Nothing is easy about selling a product that people wish they didn’t have to purchase and which they hope they never have to use. The secret to success lies in the strength of your insurance agency branding.
As an independent insurance professional in a highly competitive marketplace, your most valuable asset is your brand. It builds trust and provides clients and prospects with an assurance of quality and value.
What Makes a Brand?
A brand is everything that a person thinks or feels about a product, service, experience or organization. Logos, taglines, websites and marketing brochures are ways to communicate a brand, but they are not the brand themselves. A strong brand guides all aspects of the insurance business—from the delivery of products and services by independent producers to the ongoing management of agency operations.
If this didn’t already sound hard enough, consider this: today’s digitally savvy consumers expect to connect with brands and have conversations using tools that did not exist previously. The good news is that these same consumers have developed a healthy skepticism of the expertise that talking geckos and fictional spokespeople put forth on the topic of insurance. Instead, policyholders and prospects seek ongoing educational content from qualified insurance experts, i.e., real people, on everything from protecting assets to mitigating risks and avoiding liabilities.
By acting as a source of helpful information, you are more likely to be rewarded by word of mouth referrals. According to a 2011 National Association of Insurance Commissioners report, 79% of people asked family and friends for referrals when shopping for insurance; 65% also asked colleagues and social acquaintances.
How to Stand Out
In a sea of information, how do you and/or your agency stand out? It comes back to the strength of your brand. Avoid the common trap of mistaking a high rate of retention for having a strong brand. High retention rates are often a result of inertia. Worse yet, policyholders may simply be sticking around because your competitors haven’t come knocking on their doors—for the time being, anyway. The question that independent agents should be asking themselves is, “How much more can I achieve with a strong brand?” Whether you are revitalizing an agency brand or working on your own personal brand, follow these strategies:
1. Define your brand promise
A brand promise is exactly that—a promise. Typically a single sentence, a brand promise is a clear and concise statement that explains what your brand stands for and how it connects with policyholders and prospects on an emotional level. More important, a brand promise implies action. It guides the actions of producers and helps with the creation of agency guidelines, standards, quality controls, employee training and more.
To arrive at a meaningful brand promise, start with non-differentiating functional features (e.g., competitive rates, great customer service) and ladder up to the emotional, spiritual and cultural values that form the backbone of all strong brands. This involves asking a series of questions designed to get to the whys and hows of what is most important in the lives of your target audience.
2. Identify and prioritize your brand touch points
A brand is only as strong as its weakest link. In other words, your brand is the sum of every interaction that you have with the outside world. Each one of these interactions, or touch points, is a chance to reinforce your brand promise—or take away from it.
Only by identifying all your high-impact brand touch points can you begin to develop a plan for managing them. Yet far too few insurance professionals have a formal brand touch point plan in place. This can lead to some unfortunate “brand breakdowns” along the way. Get started by creating a brand touch point wheel. As the name implies, the brand touch point wheel is a circle that is divided into sections (e.g., pre-purchase experience, purchase experience, post-purchase experience). Within each of the aforementioned sections, brand touch points are broken down further to include every possible point of interaction with policyholders, prospects and the public—from sales calls to claims.
3. Communicate with consistency
Strong brands don’t happen overnight. They require a long-term commitment and clear and consistent communications. In the digital age, they also require a basic understanding of the power of strategic, optimized content—the type of content that educates and entertains while building brand awareness and generating word of mouth.
To put your best foot forward, create a brand content calendar that lays out your communications activities for the next six to twelve months. Ask yourself these questions: What is your area of expertise? What is your unique point of view? How will you develop content for different media outlets? Content calendars can take different shapes and forms, but it’s good to start with a list of high-level topics and themes that can be adapted to different formats. It also helps to schedule ongoing brand-building activities like weekly blog posts, bi-weekly Facebook posts and monthly podcasts. This provides structure and accountability for tasks that often get pushed to the back burner.
A Final Word
At its most basic, branding is about connecting with the values and beliefs of your customers—backed up with stellar service, competitive products and services, and expert knowledge. None of this comes easy, of course. Yet as an independent insurance agent, you are in a unique position to build solid relationships of trust. Add to that a strong brand that is worth buzzing about, and the return on investment is clear.
Excerpted from “Build Your Irresistible Brand” by Patrick Galvin for the Spring 2014 issue of The Oregon Agent, the official publication of the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of Oregon (IIABO). Patrick will present on “Building Your Irresistible Brand” and “Beyond Networking: Cultivating Your Real World and Online Connections to Grow Your Agency” at the IIABO 2014 86th Annual Convention & Trade Show August 24-26.