Marketing Is Like Making Chocolate Chip Cookies

Copyright Annmarie Geddes Baribeau

Copyright Annmarie Geddes Baribeau

I make the best chocolate chip cookies in the world, bar none! Doing so is a lot like marketing and communicating in the insurance industry.

Here’s why:

1) Products and services, like chocolate chip cookies, can seem the same.

Chocolate chip cookies can seem the same before you taste them. Mine have a unique “yum” factor.

In business, the “yum” factor – known as the value proposition — describes what makes your company unique and entices customers to come back for more. That “yum” factor is the basis for messaging.

Think about your company’s products and services and how they look compared to your competitors. Can you identify your company’s “yum” factor that truly stands out from the competition?

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Can you identify your company’s “yum” factor?
_______________

Insurance companies, along with firms that serve the industry, often struggle with this. From actuaries to brokers to third party administrators, the challenge is the same. All of them insist they are trustworthy, cost efficient and customer-focused service-oriented problem solving experts. 

The potential customer wants to know why they should choose your organization.

Personal auto insurers often compete by price and message through personas. Flo or a gecko, however, will not cut it for B2B marketing. Business customers are more sophisticated and consider other factors, such as credibility and quality service, in their buying decisions.

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2) Marketing and communications strategies and tactics, like chocolate chip cookies, generally have the same or very similar ingredients.

Chocolate chip cookie recipes vary. Of course they include chocolate chips, but also sugar, flour and leavening agents such as baking soda. Besides the mix of ingredients, choosing their quality also affects the end product.

A successful communications strategy must include, among other elements: knowledge of the customer, their values and pain points; clear goals, messaging and appropriate channels to reach the appropriate markets.

3) In both cases, ingredients are just as important as techniques.

After identifying the proper ingredients, the skill lies in combining and delivering them cohesively so the intended market clamors for more. It means choosing the right balance of elements to deliver a cohesive and effective message that spurs customer desire.

My chocolate chip cookie recipe comes from a cookbook more than 50 years old.

However, the reason why my cookies carry the guaranteed yum factor is not just because of what is in them, but how I bake them. I’ve shared my recipe many times but others don’t achieve the same results. That’s because I developed my baking technique, which I will also share when asked.

So what’s the take away? If your insurance communications, marketing or public relations approaches are not providing the desired results, it’s time to figure out why. Is it the ingredients, packaging or delivery?

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The trick is determining the right balance
of traditional and cutting edge approaches
that will showcase your firm’s “yum factor.”
_______________

It always surprises me how little insurance industry clients understand their audiences and what they really want. Failing to invest in market research is a key reason.

Further, I am seeing a lot of companies get so wrapped up in digital and online everything that they forget that some of the most traditional ways of selling products still work. The trick is determining the right balance of traditional and cutting edge approaches that will showcase your firm’s “yum factor.”

The key is to find out how current and potential customers like to hear from your company. Finding that out should be part of market research.

4) Let them bake cake.

While I am a chocolate chip cookie baking expert, when I need a nice looking cake, I go to the bakery.

Sure, I can make a reasonable rustic looking cake, but when it’s party time, I let the experts do it. The same is true for insurance marketing and communications. When expertise and time limitations are interfering with results, it’s time to seek outside help.

By the way, if you want that chocolate chip cookie recipe, just contact me at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com. Inbound marketing, after all, is about sharing!

What’s your company’s yum factor?

Tips for Hiring and Working With Freelance Writers

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

By Petr Kratochvil (Public Domain)

Finding a freelance writer who will truly meet an organization’s needs requires a lot of consideration. Like any other profession, freelancers vary on experience, professionalism, expertise and quality. At the same time, those looking to hire freelance writers have to be clear on their expectations.

A quality writer can help boost your content marketing efforts and search engine optimization. As I promised in an earlier blog, I am offering my thoughts on hiring freelance writers. This perspective is based on my experience as a paid writer and public relations professional for more than 40 clients during the past 25 years.

