In-Depth: Digital messaging – how can brokers use digital marketing to build a brand and customer base?


As digitalisation turns from lip service to concrete solutions, brokers are expected to keep pace with the rest of the industry.

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However, brokers don’t have the budgets of large insurers and will have their list of challenges to overcome as they integrate technology into their businesses.       

This becomes even more complicated as brokers try to harness an ever-increasing number of digital channels to engage and strengthen relationships with new and existing customers. Pádraig Floyd investigates.

Know your customer 

“You can use various digital channels to target clients – which ones you choose will depend on your target audience, objectives and budget,” says Millie Smith, marketing director at Berkshire-based Macbeth Insurance Brokers. 

Email and social media remain among the most used channels for regional brokers, but other approaches such as YouTube videos or digital advertising may be worth exploring if you are targeting a particular niche.

“The number one rule is to understand your target audience and give them a choice,” says Richard Morley, broking director at Markerstudy Broking, which covers several sectors.  “Our digital activity provides a highly targeted, cost-effective and measurable approach to improve brand awareness and generate new leads”. 

Smith believes the key to success is having a joined-up approach and making sure your assets reflect your brand.

“We all spend a lot of time online these days, but as humans we can be quite fickle. If brands arent front of mind, they can be forgotten,” she says. “By using a combination of content across the different digital channels you can appeal to a wide audience and position yourself as a trusted adviser.” 

Stick to your knitting 

When it comes to technology, brokers tend not to have in-house experts. Yet, websites are fundamental to brand awareness, education, administration, and even more basic transactional processes. 

“Our website is the shop window but theres more to it than having a few words and pictures on a WordPress template,” says Smith. “I’d always advise finding a good digital or web agency to help visualise what you want and guide you through how best to achieve it.”

Smith also highlights that websites can’t be left untouched after the initial investment. “Like the Forth Road Bridge, they are never finished,” she says. “You should always be looking for ways to improve them and serve your current and prospective clients better.”

Duncan Pagan, consulting services director at the Hedron Network agrees brokers should engage experts rather than tinkering with the digital space. Not because people can’t learn how to do these things, but because they already don’t have enough time to do it properly. 

“We’ve seen great success from brokers who are consistent with it,” he says . “But it’s like Formula One. The broker is the driver, charged with driving the car, but leaves the engine’s fine-tuning to the experts behind him.”

New customers, new messaging?

Digital channels require a somewhat different approach to communicating with customers, but the messages remain the same, even if our language is changing, says Morley at Markerstudy. 

“Consumer duty has improved our sector in focusing on transparency in communication and ensuring that our message is appropriate for our target audiences,” he says. “It is key to remove the jargon and simplify our communications, whether online or not.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Smith at Macbeth. “We know our industry doesnt have the most exciting of reputations. Our messaging needs to become more human, relatable. We need to talk to people as equals.”

For Oliver Burns, sales director at County Insurance Service, the messaging remains the same for most customers, except for the areas of risk that have become more relevant to County’s rural client base, such as business interruption cover that received greater attention due to COVID-19. 

“But it’s more than just that or even the legislative and economic impact on business from Brexit and the end of CAP,” says Burns. “One of the biggest areas of growth is cyber insurance because as more farms become more advanced, they go online, and all businesses are at considerable risk these days.”

Don’t fear digital channels 

Brokers new to digital may be worried not just about a return on investment but also about getting carried away and sailing close to the wind from a regulatory perspective. 

The type of brand you want to be will determine whether you want to push the barriers, says Smith. “If youve set out to be a challenger or disruptor then you might have to make some compromises but its perfectly achievable to create great impact and still be compliant.”

In reality, if something’s working in a traditional environment, you can try and replicate it on digital channels, says Pagan. 

“There’s a great opportunity to recycle old ideas. If the message is good, there’s no reason it shouldn’t transfer to a digital channel. But if you need to tweak it, you’ll see the results much more quickly.”

Work backwards from the customer, Pagan suggests, and consider who your prospects are and where you are sourcing them. That way, you will keep your audience in focus.

Above all else, make sure you have good data. Without it you can easily turn clients off – if you’re using personalisation, getting someone’s name right is fundamental.

Gareth Rowett, commercial and agricultural director at family-owned brokerage Rowett Insurance Broking, agrees new channels don’t need new content but realised the business needed specialist support as marketing was one job that got put off when things were busy. And things are always busy. 

Since then, marketing has been outsourced, and a regular blog is produced for the website. This has provided considerable traction for the business because he has found that customers and prospects have found the blogs useful and widely shared. 

Despite the blog’s popularity, Rowett admits that email is rarely used for campaigns and acknowledges it is “something we should probably do more of”.

However, in his case, social media has proved to be a successful medium and seen the business grow. 

He is now considering how to work video into the formats he uses to target customers across multiple platforms, including his current mainstays, Facebook and LinkedIn, and Instagram and TikTok. 

Don’t discount a 20th-century approach 

Email is a cost-effective, highly targeted channel to engage existing and potential customers and remains the digital weapon of choice for many brokers. 

For Smith, a good email campaign relies on planning, objectives, good content and quality data. “Know who youre talking to and provide them with something theyll want to read about. Try not to use it not as a standalone channel but as an asset in an overarching campaign. 

“Above all else, make sure you have good data. Without it you can easily turn clients off – if youre using personalisation, getting someones name right is fundamental.”

Pagan sees email as an opportunity to ‘prime the pump’, engaging with new and existing customers. 

“Customers don’t want to hear from you just at renewal,” he says, “and there are opportunities to lead them through important education.

This way, they get the opportunity to engage and won’t be surprised when you raise cyber as a key business risk at the end of the year.”

Mutually beneficial support

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the brokers we spoke to would be happy to work more closely with insurers, particularly around digital communications. 

Understanding the digital landscape potential customers operate within is essential to successful digital marketing, says Morley at Markerstudy.   

“Brokers and insurers can work together to ensure a clear understanding of their target customer base so that content and messaging is relevant and informative.”

Rowett acknowledges the benefits he gets from his network’s content and has also received support from insurers. However, he would be open to a more formalised, regular relationship around communications. 

Burns is open to anything from conversations with a broker-facing department to subsidised campaigns, which have proved “mutually beneficial” in the past.   

And he is enthusiastic about the benefits of product and/or scenario-based content insurers package up for brokers for use in co-branded campaigns.

Macbeth’s Smith also finds these ‘campaign-in-a-box’ solutions, such as those available from Aviva’s Broker Mentor, invaluable.

“Were all time-poor and thats no different for brokers,” says Smith. “If insurers can provide some of the initial content for brokers to reference, use or repurpose, theyre giving them the starting blocks for campaigns which will hopefully attract new clients and benefit everyone,” she says.

Simon Millar, CEO of Hertfordshire-based Albanwise Insurance Services, knows that differentiating his business in its niche requires more digital marketing. He also knows that without support, digital would produce more data that he simply doesn’t have the bodies to process, which is useless to anyone. 

Though he’d be open to working more closely with insurers: “To get into new technologies and new ways of working which are mutually beneficial would be brilliant,” he says.

While digital marketing may not be every broker’s area of expertise, it’s not an area that can be neglected, particularly in the current environment. A few simple changes, including exploring the help and resources that are readily available, can have a marked impact on generating consistent awareness and engagement from your target market.  

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