John Boudreau is the chief operating officer and co-founder of Warwick-based Astonish, which provides digital marketing solutions for more than 800 insurance agencies. Boudreau works with CEOs to assist them in finding way to run their businesses more efficiently. Boudreau has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Gordon College.
PBN: Astonish works mainly with insurance agencies, but also with financial brokerages and group benefits firms. How do the needs of these industries compare, in terms of the services you provide?
BOUDREAU: From a technology and training perspective, there isn’t a great deal of difference. It’s about presenting our client’s brand to the modern consumer, so the marketing messages are different. Some agencies are marketing business-to-business, while others are marketing business-to-consumer, so we take that into account. The benefit of working with Astonish is that we’ve installed our system in all different types of agencies that sell a variety of products and services. This has given us incredible insight into what works and what doesn’t, giving us a proven starting point to create specific marketing plans for each customer.
PBN: Why is it so difficult for local financial services firms and insurance agencies to compete with national brands? What are their biggest challenges?
BOUDREAU: The biggest challenge for the local insurance agent is retooling their business to deal with the modern consumer. When I say “retooling,” I mean having the correct technology, marketing and training necessary to effectively and efficiently grow their business. It’s not just about having a great website, a great email marketing strategy or an effective customer relationship management tool. Agencies need training on how to sell and service modern, “social” consumers who expect to get what they want exactly when they want it.
PBN: Have you found that insurance and financial firms are sometimes more resistant than other industries to marketing and social media? How do you communicate to executives of these industries the value of these efforts?
BOUDREAU: At Astonish we focus primarily on the insurance industry, which, along with the financial field, has been very resistant to marketing. In the past, local insurance agencies’ main source of new customers was primarily from referrals. Their businesses grew over time and most of their customers renewed. This is not true today. Agencies and financial firms are seeing their customer bases erode. To turn this around, we encourage them to embrace the Internet and learn how to sell the way the modern consumer wants to buy. We provide clear strategies on how to use social media as a tool to stay connected with their customer base, which can help maintain customers and combat erosion when used correctly.
PBN: Financial services brokerages and insurance agencies work with a lot of sensitive client information. Part of Astonish's role involves making these companies more digital by moving many of their operations online. Have clients expressed concern about taking their businesses online? What steps does Astonish take to avoid any security concerns?
BOUDREAU: It depends on the size of the agency. We serve smaller agencies with one or two employees all the way up to enterprise-level clients. Most haven’t expressed this concern, as their main focus is getting their staff to buy into a new way of doing things. Many need a complete culture change and someone to help them with the correct training, marketing and technology to make that change as quickly as possible. Astonish takes all the right steps, from a technology perspective, to keep our clients’ data secure as well.
PBN: Your recent executive blog suggests that insurance companies use Pinterest and Instagram to connect with clients and potential clients in ways that reflect their lives. What recommendations has Astonish made for using these online photo sites and what’s been the feedback on this, for instance, to the suggestion of posting funny photos of insurance agents?
BOUDREAU: We base our recommendations on the needs and priorities of each individual client. Pinterest and Instagram are tools that we typically recommend to clients who already have a prominent presence across different social networks, such as LinkedIn and Facebook, or who may have someone on their staff with great visual skills and a good understanding of social media. One of our clients already has more than 1,100 followers on Pinterest. On their board they have a mix of content, ranging from local events to do-it-yourself home projects to pictures of the agency that showcase its culture. In terms of funny pictures of agents, the appropriateness of this approach depends on the personality of the agency. The fact that you take your work very seriously does not mean that you should take yourself too seriously. We do have clients who have been extremely successful in driving traffic to their site using humor, either through video or pictures of themselves, and they have translated that humor into strong relationships with their customers.