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The insurance market is considered soft currently, meaning that in many sectors, prices have dropped and companies selling business insurance must compete more aggressively to retain existing customers and acquire new ones.

Still, decision-makers who are responsible for their companies' risk management programs—which can encompass traditional insurance policies, such as employee health, property and casualty insurance, or emerging areas, such as pandemic preparedness—face an increasingly complex risk landscape. And agents and brokers who can establish themselves as trusted authorities have much to gain.

The size of a company often determines who is responsible for managing risk and buying insurance. The largest companies might have a chief risk officer, a risk manager, an employee benefits manager, a safety manager and HR people—all of whom are involved in various kinds of insurance decisions, said Martin Ross, VP-publisher of Business Insurance, a weekly newsmagazine published by Crain Communications Inc., BtoB's parent company. "But if you're a small, 12-person company, you still have to purchase insurance to protect your office, you have to buy health care for your staff, insurance for your products; so you, as the owner, would act as the risk manager and employee benefits manager," he said.

In between those two extremes, it can be C-level executives, VP-treasurers or controllers who make decisions about both property and casualty insurance and employee benefits—making a marketing strategy that reaches the C-suite a significant part of reaching this audience. "At the end of the day, that senior-level executive has to focus on all aspects of commercial insurance because, at some point in time, they affect the company's productivity," Ross said.

Especially when marketing to a sophisticated, numbers-driven audience, providing specific data—comparative pricing information, for example—can be particularly effective, said Philip Clement, global chief marketing and communications officer at insurance broker Aon Corp. "Present your clients with good information that's relevant, that's important to them, at the right time, and you're going to get a lot farther than you'll get just hoping that they happen to see a billboard or a magazine ad at the correct time."

Insurance broker Marsh Inc., a division of Marsh & McLennan Cos., has a strong focus on educating customers and prospects. In addition to many other marketing efforts, the company invests heavily in hosting on- and offline events to educate its audience about current and emerging risk topics.

For example, Marsh hosts webinars on worker's compensation and also has incorporated that content into an in-person risk-management education series called the Marsh Academy of Risk.

"Workers' comp is a huge issue," said Mark Bates, head of marketing strategy for Marsh in the U.S. "The rising cost of health care means that the contributions [employers are] making have been increasing steadily, so we wanted to shine the light on the issue as a way of helping companies understand how they could address the issue."

Clement said Aon has seen the most traction with "direct reach" marketing efforts, such as direct mail, telemarketing, e-mail and seminars. What's most important, however, is that the various efforts are integrated, he said. "Advertising alone doesn't do it; e-mail campaigns alone don't do it; seminars alone don't do it. Even creating intellectual property doesn't," he said. "It's using all of those vehicles simultaneously."

For example, he said, organizing an event that is timed to the release of a new white paper and supporting it through telemarketing and e-mail would be far more effective than using any of those individual channels alone.

"People are really getting used to tuning out anything that's just one type of medium," he said.

Clement said messaging that gets into specifics resonates more with insurance buyers than do broader brand messages.

Insurance agents marketing to smaller businesses are also advised to position themselves as trusted, knowledgeable advisers to their clients and prospects. "Insurance agents are a tremendous resource in the areas of protection and security," said Michael Jans, president and founder of Insurance Profit Systems, which provides marketing tools and business strategies for insurance agency principles. "They should constantly be dripping valuable information on their marketplace that delivers that message."

Jans said it's critical—particularly in a soft market—for agents to optimize their existing client base. "They need to execute marketing strategies that build very strong, unbreakable positive emotional bonds with their existing client base so that those clients don't leave even when someone else knocks on their door and says `I've got a lower price.' "

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