Knowledge Center

Knowledge Center Items Podcast Episode 58

How Your Best Marketing Happens When You Effectively Listen

Published on

It's easy to get caught up with what you want to tell someone.

What's more important is if it's something they want to hear.

Because there's a lot to be said for making something someone else's idea.

The only way to do that is to listen more than you speak.

Emily Hathcoat, Vice President of Marketing, talks about why that's her greatest communication skill and how you can make it yours.

For more Change Insurance episodes, click here.

Full Episode Transcript

Joey Giangola: Emily Hathcoat, how are you doing today?

Emily Hathcoat: Hey Joey, how are you?

Joey Giangola: I'm doing good. I want to know this before we really go into anything too worthwhile. What is the worst thing to spill?

Emily Hathcoat: Milk. By far.

Joey Giangola: Really?

Emily Hathcoat: Yes. It drives me nuts, and obviously I've had a lot of experience with this, because it's not just a liquid, but it's full of sugar, so you have to clean it up right away and then wash where it was, and then dry all of that. It's like a multi-step cleaning process, and that's why I think it's probably the worst thing to spill.

Joey Giangola: I feel like you haven't spilled enough horrific things yet, because that feels like an easy answer to me.

Emily Hathcoat: What's your worst thing to spill?

Joey Giangola: I dropped a whole carton of eggs out of my fridge once, and that was pretty terrible.

Emily Hathcoat: Yeah, that's a bad one. The eggs are bad too. They're all slimy and you can't really pick them up right.

Joey Giangola: There's nothing to do with that. Ground coffee, a bag of un-popped popcorn, these are things that I feel ... No? Doesn't phase you? Milk is the-

Emily Hathcoat: No, you just sweep it up.

Joey Giangola: I don't know. It's all over the place. I never feel like it's sufficiently cleaned up. All right. Fine. Because there are, we'll say, a lot of communication messes in the insurance industry, what do you view things as, in terms of how would you view cleaning up communication across insurance? Because it is sometimes something that we struggle with, versus it can have a lasting impact. It kind of sticks around. What are the things that stick out to you?

Emily Hathcoat: That's a really good question. Cleaning up from a communications perspective across the insurance industry. It kind of brings to mind a few things. One is the ... Throw in everything including the kitchen sink into communications. How many times have you seen communications out around insurance, and it's like, "And we have this. And we have this. And you need to know about this. And you need to know about that." You could tell that the whole thing was written by committee or somebody that didn't have a clear point of view. That, I think, we try to make a concerted effort to not doing and it's really hard. I know that it's hard because everybody wants their product featured.

I've been in this industry, in marketing specifically now for 20 something years, so I've seen a whole lot. You can immediately tell when someone didn't have a clear point of view that they're trying to get across, a clear message, and then a clear call to action. It's hard to get there, so I do think that's something that needs to be cleaned up.

Most recently, though, I just want to add into that I think the image of the diversity of our industry is something that we need to clean up, and that we talk about a lot within our organization, and we've talked about it a lot of times. But how do we project that image in all of communications, including in written word, from everything? Talk about accessibility, not just the imagery of the people that you're presenting, but even how you're presenting that message, what you're saying I think is the latest thing.

Joey Giangola: It certainly is. I want to go back to what you said around written by committee. This always bothered me too, is the lack of ... Insecurity might be a strong word to stand on the thing that you'd maybe be best at or most apt to communicate to a large number of people, and worry about moving them onto the other things as they enter through one gateway. What do you think the challenge is? How do you get comfortable with that, to say, "We know what we're good at, and we don't know need to tell them everything"? Is there something that you could go through a process to reconcile that with yourself to have that confidence?

Emily Hathcoat: I had a colleague who worked at a specialty carrier that sold one product line. He was able to tout all of these successes in leading to sales, and they had one thing to talk about, and I was always kind of envious of that because I said, we have hundreds of coverages that we offer, serving practically every industry, so I don't have that luxury. It took a lot of maturity in me thinking about how this is going to sit with the end audience, moreover than what's important to what we're trying to say, to help me get to that level of maturity in our messaging of being able to say, "No, we're going to talk about this one thing, because at this point in time this one thing is of most relevancy to our audience, and it supports our business goals."