Here’s what you need to know:

• Be clear about your business objectives. I’ve had potential clients who wanted an article, a blog or web text only but when I asked them the ultimate goals, they could not be identified. As a result, I worked with some of them on business plans, marketing plans and value propositions so they could re-think what they really needed. Be wary of writers who will do a job without understanding the purpose or desired results.

• Finding the best writers requires some research. If you enter “freelance writers” on a search engine also add the desired subject expertise.

• Look for writers with proven publishing success. Always examine the writer’s content, which in this day and age should be easily available online.Here are some questions to ask yourself:

☐ Do I like the writer’s style?
☐ Is there evidence of quality content that will draw readers to your business?
☐ Where has the writer been published?
☐ Are there online references? If so, are they specific about what they like about the writer?
☐ Can the writer show evidence he or she can handle the assignment? Writing news releases is easy. Producing magazine features, booklets or annual reports requires specialized experience.

• Only hire writers who ask about your audience. If writers do not ask about the intended audience, they have missed the most important element of effective communication. It shows their priorities are more focused on producing work and being paid than meeting their clients’ needs. For some clients, I have provided some informal market research and customer interviews so everyone better understands the intended audience and their needs.

• Check out the writer’s LinkedIn profile. Does the writer’s network include an impressive array of professionals? Are any of them in your network?

• Know the assignment details ahead of time. Can you provide subject matter experts or will you also be paying for research? When is the assignment due? How long is it? What’s the re-purposing plan? What is the corporate style? Is this a one-time only project? Know this ahead of time instead of making vague inquires.

• Do not expect writers to start work immediately. The best writers are busy. Ask when they can be reasonably available to start and finish your project.

• Be sure you can be available to answer questions and help the project move forward. Often, writers will not realize the full scope of a project until they are fully engaged in it. They will likely have follow-up questions, necessary to complete their assignment. Quality writers will also offer advice on editorial packaging.

• Ask how they want to be compensated. By the word? By the hour? By the project? There are pros and cons to these approaches for both the writer and the customer. Some writers will even barter for products or services.

• Compensate fairly. I remember one potential client who wanted to pay me $10 per hour. I declined. Not only was that less than the minimum wage after I pay taxes, but I had not worked for so little (practically free) since I was in college writing articles to build my portfolio! Proven publishing experience and expertise should translate in a better product that is less hassle to produce. Reliable, quality writers that make your life easier are worth their weight in gold.

• Pay in a timely fashion. Payment in full within 30 days is customary, but everyone appreciates being paid sooner.

• When the project is over, ask them how it went. Finding a writer you enjoy working with is not just a matter of professionalism but personality. Ask the writer for feedback on their experience can help you decide to hire them again or clue you in to internal issues that hampered progress. Offer them the same courtesy. Let the writer know if you intend to hire again and explain why.

What other tips would you offer to someone looking to hire a writer? Please share in the comments section below.

To Write Successful Marketing Content, Think Like A Journalist

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Courtesy of Mike Lincht NotionsCapital.com via flickr.com

Online content marketing is an essential way to reach potential customers. This approach has certainly worked for my clients and my company.

The primarily goal of content marketing is to provide “organic” content — as opposed to advertising — to boost Search Engine Optimization (SEO) to attract potential customers.

While executives can get excited about the bells and whistles of technical SEO, the truth is that content remains king. After all, if the written material does not attract search engines to your website, what’s the point?

So it’s curious to me that so many companies do not make the necessary investment for unique and useful content that is more likely to garner the all-coveted higher search engine rankings.

You no doubt see the results every time you do an Internet search. Since anyone can publish on the Internet without editorial scrutiny or peer review, the cyber world is filled with a lot of distracting and frustrating written refuse. There’s too much content “noise” on the Internet: material that is too generic, doesn’t answer reader questions or even worse, is duplicative from other websites.

The explanation for Internet noise is simple. Content marketing is a form of self-publishing and yet, much online copy is not produced by publishing professionals.

So to become an awesome content marketer, you need to think more like a quality-minded publisher or journalist. Consider this: just as a byline is the journalist’s brand, the material your organization publishes reflects its brand. Some experts call this brand journalism.

