For those of us in digital marketing and local SEO, we tend to think of reputation as review stars and ratings only. I think there is more to it than that and a lot of opportunity for a business to build their reputation online in more ways than stars.
A couple of years ago, Buffalo, MN insurance agent Mark Benzer asked to take me to lunch to pick my brain and ask some questions. Mark had recently transitioned out on his own in the insurance world with a new office and was eager to understand how he could win at local digital marketing to build his business. I got a free turkey sandwich and Mark got a lot of advice.
So let’s take a look at how an insurance agent put together a local digital marketing strategy focused on building visibility and reputation, and the use of a personal reputation management is the best option for this.
Ideas Are Great, Action Is Better
Mark asked great questions, took notes and I could tell he had the passion and curiosity to take action. Of course, we talked a lot about local SEO, Google My Business, and online reviews, but we also discussed how to use the online world to grow your reputation, reach, and mentions. What’s been fun for me is getting to see what that action looks like in the last year.
One thing I really stressed to Mark was how visibility was everything. As an SEO, we think of this as ranking and search results. But that’s just one piece of the web and your digital marketing and being visible in other ways online are also important, especially in a local community.
We also talked about how insurance is a bit boring or not sexy, so anyway you can attach yourself to other topics, events and things is super valuable. This is where I have seen Mark shine since our talk and I want to share some of these with you.
Building Reputation As A Community Voice
The biggest thing Mark did was create and co-host a community podcast with a local realtor. Mark and real estate agent Tyler Reiss host the Buffalo Community Podcast that interviews other local business owners, teachers, community members, and more. This is a great vehicle to be seen and heard for these two as they use supporting others to gain themselves visibility … and reputation. A reputation that says we care about others and our community.
Their podcast is both audio and video and helps them build content on YouTube, podcast services and especially Facebook. I’d venture to say if Mark was posting about auto insurance or homeowners insurance he wouldn’t be gaining thousands of views, dozens of likes, comments and shares using a community-focused podcast like he is.
Mark shared that in putting together the podcast “I’ve learned that it takes patience and faith. Don’t start a podcast thinking your phone will start ringing in the near future because of it. There are many moments when you question if what your doing is beneficial. Several months in and I’m just now starting to see fruits of the labor. My favorite part of the Buffalo Community Podcast is that it’s not a Mark Benzer /COUNTRY Financial and Hoekstra Reiss infomercial. I’ve learned the best way we can bring value to our guests is by putting the spotlight on them in a way that hopefully viewers find informative and entertaining.”
Mark also discovered that partnering with another local business to create the podcast was a huge benefit for him. It helped increase his confidence and improve organization and promotion.
“It’s very easy to quit too soon because you’re not getting results and/or you lack faith that it will ever work. It will take time and I don’t think there’s a magic number. Most importantly is to find a mentor or somebody who can be strong where you are weak.” shared Mark.
“Take myself for example, I needed Tyler to lead the way on the podcast. I lacked technical knowledge and frankly the confidence to launch it. It wouldn’t have happened without him. I very quickly grew comfortable with the process and now have no issue putting myself out there for the world to see. I never considered myself much of a self-promoter until one day it hit me how ridiculous it is to try to run a business with that mentality. Not only is it ok to promote yourself, but necessary to let the world know why they should be doing business with you!”
Supporting Local Events
Finding ways to support and gain visibility with local events is another great strategy to build local awareness and reputation. Mark didn’t have to think too hard here as he combined his love of baseball, history of playing with the local amateur team and a desire to gain mentions on Twitter.
Mark sponsored a “player of the game” for the Buffalo Bulldogs this summer, who just wrapped up a great season with a top 10 finish at the state tournament. Each game, Mark would sponsor a player of the game and get in front of local baseball fans.
It’s not hard to see that this type of mention and tweet is far more visible than some auto insurance stat or sales pitch. At least a few times a week Mark is part of a tweet that gets retweets, dozens of likes and strong local visibility.
“As far as twitter goes, and I learned this from you, I’ve learned to piggyback on the brand of others. I’ve niched out in the local sports community leveraging my relationships with the Bulldogs and high school sports and in turn taking advantage of the local sports editors hyper-local following through his retweets. Realistically COUNTRY Financial is never going to have an Aaron Rodgers, or Russell Wilson helping build the brand of my business but that provides me a tremendous opportunity to control and build a very unique Mark Benzer COUNTRY Financial brand locally.” said Mark about his Twitter strategy.
Paying It Forward
I don’t actually recall suggesting the idea but it illustrates how Mark has shifted his mindset to create these opportunities.
Mark recently opened a tab at the local brewery for teachers, in appreciation of the hard work ahead of them for the 2020-21 school year, especially during a pandemic. He later expanded the tab to also be available to first responders locally too. What a great way to show appreciation for your community, providers, and get great visibility from it.
It’s not hard to realize that this effort and Facebook post has more reach than boosting an insurance related fact or service post or running an ad. His multiple posts on his open tab at the brewery generated dozens of shares, hundreds of likes and many comments full of appreciation for his generosity. He even had clients of his add to the tab total to pay it forward even more. Cheers to a great idea Mark.
Being Local (SEO) Is A State Of Mind
When Mark and I met for that lunch, my biggest point was just helping Mark see a different way to view local marketing opportunities in a local SEO and digital marketing way. Nothing above is earth-shattering, but when viewed the right way and executed on you can create a lot of visibility and build a reputation that will bring you long term success in both marketing and business.
Mark is building a great reputation locally and it doesn’t involve review stars. I asked Mark to comment on the business impact after months of implementing these things.
“The impact to my business has been immeasurable, literally immeasurable. I could tell you I’ve grown my premiums multiple amounts of dollars since the podcast started but that is only one metric. I cannot tell you who may be a client or refer a client in the future.
“There is nothing like the feeling of a total stranger calling you by name to tell you they enjoyed a podcast episode.
“My hope is that when the time comes for an insurance quote, my name is on their list of people to call. I don’t have to be the only name, but an opportunity is all I can ask for.
“In the ultra-competitive world of insurance with each company claiming to be cheaper than the next, I need to be so much more than a cheap premium. Being active and engaged in digital marketing gives people an opportunity to get to know me a bit well before I ever meet them.”