Since we launched Agency Nation, the number one question I’ve received is:

“What the heck is Agency Nation and why do we need it?”

But rather than tell you what it is, I’d like to share with you how it came to be and, as I share with you the challenges we were trying to solve, I think it will become apparent what Agency Nation is and why we need it.

Even before we launched the Consumer Portal – the new TrustedChoice.com – we were acutely aware that we needed an accompanying information and resource center where agents could discover everything they needed to know about digital marketing and learn how TrustedChoice.com could help them succeed online.

In fact, as early as the spring of 2013, Dick Poppa, CEO of IIABNY, and I were talking about the need to create a comprehensive training and education resource for agents, because we both considered it critical to our success with the Consumer Portal.  And I was getting similar input from other state associations and agents across the country.

At TrustedChoice.com, these are the questions we have been asking ever since:

  1. Do we need to provide a free online education platform where independent agents can learn what they need to know to successfully market their agencies online?
  2. Do we need to inform agents about the benefits of participating on the national Consumer Portal for Independent Agents – TrustedChoice.com – as part of that education?
  3. Do we need to offer independent agents a forum for collaborating on digital marketing strategies and tactics?  Do we need a way to share ideas about how to market ourselves online?  Should we provide a forum to debate these ideas, to offer alternatives, and to discover and publicize best practices?
  4. Should this be a crowd-sourced resource for our industry?  Do we want to talk at independent agents or talk with them?  Do we want active participation, contribution and feedback from all interested members of our industry – from agents and carriers and association executives and service providers and technologists and researchers?
  5. Do we need to create and publish content in order to fulfill this mission?  Do we need to post videos, blogs, white papers, podcasts, discussion threads and other educational materials in order to communicate all of these ideas?

Our answer to all of those questions was repeatedly YES.

We needed to do all of this and more.

What kind of education and training content were we imagining? 

Whatever would succeed at engaging the most agents is the simplest answer.  But more specifically, we were imagining all of the following:

  • Podcasts of interviews with industry leaders like carrier executives, association executives, prominent agents, etc.
  • Info-graphics that explain how Social Media works and how agents can tie into these organic networks to market their agencies, etc.
  • Discussion threads where agents can pose their own topics and ideas and/or respond to others’ posts with comments and feedback.  Etc. etc.

Where do we put all this content?

But our next question was much harder to answer:

WHERE DO WE PUT ALL OF THIS?  

We need to create this fairly massive and growing online resource center, which we want to be easy to find and easy/inviting for agents to engage with.  Where do we put this very important online resource for the IA channel – all the videos, blogs, podcasts, webinars and discussion threads?   Where do we put that on the web?  And where do we put it on the web if we want to give it the best possible chance for success.

We had some logical choices…

TrustedChoice.com

This was obviously the first place we considered.  But we quickly realized that this wasn’t the best place.

TrustedChoice.com is completely consumer-focused.  Everything on TC.com is oriented to educating consumers on the value proposition of independent agents, helping insurance buyers become informed and empowered buyers of insurance, and helping them find the right independent insurance agent for them and their family or business.

This focus on the consumer has been very carefully engineered.  It is a big part of our SEO strategy.

If we dilute our content focus on the site by attempting to serve more than one audience, we risk compromising our SEO strategy – we risk confusing Google about what our site is about and who Google should be sending our way.

If we devoted a significant portion of TrustedChoice.com to hosting this agent education and training resource center, then consumers (and Google) would see all of these materials too (materials that may frankly discuss the weaknesses of independent agents in terms of current marketing and sales abilities, and an open and even rigorous debate about which tactics work best, etc.).

It’s not what consumers want to read – it would confuse them.  And not what the Google search algorithms will understand how to deal with.

This would hurt our SEO strategy, which is the key to our ability to grow traffic to TrustedChoice.com, grow the brand image of Trusted Choice with consumers, and generate leads for participating members, which is our core purpose.

ProjectCapMarketing.com

Originally, this was obviously also considered as a home for the education and training resources we knew we had to offer. This is a former website of TrustedChoice.com where agents could learn about and purchase various digital marketing services and products.

But this site is now very purposefully gone.

The truth is that it was a sales website for the former Project CAP; it was not intended to be an open and collaborative education resource center for independent agents.  And even if it were, we didn’t think agents wouldn’t accept it as such.  So that was rejected as well.

IIABA.com/IndependentAgent.com

We could have asked IIABA if they would consider hosting our digital marketing education and training resource center. But we didn’t think it was the right place to host it.

IIABA.com is the official website of the IIABA and by extension, all of the state associations and the subsidiary arms of the association (Invest, Big I Markets, InsurPac, ACT, etc.).

IIABA.com is where agents and the public (and Google) expect to find information about the official activities of the association – legislative and regulatory issues, membership issues, member benefits, etc.

We didn’t feel like it was the right place for an open forum for all independent agents to learn about, debate and collaborate on digital marketing strategies and tactics.

However, we do think all IIABA websites should consider including prominent links to the resource center and post content derived from the resource center at their discretion.  And we welcome all contributions and input from IIABA.com on how the two sites should interact.

ACT.org

We did briefly consider asking ACT (Agents Council for Technology) if they could host the resource center, but we concluded it wouldn’t work for a number of reasons, but the most important reason was audience.

ACT’s focus has always been on technology and agency system automation and integration.

The users of ACT tend to be CTOs, CIO’s and IT folks, not the agency principals, producers and agency marketing managers that we think should be the core audience for this online learning center for agents on digital marketing strategy.

So where???

Why Agency Nation

The only place we could think of was to build a new location on the web.  A new website with a unique web location – one that met all of the following criteria:

The site must…

  1. Serve a large but cohesive and defined audience – all independent agents – most particularly agency principals, producers and marketing professionals, but also other closely-related stakeholders, including insurance company people and association executives and service providers and technologists and marketing researchers, etc.;
  2. Address a focused topic – education and training for Independent Agents on digital marketing and branding, and promoting/encouraging their participation on TrustedChoice.com;
  3. Be domain-separated from TrustedChoice.com so we don’t confuse consumers;
  4. However, remain clearly related to TrustedChoice.com (notice all the powered by TrustedChoice.com labels all over the site) so we don’t confuse agents about who is providing this valuable resource to them;
  5. Be domain-separated from TrustedChoice.com so we don’t confuse Google and thereby compromise our SEO strategy;
  6. Be clear about its relationship through TrustedChoice.com with the IIABA, crediting its sponsorship (to the extent that IIABA wishes);
  7. Allow a crowd-sourced and open-forum approach – inviting all well-intentioned contributors that are willing to abide by our contributor guidelines to be participants in the conversation – this turns stakeholders into evangelists and allies;
  8. Give us full content and editorial authority to enforce an open but rigorous and professional content contributor policy;
  9. Be a site that actively promotes TrustedChoice.com and the Trusted Choice national co-brand for independent agents and the Big “I” state and national associations, without being a sales platform for any of them;
  10. Be hosted on a domain name that is easy to remember and easy for agents to refer their colleagues to.

So we came up with a web address that met all of these criteria: agency.onlineworkbook.com.

And that’s what agency.onlineworkbook.com is.

It’s our new online resource center for educating and training independent agents to grow their businesses online.

We hope you will check it out.

We think it’s going to be pretty cool.

Thank you,

Chip Bacciocco
CEO – TrustedChoice.com
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