Publishers and journalists understand they must thoroughly know their audiences to offer content so compelling that busy people will sacrifice their time to read it. Yes, I mean sacrifice. By publishing a piece, you are asking the viewer to read your stuff instead of doing something else.

Frankly, I am always amazed at the marketing hype that gets published by people who don’t want to spend their precious time reading the hype of others.

_____________

Is your company’s content so awesome
that someone would actually pay
for the privilege of reading it?
_____________

I’ve also been equally shocked by how many professionals I have encountered who are not well acquainted with their customers’ needs and situations. Such information is necessary for producing quality content that will best serve customers. Investing in interviews, surveys or focus groups is a great way to know your customers better. (And by the way, you’ll also get great content ideas.)

The key is to show – not just tell the customer – why your firm is unique and how that equates to better products and services. That means no direct sales material or the blah, blah, blah about your company’s greatness. Ways to show, instead of tell are: publishing expert advice and insight, providing testimonials and case studies that solve common problems.

Professionals with publishing backgrounds understand that to make money, they must produce material that is so credible, useful and compelling that a person would buy it (through subscription) or it will attract enough readers to sell advertising.

Ask yourself a question. Is your company’s content so awesome that someone would actually pay for the privilege of reading it? If so, they will keep coming to your website for more!

Your organization’s content should showcase your expertise and build credibility with your potential and current clients. This is another reason why I recommend a journalistic approach. Strict journalistic standards push out the hype and sloppy content because every sentence must be justified.

Such journalistic standards include:

  • Knowing the reader. This cannot be emphasized enough! 
  • Assuring accuracy. Fact-check and double fact check when referencing other authors or sources. That means that proper nouns must always be correct or they are factual errors. 
  • Clarifying the purpose of the article, blog or other material and ensuring it answers the famous: who, what, when, where, why and how questions. 
  • Being specific. Instead of writing, “according to a study,” you name the study, the organization that published it and provide a link. 
  • Anticipating and answering reader questions about the subject. 
  • Presenting material in its appropriate “editorial package” by considering the appropriate use of graphical elements such as bullets and art. 
  • Staying concise. That does not necessarily mean keeping material short. Search engines do reward thoughtful and longer pieces. Aim for smaller sentences, tighter and active wording (for example, overusing the phrase “of the”) and phrasing that compel further reading.

Applying such standards for producing unique and high-quality content takes a lot of time and adjustment. So what are you to do?

There are several approaches. You can:

  • Buy generic material about insurance that is pretty affordable, but since it is not original, it is more likely to be pushed down by the search rankings. 
  • Produce content in-house, making sure that you have an editor who will approach the article journalistically. 
  • Hire a freelance writer with a journalism background. Writers with solid reputations, years of experience and who know the subject matter (or know what to ask) will likely cost more. Just think of the time it takes subject matter experts, consultants and executives to produce well-written material. Compare that to the cost of hiring a seasoned writer. Besides receiving quality and unique content, you should also benefit from ideas for re-purposing, new stories, different angles and approaches and creative ways to present material.

Conclusion

Publishing unique and quality content is more important for boosting SEO than technical SEO enhancements. By approaching a subject like a journalist, you will enhance your organization’s brand to build trust and credibility that should attract potential customers.

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Industry Spotlight: 20 Questions with Annmarie Geddes Baribeau

Claimwire Interview by Steve Schmutz

avatar Steve Schmutz 08/26/13  

I first heard about Annmarie on LinkedIn. I saw a link to one of her articles that caught my interest. It was excellent – and refreshingly real. Too many articles today are bland re-runs – no personality and nothing new. I started reading more of Annmarie’s articles and found them all to be well-written and well thought-out. We started communicating via LinkedIn groups and email. I wanted to highlight Annmarie because she offers great insight in an industry that tends to be pretty boring. I wanted Annmarie to get more exposure, so I invited her to be interviewed.
Here’s my interview with Annmarie Geddes Baribeau, President at Lipold Communications, LLC.

#1 Claimwire: Where did you go to school and what did you study?

I graduated cum laude from Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, but I earned more credit hours in political science.