I've said this to you in conversation, but I say it to everybody, to me marketing strategy is business strategy. Business strategy is marketing strategy. They go hand in hand. As marketers, we need to align to the business strategy and what the business wants, but finding that right time for that message. You can hear it in insurance. You can hear why one of the big brands starts promoting their boat insurance over their home owners. And then you start to hear things ... I just heard an ad on the radio, because I do listen to real radio with commercials and everything. I know. But they were talking about equipment breakdown, and I thought, "That's so interesting. What made them want to focus that message on equipment breakdown right now? What was the reasoning behind it?" Because they obviously sell a whole lot more stuff than that. How do you get to really refined to that one little point? I think it's a level of maturity and more thinking about what's relevant to your audience versus what the business is needing at that moment.

Joey Giangola: Yes, I love the marketing strategy, business strategy. The agent's perspective, they're sitting there in the agency, and the thing that always got me was they wanted to force one into the other. They wanted to force the business strategy into the marketing strategy, and they wanted to force the marketing strategy into the business strategy. Sometimes yeah, you want to compete on auto insurance, but that's something that's going to be hard to do in the digital world. That's something that you're not going to get a lot of traction for. Being opportunistic, I guess, with what you have available to you, and being comfortable saying, "It might not be our number one product, but we can get certainly a lot of attention through it." I don't know if there's really a question there, but that's one of the things that drove me nuts in terms of putting the two together.

Emily Hathcoat: Yeah. Exactly. That's the sales job, so marketing and sales go back and forth with each other. Sales should feed needs to marketing. Marketing feeds opportunity to sales. Then it's like, I'm going to get them in the door for you. It's your job to walk them through that door and seal the deal. My job is the door opener. And if they door opener is something that's catchy at that moment, look, I got him to you. Now you do your job because you're really good at it. And that's when you can talk about what are your real needs, and then you can start to match other coverages and do your cross sell and know where their gaps are, and say, "I've got this coverage, this coverage, this coverage. Now I can talk to you holistically as a client, one-to-one relationship," versus marketing's job is to get them in the door.

If boat insurance in the summer time months gets them in, but they also need home owners, there's your opportunity. I think it is a trade-off. And to me, the way that we've found success in doing that is just then by showing success in the numbers. But you have to be willing to take that risk as an agency owner or principle or the leading directors, or even any insurance firm, of taking that risk of letting marketing try it and see what the results are, and then letting sales do their job as to what they're really good at.

Have I stumped you?

Joey Giangola: If [inaudible]

Emily Hathcoat: I feel like I've stumped you on the next question, Joey.

Joey Giangola: No. This is where I want to go. If 80% of agencies are two million and under, give or take, somewhere in there. That number tends to fluctuate, right? That generally puts them in the 20 to 30 employee range, give or take. Of those 30 people, maybe one of them is a full-time marketer, maybe one of them is-

Emily Hathcoat: Maybe.

Joey Giangola: A half-time marketer. What is that conversation to the agency principle of that person that needs to open the door? Because forever, it's they're beating on their chest. They're the one that drags it in through the door. They're the one that does everything. How could agencies in that size range look to optimize that position, or just take a chance even, one, on a person, and/or if they wanted to level their skills up a little bit to even maybe be doing it themselves in a different way?

Emily Hathcoat: The world of marketing has changed dramatically. My husband studied advertising in college and they were still putting paper headlines over images, and how is this going to look in a newspaper. That was pretty much advertising at the end of the day when he was studying it. Fast forward to where we are now, the digital technologies and tools that are available to us makes everybody have access to what the world class brands have access to. It might be on a smaller scale, but there are so many softwares and service providers that their model is to have more people accessing their tools, which drives the cost down for everybody. You can always access that thing.

I think also the education around marketing how-to is way more accessible than it used to be. You used to have to go to annual conferences to learn what's new and what's next in the world of marketing, far be it try to find one that was focused on insurance. Fortunately, we do have one in our field. We have the Insurance Marketing and Communication Association, completely tailored to our industry. There's opportunities out there.

I think when talking to agencies, because I was very involved in the Big I and really had a lot of experiences in talking to agencies about marketing. They say, "Oh yeah, I've got somebody who does that part-time on the side." I say, "How are they doing for you?" "They make some flyers and they send out our client newsletter." There are so many more ways to go about using marketing, but it just depends on what your business goals are. If the principle is looking at their agency and saying, "Where are we going to find that growth this year? Is it in retention?" It doesn't always have to be new business. Maybe it's in retention. What are you doing for your client communications that's helping them to stay loyal to you, so that you're not just reaching out at the time of renewal and saying, "It's time to talk about your insurance." What are those little touch points that you can put together throughout the year that are meaningful to them that's also easy to get the data?

