Every business does brand management. Yes, even insurance agents.
You might not call it by that name. You might use more familiar terms like “customer service,” “marketing,” or “quality control.” Maybe you opt for something more modern, like “culture.” But however you vocalize it, you are ultimately concerned with one question:
Here’s the win: when your customers hear your agency mentioned, they smile reflexively and gush, “Oh! I love them.” And when they share why, they can’t stick to only two or three reasons. They have eight. You don’t even have to ask if they recommend using anyone else.
That’s the win. So how do you get there? You reliably exceed expectations, like Chick-fil-A.
Fast food companies are a dime a dozen. We don’t eat there because the culinary selections pamper our critical palates. We eat there because we’re hungry, short on time and don’t want to spend much on subsistence.
Chick-fil-A is a fast food restaurant. Their menu offers sandwiches, salads, side dishes, and desserts. Compared with other fast food brands, I think their food is better, but I’m sure some would disagree.
But the point is, I love Chick-fil-A. Love, love, love.
For one thing, when I order, I am not made to feel like I’m intruding on anyone’s time. Nobody at the register tells me they were supposed to go on break an hour ago but couldn’t because the restaurant was too busy (implying I am also inconsiderately delaying the start of their break).
Instead, the team member taking my order is polite and attentive. When I say, “thank you,” they reply, “my pleasure.” Not, “no problem” or disinterested silence. “My pleasure.” Everyone has bought in to the company’s passion for making me, the customer, feel at home and cared for.
Halfway through my meal, which ALWAYS tastes great, a friendly manager asks if I would like a refill of my sweet tea. On the way out, I see that the drive-thru line is moving quickly thanks to an employee personally taking orders from the drivers.
In all my time as a loyal Chick-fil-A customer, I have only had one mixup in my order. When I notified an employee, he let me keep the incorrect item and made my sandwich fresh. Later, he delivered two milkshakes to my table where I was dining with a friend. Amazing!
I can’t overstate how awesome Chick-fil-A is.* That’s why whenever the subject of fast food emerges in a conversation, my immediate go-to is Chick-fil-A. I might talk about other restaurants–negatively. But my constellation of thoughts on the subject of quick eats largely consists of positive things to emote about that one particular establishment.
What’s my point?
As the owner of an insurance agency, your brand consists of so much more than the insurance policies you sell. Chick-fil-A’s cuisine is good, but if the employees are rude or I become annoyed whenever I receive an email from them, then I won’t love them. This means I won’t share my enthusiasm for Chick-fil-A with my friends. Which means their brand management failed.
So how do you become a better guardian of the brand? Separate truth from fiction. In my study of brands, I repeatedly see companies buying into lines of thinking that are pure fantasy. In this series of blog posts, I will refer to them as “Myths That Will Ruin Your Brand.”
- Myth #1: Anyone Can Market
- Myth #2: Everyone Should Love Your Brand As Much As You Do
- Myth #3: Marketing is the Only Team Responsible for the Brand
- Myth #4: You Can Do It All
Anyone Can Market
So I’ve convinced you that your agency needs a brand; but you might be wondering: Couldn’t I just have someone on our team take care of this so I can focus on leadership and sales?
No. While your team members may be fantastic at what they do, they’re not going to obsess about your brand 24 hours a day. Your producers think in terms of sales, not occupying space in people’s heads.
Guess which is actually more important?
That’s right. You need brand leadership that isn’t preoccupied with efficiency but with building a fan base. If that unnerves you, wait; it gets better.
As the owner of your insurance agency, your brand leadership role will “rub off” on the brand. Your personality, character traits, preferences, way of seeing the world, etc., will seep into the brand and shape it. It’s inevitable.
And it’s okay. Why? Because a brand manager has to be insane about image and public perception. You’re not going to find that in someone who makes decisions based on his or her own consumer preferences—like most of your team members. They may be “good with people” or “know the products,” but their thinking is too small to be championing the brand.
Again, they’re dear people, I’m sure. Who wouldn’t love them? Nonetheless, here’s who should not be marketing your agency.
As a consultant, I interact with agencies that vary in size and staffing. Nevertheless, I often run into maddening situations like the following:
I’m asked to consult an agency where marketing functions belong to the top leader’s administrative assistant under the soul-killing category “other duties as assigned.”