To learn more about Claimwire, please visit www.claimwire.com

To learn more about Claimwire, please visit http://www.claimwire.com

#2 Claimwire: Can you share something about you that most people wouldn’t know?

My dream is to write historical fiction.

#3 Claimwire: What are some of your hobbies?

Gardening, cooking, sewing and genealogy. I also love to read history and biography. Any book by historian Paul Johnson is a winner!

#4 Claimwire: What people have influenced your life, and in what ways?

The list is eclectic:

Jesus What he says makes more sense to me than even the most modern thinkers.

Dr. Frank J. Henderson. He was a political science professor at Ohio University who valued critical thinking over rote memorization.

Roberta Matty. She gave me my first publishing gig as a weekly columnist at my hometown newspaper when I was in high school. She has been my friend and mentor ever since.

For workers’ compensation, there are so many I could mention. If had to pick out one person, however, it would be Roger Thompson, a retired executive from Traveler’s Insurance. He a true visionary and helped me to become one as well.

#5 Claimwire: What historical figures do you look up to and why?

Abraham Lincoln. His life demonstrates the strength and resilience of the human spirit. He managed to keep this country and his family together while suffering personal loss and caring for his mentally ill wife.

#6 Claimwire: What two or three Smartphone apps do you use the most – for either business or personal use?

LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.

_______________
I am tired of public policy discussions
that sound like union-management contract negotiations! 
That is so last century!
______________

#7 Claimwire: Give us a brief recap of your career.

I started my career as a writer for the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation. After that, I was a Cleveland business reporter with my own live-call in radio show. When I moved Washington, D.C. , I became the lead reporter for BNA’s Workers’ Compensation Report.

I started freelancing about 13 years ago. My public relations company has been going strong ever since. It has given me opportunities I would have never enjoyed had I continued as a full-time reporter. I also write freelance articles on occasion.

#8 Claimwire: What factors motivated you the most to start Lipold Communications, LLC?

The pursuit of the so-called family/work life balance.

As I mentioned, my daughter was born and I realized my net income as a full-time reporter did not justify the opportunity costs for my family and me. My company has provided a higher net income on a part-time basis than my previous full-time job. When my second daughter was diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age 3, I could be there for her and my income did not suffer.

#9 Claimwire: Tell us how Lipold Communications, LLC is doing and what you see in the next two to three years.

My company is doing well. I am the process of developing a new business and marketing plan and re-naming and re-branding my company.

As a sole proprietor, the business plan process includes soul searching. The Internet and social media are offering me new ways to grow my business. The opportunities are both exciting and daunting.

#10 Claimwire: Other than your product, what are the greatest assets and strengths Lipold Communications, LLC has?

It starts with the value proposition. My company offers a unique combination of established insurance industry expertise with nearly all the services you would expect from a public relations company.

When I went into public relations, I promised myself I would never be a propaganda hack! My clients and my company benefit from the journalistic approach to everything. This means asking the tough questions and publishing reliable information that builds trust and credibility for my clients, their current and potential customers, and my business.

#11 Claimwire: If you had to boil Lipold Communications, LLC down to one sentence, what would it be?

Lipold Communications, LLC provides expert insurance public relations services to build trustworthy brands.

#12 Claimwire: What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make as President of Lipold Communications, LLC?

Re-considering my company’s name and direction.

#13 Claimwire: Where do you see the insurance industry headed in the next few years?

Technology will continue to define change in the insurance industry on several levels. Smart apps, gamification and integrated predictive modeling will change even the smallest pieces of the insurance process.

Employees will be able to file a claim through an app, which will guide them to the appropriate doctor for the best immediate medical treatment and begin the claims process.

Since software is becoming more intelligent and intuitive, even new claims examiners will catch potential hitches in the process. Thanks to “integrated predictive modeling,” a term I coined, underwriters will better reward employers who truly follow best practices in workers’ compensation.

Employers who effectively communicate with employees to enhance safety programs and inspire immediate filing of legitimate claims will not have to wait years for their investment to reflect the experience modification factor to save premium dollars. The claim examiner’s app could include return-to-work options already identified by the employer. This also can be factored into the experience mod, which will be extinct in the next 10 years, at least for large employers.

