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North Star: How Your Story Can Keep Your Brand on Course

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All agencies have a story to tell. But is your agency effectively connecting with customers and clearly and quickly articulating your story?

A brand story is a powerful tool to create human communication, which we all know we could use more of after the whirlwind of 2020. It’s more than the About Us section on your website or how you were founded. Your brand story should encapsulate you, your employees and your agency. It’s what you stand for—and why.

If you look at a sample of independent agency websites across the country, certain words consistently show up: personalized service, local, community involvement, family-owned, quality service, understandable insurance. These all represent important parts of the incredible value of using an independent insurance agent but do those words tell a story?

More importantly, do they tell your story?

The insurance landscape is changing, and so are consumer demands. Having a clear brand story can help you stand out in the clutter against the competition. Here are four steps to bring your story to life:

1) Determine Your Why

Why do you exist as an agency beyond just selling insurance? What do you contribute to society? What is your mission?

In the last four years, Lapointe Insurance Agency in Fall River, Massachusetts, grew from averaging 25-30 new accounts each month to over 500 in October 2020. That is explosive growth. At the heart of their growth was a shift in how the agency had been doing business for the past 60 years.

Lapointe Insurance Agency changed their client focus from businesses to connecting with real estate agents for home insurance referrals. It was a significant change, which can be challenging for any business.

What helped? The agency developed its core values. “We had people write down adjectives that described our values and we boiled them down and refined them,” says John Lapointe, vice president, Lapointe Insurance Agency. “It wasn’t just like we were taking this out of thin air, it was stuff that people actually felt was a core value to them.”

They ended up with a list of five: teamwork, being a source of information, doing the right thing, agency growth, and, last but not least, having fun.

In 2018, Independent Brokers Agency (IBA) in St. Louis, also tackled a change. The agency decided to rebrand.

“The project helped refocus us on what we sort of already knew to be our values but brought it back to that,” says Heather Wessels, principal, IBA. “As we build out social media and our processes, the question always is, ‘How does that meet our clients’ needs?’ And, ‘How does that inform the bigger picture?'”

2) Keep It Simple

Simple, easy-to-understand stories help a customer trust you. One thing that all stories have in common is that they all follow some form of a framework. Normally, a simple story framework has a beginning, middle, and end.

To craft a story that works for your business, frame it around your consumer. But remember, your agency is not the hero—the consumer is, according to the official StoryBrand concept by Donald Miller.

Your hero—the consumer—starts with a problem, an obstacle. They need insurance. The story progresses when the hero meets their guide, their Obi-Wan Kenobi: your agency. Your agency acts as a mentor, equipping the hero with the tools needed to confront the problem. The big finale is when the hero makes the decision to have the lightsaber duel with Darth Vader and wins (hopefully), thanks to your guidance.

In insurance terms, that means they found success and are happy with your agency as their insurance provider. Maybe you saved their business from a fire, protected a family with life insurance or removed the stress from the buying process.

Your agency needs to position itself as a guide. Independent agents offer so much more than the basic transaction of providing a quote. But how can you highlight your value-add in the information you provide to clients? How can you show your clients what you offer in a simple way?

IBA’s tagline on their website is, “We provide more than just insurance. We provide independence. We provide independence from preventable risk.” This positions the agency as a guide and illustrates that they help their customers avoid failure, which leads to success in the end.

After Lapointe Insurance Agency’s first step of defining core values, they refined their value proposition to: “We’re going to get you the insurance binder you need for your closing on time, or no other agent can.” This value proposition is simple to understand, is one sentence, repeatable and tells you exactly what you are getting from them right away.

You can’t be everything to everyone. While your agency may offer a variety of products, what’s at the core of what you are providing that helps your clients succeed?

Wessels likens strong and clear values to having your own North Star. “You’re kind of trained sometimes to throw out that net,” Wessels says, but it’s important to “remind yourself constantly what it is that you’re trying to do every day,” she adds.

3) Implement Your Story

While having a clear brand message is essential, it is equally vital that all employees know the same story. If your employees don’t know it, how will your customers?

The five core values that Lapointe Insurance Agency developed are displayed on the wall of their office so everyone sees them every day. Once they developed a clear value proposition, no matter what role someone has at the agency, they know they need to work fast to make sure that the clients get their insurance binder.

Its core values and value proposition provide Lapointe Insurance Agency with a guiding principle for how to conduct operations and business. “Any sort of business decision that we make now, we can fall back on and ask, ‘Does this fit in with our core values?’ And if the answer is no then we can move on, if the answer is yes then we can move on in that direction,” Lapointe says.

“We used to have to kind of hem and haw over every little detail and say, ‘Is this worth it for us?'” he continues. “You can grow faster, you can be more nimble, you can continue to make the right decisions for your company if you understand what that is to begin with and how it’s going to impact you.”

When implementing any new program, management must take the time and effort to invest in it too, Wessels points out. But the best thing that came from rebranding was that “it has helped to focus the culture and make it somewhere that people are proud to be, excited to be and want to be,” she says. “We have experienced growth every year, but I really think the biggest win is that it’s improved our culture in general.”

“Insurance is not an easy business,” Wessels says. “My dad used to say, ‘If it was easy, everybody would do it.’ There’s a lot of struggle inherent in it; you’re solving problems all day. To make that a positive experience, you need to enjoy the team and you need to be happy.”

“More than anything, the branding helped give us a really good energy and focus on why we’re here, what we’re doing, and why it’s important,” Wessels adds. “And that, to me, is more valuable than any increased growth.”

4) Be Consistent

Everyone needs to be talking the same talk, not just on your website and social media but in the emails and conversations that your team is sharing with clients. If your brand story is effective, it will not only help grow your bottom line but enable your agency to scale more quickly and empower your employees to be a part of your agency experience.

Wessels laid the message out to her staff by saying, “Here’s what we were talking about. Here’s the story. Here’s what we’re doing. Here’s why it is important. Here’s how it all fits together,” she says. “We always come back to what it is that we’re trying to give our clients.”

“What is it that we’re trying to build here?” Wessels adds. “The answer is: We’re trying to build something excellent. We’re trying to build independence. We’re trying to build people up. We’re always moving forward. It’s part of our name.”

Lapointe also expresses how important consistency is to your story and values throughout your organization and staff. “If people are really happy with what they’re doing and have a really strong idea of what we’re here for, then every client is going to have a better experience because they’re going to feel like they’re dealing with folks who are 100% focused on that,” he says.

“A goal of mine is for this to be a really great place to work. I want everybody to say, ‘Wow, I really love my job,’ because that’s going to make its way to the clients eventually, too,” Lapointe adds.

Independent agents bring so much value to their clients. But how do you take your unique value and clearly articulate it to your current and prospective clients?

The heart of your story distills down to being able to provide clarity through a well-defined core mission and value proposition, both internally and in your interactions with the community. Keep it simple, be authentic, be consistent and make sure you are always pointing to your North Star.

Kasey Connors
Vice President of Marketing Operations at Trusted Choice