I love the agencies that have put together client communications programs strictly focused on retention, and then at the point, cross sell. The sales people do the cross sell. They don't have to do that in their marketing part of it. They're doing a client engagement kind of thing, and they know when the client's birthday is. If it's a business, they know when their business opened, so they know what their business anniversary is, and they have a touch point built in for those things. Because if you can gather that data, now there are systems where you can put that data into it, and you could literally build a self-running communications program for your clients, and it takes a lot to build it, but once it's going it takes very little to actually manage it. Instead of managing the execution, you're managing the data, and you're managing the results. And then you're looking to see, did this do anything for us? But that's a free, pretty much, no cost thing to do using an email system and probably your agency's CRM, or however you're managing your client data already.

It's the same thing of in the old days when you'd get a birthday card from your realtor. I still get one from my financial advisor. That stuff still works. I think it's a matter of trying to focus on what is your ultimate business goal. If it is about new business submissions, then there's different tactics to use in that way too. Where are your clients? How can you reach them? What motivates them? And what are you trying to do with that touch point, with that motivation?

Joey Giangola: I like the companies that think if they just get the birthday message within the month that you were born, they feel like they're winning, but I guess [inaudible] take it when you can get it. "Yeah, my birthday was last week, man, but hey, you're close enough. Sure."

Emily Hathcoat: Right. Yeah.

Joey Giangola: What do you think your greatest communication skill is?

Emily Hathcoat: Listening. I feel like that's also changed in the world of marketing too, is there was so much push out. Joey, I relate everything to marketing because that's just what I love to do and I constantly study and evaluate it. Marketing used to be a very push out the communications kind of approach. That was mar com. That was marketing communications, is we push out, push out. Now with all of the measurement tools and the social media that's available so your clients are actually talking and you can find things out about them, I think listening is the greatest skill professionally that I could have, but it's also probably my greatest communication skill. Because then that allows me to build on my second greatest communication skill, which is adapting the message to the audience. You can quickly figure out, how can I talk to this person? You can kind of figure out what's going to help me relate to them.

Joey Giangola: That was going to be my next question, and you kind of answered it so I'm going to go a version of that anyways. Once you're in that process of adapting, one, what is that like? What is that process like for you in terms of the things about? And two, what is your best tactical way to communicate it? Again, what feels like you've made the most headway in actually impacting that person with receiving that message?

Emily Hathcoat: Marketing to me is a little bit about getting somebody to do something that you want them to do, and making them think that they wanted to do it. It's a little bit of the ... I don't want to call it manipulation because that sounds really bad, but it is more trying to tailor based on what they have interests in. And ultimately, you're trying to get them to do something that you want them to do.

But isn't that kind of the case with a lot of business relationships? When you're in a business relationship and you're talking, everybody comes in with their own goals and expected outcomes of that, so you do need to have an outcome. I don't know if I actually answered that question specifically, but getting to know motivations I think is the biggest part. And then the style. Tone and voice is super important.

I once had a legal partner in my last company who said, "Our agents are listening to the classical music station. They're not listening to the rock and roll station." I thought, "No, actually, we know our agents and they're not." I don't need to talk. I don't need my voice, whether that's in words or imagery, to sound that way. I need it to sound this other way. If they had been in a more classical music genre or whatever, in that kind, in a little bit more subdued and longer words and a quieter voice and a little bit more steady, then I would've tailored it to that way. But they weren't. They wanted to be talked to like professionals and like colleagues, and that's a little bit different. I think that's probably one of the things everybody overlooks, is what's our voice, what's our voice, what's our voice? What is the person on the other end? How do they receive that? How do they want to be talked to and talked with?

Joey Giangola: I'm sure there's been many marriages saved with the idea of just making it their idea. That's what marketing is, I think.

Emily Hathcoat: It is.

Joey Giangola: It's just making you feel like it's their idea.

Emily Hathcoat: Yes.

