planned articles and topics before we went live with both the agent blog and the consumer blog. We held brainstorming sessions with key people in the agency to establish topics and a schedule for each of the ideas we wanted to cover.
“Our blogs are a collaborative effort. Staffers submit articles. The Marketing Department contributes articles and ideas and provides direction. The key is to be sure the topics are relevant to our audience. We know who our market is, the demographics of our consumer so we write to them. We know that the average consumer is male, in his 50s, close to retirement or retired with some disposable income and has the luxury of time to read. We also know we are seeing more and more individuals in their 40s collecting. On the agency side, we know that time is an issue and we cater to that.
“Sometimes the articles with the biggest hits are short paragraphs, such as ‘Did you knows’?...tidbits of information. And sometimes it’s information that we garner from other sources. In September, for example, on our agency blog, we posted a You Tube video on the revolution of social media…how big it has become and how you can’t ignore it. We received great feedback from agents who took the 4 minutes to watch the entire video or a portion of it.
“When blogging, you don’t have to invent every word of every blog… you can get a lot of mileage out of things that are already written or posted (videos, etc.) as long as you give credit, source the origin.
“We also get a lot of our great blog ideas from our customers. If we run something that they suggested, we’ll send them a T-shirt as a way of saying thank you.”
The consumer blog, “Collector Central Blog” is part of the Collector Chronicles section of the website. Also in this section, you will find: the Cool Ride Weekly Contest, in which collectors submit photos of their vehicles on-line; Collectors’ Stories, where collectors share their car experiences with one another; a News Room; the Event Locator; Club Locator; Collector Vehicle Partners (where to find parts, etc.); and much more – all designed to provide customers and potential customers with information about their passion. Additionally, e-newsletters, “Collector Column,” are sent out every quarter, one to agents; the other to collectors.
AG: What other social media platforms are you on?
LB: “About eight to 10 months ago, we established a Facebook page, where we post, for example, industry information, job fair information, our latest blogs (including Tom’s journey) and submissions from our Cool Ride Weekly Contest and Collectors Stories. We congratulate contests winners, directing people to different photos and stories submitted by the collectors.
“We’re also on Twitter, and have 1,400 followers. It’s easy to use Twitter, and if someone is worried about time, it’s a good place to begin when it comes to social media. We post relevant info such as upcoming auctions, job opportunities, our new blog articles, etc. We use Twitter to distribute relevant info, not only to get people to our site.
“Everything we do on these platforms gives us a lot of credibility. We are showing collectors that we’re not just an insurance provider…we’re an expert in the industry.”
AG: Who monitors all of this activity?
LB: “I have someone responsible for Twitter and I check every tweet, Facebook post, blog, etc. before anything goes live. It can be time-consuming, but it doesn’t take a big chunk of my day. Someone has to be accountable to ensure that the brand is not harmed but helped…our brand is our greatest asset so it is obviously worth protecting.”
Like every other company, American Collectors Insurance struggled with looking at social media and ROI. “It’s nearly impossible to determine the ROI,” says Laura, “but we know it’s something we need to be doing…and we have been doing it gradually. Fear of the unknown should not prevent anyone from taking the step into social media.”
Laura says plans are underway to increase the budget for on-line media in 2010. “We are excited about this. We’re shifting more and more to on-line.”
To find out more about American Collectors Insurance, please visit: www.americancollectors.com and while you’re on-line be sure to check out some of the cars featured!