The success of technology relies on effective communication, which is sorely lacking in many areas. Most companies make the mistake of not investing enough in communication and I have seen businesses fail because of it.

From a brand advocacy standpoint, insurers and vendors will pursue “brand journalism,” which is the next step beyond custom content to meet higher reader expectations. Brand journalism combines the tenets of journalism with brand communication to create customer value.

Predictive analytics will continue to be an important way companies will enhance the online customer experience as well. A site featuring the top most popular apps included a recipe for the best grilled cheese sandwich! I went for it!

#14 Claimwire: How important is Social Media to Lipold Communications and to you personally?

It’s importance cannot be overstated. In the communications industry, you either ride the wave or fossilize. There is no middle ground.

For my company, it is changing the work I do. For example, I used to build media lists, now I build influencer lists that include reporters and key players in social media.

It has changed how I market my company. Social media have enhanced my company’s “inbound marketing” by growing my network. My blog attracts new clients.

But like anything else, there is a negative side. Social media requires consistent contributions and interaction and a greater time commitment than traditional approaches.

#15 Claimwire: Related to the last question, on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being an Ultra Power User, what lever of Social Media user are you?

I would say I am a 7 to 8. My LinkedIn profile is among the top five percent most viewed, which points to engagement.

But I am not a social media junkie looking to explore every new medium that comes online. I want to maximize the social mediums I currently use first. Let someone else figure out how to use Pinterest for marketing workers’ compensation!

#16 Claimwire: If you could hire any famous person to be the spokesperson for Lipold Communications, LLC, who would it be and why?

Jack Welch. He is straight-forward, honest and persuasive.

_______________
The success of technology relies on effective communication…

_______________

#17 Claimwire: What is your vision for workers’ compensation?

My vision is very broad so I will touch on a small piece of it.

For years, I have been advocating that we change how we talk about workers’ compensation. I am tired of public policy discussions that sound like union-management contract negotiations!

That is so last century!

For example, we need to show employees that getting the best medical care and return to work at medical feasibility are far better in the long run than higher maximum weekly benefits and choice of physician. Since recovery can be greatly affected by mental health, injured workers should receive counseling as well.

Once the workers’ compensation system is dominated by a return-to-work culture, compensating employees at the same salary level would be more possible. We have examples of employers who do this. We’ve done the studies. Let’s get to work!

#18 Claimwire: If you could write a biography about anyone, who would it be?

Steve Jobs.

#19 Claimwire: If you could spend a month with your family anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?

England because of its history and my family roots are based there.

#20 Claimwire: If you could recommend just one book for high school students to read, what would it be and why?

“Guerrilla Marketing” by Jay Conrad Levinson. We need to train our youth to be entrepreneurs who can find and create opportunities.

Special thanks to Steve Schmutz for honoring me with an interview. To  learn more about Claimwire, please visit http://www.claimwire.com  — Annmarie

Maximizing Your Quality Content Investment

recycleQuality content is an investment. It requires expertise, experience and research. Whether writing it yourself or paying a writer, you might as well get the most from it.

Excellent public relations and marketing professionals treat content as a commodity and try to maximize its use. It’s called “re-purposing” in public relations circles; though some get cute and call it content recycling. (That just sounds so green, doesn’t it?)

What is re-purposing content? Re-purposing is creatively reusing quality content you already have.

Sounds easy, but it does require good organizational skills so you can harvest it for other purposes.

To re-purpose content, review the pre-existing written material. Make files however you wish – such as by subject, market, product, service or customer profile.

As you go through the content, copy and paste material into the appropriate file buckets.

The fun part of this exercise is finding inconsistencies in messaging or information. It is only natural that as material gets added to websites, opportunities to “re-purpose” it are often missed.

Part of this relates to a company’s internal marketing and communications departments, plans and strategies. To the world, your company’s website is one cohesive entity. Behind the website, tasks are often divided up with poor communication between workers and functions caught in their individual silos.

