John Simmons looks at how effective wordplay can benefit brokers and insurers

' People in the insurance world are used to weighing up the risks of more or less anything.

Is that 70 year-old man more likely to have a car accident than the 20 year-old woman?

How likely is your house to burn down and what's it worth if that happens? Will it snow on Christmas Day or rain on the Saturday of the Test Match?

There's a risk in everything and it's just a matter of assessing how big or small the risk is. But what is the risk of words?

It seems that insurance companies are not prepared to risk much with their language because most of them say exactly the same things in exactly the same words.

This is even though different words could help them build closer and stronger relationships with their own staff - which would then help them win more customers. And to keep those customers loyal.

The insurance world is changing, and insurers as well as brokers need to develop real differentiation to prosper. There are some inescapable realities out there...

  • More competition
  • Structural change, with smaller brokers having to fight harder to establish their individuality and place in the market
  • New channels and new kinds of relationship, making the old handshake over a round of golf increasingly redundant
  • New demographics, with more female brokers and clients
  • Tighter margins, higher costs from IT and legal compliance
  • Higher staff expectations, and the need for job satisfaction.
  • All these factors make it a commercial imperative for brokers and insurers to look and sound different from each other. The old formulaic style of writing and talking doesn't work any more.

    However, there is a solution that is surprisingly close to hand. Just where your hand connects to a pen or a keyboard.

    Become a storytelle
    Learning to enjoy and use words more effectively could provide your business with an effective way of tackling all these issues.

    After all, brokers and insurers are in many ways more like publishers than financial service companies.

    Words are their currency. If they can't turn their products into engaging 'stories' then they're never going to win and keep their customers' attention.

    But of course not everyone wants to shell out for the big ad and branding agencies of this world. And there's no need.

    Last year a simple booklet about an apple pie won Close Premium Finance an advertising award against Zurich's far more expensive flying pigs campaign.

    Brokers and insurers need to think more like writers and storytellers. Storytelling is the ultimate sales tool.

    We can all become more creative writers and storytellers at work - or 'dark angels' as

    I have described them in a recent book.

    We simply need to encourage people at work to express greater creativity through their words. Allow your (and their) words to fly a little.

    And you'll find as a result of this that your words have become more honest to the reality of your company and brand - because, after all, you're not exactly like everyone else.

    Well-written case studies, for example, can generate media coverage which in turn discovers prospects who become new clients, whose stories generate new case studies.

    We're not talking plain English here. The world has moved on from what ten years ago was an admirable goal. Now we want to be attracted by the beautiful, the elegant, the amusing, the engaging. Who wants to be just plain?

    This is far from advocating dishonesty, however.

    Massive mis-selling scandals in insurance (such as Marsh in the USA) and the FSA's imminent disclosure requirements mean that brokers and insurers need to pay more attention than ever to getting their words right - and avoiding the tired old formulas.

    Learn from fresh brand
    A hard look at everything you write is a good starting point.

    You might start with the written communications you send out to clients. Your letters. Your website. Your forms. Your faxes. Your brochures.

    Spread them out on a desk - what do they all say about you? What values do they demonstrate? Are they consistent? Are they friendly? Are they persuasive? Are they you?

    Then have look at the writing of a company that you admire - perhaps Virgin. You might think of some newer brands such as Innocent Drinks or Lush.

    It's possible that you could learn more from brands like these, and the way they use language, than from your ten nearest insurance competitors.

    Is there anything you could do differently? Find out if you already have a writer somewhere within your team. I know you have - there are dark angels inside every business just waiting to spread their creative wings.

    Invest in their writing skills - perhaps even arrange some writing training for them. The results can be extraordinary in terms of motivation as well as effectiveness.

    If not, find a professional writer who you like and who understands your company and culture - and who can get your story across in a more engaging and inspiring way to your customers, your staff and even to the media.

    At a time when competition has never been fiercer it seems almost perverse not to grasp the opportunity of using more distinctive words - words that will set your business and brand apart from others.

    Particularly when so many people are saying 'We don't really understand you'.

    Perhaps we should look at risk in another way. What is the risk of losing business because your brand's words simply don't communicate effectively enough?

    How likely are you to lose some business because your words are confusing or just deadly dull? Take a lead from other industries where brands are now growing because they have a way with words.

    This is an area where insurance companies could improve without major investment - and at a very low risk. IT

    'John Simmons is writer-in-chief at

    The Writer ( and the author of Dark Angels: How Writing Releases Creativity At Work