Branding is everything, say the gurus, so make sure your web presence reflects your business strengths. Simon Burgess explains

A former chief executive of the Biba once blasted branding "a waste of time" believing the customer's overall experience to be much more important.

Few people in the insurance industry today would be so quick to dismiss the benefits of branding – both for the broking community and the wider insurance industry.

Branding can help both your peers and the wider public to differentiate between your products and services and those of your competitors. This is especially relevant when brokers are struggling to compete in an environment where product commoditisation is rife.

According to the marketing gurus, brand is everything in today's business arena. Nothing sells better than a good brand and by the same token nothing withers and dies faster than a brand in trouble.

Brand power
There are many intermediaries, that have recognised and capitalised on the power of their brand. These range from the AA, which has a very strong national brand, to a provincial broker that may have a very strong local brand.

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

Brokers in the past have tended to rely on bespoke business based on recommendation. Branding was not an issue as clients generally 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.

Many brokers rely on literature and other marketing tools supplied by the product providers to represent their brand.

In even more competitive times this is nowhere near enough. Shrewd operators have long known that name awareness, coupled with top class customer service, is a central part of their business strategy. They realise that branding is a powerful builder of growth. This is where having a powerful web presence can pay dividends.

Incredibly, most brokers' websites are 'information-only' and do little to promote the broker and brand where a specific business culture is to the fore.

The first thing to do is to decide on and register a name for the website. This can be the existing name of your business. However, if you want to take your business in a funkier direction you may want to think about using a catchy name that will stick in the mind and so ensuring repeat visits and valuable word of mouth promotion.

The name could also reflect a niche business sector that you have a particular expertise in.

The crucial thing is to make sure that you register the name because the name immediately becomes the brand and the brand becomes your business.

Assuming your business plan is successful, that name gains currency and that is what any potential buyer will be purchasing should you wish to take such an exit strategy in the future.

There are plenty of domain names that can be picked up cheaply and it costs only a few quid more to register. The key is to make sure you register, otherwise your business can legitimately be replicated and undermined and taken from you. Remember, with branding, the name becomes the business.

Market gap
Look what has just happened with It has come from nowhere to be picked up by French insuring giant AXA for a not inconsiderable sum. A totally web-based concept, it identified a gap in the market and exploited it by presenting itself as the UK's only 100% online insurance provider.

The fact that it could offer a car insurance quote in under 60 seconds lent itself to the catchy name that ultimately boosted its value to AXA.

It meant that the insurer could re-enter the motor market and have a ready-made presence with a good reputation and high customer awareness.

With, AXA bought a successful brand that recently achieved a prompted awareness, according to research.

Obviously there are cost considerations to be taken into account when building a web presence.

But brokers can take the decision to enter into a co-branding arrangement where they will be part of a network of sub-sites. But an individual broker can be personalised and branded to a high standard than it could achieve on its own.

It will be run by full time IT professionals and will include capabilities and functions that an individual practice could not afford – as well as links to most, if not all, insurers.

There are not usually any up-front cost as the system owner's income comes from a share of turnover through the parent site. However, having a web presence also means offering a high level of service.

Internet users do expect fast turnarounds and so the business should be geared to provide that. And it should be remembered that the usual requirements regarding data protection and transparency of information apply equally to the internet as to the real world.

By the same token, your original material that populates the site is your intellectual property and care should be taken to protect it.

But this all counts for nothing if you ignore the pitfalls of putting your business online.

Once on the web, the whole world has access to how your business is run – both good and not so good. You can be sure that if you have a good idea on there someone will want to rip it off, so make sure that you own the domain name at least. It doesn't cost that much to acquire at the outset.

However, should you become successful, someone will have registered your name (your brand) and it might cost you an awful lot to buy it back. Some firms have already found this to their cost. They won't be the last.

Check that the intellectual property of the proposition is intact before deciding on a name for your online proposition. Then make sure that the information that populates the site is secure, compliant and if peculiar to you, patented.

Pay regular attention to your web presence and make sure that it is accessible, up to date and the functionality is excellent.

You never know… you could be on the way to being the next IT

Simon Burgess is managing director