When arriving for a consulting day with an agency owner, I’m never sure what I’ll see. On this day I walked into an office in a resort town in the upper Midwest. The first thing I noticed were the dilapidated desks, piled high with papers. The lone employee was in sweat pants and a hoodie. She greeted me and took me back to the agency owner’s office. I knew right away it was going to be a challenging day.
As we started to talk, he told me he wanted to rebrand his agency as a risk-management resource for high net worth clients. He was located near a lake with many multi-million dollar homes and knew the owners would be excellent clients.
Time for some harsh reality.
I talked to him about the changes he’d need to make, including upgrading his office so it would look like a business that had affluent clients. He nodded… Then I told him he’d have to implement a more formal dress code for his employee. His face fell, “I can’t do that… she’s my sister.” “Well then,” I said, “Your sister’s in control of your agency, and you’re stuck with the brand you’ve got now.”
As you can imagine, the owner wasn’t very happy with the situation — but not unhappy enough to change it. No amount of rebranding effort would overcome being greeted by someone in sweatpants. Your brand is everything you do and say, day in and day out.
Your way of doing business.
Your office and staff.
You see, branding isn’t a logo, new stationary, or even a new mission statement. Branding is who you are as a business. It’s your personality and beliefs. It’s reflected in every interaction you have with your prospects and clients.
Let’s look at an example. Apple has a strong brand as a forward-looking, user-focused technology company. Elegant. Simple. Easy-to-use. Imagine going into an Apple store. The sales person, Brittany, is wearing an Apple watch and carrying an iPad. She helps you compare the features of the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air. After some discussion, you decide on a new MacBook Air and get ready to pay for your purchase. Brittany opens up a cabinet and pulls out a manual typewriter. She selects two pieces of paper, slides a sheet of carbon paper in between them, and types up your receipt. Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? No matter how much affection you have for carbon paper, it’s not simple, elegant, or forward-looking. It doesn’t “fit” with Apple’s brand.
An effective brand is built on the foundational philosophy (or core beliefs) of the company. In Apple’s Mission Statement, Tim Cook outlines these core beliefs:
- We believe that we’re on the face of the Earth to make great products.
- We believe in the simple, not the complex.
- We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products we make.
- We participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution.
- We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can really focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us.
This isn’t a complete list, but it’s enough to see how Apple’s beliefs form the foundation for all of the company’s branding activities.
You can apply the same process to your agency to develop a strong, unique brand.
- Identify your core beliefs.
What are the 7 – 10 statements that define your core beliefs? What is the market you can best serve?
- Make your visual elements consistent.
Does the design, color, and message of your logo reflect your core branding message? If your agency has been in business for decades and never freshened up your logo, it may be time to update it.What about your agency’s office? Does it make your best clients feel comfortable and welcome?
Don’t forget your online presence — your website and online communications often have more impact than your physical office.
- Make your messaging consistent.
Are your marketing and advertising messages consistent? One of the reasons GEICO has been successful is because of the message they have hammered home over and over and over: “15 minutes can save you 15% or more.”Examine all of your marketing and advertising and look for inconsistent messages. And ad that promises the lowest price on auto insurance will negate one that promises the most comprehensive coverage.
- Make your sales experience consistent.
Do you have a process for onboarding clients that’s consistent regardless of when they buy, who they buy from, and what they buy?Obviously, a large commercial account will be more involved than a personal auto sale, but the experience should be similar and reinforce your core beliefs. If it’s haphazard depending on who is handling the sale, your brand will suffer.
- Make your client experience consistent.
If you’ve ever heard, “Your call is important to us,” over and over while you sit on hold, you know the damage that can occur when a company’s actions don’t align with their promises.Poorly written correspondence can have the same effect. If you have a core value to communicate clearly with your clients in language they understand, but send them a letter filled with insurance acronyms and terms, you’ve lost an opportunity to reinforce your brand.
Look at every interaction a client has with your agency and ask if it supports or detracts from the brand you are building. Then make the changes necessary to build your brand.
As you can tell, branding your agency isn’t a project you do once and then cross it off your list. You must live your brand each and every day. And when you do… you create a very powerful tool that will bring benefits to your agency for years to come.
Charlotte Hicks Crockett, CPA CIC AAI ARM
Charlotte is a third-generation insurance professional. She was the principal in Glasgow Hicks Company, now Aquesta Insurance Services, in Wilmington, North Carolina. Charlotte is the co-author of A Business Success Journal – Straight Talk by Real People and author of the upcoming book, The Nowpreneur Manifesto.
She currently serves on the Board of the North Carolina Insurance Underwriting Association and is a Past-President of IIANC. She has also served as the Secretary/Treasurer of the NC Surplus Lines association, Secretary/Treasurer of the Upper Delaware Captive Insurance Company and on many industry and nonprofit committees and task forces.
Charlotte is the founder of Nowpreneur, which gives entrepreneurs who are frustrated with outdated, time-consuming, and costly prospecting methods, customized marketing strategies that deliver a steady stream of high-quality prospects to their businesses. Charlotte has worked with clients all over North America and as far away as South Africa, Slovenia, and Russia. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.