First published in ITIJ 120, January 2011
In a competitive travel insurance market, insurers can gain all-important differentiation through established and emerging digital marketing channels – they just need to be planned, applied and tracked effectively. In this second of a two-part series on digital marketing, Matt Barker explains how to do just that
The travel insurance market is highly competitive and insurers are constantly looking for ways to differentiate themselves. Digital marketing – whether referring to the more established channels or emerging channels, such as social and mobile – is an invaluable tool in this process, when applied correctly. The good news is that when implementing an online marketing strategy, there are some key things to focus on that will make your campaign much more likely to succeed. The key to any online success is to ensure that both ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ strategies are working together to guarantee that you are covering all sections of the market. Push, such as email and offline marketing, which can often be overlooked because they are not directly attributed to driving acquisition, will create the brand awareness; and the Pull, such as pay per click (PPC), search engine optimization (SEO) and affiliate, will work to convert these into sales.
Push me, pull me
The interesting element of the Pull channels is that there are some easy-to-follow ways to make sure that you are getting the most out of them. In the highly competitive travel insurance marketplace, where a premium is paid for PPC clicks and margins are low, it is imperative that SEO is at the heart of any travel insurer’s online strategy. Only a select number of keywords that are highly relevant to the business should be chosen for optimisation. And, crucially, they should also have the potential to deliver high traffic volumes. To achieve this, do proper keyword research – get as much input as possible from colleagues, competitor sites, focus groups and customers. The idea is to get inside your potential site visitors’ heads and find out what they would type into a search box to find your site pages. As well as the obvious high-volume terms such as ‘travel insurance’, travel insurers should look at more specific terms such as ‘travel insurance Europe’ or ‘ travel insurance New York’ – there will be less competition for these terms, meaning a greater likelihood of appearing in a top position on Google and other engines.
There are also a number of simple behind-the-scenes practices that will help your SEO, such as keeping your site code clean, but one of the key elements of successful SEO is links. You need to make sure that your internal link structure is optimised. Search crawlers navigate around your site through your navigation and internal links, so make sure your most important pages have the most internal links pointing to them, and that no individual page is orphaned (stuck without any internal links pointing to it).
In the highly competitive travel insurance marketplace, where a premium is paid for PPC clicks and margins are low, it is imperative that SEO is at the heart of any travel insurer’s online strategy.
Meanwhile, also consider your inbound links. Waiting for people to naturally link to your site can take a long time, so be proactive and have a link-building strategy to acquire quality links to your site. Also, review existing inbound links. Since getting new links to your site is quite a task, you should review the existing links that already point to your content, and correct any errors, make sure they are not pointing to dead pages, and even get them to change the anchor text to something better than just your URL (Uniform Resource Locator – or a link to your home page).
At the same time, it is important to engage with your visitors – allowing user interaction and comments on your site not only gives you constantly updated content, it also gives your site visitor greater connectivity with your site. Obviously, this needs to be monitored, but the benefits of an engaged audience outweigh the odd negative comment you should be acting on. Search engines love updated content on web pages, and this is an easy way to achieve higher rankings on a regular basis.
When it comes to your PPC strategy, the key is to develop long tail keywords (in a similar vein to SEO), so that traffic can be bought at a relatively cheaper rate and achieve a positive return on investment. Misspellings are also an important part of any keyword strategy – misspelling of the company brand name but also that of various cities and countries of the world should be included in your keywords. Also key to the PPC strategy is having relevant landing pages for traffic that is being directed via search engines. If someone searches for ‘travel insurance Las Vegas’ on Google, when they reach the destination page they will expect to see copy regarding Las Vegas and to easily be able to get a quote for this trip.
An affiliate programme is another important Pull channel and if used correctly can drive significant levels of incremental sales. It is important not to rely on two or three big affiliates to drive volume but to have a good mix of different affiliate types. Cashback sites should be approached differently and the quality of the leads and customers generated measured closely.
For all of the channels, it is essential to have robust tracking systems in place to make sure that you can clearly see what is working and what isn’t and adjust your strategies accordingly. A proven growth in sales will also help gain greater budgetary support.
Big world, small world
Beyond these more traditional digital market channels, it is also worth considering emerging channels, such as social and mobile, but this shouldn’t mean that you have to get involved straight away. The problem with social media is that a lot people feel they have to get involved, and jump in without putting a well-thought out strategy in place.