That’s why it is so easy to run a blog about a topic, list it in the blog section and forget to cross-pollinate the material in other sections of the website.

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Excellent public relations and marketing professionals treat content as a commodity and try to maximize its use.
_______________

Do not forget to look at documents that never go online. Business and marketing plans should have some good stuff, especially if a professional writer crafted the plans to be reader friendly.

Company research and reports also provide good written material to be re-used more broadly. Personalized marketing letters tend to have more relaxed language or explanations that would work well in other places.

Once your information is placed in the file buckets, determine how you want to reuse it. To be systematic about it, keep a list of all the venues you use to reach all your customers. Your list will include traditional material — like brochures and associated web text, the company newsletter and thought pieces and your company’s social media presence on LinkedIn (including appropriate groups), Twitter, Facebook and all the other ways you reach your market.

Don’t forget to include other customers such as the media, vendors and others who use your site.

If the mere thought of this burns you out, hire an outsider to do the work for you. Someone outside your organization can see your material more objectively.

Another way to re-purpose is to make it part of the writing/editing process. Since writing is a creative process, it can help generate new ideas. Let’s say you are writing about an issue that relates to the product or service you are selling.

As you do, consider places to publish it. After it is edited, copy the material placed elsewhere on the website and/or in the file system I suggested above. If you want to track the content’s original origin, just color the copy according to where it originally came from.

Encourage content providers not to write in a vacuum. Ask them to suggest other applications for the text. They could find and polish the quick hits or short content that can stand on its own. These can be re-used immediately on Twitter, always including the link to the material. Programs like TweetDeck will publish each tweet at the time you want the tweet to get posted.

If your material comes from a longer piece, such as an article, monograph or white paper, copy and paste material that can be greatly shortened for re-publishing as blogs or in newsletters.

Don’t forget the stuff on the cutting room floor. That’s the material you wrote that is more useful through another venue.  Just add it to your filing system.

Challenge yourself to think of re-purposing beyond replicating materials in different communication venues. By writing and reviewing all material for re-usefulness, your quality content investment could pay dividends in surprising ways.

Re-purposing quality content can be a painstaking effort. You will be rewarded with endless new ideas for more quality content, blogs and cross-marketing potential. Give re-purposing a try and let me know how you are doing!

Are You Too Obsessed with Google Algorithm Changes?

Here’s a cute blog for the first day of summer on a Friday afternoon. It relates to my recent post on appropriate blog length.  –Annmarie

The Simple Cure for Google Algorithm Update Anxiety

by Chad Pollitt

Google Algorithm Update Anxiety (GAUA) is a serious disorder that afflicts many marketers around the world. The condition was first discovered by scientists in April of 2003 when Google released its Cassandra algorithm update. Since then, the GAUA disorder has become a pandemic.

Its most recent outbreak occurred on May 22nd after Matt Cutts, head of Google’s webspam team, announced the release of Penguin 2.0. Today, doctors have announced they’ve discovered the cure for this marketing plague.

Google Algorithm Update Anxiety Overview 

GAUA symptoms include: Headache, upset stomach, nausea, back pain, muscle pain, nasal stuffiness, shortness of breath, flushing, pain in arms or legs, dizziness, reduced organic search traffic, and angry clients.

Marketers have a greater chance of developing this disorder if they repeat the same keywords over and over, manually build inbound links, meticulously keyword-sculpt every aspect of every web page, calculate and track keyword saturation rates, participate in link farms, buy links, publish lots of on-site ads, duplicate content, publish infrequently, or generally just publish useless and boring content.

To read more, go to http://blog.hubspot.com/cure-for-google-algorithm-update-anxiety

Preparing an Employee Workers’ Compensation Survey

What your employees know — or do not know — about workers’ compensation can affect the claims process once an employee needs to file a claim. As I mentioned in my previous blog, Reduce Claim Filing Lag Time Through Effective Employee Communication Plans, an employee survey can be a vital part of developing effective communication to workers about your workers’ comp program.

