Creating and building a strong brand is probably the most challenging activity in marketing. And maintaining, reinforcing and enhancing the brand don't follow far behind.

Successful brand creation and management in insurance is not exactly made easier by the fact that it is an intangible service, and by the general perceptions by the public.

For intermediaries, the challenge is to build a strong private brand regardless of all that surrounds them.

To start with there's a need to recognise what a brand is. Perhaps, because branding as a concept is more nebulous and yet more basic to a business than, say, direct mail, people do tend to ask me: what's all this about brands anyway?

In essence, a brand is simply a name, symbol or design which identifies your service and differentiates it from competitors. From there the key to successful branding is creating a name or symbol that acts as a warranty of quality – rather like a gold hallmark.

This perception is vital to the well-being of your business as it means, for your customer, conscious recognition and confidence in respect of purchasing. Your customer expects a consistent level of quality and associates this with your name. Good branding simply allays fears and brings down barriers to making sales – so it's pretty important.

So in developing a stronger brand you need to take the attributes and personality of your business, blend them with the benefits you offer and match these with the values of your customer.

Taking a wide view

In defining customer values take a wide view and don't forget to include your insurer partners. Their perceptions of your operation as a brand will have a key impact on your future too.

Remember the aim is to incorporate all the essences in names, symbols and design, but before outlining the ways you go about that it is worth saying a few things about our industry that affects brand positioning.

As insurance is intangible, and a service, it's difficult for buyers to evaluate before purchase. Uncertainty is increased. To reduce this, buyers look for “signals” of service quality.

Conclusions are drawn on quality from the place, people, equipment and communication material. To be successful the service provider must make the service tangible in as many of these ways as possible: essentially, adding tangible cues suggesting high quality to the intangible offers.

Couple this intangibility with service variability (the fact that the service varies according to the people operating it) and lack of ownership (when compared with physical goods) and we can see why strong branding is actually more vital in services.

Even more so in insurance and financial services, where past history and sales methods have created a climate of mistrust. Make no mistake – a brand that you can trust is essential to success.

Try to ooze quality

You will want your brand to allay fear, reassure, ooze quality and create warm perceptions in the eyes of your customer as well as saying something about the personality of your business. So:

  • make sure that your name, logo or symbol is doing you justice. Is it strong and does it convey the messages on speed, efficiency, reliance and service that you want it too?
  • try to develop a complimentary service message, which will impress customers consciously and subliminally, such as a super strapline to be remembered along with your name
  • believe in your brand and impart the symbols and messages throughout your communications externally and internally
  • develop a corporate sales document (it need not be a full-blown brochure) that is both strongly branded and packed with offers on your service. Ensure the excellence of this document so that the recipient is in no doubt of your calibre
  • make sure your premises look smart and efficient from external signage and decoration to customer-friendly internal layout, fittings and decor
  • ensure as much as possible of your electronic equipment is modern and office furniture gives a good impression
  • make sure your staff look the part in dress and attitude. Be sure they are embracing the brand ideals. Given the amount of customer contact and the amount of buyer-seller interaction involved, their buy in is vital
  • use new and existing products and services to strengthen your branding through literature and other supporting communications
  • develop the value of your brand through excellent communications with the local press and radio. Become a presence in the community by using this media and ensure where possible your brand symbols and messages are imparted
  • overall, articulate your brand persistently in person, on the telephone, through literature, in sponsorship and, of course, throughout the internet. Here, like with any other corporate communication, the very highest standards of plain English copywriting and design should be employed.

    Successful branding has become a key factor in the marketing of insurance. In a competitive world the strongest brands communicate their proposition clearly and consistently to everyone – clients, insurers and other suppliers.

    Whether we are a business or individual customer, successful branding removes fear and implies quality. It leads to better recognition and purchase decisions in your favour from all who do business with you. So overall, it increases the value of your business.

    Building your brand means building value in your business.

  • Norman Stangroom is a fellow of the Chartered Insurance Institute and a member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing. He is a director of John Shetcliffe Marketing, providing practical marketing services to intermediaries.

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