No One Will Read this Blog: How the Internet Killed Content!

For the past couple of years in digital marketing the narrative has largely been the same: “Content is King!”  All businesses from large corporations to small non-profits were told that they should manage their audience effectively, advertise when necessary, but above all else never compromise frequent content!  Not only is this now false, but we tell you what your number one priority should be in digital advertising for 2017.

It’s said that content can increase you search engine rankings, generate more social media views, drive potential clients to your website, and generate free publicity for your brand.  This is all true!  However, this only works if your content is unique and different than the rest of the Internet and people actually care about what you have to say, which are both significant barriers for companies of all sizes.

As a result of marketers pushing every company for more content, the Internet and our social networks have become inundated with very similar written and visual content that provides very little novel value to readers.  No one could possibly read all of the interesting content on their newsfeed!  The effect of this problem is that content no longer becomes a differentiator for companies; it’s simply a requirement for digital marketers that doesn’t carry very much weight.

We are seeing a regime change in the social media and digital marketing sphere.  Content is no longer King!  It has been replaced by engagement, which shows to be much more effective in building relationships and providing value to clients and cohorts alike.  It’s incredibly important that we change our focus toward reacting to posts, pictures, videos, and more by commenting, sharing, retweeting, liking, favoriting, following, and subscribing.

Changing the direction of our efforts from creating content to engaging with others and their content will take time, but those that embrace it first and see the value in building these online relationships within their social network can expect to see much better growth compared to competitors who subscribe to the old regime of digital marketing.

Questions?  Ask our company’s digital marketing expert and engagement specialist: Dylan DeClerck – dylan@pablow.com.

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What a Week at VRMA!

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This time last week we were a bunch of excited conference rookies ready to debut our innovative new products to the vacation rental industry at the VRMA National Conference in Phoenix, AZ.  One week later we still feel excited, but this time because of a great experience at VRMA 2016 and lots of business success.

Our booth, featuring a putting green and game that we called “Putting with Pablow”, perfectly reflected our company personality.  It was exciting, fun, a little different than most other booths, competitive and led to easy conversations.  Looking back on the environment we were able to create with a simple golf game, both Steve and Dylan concluded that it was a huge success and something worth repeating at future conferences.

Outside of meeting with people at our exhibition booth, Dylan’s favorite part was networking with VRMA members including those who managed properties and those who were vendors.  Specifically he enjoyed talking and dancing with people on the dance floor during Saturday evening’s event.  Steve also enjoyed networking, but the biggest benefit of the conference in his perspective was being able to talk with system providers in the vacation rental industry to determine how we might solve important insurance challenges.

Looking back at some of our funniest moments.  Dylan was mistaken for a 16 year old.  Dylan put a video on Facebook Live during the exhibition times and talked with the same person later that evening for 15 minutes before realizing it was the same person.  Steve’s accent was mistaken for everything but Australian, even by other Australians.  I’m sure there are many more good stories given how many times we laughed, but these are the ones that stuck.  I’m sure we will have plenty of more stories from future VRMA conferences, as we are extremely excited to be going back!

Interested in learning more about Pablow?  Reach out to Dylan DeClerck at dylan@pablow.com!

Live VRMA Blog: October 18th

Today was the final day of VRMA’s 2016 National Conference in Phoenix, Arizona.  We recap our experience and talk about what’s next for the company.

MORNING KEYNOTE

Similar to yesterday morning, all of the attendees started this morning in the main ballroom listening to the keynote speaker.  While yesterday’s keynote was brought in from outside the industry, this morning’s keynote was delivered by industry veteran Mary Lynn Clark from Wyndham Vacation Rentals.  Mary Lynn shared the following key messages with the audience:

  1. Customers want unique experiences (not just products), on-demand service that is fast and easy, to be heard, and have companies react to them
  2. All service companies need to put the customer first by delivering exceptional customer experiences, using technology to enhance the experience, and managing their experience
  3. Personal service is about making the customer feel like they’re doing business with a human, not a company

Despite the fact that these lessons were intended for an audience of vacation rental managers, I feel as though they apply to a majority of service-based companies.

 

BREAKOUT SESSIONS

In keeping with the theme established early in the morning with our keynote, our team had the chance to attend multiple sessions covering technology’s role in the vacation rental industry and how to use technology to maintain a personal touch with customers.  These sessions allowed Pablow to better understand the industry and how we can better serve our customers in a technology-based business model.  The most important insight that we walked away with is that vacation rental managers are looking for technology solutions that have great functionality, efficiently solve their problems, and doesn’t change their current business processes.

