Why Insurance Giant State Farm Approaches Digital Marketing Like a Small Company

It is almost a given that consumers will need insurance coverage for many aspects of their lives, but it can still take a personal touch to get their attention at the local level.

National brands regularly run campaigns across television and other media outlets that span the country. But regardless of how well-known a brand may be, the business still comes down to the connection local agents make with their customer base. At a time when customers are accustomed to looking up insurance quotes on the Web or through an app, Edward Gold, advertising director at State Farm, says his company thrives off of its local interactions.

He spoke with Street Fight about the approach the insurer takes with marketing at the local level and why the brand still sees itself as a “small” company.

As an easily recognized brand with a national presence, what kinds of things does State Farm do to connect with customers in local markets?
You’re talking about the power of the State Farm Insurance Companies when you talk about the State Farm brand. We’ve been around since 1922 — a 95-year history of being an insurance company, let alone for the last 75 years being the leading insurance company in the United States. But then we are the biggest small company in the United States. We have 19,000 State Farm agents across the country servicing policyholders in every community across the U.S. When a consumer thinks about State Farm, they may think of the company but what they really think about is their agent down the street.

Having an agent who is there when something goes wrong, let alone when something goes right, is the hallmark of who we are and what we do. We are there for you and our agents are there for you at your worst times and sometimes at your best times.

Have there been recent strategies or campaigns that State Farm adopted that speak to the local connection?
While we do national advertising to promote State Farm and help out the selling efforts of all State Farm agents, we have a number of efforts that target our agents specifically that they can be a part of, should they choose to do so. Even on a subsidized basis, where they can buy advertising programs targeted to just their key marketing area, where they can buy leads for people who are interested in auto insurance or homeowners insurance in their key market area. We’re very focused on every agent down to the zip code where their office is located.

State Farm advertising director Edward Gold

Has there been particular technology or social media platforms that State Farm has used or considered using for local customer outreach?
We use technology to help our agents to sign up for some of the advertising programs we have. We utilize technology to target advertising down to that agent’s key marketing area. The great thing about the Internet, search, digital display, Pandora, and all of these mediums is that it can be targeted down to that zip-code level.

Hyperlocal marketing 20 years ago was advertising in the overall market or maybe doing something in the grocery store near you or putting up flyers. Now we utilizing technology for media that can be targeted down to a zip code or a radius around a State Farm agent’s office. That is extremely powerful when, for example in Chicago we have over 300 agents across the city and suburbs. It gives each agent their own marketing effort, if they choose to do so, that targets their area of key influence or where they have the best sales opportunities, which is great compared with an agent who wanted to buy a radio ad that covers the whole market or a newspaper ad that might cover a huge area of the market that would be outside of their normal selling area.

The opportunity the Internet provides us is we have systems online where agents sign up and get billed for all these programs, see what is happening and any actions that are being taken through the programs — whether it’s clicks or quotes or calls.

What does State Farm want to communicate to customers? What are the brand’s needs in talking at the local level?
The most important thing is you have a State Farm agent right there in that market; that we are not a 1-800 company. We are a people-based company doing business with people. When we do agency advertising, for the most part we put the agent’s picture in the ad along with ways to contact that agent. The agents have a huge voice in the media they want to use in those markets. If they want to make changes, we certainly talk to them about additional opportunities, whether to brand themselves in the marketplace or to drive leads to them immediately.

Joao-Pierre Ruth is a Street Fight contributor.

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