Clear and consistent branding is key to good communications, says 'Angel Brown

One of the most cost-effective ways of learning in business is to examine the strategies put in place by your peers. Effectively, this enables you to benefit from someone else's R&D and experience, by highlighting the pitfalls to avoid and the routes to embrace. This is as true for marketing as it is for any other business discipline. While I'm not the kind to 'out' those companies that have made mistakes, I want to applaud the ones who have set good examples, to demonstrate how communications can work for your company.The best communications always integrate a company's key messages and branding consistently, across all formats, with clear contact details on everything produced. This means that at a glance it is obvious that the marketing activity - from printed materials, to electronic communications and any broadcast activity - all comes from the same company. And on closer inspection it all conveys the same key messages and business 'personality'. Budget restraints usually mean that it is only the larger industry players who develop their communications across all of available formats. Fortunately for smaller businesses, this delivers an extensive library of case studies for them to examine and learn from.Two big insurance companies that communicate extremely effectively are Royal & Sun Alliance, with its More Th>n brand, and Direct Line. Just hearing their names may immediately bring their branding to mind - both More Th>n, with its use of the ' > ' symbol, and Direct Line with its red telephone, have managed to work their way into our psyche. A look at the communication tools used by both demonstrates how to take a brand across multiple formats. Their print material, TV advertising and websites are clearly branded, using the same company logos, fonts and colours. Also, they are all consistent in their use of images - such as that red telephone or Lucky the Dog - enabling customers to identify the brand and easily correlate the messages they receive in the various formats. This ensures that each piece of marketing reinforces the other one.

Interactive marketingMore Th>n, in particular, is one of the insurance industry's more daring communicators by experimenting with technology. Along with the AA, More Th>n was one of the first insurance brands to use interactive TV advertising, enabling viewers to extend their experience with the brand.Similarly, More Th>n ensures that the internet works hard for it. Not only is its website consistent with all brand messages but it also develops additional communications tools, such as the electronic advent calendar that can currently be downloaded from its website. Miller also demonstrates well how marketing activity can differentiate you from your competitors. When it rebranded last year, it ensured that all of the company's communications reflected its new positioning. The shortening of its name from Miller Insurance to simply Miller, immediately gave it a fresh new personality to present to the world, whilst retaining the legacy of its past.

Important playerThis was then reflected across its entire range of communications - with a contemporary version of a classic typeface chosen as part of its corporate identity. Its website reflects this new image extremely well. One look leaves the visitor in no doubt that Miller is an important player in the market, with vast experience and an international team, covering a number of industries. However, it also demonstrates a comparatively modern approach, featuring direct contact details for people within the company, making them more accessible to clients and potential clients.The ability to communicate to a wealth of people at little extra cost, means that marketing on the internet is one area that companies of all sizes can learn from and actually implement in their own way. Companies like The Children's Mutual are finding that online activity can be an effective supplement to the extensive direct marketing that they traditionally undertake. It is vital that all communications are supported effectively, as your customers' perception of your company can live or die by the individual user experience. One particular insurance company, with fantastic marketing credentials, let itself down at the final hurdle. It took me five phone calls to get through to its customer services department, in an attempt to get some brochures and leaflets. If I had been a genuine customer, I would never have made the fifth call. Crucially, this is probably one of the biggest lessons that we can learn. IT' Angel Brown is technical director at communications agency Box