According to the marketing gurus, brand is everything in today's business arena. Nothing sells better than a good brand; nothing can be worse than a brand in trouble.

For example, Independent Insur ...

According to the marketing gurus, brand is everything in today's business arena. Nothing sells better than a good brand; nothing can be worse than a brand in trouble.

For example, Independent Insurance had a gilt-edged brand name until recently and was a benchmark for many in the industry. Now that brand is associated with all things negative. Others, like Railtrack and Marks & Spencer, have struggled with their brand names, underlining the importance of maintaining a positive public image.

It's not just huge corporations that need to worry about image and brand - it's something all innovative, forward-thinking brokers should be addressing.

Swinton, Hill House Hammond and the AA will probably ring bells with motor and household consumers, but would a potential commercial client know a local broker from one several hundred miles away?

Brokers in the past have tended to rely on "bespoke" business based on recommendation. Branding was not an issue, as clients had, more or less, remained loyal over the years. Today things have changed - personal lines clients have little or no loyalty to a local broker and commercial clients are now much more concerned with service than mere products.

All too often, the broker has relied on literature and other marketing tools supplied by insurers. For many brokers, it was the easy way out of having to do the marketing and branding themselves.

Complacency on branding still rules in many broker offices, but the smart operators have long known that name awareness, coupled with top class customer service, is a central part of their business strategy.

David Cubbin, marketing manager of Ryan Insurance Group, an East Anglia broker with a strong regional brand, says they changed their name from the Colin Ryan Insurance Group to convey their size better. Cubbin says: "We have both a large personal lines and commercial book and we opted for a straightforward brand name. We have a distinctive logo style that we use everywhere."

This corporate branding encompasses its risk management and health and safety services for business clients, so there is no confusion with their customers.

Cubbin says they had guidelines laid down on how the corporate identity should be used, because there had to be consistency in their branding approach.

The British Insurance Brokers' Association (Biba) is currently championing the importance of broker branding and members are actively helped to strengthen their brand name.

Biba head of communications Jennifer Weller says: "We've prepared new leaflets for brokers to give to their clients at renewal on why it pays to place their insurance with a Biba member. Brokers now also know how to project themselves to local media."

For Biba too, brand is important and the association has seen a growth in press coverage that, says Weller, has had a knock-on effect of increased membership. It also hopes to organise marketing seminars in the autumn, in an ongoing effort to raise brand awareness among brokers.

Reinventing yourself
Edgar Hamilton, a well established Lloyd's guaranteeing broker, went through the difficult phase of a name change to Sterling Hamilton Wright (SHW). Effective rebranding was crucial. Not only did the guaranteeing brokers have to rebrand themselves; they had to reinvent themselves when their role came to an end at Lloyd's.

SHW marketing communications manager Mandy Bush says they had a big push to introduce the new name and logo to existing customers, to ensure everything associated with the previous brand would be carried forward with the new name.

They had to promote the brands of both its divisions: the former guaranteeing broker, now known as Agency Management Marketing, and its commercial division. The latter helps brokers with placings and has been active in assisting brokers to place their Independent business.

There will be a major campaign in the autumn to further strengthen the branding.

Alec Finch, chairman and managing director of Manchester-based brokers Alec Finch & Company, says branding for regional brokers is very much about "old fashioned virtues, doing a good job and keeping promises".

He is in competition with the national brokers but, as a member of Unitas, an umbrella organisation for ten major regional brokers throughout the UK, he has access to products that enables him to improve his own brand.

But does being a member of an umbrella organisation such as Unitas conflict with the individual branding of the member?

Not so, says Unitas chief executive Les Jackson. He says there is no branding problem for its members because they are regionally based, operating in their own environment. He adds: "But if we deal with the customer who has a national distribution network, they may have a greater demand for different services in different parts of the UK."

Then the branding is Unitas, but its individual members can provide services locally. Jackson says: "Unitas also gives regional brokers a level playing field with the national brokers."

High-street branding
For the high-street chains, branding is life itself. Hill House Hammond (HHH) is part of CGNU, but is totally independent. HHH head of communications Alex Lovesay says: "CGNU is poised to heavily promote its brand and it is important we keep our identity."

As part of their brand extension, HHH recently launched a TV advert in the fairly new territory of household insurance with good results. But HHH recognises that it must have a broader brand appeal. Lovesay says: "We are promoting our strapline of Human, Helpful and Here. We're promoting that there is another element to us, which is that we do not just sell insurance."

HHH uses subsidiary routes to improve brand awareness such as its "Be safe, not sorry" campaign. It also develops close relationships with affinity groups such as the Dorset Fire and Rescue Service and the Avon and Somerset police - further extending the brand.

And nobody needs to tell the managing director of equestrian specialists South Essex Insurance Brokers (SEIB) Barry Fehler about the value of branding. His profile has been so successful that he has had to set up a second company, Equestrian Underwriting Agency Limited (EUAL). Fehler says: "Our brand was so strong that we would sub-broke with SEIB documentation and later the client would come to us direct, because we are so well known. Unless you are careful in this situation when you are sub-broking, it can work against you."

Fehler says the sub-brokers were given an assurance that EUAL would not go direct to the public. Even direct debits go through EUAL, although sub-brokers are aware that SEIB is behind the agency.

Branding is, therefore, a powerful builder for growth. Old habits die hard in the broking community, but the need for branding to be at the heart of any strategy is an essential requirement of any business plan.