Trusted Choice and the Independent Agent Brand

By | January 27, 2003

Stan Davis with the Ernst & Young think-tank has authored several excellent books, including Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy.

In Blur, Davis paints a picture of a successful business that continues to add customers and build brand awareness—a business that puts three things together: speed, connectivity and intangibles.

Speed is the pace of business today (e.g. 24×7-service). Connectivity is where an agency might connect with all its business partners, and would make it easy for customers to access claims-status information.

The third piece, intangibles, offers many opportunities for growing customer and policy counts. Intangibles are things such as advice and reassurance by CSRs, the untapped potential of your client lists, free safety inspections and the emotions (e.g. trust and loyalty) people feel for your agency.

Never before has it been so easy for independent insurance agents to profit from the power of intangibles. The Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America has researched and developed Trusted Choice, a powerful marketing program created to help consumers clearly understand the value of independent insurance agents. And just how powerful are intangibles?

Davis suggests growing intangibles faster than tangibles, which are products. “Put service into every product,” he says. “In the past, service add-ons were an afterthought for those in the product business. Today, you must make them intrinsic to the offer.

“If your entire corporate culture is focused on stuff, wake up!” Davis says. “Services often provide higher margins and better growth opportunities than the rapidly maturing thing itself.”

Successful independent insurance agents focus on intangibles every bit as much as tangibles. From the customer’s point of view, it’s not just about good products and carriers; it’s about how they are treated. As business owners, we may take this for granted, but it is critical in moving a brand forward.

Independent agents certainly offer a tangible benefit: You pay claims. But what agents really should be concerned about is how they communicate their brand’s intangibles: the feeling of security, assurance, peace of mind, safety, honesty, trust, hope, protection, self-esteem, confidence.

It’s a relationship
Brand is the relationship between your customers and your product. These are intangible, emotional bonds created by every interaction. Like people, a brand has a name, personality, character, and reputation. It’s a promise of quality you keep.

Why worry about your agency’s brand? It’s what people say about you. It helps them edit insurance choices … helps them figure out where to buy. It’s the most valuable asset you have to manage; it defines your strategy, if you truly understand it. It stops arguments about what you should be doing. Every business small or large must be concerned with brand.

Brand management is the process of understanding what makes an organization, product or service unique in the minds of its critical audiences—and then controlling those perceptions to create a clear, consistent identity. The key words here are “unique” and “consistent.” Good brand management is good management, period.

As they think about brand, independent agents are starting from a position of strength. What do your customers ordinarily say? They don’t like insurance (but hate risking the wrong choice with their coverage). They like you. That’s because most are relationship buyers. They most likely find you via referral. With price, they want you to be in the ballpark, but service is more important in keeping them. While they’ll shop to save two bucks on 50 rolls of toilet paper, they’ll hardly ever shop their insurance—unless you’ve made them unhappy with how you treat them. They value professional credentials (CPCU, CIC, etc.) And they want more contact … and they say they’d like to be educated about new coverages they might need.

Why Trusted Choice
Consumers value independent agents; they just don’t know enough about who they are, where they are and how to find them. That’s why independent agents should join Trusted Choice, the consumer-marketing brand program created by IIABA. Trusted Choice will drive personal and small-commercial business to independent agents. It responds to measured consumer priorities-much more than just advertising. And if you leverage it properly in your community, Trusted Choice will drive business to your door. IIABA initiated its branding effort in 1999, when it partnered with Addison, a highly respected branding firm, to conduct extensive industry and consumer research. That well-publicized study highlighted, among other things, the Big “I” logo’s lack of equity among insurance consumers, despite its high degree of recognition and respect within the industry and on Capitol Hill. As a result, IIABA took the bold step of adopting a consumer-marketing brand for use by agents, while retaining the Big “I” for use by the association.

Thus, the Big “I” logo isn’t going away. It will continue to represent IIABA within the industry and among legislators. But the research made clear a need to promote a new brand that better conveys the value that independent agents bring to insurance and financial services customers. IIABA members deserve the best tools to succeed in a competitive marketplace.

IIABA and Addison considered more than 1,200 possible names before selecting Trusted Choice. The name focuses on two important aspects of insurance buying: consumers’ desire to trust their insurance providers, and having a choice of products and companies from which to select the vest value. The team then created a clean, contemporary logo design that also offers a visual tie to the Big “I” eagle and oval. The tagline—”We serve you first”—is an adaptation of a previous IIABA tagline that has remained popular with members. Consumer focus groups reacted very positively to the name, design and tagline.

Ingredient brand
Don’t think of Trusted Choice as a competitor to your agency brand. Think of it as an ingredient adding to your brand. Intel is an example of an ingredient brand. The world’s best-known computers, such as Dell and IBM, are viewed as quality computers not only because they are brands in their own right but also because they have the additional ingredient called “Intel Inside.”

Just as Intel won’t help a crummy computer maker, Trusted Choice won’t help a poorly run independent agency. Trusted Choice brings added value to well-run agencies. Key to the consistent performance of Trusted Choice agents is the Pledge of Performance they are asked to live by. Find out more at www.TrustedChoice.com.

Comprehensive support for Trusted Choice agents will come from a national advertising campaign, public relations programs, local marketing, strategic partnerships and Internet visibility. Agents have access to consumer-proven Trusted Choice marketing brand and collateral materials; advertising and public relations exposure; Trusted Choice Web site with free use of Web Site Factory—agents can quickly improve the look of their Web sites just by joining; and qualified leads through the Trusted Choice agency locator.

The brand is gathering momentum. It already enjoys the support of 2,200 independent agents and 18 insurance carriers. National cable television ads are set to air for six weeks beginning Feb. 3. Agents can view the advertisements as well as the media schedule on the Trusted Choice Web site.

The ads have been field tested with excellent results. After only four weeks of advertising, the survey measured an awareness level of four percent among targeted households in the Louisville and Seattle-Tacoma marketing areas. With most new brands, consumer awareness is measured in increments of a percent—and usually after much longer pilot periods, at least 12 to 16 weeks. Four percent awareness after only a month-long campaign demonstrates that we effectively communicated the value of independent agents in our commercials. It also shows that success can be replicated nationally with additional advertising, company ingredient branding and agent tie-ins at the local level.

The Independent Insurance Agents of Texas has launched an aggressive campaign to reach out to members. Networking events are planned with Trusted Choice-supporting carriers and young agents are getting involved.

Peter van Aartrijk (peter@aartrijk.com) is managing director of The van Aartrijk Group LLC, based in Springfield, Va. The firm specializes in marketing communications for insurance and financial services-related associations, companies, and technology firms. He is former vice president of communications for IIABA.

About Peter van Aartrijk

A former corporate communications executive and journalist, Peter van Aartrijk has worked with independent agents, brokers and carriers for decades on marketing-communications challenges. He is CEO of insurance marketing firm Aartrijk. He serves on the board of directors of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (www.imcanet.com), and he is the author of The Powers, a branding guidebook available at Amazon and bn.com. Email: peter@Aartrijk.com. More from Peter van Aartrijk

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