Whether by design or happenstance, you already have a brand.
But rather than leaving any part of your image to chance, a deliberate approach can nurture a memorable brand that helps your firm grow.
Why does a strong brand matter? Because 77% of consumers say they make purchases based on brand name. And there’s a hiring advantage. According to LinkedIn, 75% of job seekers say they consider an employer’s brand before they apply for a job.
Build a Brand that Resonates.
Let’s start with a definition: A brand is the collective perception of how a product or business is seen by those who experience it — that can include customers, investors, employees, the media and vendor partners. A brand isn’t simply tangible things like a name, tagline, logo, service or product. It is intangible – relationships formed with every stakeholder interaction.
Within 90 seconds, a person makes a subconscious judgment about your agency, so you need to carefully plan your branding approach. Invest the time needed to assess what makes your firm truly different from the competition (hint: it doesn’t have to be far out or exaggerated — only genuine and believable).
Words have consequences, and so you should really think about messaging. Don’t leave it to chance.
- Involve your stakeholders. When you begin a branding exercise, involve team members from varied departments and roles. Collect opinions about your brand from external stakeholders as well, such as current customers, prospects, vendors and carrier partners. Different perspectives will help your brand take shape. Expect the process to take multiple meetings.
- Be authentic. This is the first step in establishing a brand to which people will relate and remember. Insist on honesty in the branding process. Let stakeholders know you want frank discussion and that there is no penalty for candid remarks. You can’t improve your brand experience if you don’t understand your real strengths and weaknesses.
- What is the “Why”? Why do people do business with you over other agencies? With little exception, other firms offer a similar menu of products, so you need to stand out for other reasons. When considering your brand, focus less on products and services and more on what truly differentiates you from your competition: your people, your approach, your expertise and how you work with customers and the community.
The end goal is to create a brand strategy in which your entire team feels invested and to which they are committed (which makes their involvement from the beginning especially key).
Brand strategy must-haves.
A series of messaging guidelines will ensure consistent communication about your brand going forward. This should include your:
- Mission. This describes what your agency does and for whom. Keep in mind this should be less about the literal act of selling insurance or settling claims and more about the reward you provide to customers (such as more confidence for businesses or more security for families).
As an example, Google’s mission is “to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful.”
- Vision. This answers why you do what you do. How do you hope to change the world? What is the work you do to create a better state of affairs for your customers? Let this statement be aspirational. It’s something to strive for and not necessarily something you will ever be able to achieve.
With no mention of beverages, Coca-Cola’s mission is “to refresh the world in mind, body, and spirit,” while Tesla strives “to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.”
- Values and code of ethics. Your core values guide daily employee conduct and reveal how you promise to operate as professionals. How will you treat each other? Your customers? Your carriers? Think of words like resourceful, responsive, transparent, but have specific examples to back them up so they aren’t just words. Ask, “How am I being resourceful today?”
Typically, this is a list of five to seven value statements that are authentic to your firm and are enthusiastically shared inside and outside the agency. You will find this list helpful for hiring new talent. And, also helpful as you’re completing performance evaluations.
- Personality. Describe your brand as if it were a person. That is how consumers think of brands, too. Is it serious, energetic, funny or proactive? Choose single words and then add some sentences to describe that word in more detail and how it applies to your firm. This, too, will help you decide who to hire in the future.
- Positioning statement. Craft three or four sentences that explain your agency’s distinct benefit to your target market. If you have multiple target markets and enough resources to focus exclusively on one at a time, you may want more than one positioning statement, such as one for commercial lines and another for personal lines.
This is not a slogan or tagline, but a summary of the primary advantage you want someone to know your agency offers. As a thought starter, consider filling in this sentence: “Agency XYZ is the [firm descriptor] for [target customer] who needs/wants [this specific advantage]. Unlike competitors, XYZ does…”
- Proof-points or reasons to believe. This is a list of facts that prove your positioning statement to be true. It may be growth or sales statistics, markets served, number of customers, renewal rates or other concrete facts.
- Origin story or narrative. Everyone loves a good story. What is yours? Who founded the agency? When? How did it evolve and grow? Did you expand your product set or geographic footprint along the way? Who do you serve? Why do your people work with such passion to protect customers? What about your community work? Where are you headed as a firm in the future? Host this narrative with pride on your website.
Armed with this brand messaging, many agencies also find it helpful to write an “elevator speech” that summarizes the statements overall. This is what you might say if you were asked to describe your company during a short elevator ride. It’s just a few sentences that lets someone see why they’d want to partner with you.
Marketing your brand.
Once you have everyone on the same brand page, you can begin creating your marketing pieces. Regardless of who is producing or approving elements, your brand guidelines should direct your choices, from sales message and word choices to logo, colors, images and typeface. Whether it’s a printed piece, presentation, email message or other communication piece, it should sound and look like it’s coming from the same person.
Insist on consistency.
It can take a minimum of five to seven impressions to even begin establishing brand awareness. After that, consistent presentation of your brand can increase revenue by up to 23%, according to a Forbes review of varied online platforms.
Recognize that everything about your agency communicates something about your brand as well, so be sure to review even your office space and corporate apparel to make sure they fall within brand parameters. Be diligent; don’t allow variations of colors or fonts or other creative elements with your logo and signage.
With time, and as customers are exposed to your brand, you’ll increase awareness and familiarity. In turn, that exposure builds trust, loyalty and the likelihood of referrals and word-of-mouth advertising.
Keep the conversation going.
Remember that the launch of a new or refreshed brand is just that, a launch and only the beginning of the journey. Remain engaged and reach out to customers in different ways, always reinforcing your message. Refresh online content and update materials as needed.
Trust the process.
It’s not uncommon for agencies to grow bored or weary of their own marketing and push for frequent “make-overs” of the brand. While you want to keep things relevant and modern, resist the urge to change brand elements unnecessarily, as that could diminish your brand’s equity in the market. (Remember Coca-Cola’s branding fail with “new” Coke? Arguably one of the largest branding risks ever taken!) Evaluate your messaging once a year, sure. But look at your new or refreshed logo, tagline and other visual design elements every five years or so.
Protecting the brand also may require some policing on your part. Employees often want to get creative and tweak things just a bit for fun. Simply nudge them back by explaining why one voice fuels a stronger brand.
Ask for help.
If marketing and branding are not your strength, don’t hesitate to call in the experts. You don’t need a full-time ad agency, but maybe you need a professional freelancer or a firm with branding experience.
To find a partner, simply ask colleagues in the industry who they use, or check out the marketing resources of a local (even noninsurance) brand that has captured your interest.