Independent insurance agents are fighting two battles simultaneously for new business — a flooded insurance marketplace and a crowded digital marketplace.
Just how crowded?
- The Bureau of Labor and Statistics in May 2017 cited 287,250 as the number of “insurance agencies, brokerages and other insurance related activities” in the United States.
- On the other side of the equation, Eric Gordon, marketing specialist for SMEs, notes at Yocale Business that the average consumer is exposed to 4,000 to 10,000 brand messages a day.
Those are intimidating number to compete with.
Because of this intense competition in the insurance industry and the equal-opportunity access to digital marketing tools, it has become increasingly difficult to carve out space in either realm.
But it isn’t impossible. When strategizing the best way to gain visibility in these spaces, building your brand should be the top priority.
Creating a strong brand that inspires customer trust and loyalty is still one of the best ways to make your presence known. But even this Marketing 101 strategy has become complicated thanks to the evolution of the digital marketplace.
As Jacky Humphries, CEO of digital marketing agency Infinipod, points out, the digital marketplace is causing a power shift, taking power away from brands and giving it to consumers. This shift is being led by the consumer-to-consumer communications that are facilitated by the digital marketplace, minimizing the effectiveness of traditional, direct brand influence, Humphries explains.
Case in point: According to research from the Pew Research Center, almost half of consumers turn to online reviews before making a purchase.
So, independent agents must figure out how to navigate the digital marketplace in ways that accede power to the consumer but still allow the brand to control its image and messaging as much as possible.
How to Brand Your Company in a Crowded Digital Space
Here are two tactics insurance agents can deploy to cultivate a unique brand to be competitive in a digital marketplace:
Create a Brand Identity
The first step in any branding exercise is to create the identity for the brand — and that identity is so much more than just a logo.
Your brand is the image you wish to display to the world, and it consists of various elements, including the brand name, logo, colors, personality, font and any other essential elements.
Consultant Lois Geller describes a brand as a promise, a look, a personality and a set of attributes that create the “me” appeal of a brand. By encapsulating all of these elements into your brand, you create an identity that is all your own and connects with your target market, notes Gellar.
The key parts of a brand identity are the visuals used to represent the brand. These are the elements most recognized by consumers and most associated with the brand. They are the key differentiators between your brand and your competitors, which is why it is so important to take the time to create a visual identity that represents your company’s identity.
A strong visual identity, the team at creative digital agency Drimlike explains, is simple and clearly recognizable, gives your business personality and allows your brand to stand out from the competition.
Marketing consultant Debra Murphy explains that the visual brand identity is what makes you most memorable to customers. The more they see your brand, the more likely they are to do business with you. So, you should be sure to use your brand visuals in as many touch points as possible to make a connection with your customers and create a memorable brand experience, says Murphy.
Create Personal, Omni-Channel Brand Experiences
Brands need to put customers at the center of everything they do, especially when creating a customer journey. The brand journeys you create are essential to establishing the brand. They must be as personal as possible to the customer and should be consistent across all marketing channels, online and offline.
By creating personalized experiences, brands provide more relevant information to their customers, increasing the chances of a conversion. Nico van Praag, partner and chief strategy officer at Kentwood Experiences, has some pearls of wisdom for brands that are trying to develop their customer journeys:
- Personalization is a journey, not a destination. Companies must understand that customers’ needs and tastes are constantly changing, so brands need to evolve with their customers. The goal is to provide information as relevant as possible to a customer at the right time.
- Feedback is essential. Personalization can only be accomplished through consistent feedback from your customers. Feedback shows you how to focus an experience for an individual. Companies should be encouraging customer feedback across all marketing channels.
For maximum effectiveness, these brand experiences need to reach across all marketing channels, a strategy comprehensively known as omni-channel branding. The key to omni-channel branding, notes marketer Aaron Agius, is that the experience is seamless, with consistent messaging across all channels, accounting for each platform and each device a customer uses to interact with a company.
Rod Hometh, a senior vice president at Ingenico Group, advises brands to “create a seamless and consistent look and feel [colors, design, messaging] across all channels, so that a customer recognizes the brand and trusts that they’re getting the same experience no matter [which] channel they choose.”
Here are the key steps to get you started creating omni-channel brand experiences:
- Understand your customers. Jenny Dinnen, president of sales and marketing at MacKenzie Corporation, explains that consumers operate in perpetual motion, so brands have to anticipate these movements and deliver messages relevant to where customers are going, not where they have been.
- Remove the barriers between channels. This is important, says Duff Anderson at iperceptions, because siloed channels are the biggest roadblocks to creating seamless experiences. By tearing down marketing silos, messages become more fluid.
- Utilize technology. Technology such as virtual reality and the internet of things can help companies create unforgettable experiences that can reach across all channels. Consumers, Anderson notes, expect brands to use technology to take their experiences to this next level.
By creating a strong brand identity and seamless customer journeys, brands are able to communicate with customers and establish themselves as viable entities ready to serve those customers.
The Benefits of Branding for Independent Insurance Agents
Operating a business without an established brand is risky. Consumers expect to be able to identify your company and research your brand before they do business with you. Though it is often a heavy up-front investment, developing your brand is important for your business.
Increase Brand Awareness
For consumers to do business with you, they have to know you exist. According to a study by OnBuy.com, 71 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service from a name they recognize versus a brand that is unfamiliar.
So, by having a recognizable brand, you are actuallying inviting customers shopping for an insurance product to do business with you. A strong brand helps keep your company in the minds of your potential customers.
Build Brand Loyalty
Brand loyalty is an emotional involvement between a consumer and a company. That bond drives the consumer to maintain a relationship with the company.
Customers are attracted to brands that share their values, explains Susan Gunelius, president of KeySplash Creative. Strong brands, Gunelius says, are able to convey those values to build that emotional connection with customers, a connection that often lasts a lifetime.
That brand loyalty can is a key part of a business’ long-term success.
Gain a Competitive Edge
Your brand is what differentiates you from the competition. Your brand, and people’s awareness of it, helps give you a competitive edge by elevating your brand in the minds of potential customers.
That customer-centric perspective is important. The team at the Center for Simplified Strategic Planning argues that the value of a brand is the value that it holds for customers. This value, they explain, is challenging to build but easy to destroy — which is why brands that are well-managed can own a conversation. Powerful brands can vault over many market challenges thanks to the value they hold in the minds of their customers.
Generate New Business
Strong brands are able to generate new business thanks to customer referrals because of the positive associations those customers have with the brand. When customers know and trust a brand, they don’t hesitate to promote and recommend that brand to their connections.
For well-established brands, content strategist Elizabeth Smithson explains, word-of-mouth can be the company’s most effective advertising technique. But if these customers can’t remember who you are, they can’t promote you. That’s the value of having a strong brand when building your business.
Don’t Underestimate the Power of Your Brand
Customers today have a nearly endless number of choices when they’re shopping. This makes it more difficult than ever for brands to stand out in the crowd. This is why it is so important to leverage the power of your brand and utilize it to develop relationships with customers.
Once you can cement your status as a trustworthy brand to do business with, you become more visible in the crowded insurance industry space.