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Acting locally, companies must build brand to survive and thrive

Building brands necessity for insurance companies

How do you market to customers who really don`t want your product but need it, especially in a marketplace flooded with competitors? By building a strong brand.

“Insurance has an additional hurdle because it represents one of those services we all must have, but grudgingly pay for,” said Philip Shirley, president and COO of GodwinGroup of Jackson. “With that in mind, a strong, established brand representing the qualities we want can be a critical element in customer decision-making.”

Establishing an identity versus building a brand is “talking the talk” versus “walking the walk,” said Chris Ray, president of The Ramey Agency in Jackson.

“Progressive Insurance…is a company that`s working hard to walk the walk,” said Ray. “And they have a solid brand to show for it.”

Branding is not a mystical, magical concept, said Eric Hughes, senior vice president and creative director for Maris West & Baker in Jackson.

“It`s the sum of all of the thoughts and feelings and impressions a company generates through its communications with its audience,” he said.

Every company has a brand, said Shirley.

“The question is whether the company manages the brand or allows the marketplace to decide their brand position,” he said.

One reason insurance companies are feeling market pressures to establish strong brands is because consumers know they are king, said Shirley.

“They demand value for their money and don`t just take whatever we offer,” he said. “They are educated. They shop. And customer loyalty is waning dramatically for marginal brands, which often find themselves caught in a downward spiral of promotions and discounts to replace customers who leave them.”

To develop a brand, the Ramey Agency uses a system called Brand Journey, a CD-ROM based program “that helps us walk through a half-day`s worth of questions and answers with a client group to begin distilling what a company should stand for,” he said. “It can be a grueling process, but we’ve seen it work for companies large and small, organizations, universities and even the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians.

“Every agency has its own methodology for establishing a branding program. Ours has worked well for us for the past four years,” he said.

During the brand-planning process, GodwinGroup defines the three C`s: category, competition and customer, said Shirley.

“We call it ‘C3 Intelligence,'” he said. “We take a broad look at the category in which the company operates, then we look specifically at the competition. Finally, we look at the customers to determine what motivates them to buy from our category in the first place.”

Maris West & Baker looks at four indicators to determine whether a branding strategy will work, said Hughes.

“One is relevance,” he said. “If your strategy is meaningful to your audience, you’ve probably got a winner. Two, it has to be credible. Three, it also has to be unique, something that nobody else is claiming. Last, it has to be practical. Does it fit your culture? If you get A-pluses in a branding strategy for all four, you can pretty well bank on the fact that it will work in the marketplace.”

When Old Republic Title Insurance Group acquired Mississippi Valley Title, Old Republic made the decision not to change its name, said Peter Marks, senior vice president and account supervisor for Maris West & Baker.

“It comes down to business being done differently in different parts of the country. Mississippi Valley Title operates in the South, where there is a lot of relationship building,” he said. “Their target isn`t necessarily the consumer, but the people who advise the consumer, such as closing attorneys and bankers who close deals.”

GodwinGroup stresses deep branding, said Shirley, which simply means carrying the brand identity throughout the organization.

“It impacts how the telephone is answered, signage and every piece of paper that leaves the organization, advertising all the way down to the dress codes in some instances,” he said.

A brand should always include the three P`s: position, personality and promise, said Shirley.

“Building a brand is not a project; it`s the process of climbing ever up a never-ending steep incline,” he said. “The view continues to get better if you stay on the path.”

The CEO must be the brand champion, said Shirley.

“Branding has to start at the top, and must be communicated throughout the organization to achieve maximum success in managing this valuable corporate asset,” he said.

If a local insurance agency is part of a strong, national brand, the national brand should be leveraged locally, said Ray.

“Often, national brands will gear their marketing efforts to help local agents translate the brand in each market,” he said. “For example, everybody knows that State Farm is like a good neighbor because the company has invested millions of dollars over the years pounding that message home. The tagline is not just a marketing gimmick, it`s a reflection of the State Farm brand and corporate ethos, which is helping people manage risks and recover from the unexpected. They make it their business to be a good neighbor. They also follow the old maxim, `think globally. Act locally,’ by profiling local agents and their volunteer work and investing dollars into various ‘good neighbor citizenship’ programs. Local agents can leverage in their communities to add continuity to the brand.”

Co-branding has become a fantastic marketing tool, allowing two brands to strengthen each other without either one loosing its identity, said Shirley.

“There`s nothing dishonest and everything to be gained by associating a company with a powerful and popular national brand, using strategy as a foundation to establish credibility,” he said.

Mississippi, where word-of-mouth advertising is still the most effective form of marketing, is a great place to do business, said Ray.

“We are not shy here when it comes to evangelizing those brands that we love,” he said. “Sounds simplistic, but it`s true.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at mbj@thewritingdesk.com.


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