Social media, construction marketing and the not-so-level playing field

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brighterlife.ca siteA few days ago, I attended the Social Media Breakfast in Ottawa, reflecting the Design and Construction Network’s concept.  Online communities really want to extend to an off-line in-person environment.  The SMB concept, which originated in Boston, has attracted hundreds to regular meetings in Ottawa with live speakers and an hour or so of traditional muffins-and-coffee style networking (the sort of stuff that makes me cringe and become a primary client for Tim Klabunde’s Network Like an Introvert book, available on Amazon.com.)

Nevertheless, while I elected to avoid the in-your-face networking, outside of greeting a former editor and taking a few photos, the two speakers intrigued me.  How could an insurance and financial services company take the lead in social media and content marketing, and what could we learn from the experiences?

Darin Diehl of Sun Life Financial and Katherine Fletcher of High Road Communications  were careful not to give too much specific information that might give clues to competitors, especially the true budget for the betterlife.ca project to create an online community portal and make sure it is NOT self-promotional for Sun Life’s insurance, financial and benefits plan products and services.  However, you could tell pretty quickly that this is not a low budget operation, so when Diehl mentioned that the critical illness plan video had achieved 4,000 views, my somewhat cynical reaction was:  ”How much did it cost for each view?”

Nevertheless, the site looks good, has won awards, and shows how best practices in social media are evolving to large companies in regulated industries, where lawyers and bean-counters are careful to make sure everything is done properly.  The most important take-away:  Sun Life has had to figure out how to keep the content generic and relevant enough to be helpful to readers, to draw them in to more specific product and service offerings, but not to force the issue.  As well, it needs to be careful about relationships and branding especially with the agents and brokers who help to sell the Sun Life services.

Without specific numbers, we can only guess at the cost but this money is being pulled from other conventional media advertising budgets.  In fact, Diehl, a former publisher, said the essence of successful content marketing is to “think like a publisher” with a schedule, story list, and strategy.  The resulting content must look independent and be credible enough to be effective and retransmitted through social channels.  This is not good news for the conventional advertising-supported publishing industry,because when the big bucks move away from paid advertisements into producing “own media,” the conventional structures will be under real stress.

Nevertheless, the question is:  How can you apply this knowledge for your own business or practice?  Clearly, if you are facing high powered and resource-rich competitors, you will have some trouble maintaining your space or even gaining a foothold, but the world here is still much more democratic than when old-style publishers held all the keys to the marketing empire, and charged hefty fees to enter.

Now, you can create your own story, and share it inexpensively, and if your market is specialized and focused (as it should be), you can apply the big-dollar principles without huge expense, even if you aren’t selling critical illness insurance.

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