Social media is far from straight forward; everyone wants to do it, but very few do it well and make it work in terms of driving sales. The key ‘roadblocks’ that brands come up against when thinking about a social media strategy are:
- Internal politics – which internal team will manage the social strategy – PR, brand, online or category team?
- Resourcing levels – do you need a dedicated person/team and what are the escalation procedures?
- Brand protection – will it encourage negativity towards product/service because of the customer freedom and open platform?
If considering putting together a social media strategy, it is still essential to agree what you want to achieve. Recent research from Celent published in last month’s ITIJ shows that while 59 per cent of insurers believe that ‘social’ marketing is an effective way of achieving company goals, this is not reflected in their budgets. The reason is often because those on the ground can see the benefits but have not got the right parameters in place to prove its worth to those who hold the purse strings.
It is important to note that social marketing is very much a retention tool, not an acquisitions function. It still has a vital role to play in the overall marketing mix, but more as a brand communication tool. As a result, monitoring the success of social is very different to the hard figures that you often get with other channels, but that does not mean that goals and objectives cannot be set, especially when it comes to retention.
What’s more, any brands that offer a service to potential consumers have to be prepared for negativity on the social forums. The key to success with social media is to be able to turn that negativity around via a proactive, scalable management process that will ensure that you are actively seen to be dealing with issues on a one-to-one basis. This can only truly be delivered if you are tracking ‘sentiment’ over the forums using a robust tracking solution.
The problem with social media is that a lot people feel they have to get involved, and jump in without putting a well-thought out strategy in place
In fact, social media is a useful tool when it comes to reputation management and relationship building. One of the key benefits of social marketing is that it can help with one of the main issues in the insurance world – trust. In fact, according to a Mintel report published last year, one in three people say they don’t trust insurers to pay out when needed, and the issue of cover is one that needs to be addressed by insurers across the board. Social media, if used in the right way, can help build that relationship of trust between the insurer and their customers. Not only is it a way of encouraging word-of-mouth recommendations – which when it comes to trust is one of the most powerful tools – it allows people to have a two-way conversation with insurers as well, building a relationship and an understanding.
What’s more, social media is also a useful tool when there is a crisis – again, for customer retention – such as during the British Airways strike. Insurers can get advice to their customers quickly, positioning themselves as a useful source of information and support. This all does have to be handled carefully and reactions need to be quick, otherwise it will only add to the consumers’ frustration. Again, tracking sentiment is essential here.
For more measurable sales figures, there is the opportunity is to expand on the traditional ‘recommend a friend’ bonus scheme via social media. Again, the way that this is approached is key and it needs to be done in a way that will appeal – it should be fun and interactive and created so that those who get involved won’t lose credibility with their friends. For example, let’s say Traveller Smith is booking a holiday for him and his mates and arranging it on Facebook. Smith could be encouraged to sign up to an affiliate network when he buys his insurance. He would then use his unique link for his chosen travel insurance company so he could direct traffic to their site by including the link in his Facebook post – whenever someone buys through that link he would be credited with the sale and earn a commission. What’s to say the commission earned on the referrals Smith makes couldn’t be used to fund a night out when they are actually on holiday? The challenge here is how you communicate this offer in the first place – educating him and explaining how he could benefit from this – and handholding him through any affiliate sign-up process.
Mobile marketing could also be invaluable to insurers and they need to find a way to make this work for them. Often, taking out insurance can seem like a lengthy process and isn’t a part of the holiday booking that many people look forward to; so by introducing ways of taking out insurance that can be last-minute or quickly sorted, via mobile for example, so much the better. Offering a last-minute deal at the airport to those who have forgotten to buy travel insurance – that can be agreed via their mobile phone – would be a good starting place.
But, due to the regulations of the insurance industry, there is a balance that needs to be struck between making sure people understand the terms and conditions of their cover and making it quick and easy for people to sort it. And again, this is where the issue of trust rears its ugly head. So, before the insurance industry can move confidently into the mobile world, there is a need to build a level of trust with consumers, which is where social media could come into play.
Both traditional digital marketing and emerging marketing channels present the travel insurance industry with real opportunities to differentiate themselves in a competitive market. But it does not pay to just jump in. Yes, digital marketing, whether it is traditional or via an emerging channel, should be a central part of the marketing mix, but it needs to be carefully considered, your objectives clearly identified and results accurately tracked; otherwise any investment – both time and financial – will be wasted.