R&SA's rebranding of its direct insurance arm was met with trepidation by brokers. Six months on, Amanda Swinburn asks if this was justified

Royal & Sunalliance (R&SA) relaunched its direct insurance arm More Th>n last June to a great fanfare. The company spent 18 months planning the launch and invested £20m in customer and e-systems and a further £20m on marketing.

The question is: does it live up to the hype?

So far so good it seems. At launch, More Th>n's aim was to take on 400,000 new customers each year, which it achieved in 2001. Another aim was to cross-sell three products per customer by 2005, which it says it is well on target for. In addition, in a recent survey, the product achieved 80% brand recognition.

The decision to rebrand the direct arm was initially met with trepidation by brokers who were concerned that R&SA was planning to switch customers away from its intermediary book to its direct arm. In response the company called a meeting of its brokers, to reassure them that its intention was to entice customers away from other direct writers.

When More Th>n was launched, R&SA admitted that failure to differentiate between the two divisions in the past may have caused "confusion and frustration", adding that brokers should, therefore,welcome the rebranding.

More Th>n's marketing director Mike Tildesley says: "There is a profit to be made in product manufacture and distribution and we wanted a finger in both pies."

Wait and see policy
One of the most popular aspects of the More Th>n relaunch has been R&SA's offer that any customer who comes to them with proof of an existing no-claims bonus on their motor policy will keep it for life. "We are working hard to create a differentiated product," says Tildesley.

At present, R&SA is considering giving brokers access to the lifetime no claims bonus it has launched on its direct motor policy, but it is first going to see how successful the concept is on the direct side.

The decision to rebrand met with derision from the rest of the insurance market.

Direct Line head of corporate affairs Miles Russell says: "The amount of money Royal & SunAlliance is having to invest to raise brand awareness is significant and begs the question of why it has had to create a new brand to sell via the internet."

Russell adds that More Th>n's launch has not impacted on Direct Line's 30% share of the online insurance market.

Tildesley responds by pointing out that Direct Line is price-led. "We will never beat it on that as we don't want to compete on price. We are competing on service," he says

Tildesley says the vision for the rebrand was to increase customer `stickiness'. "Before the relaunch, Royal & SunAlliance had lots of separate businesses, but little cross-selling going on."

What's in a name
The insurer hired a specialist brand agency and market researchers to plan the relaunch. It was initially going to be done under the R&SA name, but research showed there was confusion about the existing brand name.

"People found it was hard to remember - some remembered the old Royal and others remembered SunAlliance," says Tildesley.

"So we came up with a list of thousands of potential new names and the More Th>n name really stood out from the rest."

For the time being, about 10% of More Th>n's business is done online, but R&SA is looking to boost this in the future.

The company has been working with IBM to make sure the site is as user-friendly as possible. It has even filmed volunteers using the site to see what can be improved.

The company says the `run rate' - the number of new policies per month - is 15% for pet insurance, a sign that the Lucky campaign is reaching new customers.

It also says there has been a "big rise" in home insurance sales since the launch of More Th>n.

Lucky leads the way
The More Th>n advertising campaign, featuring Lucky, a lovable scruffy dog, was one of the most prominent campaigns of the year.

It included a three-week `tease' campaign to arouse interest, followed by a branded campaign which adorned television, posters, direct marketing campaigns, customer magazines and a website.

The More Th>n brand, sold via the internet and telephone, includes home, motor, life, health, pet and travel insurance, as well as savings and investments.

The website, www.morethan.com , also offers lifestyle information and features, such as advice on finding the right breed of dog, help on how to make a house move go smoothly and even recipes.

Before the relaunch, R&SA had about two million direct customers, the net written premiums of which account for 20% of its total business.

With its More Th>n brand, R&SA has set itself the ambitious target of acquiring 400,000 new customers each year and achieving an average of three products per customer by 2005.