Did you ever fantasize about stumbling upon an established industry that has no national brand? One where you could work your accrued marketer’s magic without having to pay heed to preconceived notions about the category leaders or the tone of your creative?
Eric Granof got that opportunity. Four years ago, CMO Granof and other senior managers of AIA Surety—one of the oldest and biggest purveyors of bail bonds—sat down to consider what many in the business held to be an unthinkable idea: the creation of a national bail bond company.
Why was a national bail brand such a crazy idea? Because while insurance giants (and bail bonds are a form of insurance) such as Transamerica, Prudential, and Aetna have long marketed their life and casualty products nationally, bail bonds remain an exclusively local business. Commercial surety bail is actually illegal in four states (IL, KY, OR, and WI), and counties and municipalities often have their own regulations. “Texas has 264 counties, and bail laws are different in each one,” Granof says.
The business poses special marketing challenges, as well. AIA’s customers are not consumers, but instead are the thousands of bail agents who ply a local trade. And alleged lawbreakers aren’t the agents’ customers; their unwitting moms, buddies, and brothers-in-law are. The people who end up purchasing AIA’s products never plan to do so, don’t understand what they are, and have no interest in ever finding out.
Yet Granof had a pristine brand and a mission to implant it into the consumer consciousness as a trusted and reliable route to springing Jimmy Jr., from the hoosegow. Granof knew his chief duty as the proprietor of this newly hatched national brand would be to educate people. But what did they know about bail bonds? Granof conducted a survey.
“We asked them to name a sports brand, an insurance brand, even a tax accounting brand, and they were able to do it. But bail bond brand? Nothing,” says Granof. “We found that if they were to get arrested, they’d have no idea what to do. And they had a negative image of bail bond agents based on what they’d seen in movies.”
First things first: the brand name. “We settled on ExpertBail pretty easily. It made sense,” Granof says. “If you need to learn about bail, you go to the expert. We felt that by owning that position it would separate us from the rest.”
ExpertBail was introduced with ads on ESPN and Fox Sports broadcasts. But after achieving some name recognition, the brand turned quickly to digital channels. “We very aggressively went into Facebook. We flooded the market with funny bail stories and blogs. We aligned with partners like the National Sheriffs Association, and the National Center for Victims of Crime,” says Granof, who notes that ExpertBail’s Facebook page contains new content every day and is nearing 20,000 likes.
Content on victims’ services helps ExpertBail put a positive spin on the value of bail bondsmen and add luster to the brand. “The bail process ensures that the criminal shows up in court and answers to the charges,” he says. “If there was no bail process, he could just skip town.”
The ExpertBail brand’s ultimate purpose is to empower agents. AIA has supplied them with professional-looking signage and promotional materials like stickers and matchbooks. Granof hired a public relations firm to work with agents in doing local TV, radio, and newspaper interviews. Their work in community service is noted on the brand’s Facebook page and website, and in turn, agents shine a light on the ExpertBail brand. The home page of Stat Bail Bonds in Colorado displays the ExpertBail logo and explains that ExpertBail agents “are the most trusted, professional, and expertly trained bail bondsmen in the world.”
Granof is not above leveraging the entertaining side of the bail business to tout ExpertBail. Blogs regale readers with stories such as the man who posted pictures of his wedding on Facebook, where they were viewed by his current wife, or the Wyoming bank robber who stole $140,000 and distributed it to the homeless. Expert Bail also advertises in popular “mug shot” newspapers and websites across the country.
The value of the first national bail brand can’t be measured in bonds sold. Granof says AIA already made bail for 20% of all perps nationwide before ExpertBail came into being. Having united agents under a recognized brand and played a part in changing the perception of the industry is what AIA executives value, though Granof cannot resist feeling like a proud papa.
“As a marketer, it’s the ultimate dream to be the first to create a brand in a category,” he says. “For us, it’s like finding the Holy Grail.”