In the insurance industry, building a strong brand can be a real challenge. The problem is that most consumers view the insurance market as crowded and confusing, and they typically feel no loyalty to any one brand -- or agent.
One recent study on brand equity within the insurance industry found that the most powerful differentiating factor lies in the interaction between clients and their insurance agents. The fact that this kind of communication is so important to consumers is good news, because it means agents can continue building brand equity and staying ahead by finding new ways to communicate and connect with their prospects and clients as the times change.
What is brand equity?
Brand equity is the value that a brand adds to your company's products and services.
Even when you are selling virtually the same products and services as your competition, with brand equity you can create customer loyalty and increase your market share, even when premium prices are set by insurers whose products your competitors may also sell.
Your status as either an independent or a captive agent does make a difference in how you approach branding. Captive agents may have to follow guidelines set by the insurance company they represent, while an independent agent enjoys more leeway. On the other hand, an independent agent may receive less branding support from the home office than the captive agent would.
Branding on a small budget
Raising awareness is the first hurdle. That means you must work toward bringing your brand name to consumers' minds first, above all others. Brand equity is not unlike the image that public relations professionals strive to create for their clients -- and to that end, hiring a PR firm can raise awareness about your company in ways that are more credible than mere advertising. If you have a tight budget, your PR functions may be handled in-house by someone on your staff who is an effective writer and communicator.
Every time your company hires a new employee or promotes someone, write a news release and distribute it to your local media. Are you speaking at a conference? Has your company expanded into a new market or added a new product or service? Have you been elected to a board of directors? Send out a news release.
The idea is to keep your company name in newspapers and business publications. Besides writing news releases about your company, sponsor an event for a charity and notify the media. Concentrate some effort on winning business awards, such as those sponsored by your local chamber of commerce or business publications in your area.
An upstanding and ethical insurance agent is a trusted business advisor, and one of the best ways to achieve this valuable image is for your company or your agents to win awards. As an insurance professional, you want your company brand above all to make people feel secure and safe. Because consumers have so many options when it comes to purchasing insurance, an award-winning company brand that emphasizes trustworthiness will be among those they will consider first. When your company or an individual agent does win an award, be sure to send out a news release.
Leveraging your Web site
Post your news releases on your own Web site in a special area called "News." To ensure your releases are included on major online news sites, send them to news release wires.
You can bypass the media and put your news release directly in the hands of your customers this way. When you do this, your company name will crop up in more consumers' Web searches. Your goal is to appear at the top on the results page.
You do not need a glamorous site with animation -- all you need to do is make your site more interactive and easier to navigate. Consider e-commerce options to help sell your insurance products and provide your clients with more options in the way of services. The most efficient way to accomplish this is through third-party products that give your clients login access to a dynamic set of insurance, employee benefits, and human resources tools and information.
Some sample ideas include human resources, legislative and regulatory information, and insurance industry news.
Another innovative way for your agency to increase its brand equity on a small budget is releasing podcasts on relevant insurance topics. Podcasting is a form of audio broadcasting that's posted on Web sites. You can inexpensively create your own podcasting studio using a computer workstation hub with two condenser microphones, a mixing board, and a compressor. For software, use an open source, fully functional multi-track audio editor.
Create a series of podcasts to help further explain insurance coverage to prospective and current clients. Topics can range anywhere from term life and group health to the benefits of using a locally owned and operated insurance company as opposed to a large national one. Get an agent with a pleasant voice to talk about how to choose the right health insurance plan, and offer the podcast as a free download from your Web site. Podcasts are an extremely beneficial and cost-effective way to portray your company as a leader in the insurance industry and one that is knowledgeable and willing to help.
When is brand repositioning necessary?
Brand repositioning may become necessary when your company's brand is outdated and ineffective, or when your company is entering into a new market or has a new competitor with a superior value proposition. Think long and hard about the identity you want to communicate to the public. Your company's branding position comes from your business strategy. Ask yourself: What are my capabilities? What am I best at doing?
Building brand equity requires you to focus on this core mission and values, and all your marketing materials should reflect this choice. When customers think of your company, whatever you excel at should immediately spring into their minds.
W.D. Mills III is vice president of SIA Group. For more information, visit www.siagroup.net.