Joey Giangola: It's a good tactic, and we're all trying to do it in some levels. You brought something around the idea of awareness, because sometimes you might not even be aware of how ... We go back to your greatest communication skill, listening, how do you level set, pull out of that, and get an awareness as to the way you are communication, how off it might be with, like you said, the classical versus the rock station? Is there anything you can do to maybe bring in somebody to say, "Listen, I'm going to say this to you, and how does this react to you?" I feel like lack of awareness in a lot of cases is something that challenges agents and the way they communicate as well.

Emily Hathcoat: That interpersonal communication, being able to form a connection with somebody, in our industry I think the agents have the hardest job in the world. There's a reason why I'm not on that side, because it's a very good business, love the entrepreneurial nature of it, what you put in is what you get out of it. That's great. It is so hard. The most successful people that I see are the ones that are able to realize how to form an interpersonal connection and communication, versus those who are not and just keep struggling. You're not hitting them. You're not relating to them in that way.

Joey Giangola: If we had to boil down everything to an agency principle or somebody that's looking to level up their communication within their own client base, what's the one thing that stands above everything else that you would say, if I had to do anything else, this is what I'm doing?

Emily Hathcoat: That's a good question. I think it goes back to the example that I talked about before of setting up that constant client communication. It's a lot harder to try to find new business than it is to keep your current business. If it was there's one thing, I would focus on how are we treating our current clients? Do we treat them like they are our bread and butter, that they matter to us more than anything? What does that part look like to your agency versus the new, new, new, I got to get my brand out there, I got to do this, I got to do that? There are so many different avenues that you can go down from a marketing perspective.

 And brand awareness and brand recognition is very important. It's what creates the surround sound so that your team doesn't have to spend the first five to 10 minutes of the meeting explaining who you are. They already know it. There are ways that you can do it that are authentic to you, your agency's message, what you stand for, that keeps that there. But if I were to start anything, if something didn't exist around how are we treating our current clients, I think that's the very first place that I would probably start, if nothing existed at all.

Joey Giangola: All right, Emily, a few more questions for you. The first one, very simply, what's one thing that you hope you never forget?

Emily Hathcoat: One thing I hope I never forget. There's a professional part of that answer, and there's a personal part of that answer. Professionally, I hope I never forget that it really is all about the customer, because it's very easy to forget that. You spend your days in meetings, you spend your days strategizing, you spend your days executing, delivering on all these things, and you think, "This is the greatest thing and it's totally going to work." Just always keep in mind that ... I hope I never forget that it's really all about the customer.

And personally, there are some great memories of my life I hope I never actually forget, but rules of thumb, I don't ever want to forget to just enjoy the little things day to day.

Joey Giangola: On the other side of that, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Emily Hathcoat: I have a lot yet to learn. That's the fun part of life, right? You learn something new every day, especially in insurance, especially in marketing, especially as a parent, especially as somebody within this world right now. There's a lot that I have yet to learn, Joey, and I don't even know the answer because I don't know what I have yet to learn. When I figure that out, I'll come back to you and say, "Here's what I hope to learn."

Joey Giangola: We'll let that one slide. Last question-

Emily Hathcoat: Thank you.

Joey Giangola: To you Emily, if I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to basically reshape, change, speed up, alter any part of insurance in any way that you see fit, what is that thing, where is it going, and what is it doing?

Emily Hathcoat: I don't know what the thing is, but I just wish it was easier to understand. Essentially, we're selling a contract. And I have spent ... And boy, agents have to do this, spent hours reading through contract language and trying to make sense of it myself. A general liability policy is super confusing because it's court-based language. Then you have to try to figure out what is this really trying to say? I do wish that we could make understanding insurance easier and a little bit more tangible to everybody. I think that would go a long way for our industry in attracting new talent, in not making the purchase feel so painful. Because to me, insurance is a social good. There's a reason why we have it. I truly believe in that.

We help make businesses whole. When something has happened, we help repair homes and families so that when something happens they don't have to move. The business doesn't have to go under. The people can still be employed. There's a huge social good to the world of insurance, and I think people don't realize that until they get into the industry. And even then it takes them a few years to realize the social good that insurance brings to our economy and to our country, to our world. I think part of that is just not understanding it. If we could make it easier to understand, I think that would go a long way.

Joey Giangola: Emily, this has been fantastic. I'm going to leave it right there.

Emily Hathcoat: Thanks, Joey.

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