Because I’m obsessed with brand (I am. It’s almost pathological) and she isn’t (not always a she, but this has almost always been the case for me personally), we experience problems quickly and hilarity does not ensue.
Say we’re not on the same page, we’re talking different languages, we’re two ships passing in the night…whatever cliché you like, we can’t work together. I mean I’m pitching mind-blowing, multi-channel stuff and she wants a flyer done up in Microsoft Publisher (which I’m pretty sure doesn’t even exist anymore) with a low-resolution photo of the owner.
Soon enough, the assistant is emailing said owner, saying, “I don’t think this is for us.” Well, because he really needs his administrative assistant and only kinda needs me, I’m out.
It happens all the time, or…enough to be annoying. Why? Because the wrong person is filling a key role in the company.
On the surface, you might think salespeople and sales teams are essentially marketers. They’re not. They’re strategizing how to sell products, rather than sell the life-sustaining ecosystem that is the brand.
A salesperson often formulates his or her ideas about what sells and what doesn’t based on past sales. “I presented it this way and it led to a sale; therefore, from now on, until the end of time, this is the way it should be done.”
That’s ridiculous. What’s more, most salespeople I’ve met with agree! Only after I’ve revealed their folly.
One of the worst things you can hear from salespeople is, “That worked!” The problem concerns what the “That” is. Was it the restaurant choice? The new suit? The lowbrow joke? Naming every last policy feature?
If “That” is something the salesperson cooked up, it can’t be trusted for future sales. It’s no different than baseball players not changing their underwear during a winning streak.
Maybe that customer was going to buy anyway. Before a salesperson canonizes anything, it should be tested repeatedly. If “That” is unfounded, it might never lead to another sale—although that won’t stop them from repeatedly trying.
Now, if a salesperson can say, “That worked, and here’s why,” and the explanation has to do with tactical verbiage supplied the marketing team, I’m on board. However, salespeople seldom understand the distinguishing difference between product and brand.
Marketers are guys like me who can talk tirelessly about what brand is and how it is so unlike a product. We can show you all kinds of examples of where people succeeded and failed because we’re advocates of cultivating your brand and know that, in the end, it’s the brand that does all the selling.
Former Insurance Underwriters
It’s possible you have a former insurance underwriter working at your agency. Someone on the team who understands the back end of the client/insurance relationship is invaluable.
But ask yourself: is this the type of person I want behind the wheel of my agency marketing?
Underwriters are like engineers: they are highly analytical. They’re focused on risk more than on opportunity. Underwriters usually “go by the book” before making a decision, and they’re taught to rely heavily on their experience, which sharply defines their opinions about what products, features, or options are best.
What makes those policies or practices “the best” according to the underwriter? Whatever is the least risky! That’s it. They formulate ideas of what sells based on their own preference or opinion. That’s a huge no-no!
Underwriters know the product, but they don’t think in terms of brand. Whereas Apple gets its message across by saying, “It just works,” the underwriter can talk at length about obscure clauses and actuarial tables—minutiae that distract from your overarching brand.
- Administrative assistants don’t understand the importance of selling the brand.
- Salespeople think in terms of sales instead of occupying space in people’s heads.
- Former underwriters make recommendations based on what they personally like.
What’s the common thread? They also rely on common sense!
Wait, that’s bad?
It can be. Oftentimes, marketing is the furthest thing from what makes sense. It’s the exact opposite of common sense. It’s the crazy, nutty thing I’ve never seen before that gets my attention and makes me convert. Common sense folks don’t think like that.
The best situations occur when I consult with marketing teams obsessed with brand. Everyone is in their wheelhouse. That’s the sweet spot. That’s where we see results.
- Be a brand leader who isn’t thinking about making sales as much as occupying space in people’s heads.
- Don’t let administrative assistants or salespeople assume marketing responsibilities simply because they need something else to do.
- Don’t put common sense people in creative roles.
Next week, I’ll bust another myth—and this one might sting. You see, we know you love your agency. You’re proud of the services you offer and your place in the community. You probably think about [insert the name of your agency) all the time.
But—brace yourself—while you may not be able to believe it, few people think about your agency at all.
Our sincere apologies to agents in Alaska, Hawaii, and Vermont, where Chick-fil-A is not yet available.