Employee surveys should be conducted with great care. Regardless of what the survey covers, you need to be prepared to follow through with it. For this reason, executive management support is necessary to encourage optimal results.

When you conduct the survey, promise to share the results with employees to bolster their trust. Consider asking the employee’s position at the company. Give them the option to provide their name, stressing that this is an option only. Perhaps offer to keep the survey answers confidential to get the most honest answers.

Clearly identify what you want to know first, ensuring the survey is worded correctly and provides a useful outcome. Wording questions that will give you the information you want can be tricky.

Determining What to Ask

You could solicit questions by asking employees in the employee newsletter or internal website what they would want to know about workers’ comp.

Focus groups can also be helpful. If you take the focus group route, include former injured workers who can share what they wish they knew before they needed to file a claim. To ensure a cross-section of the workforce, you will likely need to conduct several focus groups.

One important focus group question to ask is: When I say workers’ compensation, what does it mean to you? This question can make employees feel important as well.

Managers are the last people you want to ask what employees think. However, asking for their input for questions can also provide insight. Since supervisors have so much on their plates, your survey could easy get lost in their to-do piles. This reinforces why support from executive management is necessary for the best results.

The survey, ideally, would be a part of the already existing internal message that the company cares about its employees. It should begin by explaining to employees that it is part of the company’s commitment to taking care of workers so their feedback is vital.

_______________
Managers are the last people you want to ask
what employees think.
_______________

Providing specific details on how the company’s workers’ compensation costs are going up and how this is affecting bottom-line profitability is compelling.

You could offer an incentive to complete the survey, and I offer some ideas in my marketing giveaway blog.

Since workers’ compensation is closely related to safety and employee benefits–such as health care, short-term and long-term disability. You might want to ask employees a question or two about these programs.

At the same time, only surveying about workers’ comp is fine, but it could limit other information your company needs. You could learn that employees go through their health insurance first for work-related injuries or illnesses because they perceive they will get better care or because they want to avoid the stigma of being “on” workers’ comp.

You might also learn employees believe that return-to-work efforts are not as strong for non-occupational disability as workers’ compensation. This could spur an integrated approach to occupational and non-occupational disability management and return to work.

Consider starting off with a couple safety questions to see how the employee perceives your safety efforts. Since safety is the best way to limit workers’ compensation claims frequency, you could learn more needs to be invested there first.

Next week, my blog will feature specific questions to ask employees about workers’ compensation and related issues.

YOU TELL ME. Got a great survey question? Please share in the comments section. Thanks!

Reduce Claim Filing Lag Time Through Effective Employee Communication Plans

(This is Part II of What Every Employer Should Know About Workers’ Compensation)

Despite the best safety efforts, workers’ compensation claims happen. The unnecessary lag time between the date of a work-related injury and date of claim filing can mean the difference between a medical-only claim and a lost-time claim costing tens of thousands of dollars. A lag of more than 10 days is enough to make a claim unnecessarily expensive and can affect how soon employees return to work.

Too often, employees do not know what to do if they sustain a work-related injury or an occupational illness. An effective employee communication plan can help educate employees and reduce the intimidation factor of filing a claim. Besides encouraging immediate claim filing, it should outline protocol and provide answers to often-asked questions.

Employer protocols will differ based on the company’s philosophy and culture. How employers insure their workers’ compensation obligation is another factor. Employers with self-insured, self-administered workers’ compensation programs or an on-site medical staff will have different approaches than those who rely solely on their insurance company to handle and pay claims.

The key message of the communication plan should provide information on who to contact file a claim and answer questions. Ideally, this would be the outgrowth of an overall message that the employer cares about its employees.
_______________
Posting a sign in the lunchroom is not enough.
_______________

When developing messages and support content, it helps to know the experiences of past claims and how they were filed and handled to discourage future miss steps. Perhaps conduct an employee survey to learn what employees know about workers’ compensation. Employees might think they should rely on an attorney, a union representative or their doctor to file a claim.

Once the main message is established, identify the most effective ways to reach employees. This requires knowing and understanding them as an audience. (For more information, please click here for my blog on knowing your audience and here for customer empathy.) Do not be afraid to ask employees how they like to receive communication. Text messages are often the best bet for Generation X and younger. Old-fashioned table tents at the company cafeteria are still effective.

