Scheme and affinity group business represents an enormous opportunity to build your client base quickly and profitably.

But you must approach the opportunity in the right way, or it can work out expensive and time-consuming. Get it right and you'll see fast growing, manageable and less promiscuous business come your way.

The right approach largely follows good marketing practice for attacking any area of business. With affinity groups, you're committing some special effort, so realism is even more vital. You need to consider the following:

  • Market and competitive environment: Estimate the competition. How good are competitors' offerings? Try to gain details on their access to the affinity group and penetration, their strengths and weaknesses. Look at the size of the target group, the numbers involved and the potential in premium income and growth.

  • Product/pricing/service offering: Research your target group and match your offering to its needs. Identify how you can differentiate in cover, service and value for money. Vitally, consider any unique features you can bring into your offer. Successful scheme brokers will often tell you that they may have discovered just one element that is unique. It may have been staring the market in the face. They've just gone to the trouble to write it in and then make a big thing about it. Clever promotion allows it to gain a prominence far greater than its real value.

  • Objectives, targets and your own commitment: Clear goals are vital. Not just numeric, such as client growth, and premium income, but more qualitative too, such as becoming the leading sector broker by a given period. Project the position into the future. Look now at your own commitment. What are you prepared to do in terms of dedicated staff, administration, systems and promotion? Are there any internal barriers to success?

  • Access and relationship to affinity group: This is key. What is your real access to the affinity group? How does it rate on a scale from excellent to poor? Similarly, rate your relationship and interface to the group.

    Some successful schemes are simply based on the relationship a broker builds up with a distinct group. Often this is the spin-off of special interest or knowledge of a sector garnished from personal experience.

    One absolute goldmine of a scheme I know of was built up largely from the specialist knowledge an intermediary had of a water-based leisure activity. He really understood the key risks facing the commercial part of the sector, what elements worried them and how specially written insurance and risk management would provide a powerful offer. He also understood the sub culture and how to get close to the target group. This was vital in developing the best promotional mix. For many of the businesses in the sector, this intermediary is now synonymous with insurance.

  • Optimum promotional route: You can't know enough about your target group. There's no substitute for experience, but it's amazing what well directed research can achieve. Then decide on the promotional route that gives you best access and identify the most appropriate mix of the many promotional tools available.

    Well executed written communications always have a part to play, often combined with impact mailing literature, “off the page” advertising and editorial in the key sector journals. Don't overlook exhibitions, point-of-sale material, sponsorship and PR.

    Conferences can also provide vital opportunities to access the group. One broker successfully used risk management briefings at regional meetings of the sector trade association. Hence, he got promotional access to the movers and shakers in the sector.

  • Insurer liaison and support: Successful “scheme” brokers share a particular skill. They know just how to get the very best from their insurer partners.

    The cleverest cultivate top floor decision-makers to gain product/pricing advantage. They make sure they have the best business cases, which include the pivotal elements already described. They also greatly influence the product specification, pricing and distribution to help ensure success in growth, plus profitability for the insurer. Insurers then often respond with support in marketing, administration and systems.

    Follow the steps and you'll turn an identifiable affinity group into a block of loyal clients, well served by the best insurance expertise. You'll also build special partnerships with insurers. Most of all, you can obtain, reasonably quickly, a revenue stream which leads to an even greater footing in the industry.

    The larger the target markets, the better. But whatever its size – build on your experience and research, get known and get close. For all the scheming, it's the application that counts.

  • 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 marketing services to intermediaries.

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