EXHIBITION

We spent most of today on the exhibition floor making as many possible connections with vacation rental professionals.  The best part of the exhibition process was meeting with people who had genuine problems that they needed solved and figuring out the best possible solution.  It helped us realize that we are not in the business of insurance or technology, when it comes down to it, we are in the business of solving problems.

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The Pablow, Inc. booth was consistently filled throughout the day, making this picture a rare moment when it was not filled with people.

Our team worked incredibly well all conference with Dylan doing an excellent job drawing attendees into the booth to play golf and look at the travel insurance websites we could deliver.  Steve did a superior job connecting with the people on a personal level and answering a lot of the technology questions for property managers.  Our insurance experts, Wendy and Amanda, did a great job of networking with potential business partners and going through the policy details with interested property managers.

The individual strengths of the team allowed us to reach our objectives for the conference of obtaining numerous new business partners and taking the next step toward WORLD-WIDE INSURANCE DOMINATION!!!  Although there’s still plenty of work to do on the second objective.

That’s all from Arizona!  See you next year VRMA!

Live VRMA Blog: October 16th

While many attendees at VRMA’s national conference in Phoenix were excited about the first day, none were ready to have as much fun as Pablow could provide!  The Pablow conference staff featuring Steve and Dylan along with our insurance partners from IMG, Wendy and Amanda, were incredibly excited to launch our product in the vacation rental market.

After the entire team arrived in Phoenix on Sunday the team quickly gathered all of the equipment we still needed to purchase and set the Pablow booth up in no time at all.  At 6:00 p.m. we began our first exhibiting session and met many people who were interested in the product we were launching.  The main attraction in our booth, besides the naturally attractive staff, is called “Putting with Pablow”, a mini-golf game with fun challenges for visitors with varying levels of experience.

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An enthusiastic visitor attempts to shoot his golf ball like a pool ball 

Take a look at our golf experience on Facebook Live (https://www.facebook.com/pablowinc/videos/942918165812074/) or Twitter (https://twitter.com/pablowInc/status/787802085098041344) .

After two successful hours of meeting vacation rental industry professionals including vendors, property owners, property managers, system providers, and retailers Pablow had made enough relationships to call the night a huge success.  The entire team emerged from the conference energized by the responses we received from everyone we met.

If you’re currently at VRMA’s national conference and interested in talking to Pablow or playing our golf game for a chance to win a $150 Amazon gift card, then we look forward to speaking with you soon!

The Waiting Game

This blog is meant as a follow up to Steve Sherlock‘s article “License to Thrill!”  It is recommended, though not necessary, that you read the article before continuing as it provides context for the following discussion.

INTRODUCTION

When Pablow Inc. began as a company in the United States we had a vision of rapidly transforming the landscape of the insurance industry by eliminating complexities and inefficiencies that are so prevalent throughout the industry.  What we did not know is how many of those complexities and inefficiencies we would have to deal with first to try to accomplish our goals (e.g. licensing, legitimization, compliance etc.).  After a couple of years with headquarters in the United States and offices in Australia, we have come to the conclusion that working in the insurance industry can sometimes feel like a waiting game.

RULES OF THE GAME

  1. You may only participate in the game after receiving licensing in each US state for each type of insurance offered in that state, which will cost your company tens of thousands of dollars.
  2. When you want to begin the game and have everything arranged to start, be prepared to wait a significant amount of time before you may actually initiate the first turn.  The amount of time to wait depends on the players, their background, and a variety of unidentified variables, but be assured that this time can not be lessened.
  3. Once you’ve begun the game you may only advance with the most cautious of moves, as any one mistake can revert you to the starting point.  Your opponents and teammates must also play this way, which means that it will take a long amount of time to complete any one move, much less a series of moves.
  4. Once players begin the game it takes longer to develop relationships with other non-players who are cautious about the intentions of players.
  5. Verbal strategy is the quickest way to initiate execution of a plan, but beware that putting moves in writing is almost always required and will take an unexpectedly long amount of time regardless of the type of plan.
  6. The rules of the game may be changed at any time, and players are expected to react immediately or may face a loss of turn if they play outside of the new rules.

PLAYING THE GAME (Startup Companies)

Now that we’ve covered just a few of the most important rules to the waiting game, it’s important to know how to play the game.  For this you will have to rely on your experience alone due to the complexity of the insurance industry, and for those without previous experience be prepared to build it quickly or face yourself playing another game.