Generally, employee communication plans should be occasionally audited to ensure messages are effectively reaching employees. There is a tendency, for example, to publish newsletter articles when a list of bullet points is more effective. Articles should be limited to stories that will truly interest employees. Human-interest articles, such as employee testimonials of the company’s workers’ compensation support, or interesting workers’ compensation statistics, should draw interest.

To generate excitement, invite employees to develop a slogan or offer creative ways to get the message out. I recommend establishing a workers’ compensation hotline. This directly gets the worker to the right place and avoids the discomfort some employees might feel about telling their supervisors.

Launch the messages in exciting and creative ways, such as at the company picnic or Christmas party can also reach families with the message. Skits and videos can humorously make the message more memorable.

Since people need to hear a message several times before it becomes knowledge, reinforcement is just as important. Posting a sign in the lunchroom is not enough. Team meetings, occasional email messages and newsletter “ads” can reinforce the message. Finally, offering giveaways that employees can actually use, as opposed to landfill fillers, can help reinforce the message. (Click here to read my blog on giveaways.)

With concerted effort, employers can make a significant difference to save money and help workers get the right medical treatment as soon as possible to encourage healing and return to work.

Promising Value through Proposition

Your company must have a value proposition. It identifies what makes your company, and its products and services, unique in ways that benefit current and potential clients. Trust me; a lot of companies do not have them.

Value propositions are promises. In my blog about business plan neglect, I promised my readers blog value by explaining value propositions in more detail. This week, I contributed my blog to aartijk.com. Enjoy!

Biggest Marketing Mistake #5: Doing Nothing

Blatant marketing is verboten in social media.

To avoid even the appearance of blatant marketing, I choose a new Biggest Marketing Mistake #5. It is: Doing Nothing.

Oftentimes, it is the decisions you do not make that ultimately hurt you the most.

Let’s face it. Marketing is a time-consuming investment with no promise of direct, immediate or even eventual results. Doing nothing, however, promises to eventually stifle company survival and growth.

Too often, I see startup companies that do not invest in effective marketing and communications soon enough. They struggle to gain market share.

I have also seen companies that are doing so well that they put marketing on the back burner to meet more immediate and critical business objectives, like taking care of clients. A consistent drumbeat of messaging to target audiences, however, is necessary for maintaining and boosting recognition.

But sadly, when the economy declines, communications, marketing and training departments are the first victims of budget and staff cuts.

Doing nothing is too common. Neglecting regular marketing activities happens so easily you may need to ask someone to remind you!

Doing nothing will not support your company’s growth or protect your market share.

­___________

Oftentimes, it is the decisions you do not make
that ultimately hurt you the most.
___________

OK, so you are busy. Perhaps you are overwhelmed. Take small steps. Some progress is better than none.

What about those marketing activities you want to get around to, like updating web content or creating a marketing portfolio? Keep all those good ideas in an electronic file, scheduling time in the near future to take steps toward making them a reality.

Make time to look over your marketing and communications media and ask yourself what’s missing. Alternatively, ask someone else to look at it from a holistic standpoint. Identify what can easily be addressed quickly and make time for planning.

Also, challenge yourself to contact at least three current and/or potential clients per week just to see how they are doing. It adds to the sadly deteriorating human touch in business and will keep you “top of mind” if an opportunity arises.

As a woman of my word, look for me to cover additional topics promised in my series of the Biggest Marketing Mistakes. After criticizing most complimentary knickknacks – also known as incentives – as generally a waste of money, next week I will discuss those worthy of consideration. Please drop me a note at annmarie@lipoldcommunications.com to share your favorites.

And finally, for those of you who are disappointed that I did not cover my original Biggest Marketing Mistake #5: Hiring the Wrong Marketing/Communications Firm, I will soon post advice on how to hire the right public relations/marketing firm in the “About Lipold Communications” section.

I just wanted to avoid blatant marketing on my blog.

Have a great week!