Episode 086 — The Digital Broker Podcast

Ryan Hanley: Figure Out What Your Product Means to Customers


On this episode of The Digital Broker, Ryan Deeds interviews Ryan Hanley. By listening to this episode, you will learn:

  • How Ryan Hanley parlayed stardom in the content marketing world into superstardom in the insurance industry.
  • When and why things started falling apart.
  • What Ryan Hanley had to learn, about himself and the world at large, to build himself back up and resume providing value to his clients—and which advice he gives insurance agencies who are also trying to figure themselves out.

If you don’t mind telling people that you work in the insurance industry, you might have Ryan Hanley to thank. He was among a group of people who proliferated the idea that it was okay to be proud to work in the insurance industry. “When I first started,” Hanley tells Ryan Deeds, “I was bothered by the way people would say, ‘Oh, I’m an insurance agent,’ as if it were something to be ashamed of. Without insurance, there would be no business, there would be no skyscrapers in Manhattan. We wanted to give insurance agents a forum where they could feel like what they were doing was cool and be surrounded by people who felt the same way.”

That forum ended up becoming Elevate, a conference that Ryan Deeds credits with “changing the way I looked at conferences and how they should be done in the insurance space.” As the Chief Marketing Officer of Trusted Choice, which produces Elevate, Hanley was on top of the world. However, as his influence grew, so did disagreements with other members of his team. Eventually, he had to leave the company—but a guy like him didn’t need to be unemployed for very long, so he took a job at Bold Penguin, an Insurtech startup.

However, that didn’t work out either. Bold Penguin is headquartered in Columbus, Ohio, and Hanley and his wife did not want to leave their home in Albany, New York. So, after less than a year at Bold Penguin, Hanley left that job as well. It was weird to be out of work twice in so little time—but it helped Hanley understand that he was changing, evolving into a leader, and outgrowing traditional office jobs. “I’ve always wanted to lead a team,” he reveals. “My contribution often has less to do with my specific skills and more with my ability to get the most out of the people I work with.”

The next opportunity seemed custom-made for him. Hanley was accosted by the proprietor of a couple of gyms in Albany who said he needed “a business guy” like Hanley to take the local group of gyms national. But Hanley hesitated. For over a decade, he had been a superstar in insurance, and the idea of transitioning to another space was “super weird.”

“I knew my place in the insurance industry. I had a reputation there, I knew what I could do for people. I knew the players, I knew how things worked, I knew who I needed to talk to. And when this opportunity came along, it was challenging.”

This is the part where you expect a glorious turnaround: Hanley takes the job, crushes it, and the gym chain goes global. None of that happened, except the part where he takes the job. Six months later, he is fired. For the third straight time in a little over a year, Ryan Hanley, former superstar of the insurance world, is out of work again.

“It hurt,” he admits—but he needed it to. Without adversity, there is no growth, and the string of setbacks forced Hanley to confront what was happening, why things weren’t working, and what he needed to do to make them right.

The time away from insurance, which he thought would be dreadful, turned out to be a blessing. He had no choice but to look in from the outside, with a broader view and a fresher perspective. “I always stayed in touch with people in insurance. If anything, I had more time to be a voyeur. I saw who stepped up, who really cared. I watched some things grow and others crumble. It was really, really interesting.” Now he’s ready to give it another go, on his own terms. As the founder and chief strategist of Hanley Media, he advises clients, including insurance agencies, on growth, marketing, and leadership, fusing what he knows about content marketing with what he’s learned about himself along the way.

“I am different in many ways than I was 18 to 24 months ago. I have better control over how I react to things. I’ve learned interesting things about myself, about the world, about how things work. I think I have developed more ways to provide value to our space.”

And what would that value be? What does Ryan Hanley have to teach insurance agencies this time around?

Basically, what he had to learn on his own: get to the bottom of what you do best, even if it means hitting a few bottoms of your own along the way. It is there that you’ll discover your core strengths, what you can really do for your customers—which you can then translate into sound marketing strategies that emphasize not why your customers need you, but what it means to do business with you.

“Be contextual,” Hanley stresses. “Many agencies default to being generalists because they haven’t taken the time to define what their product means to their customers. Obviously, your customers need insurance—but how do they know that? How do you contextualize the service you provide? How do you make a midlevel manager look like a rock star for using you? How do you make a single father feel like he’s doing everything he can to protect his children in case something bad happens? How do you make people feel about their decision to work with you?”

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