Although the waiting game is difficult to manage, particularly for new players, there is hope.  The first important game strategy is to find a sponsoring company whose key performance indicators are linked to your success, in other words they need you!

Once you’ve developed a relationship with a sponsor it’s critically important you continue to move your game piece toward the finish line with regular conference calls and tight timelines, because you want to get into the market as soon as possible.  Within the last year, I’ve experienced a project being killed off at the last minute after six months of preparation because someone decided we were a competitor to their organization; a fate that might’ve been avoided had I better communicated the benefits of our distributor relationship.  Instead of working with the company to distribute their product to a niche market, we entered a partnership with one of their competitors, which will help us ensure we serve a new market niche.  Based on my experience and knowledge of other entrepreneurial ventures, I can confidently say that by getting your product to market you’ve reached a major checkpoint in the waiting game.

The game can be won, but it will take time and will be incredibly difficult for even the most resilient players.  At Pablow, Inc. we’ve been through many situations working with insurance companies that have been psychologically uncomfortable, but as we persist we’ve realized that there’s a sense of thrill that comes with preparing our gameplay strategy in order to advance ourselves toward the finish line.

A NOTE TO THE GAME MAKERS (The Insurance Industry)

“An idea does not survive because it is better than the competition, but rather because the person who holds it has survived.” ~ Taleb
It’s important that you look at startup companies as partners, rather than as competition, when they present new ways to solve old problems.  If you find that you have similar goals and values, then it’s easiest for the players if you provide the rules of play, but otherwise let them decide on a gameplay strategy.  This is primarily because startups are worried about timeliness, especially with technology companies, and when larger companies intervene in the process it tends to delay technology and project completion.  As a rule, entrepreneurs should be given more freedom to solve problems, because they can often get it solved more quickly than the bureaucracy inherent at larger corporations.
Finally, I strongly suggest you consider working with startup companies in the future as your problems need solutions.  If insurance companies embrace entrepreneurial partnerships then they may divert their work from business as usual to an innovative solution that they would not otherwise have thought of or been able to take advantage of.  You never know how an innovative group of entrepreneurs might solve your most complex and persistent challenges.

Small Company, Big Responsibility

INTRODUCTION

While most college students are going to end up working their summers for the parks and recreation department as an assistant manager, for the local pool as a lifeguard, or in the best scenario for a company as an intern in their field of study; few will get the opportunity to lead a department, determine company strategy, or work on their own schedule.  The one opportunity you have to make a real difference for an organization is surprisingly an option that few students apply for, an internship with a startup company.

This blog will cover the intern experience of one of Pablow Inc.‘s most recent hires, Dylan DeClerck, who was hired to lead the company’s marketing efforts this spring and has continued to work for the company this summer.  Among the projects Dylan has helped lead for the company include developing and implementing a content strategy, developing and using sales materials to contact prospective business partners, creating new processes for marketing efforts, implementing a CRM system, directing the work of freelancers, and revamping social media strategies.

DYLAN

“This spring I had an excellent experience working for Pablow Inc. and CEO, Steve Sherlock, on all of our marketing efforts.  What I enjoyed most about my internship was 1) the flexibility of my work schedule, 2) the autonomy of my work tasks, and 3) importance of my efforts on the direction of the company.

  1. FLEXIBILITY

During my internship this past semester I was taking a full course load of 18 credits and traveling eight hours every weekend to play professional ultimate frisbee, a big passion of mine.  Luckily, Steve gave me the flexibility to set my own schedule and work hours as long as it was approximately 10-15 hours per week.  After some discussion, we decided that it would work best in my schedule if I worked 6-7 hours per week in the office each Tuesday, and the rest of the work time I could simply report every two weeks so Steve could input it into the payroll system.

Besides a flexible weekly schedule, Steve was incredibly accommodating with my full academic schedule.  In fact, the week before finals I worked just a few hours and the week of finals I didn’t work at all so I could focus on my tests and projects.  While not all startup companies may be as accommodating as Pablow, I think that a majority of small companies understand the importance of certain personal commitments and are more than accommodating when it comes to flexible working arrangements.

  1. AUTONOMY

In addition to flexibility, I enjoyed the autonomy that working for a small company provided.  In a small company, not only is it unrealistic for managers to micromanage all of the intern’s tasks, it’s detrimental to the organization as a whole because work never gets done!

