Q&A Gregory Bailey: How Denim powers the social ad space for the insurance industry

Special to Clay & Milk

Des Moines-based Denim is one of the area’s fastest growing social media companies that you probably haven’t heard of. In just five months, the platform has powered more than 10 million Facebook ads and aggregated more than 250 million data points about how consumers are interacting and engaging with Facebook ads relating to the insurance industry.

Co-founder and CEO Gregory Bailey is passionate about making about making social media advertising easier for insurance and financial technology companies. And he has the industry experience and the traction with Denim to back it up.

“That’s why we’ve built in the advertising space. Nobody can come to Denim and schedule a post. Nobody can come to Denim and even boost a post,” Bailey told Clay & Milk. “In Denim what you do is truly create stories and create ads that build off of one another over weeks and months.”

As the company continues to expand, we asked Bailey a few questions about how he got started and where he sees Denim moving in the future.

This interview has been edited for conciseness.

Clay & Milk: Tell us a bit about what you’re building with Denim.

Gregory Bailey: At the core, Denim is a software platform that enables corporate marketers to launch and scale all of their social media advertising on behalf of all of their local agents, brokers, or distributors. The agents and brokers piece references that we’ve started in the insurance industry and the adjacent financial services. For example, Edward Jones has thousands of local financial advisors on Main Street in every town in the United States.

At first blush people look at this and don’t really know why it’s important. But it’s a thing because oftentimes these insurance companies don’t sell direct. Now that’s changing, but the majority do not sell direct. So you can’t just go to Principal Financial Group, for example, and buy a policy from them. You have to buy it from one of their agents or brokers. The other reason is that agents and brokers are all about building their personal brand in their local market.

The corporate office likes that model because we’ve done significant testing and we known now that a social media ad that’s placed coming from a local agent or broker in your market means you’re up to two and a half times more likely to engage that ad than if an identical ad was shown to you from a large insurance company brand page. The performance on the ad is significantly greater when ads are shown from local agents and brokers.

What Denim does is instead of going to Facebook, you log into your Denim account. We’ve been incredibly thoughtful about our UX and UI, and it takes two minutes to walk through the steps of our campaign builder. In that time you’ve been able to do everything including identify your campaign, set the budgets, choose the timeframes you want the ad to run, the objectives of the campaign, and you’ve selected the group of agents you’d like to run the ad for.

C&M: How did you get involved with this space through your career path?

GB: In 1993 I was working on my undergrad at the University of Missouri studying business. I had started a small business out of my apartment with my roommates and called it Gift Boxes Plus. The logo was this great GB, which are my initials, and a plus sign. I was putting together care packages of things like Ramen noodles and highlighters and Post-It Notes that parents could order for their kids. We were sending out direct mail to the parents of the freshmen at Mizzou. The parents would write a check, mail back in their order form, and then we would package it up. Then we would hand deliver the boxes to the students.

At the same time, my dad was called on by the broker he bought insurance from. They’d heard about the little business I was running through that connection and wanted to interview me for an internship that was getting licensed and starting to sell insurance. So I did that. I got hired and a year later I ranked in the top 10 out of 1,200 students doing sales for Northwest Mutual. When I graduated with my degree I went full-time with that company and spent seven years with them. Then I left the sales arena and went more into the corporate path at several different insurance companies.

Most recently, that track took us to Omaha, then Madison, Wisc., then Orange County, Calif., and Des Moines in 2014. We got recruited to move to Des Moines because I was recruited to be the Chief Marketing Officer at Athene in West Des Moines. So I spent a bit of time as their CMO before parting ways and starting Denim.

C&M: What keeps you motivated to pursue this path of making social media advertising easier for this space?

GB: We have a company vision and mission, but as I parted ways from the insurance industry it was a bit coincidental that I had just celebrated 20 years in that business. I decided that if I was going to do something different for the next 20 years then I’m going to have a personal mission. As geeky as it is, my personal mission is to help make a significant dent in transforming the way the insurance and financial industries go to market. In my previous corporate roles, we were doing things in the confines of the box of how we already did them, and I played within that sandbox. So I decided if I was going to do something different, I wanted to make an impact with how I think that should be done and, more and more, how consumers are demanding those companies engage them.

I’m on the backside of 40 now. Not that I’ve had any midlife crisis but really the thing now is discovering how I can make the largest impact. What’s the highest and best use of my time and my talents? And I really feel like I’m in that spot. That’s what keeps us going.

C&M: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve received?

GB: I think of two things. One would be just these little short sound bites: “Stay focused and tell the truth.” There’s just so much and resonance in short things like that. Another one that is more of a mantra of several different types of startups is “Learn fast, grow fast, and fail fast.” Then the cycle repeats itself. You learn from your failures and learn fast again.

One of the things I’d learned from the corporate world and had to pick up quickly is the pace with an emphasis on the failing fast. If you fail in corporate America at a role like I’ve had, that’s a significant impact. Failure isn’t looked at very kindly there. But in the world that we live in now at Denim, we want to fail because we learn something out of that and we continue forward.

C&M: Initially Denim has focused on Facebook as its main social media platform. How do you see that expanding and growing?

GB: Technically we’re fully integrated with Facebook’s API set. In our platform we’re capturing tons and tons of aggregated data sets every time an ad is presented. In our first five months in the market with our product, Denim powered just north of 10 million Facebook ads for our users. That’s ads shown in local markets, coming from an agent or broker page.

Facebook is hands down winning the social game, and, in my opinion, the mobile game. Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg told his team at Facebook that they will now transition from having a mantra of being a mobile-first company to being a video-first company. The way I look at that with my marketing and brand background is look out television. Because the billions of dollars spent on TV ads now has a bullseye on it.

We oftentimes get asked by insurance companies if our platform works with other social media services. And the answer is absolutely—tell us when you want to buy one of those other social platforms and we’re more than happy to build it. As soon as we position it that way, everyone has been fine with Facebook so far.

There will be a day where we begin to turn on and integrate with not just Instagram, which will be the first cousin of where we’re at right now. I can see an opportunity with LinkedIn ahead because of the professional angle. The other platform that I think there’s a strong application for is Pinterest. The reason being there’s a huge female demographic there, and in today’s day and age, the majority of a household’s financial decisions are made by a woman. If you’re in the insurance business, that should motivate you to get your message in front of more women.

C&M: What’s your biggest social media pet peeve?

GB: The closest thing that’s happening in the market today to what we do is an insurance company that is localizing the content of an ad but the ad itself is still being presented from the corporate brand social account. That to me, you could call it a pet peeve of mine. They know it’s marginally more effective when you localize the content of the ad, but what those brands don’t realize is that they could be up to two and a half times more effective if they just took the same content and presented it from the pages of their local agents or brokers.

C&M: Who has been your biggest fan?

GB: There are a few, but I would call out Mike Schreurs. He’s the founder and now Chairman and Chief Strategist of Strategic America. Mike has been an advisor to me. He’s a friend. He’s in the advertising space. His firm has over 100 employees now and they do a wonderful job at everything from brand work to field marketing work for tremendous clients. Mike believed in the vision of what I wanted to do with Denim in the very beginning.

I can remember I wasn’t too far out of the corporate world a few years ago and I met with him in his office and walked him through a printout of a PowerPoint I’d created. By the end of the meeting we started talking about what it might look like for his firm to be an investor in what I wanted to do. Other than myself and my technical co-founder, who is based in Orange County, Strategic America has been an outside investor in and supporter of our company since before day one.

About Gregory Bailey

Age: 43

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Twitter handle: @gbaileyco