When Axa boss Andy Homer writes to Insurance Times to complain about his company being described as French just because the parent is in France while no other foreign-owned insurer gets a national label he is not just being pedantic. Homer is protecting the Axa Insurance brand.

Axa has spent a fortune building its brand in the hearts and minds of the UK football-supporting public. It has not only sponsored the FA Cup – it has backed that up with more than 1,000 sports kits for youth teams in schools and community clubs. It has taken nearly 4,000 of its own staff and about 3,000 industry guests to football matches. And it says the branding campaign has worked.

Axa reckons that, despite the widespread awareness of its brand within financial communities, in 1998 it had a spontaneous brand awareness among the public of just 3%. By the end of 1999 it had beaten its own targets and achieved a spontaneous brand awareness of 15% and prompted brand awareness of 51%, up from 28%. It raised spontaneous awareness among men from 4% to 21% and prompted awareness among men from 36% to 65%.

Axa says it is now associated with the FA Cup – the longest-established and most highly thought of football tournament – by 20% of the public.

That helps, whether Axa products are sold direct or through intermediaries. If an intermediary recommends an insurer the customer has heard of they are more ready to accept the advice.

Cornhill is another insurer to have spent significant sums on sponsorship with its 23-year support for English test cricket. The first game it sponsored was the first game David Gower ever played and he

too has been associated with Cornhill just because of that coincidence. The brand was associated with the traditional fair play that came with cricket. It is perhaps no coincidence that Cornhill should pull out of sponsoring the game just as international scandals about ball tampering and bribe-taking dirty the sport's whiter-than-white image. “The values of cricket and Cornhill were synonymous,” says a Cornhill spokesman.

But for Cornhill, its UK brand image was not enough on its own. The company began using its parent company's brand name, Allianz, initially only in the major international risks markets. Allianz Cornhill International first added the Allianz name back in 1993. Cornhill felt the world renown of the Allianz name and its associated financial strength in the multi-national company and broker market would bring more business confidence to existing and potential customers.

“It's very important we continue to promote the trust and strength of the Cornhil brand,” the company says. “But we also have the financial strength of the Allianz brand.” And Cornhill reckons the added strength of the Allianz name will help brokers. “We're also trying to build a slightly different Allianz Cornhill brand to show we are thinking about the problems brokers face,” a spokesman says.

Alternative approach

Other companies take a very different approach. Groupama managing director Tim Ablett told brokers recently that Groupama had decided not to build a consumer brand but wanted brokers to know its values so they felt confident about recommending its products.

“Building a commercial brand for us is not sensible,” says Jamie Marchant, Groupama's marketing manager. “It's hugely expensive and we know there is a fundamental difference between brand and name awareness. Brand is the whole customer experience.”

Marchant says Groupama wants to be the provider that those intermediaries who trade on their own brand can trust not to let them down. “We feel it is a lot more sensible, cost-effective for our brokers to work with partners that have existing brands and to develop products for them,” he says.

“There are a lot of brokers, from the AA, which has a very strong brand, to Joe Bloggs & Co which has a very strong local brand. We're putting our name awareness behind that,” Marchant explains. It means Groupama is relaxed about its intermediaries advertising themselves and is not afraid that brokers are competing with its brand awareness campaigns. “We've set out to avoid brand conflict,” says Marchant.

That doesn't mean Groupama is not concerned about its brand. It recently relaunched in the UK. “We have launched a new logo in the UK and we have put some work behind that. It is designed to show the linkage with a parent of whom we are very proud – a strong, valuable and large parent,” says Marchant. “We still need to raise awareness of our brand but with the right people and not everyone.”

For the Lloyd's market, branding is in a unique position. The market overall is a mix of more than 120 syndicates, many of which have their own strong brands. But the ability of many to attract new as well as retain existing business, is bolstered by the over-arching brand of Lloyd's itself.

With more than 300 years of history behind it, Lloyd's has a huge reputation, barely tarnished among insureds by the scandals of a decade ago – the Lloyd's problems were caused precisely because the market paid out huge sums in claims. When Standard & Poor's reaffirmed the Lloyd's credit rating in September, it did so on the strength of the fact that Lloyd's had one of the strongest brands in global insurance and reinsurance. Lloyd's says its brand is one of the best known insurance brands in the world.

“We have the diversity of being a marketplace with the flexibility to take risks on board that others wouldn't, with the security that protects the whole marketplace,” a Lloyd's marketing department spokeswoman says.

Having a strong brand can convince customers to choose the branded product from an array of similar products or even enable the branded products to be sold at a higher price. It works for clothes, alcohol, groceries, banks and pensions. Having a brand is worth it in insurance, too.