An example of an autonomous project was when I developed and used sales materials to contact prospective business partners.  At the beginning Steve and I sat down to cover our objectives for the project and potential approaches to achieve our goals, but after a short time of planning and introduction the rest of the project was mine to handle.  First I began writing our sales materials using information I had learned in sales classes and based on my research of the vacation rental industry.  After I had written the script I ran it by Steve and laid out our approach to contact travel system providers and retailers.  Once I had his approval, I spent two weeks reaching out to partners using our sales and marketing materials, and successfully brought on new business partners.  The best feedback I received from Steve that made my efforts feel worthwhile was that my work had “helped prove that this business concept could be a reality.”

Looking at how much autonomy I was given says a lot about the trust Steve had in my abilities to market his product to our target market, and because of the internship’s structure I can say that I successfully completed a lot of important projects for the organization.

  1. IMPORTANCE

I alluded to this in the previous section, but working for Pablow gave me the chance to work on some incredibly important work.  Did it create some pressure that I needed to perform at a high level?  Sure it did, but Steve made sure the pressure was always manageable and kept my projects moving in the right direction.

I felt the most pressure within the first couple of weeks of my internship when I was asked to essentially lay out the marketing direction and strategy for the entire company.  This challenged me to think outside of the box and use my limited experience to develop the best plan of attack for the company.

At the end of my internship I will be able to say I’ve done so many great things for this organization, and that it was an experience well worth my time.  Are there challenges of working for a small company?  Yes, of course there are, but I wouldn’t give up this experience to work for any other company or any other CEO this spring.”

Licensed to Thrill! How an Insurance Startup Became Licensed in 50 States.

While thinking of some titles for this article the first one that came to mind was: Walking with dinosaurs. I know that it’s a bit rude to refer to the insurance industry as being older than the Stone Age, but it many respects it fits their outdated technology and systems, not least the process of becoming licensed here in the US. Alas we settled on something a more affirmative, “Licensed to Thrill!” Given this is the emotional outcome we aim to elicit when consumers engage with next generation insurance technology. To realize this vision however, we first needed to become licensed throughout every state in the US. Here is my story …

Let me start by saying ignorance really is bliss! If I had known what I was in for, I am pretty sure I would have pivoted the business model. My ignorance led me forward to roadblock after roadblock, and after significant investments of time (more than 10 months) and money, I realized I had to keep going. In a way this is the entrepreneur’s equivalent to a gambler’s experience of “just one more roll of the dice and I’ll win it all back”.

IT BEGAN WITH AN IDEA … AND AN ACCELERATOR

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My brother, Des, and I shortly after arriving in Des Moines

In February 2015 my brother, Des, and I were accepted into the inaugural Global Insurance Accelerator (GIA), in Des Moines, Iowa. At that point I had no idea where Iowa was and had never even heard of Des Moines. When people ask how I ended up in Des Moines I retort, “I took a wrong turn at Albuquerque.” The GIA is one of the very first insurance-focused accelerator programs; leveraging Des Moines’ reputation as one of the three big insurance cities in the US, to host the program.

Surprisingly, Des Moines is actually a pretty nice city, except for the bitter cold winters (at least from an Australian’s point of view). My brother arrived a few days ahead of me to set things up, and on my first day in Iowa it was -20 degrees Celsius (that’s around 0 degrees Fahrenheit). Despite the awful cold weather, we survived the winter but I vowed never to spend another winter in Iowa.

As part of the accelerator I had the chance to speak with a licensing lawyer who told me if I “solicited, sold and negotiated” insurance then I needed to be licensed. But what did that really mean?

THE FIRST OF MANY TESTS

I came to the simple conclusion that I would have to sit for the property and casualty insurance exams and after that our business would be compliant in no time at all. So I bought some study material online and thought how hard can these exams be? After three days of study I went to the exams and failed both with a 68%, needing to reach a 70% to pass. Doh! Not deterred, I purchased more online training material including practice exams and studied this time for more than 70 hours in a single week and passed with flying colors, averaging 84%.

After passing both exams on May 30th I called the Iowa Insurance Division to find out how to register my exam results and was told that I needed a social security number (SSN), which of course I didn’t have yet. This was a serious problem because you only have 90 days to submit exam results and get the license, and failure to do so on time means you have to do the exam again. I had until August 27th to solve this problem and get my license.

A LOT OF WORK FOR A NINE-DIGIT NUMBER

First, I tried to apply for a SSN at the Social Security office in Des Moines, but they told me that unless I was a refugee, I’d need a valid work visa. Luckily we had already incorporated a company and received some funding, which was going to be essential given our company needed to sponsor my American work visa.

To obtain a work visa I hired an immigration lawyer who helped me put the application together – which was a massive effort, requiring employment contract, education record, several rounds of application documents and finally a trip to Mexico for my visa interview.

Why Mexico? Well you can’t apply for the visa while actually in the US, so I needed to go to another country. I first tried to schedule an appointment in Canada, but the next available appoint was in mid-October and I only had until August 27th to submit my exam results. Another option was going back to Australia, but that would have meant flying 20 hours each way. After a little research, I found out that I could go to Mexico City instead and do the interview there. I also used the trip as an opportunity to brush up on my Spanish skills.

I scheduled my interview for August 19th, which gave me eight days to pass the interview, obtain my visa, return to the US, obtain a SSN, and turn in my exam scores. Needless to say I needed everything to run in a smooth manner. Luckily the interview went well and I got the verbal approval, as all my documents were very well prepared.

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A photo of the pyramids I took while visiting Mexico to obtain my visa

Normally you have to wait about a week before you can pick up the visa, though I was able to apply for the fast track process and was told to come back in two days time. I went back to the US Embassy on August 21st and without any problems had the visa nicely stamped in my Australian passport just in time for my departing flight.

On the plane back to Iowa I began to worry about how long would the SSN application take. First thing August 24th I went to the social security office where a lovely lady helped me complete the application. Even though the SSN normally would be issued and posted within a week, after telling her my predicament about the deadline just three days from now, she assured me I would be able to pick it up ahead of time. On the August 26th with just a day to spare before I would have had to redo the insurance exams, I brought my license exam results, the application and my SSN into the Iowa Insurance Division and that afternoon I was the proud owner of a property and casualty Iowa insurance license. Just in the nick of time! Shortly thereafter I applied and was approved to become the designated responsible person for our company’s Iowa entity insurance license.

IT ONLY GETS HARDER

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My first of many insurance licenses I received in 2015

As it turned out obtaining a visa, SSN, and license in Iowa was the easy part! In order to sell insurance to all US citizens and residents I had to apply to the other 49 states and Washington DC for non-resident licenses, for both our company and myself.

I began the application process online, but there were around 30 states that also needed a travel insurance certification that Iowa did not require. For all of these states I had to submit paper applications, passport copies, my new SSN, and checks totaling thousands of dollars. Luckily a letter from Iowa Insurance Division stating that I was qualified to sell travel insurance via my property and casualty license, was included in all applications, which made the process easier for a majority of the states.

For a number of states I needed to establish a business in their states before I could get a license. This required me hiring a registered agent in those states and applying for a Certificate of Authority for our company to operate there.

The states that were the most difficult to work with included New York, California, and Virginia. In New York they rejected my application because I had included a comma in the business name. I used Pablow, Inc. and they said I should have used Pablow Inc. Hence they rejected my application twice for really minor problems. Additionally to sell in New York (but also Hawaii and California) our company also needed to be licensed in accident and health insurance. Once again I hit the books for about 2 straight weeks of preparation and passed the accident and health insurance test with 88% accuracy.

California was challenging not just because of the accident and health insurance requirement, but also because their travel agent license cost over $4,000, whereas the other states were generally between $100 and $300. Similarly, in Virginia your business registration costs $25 for every 10,000 shares your corporation is eligible to issue. Pablow, Inc. had only issues around 170k shares, but it was eligible to issue 1M shares and therefore had to pay over $2,000 just to register as a business, whereas in the neighboring state of North Carolina this cost just $180.

THE HARD WORK PAID OFF

As of March 2016, Pablow, Inc. is finally fully licensed and appointed by three insurance carriers to sell insurance in the United States! While I certainly couldn’t have expected the challenges that an insurance entrepreneur would face when trying to get their business off the ground, it makes our business model stronger and shows our commitment to alleviating the industry’s technology problems. In the scheme of things, what we’ve achieved with licensing is really only a warm up, our ‘license to thrill’ if you like. Now the genuinely difficult part begins of building and scaling a value added business that brings the travel insurance supply chain into the age of data and machine-based personalization.

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Delivering one of Pablow’s pitches for the Global Insurance Accelerator

If you are looking to go through this same process I’d suggest you take a look at these resources: the National Association of Insurance Commissioners’ website, the online National Insurance Producer Registry, Sircon Solutions, Pearson Veu, State Based System and A.D. Banker. Oh, and a good therapist! Also be sure to remember that this is a journey and not an event, so you will need to be patient and roll with the punches!