If you decided to sell your agency today, would potential suitors be drawn in by your brand?
Every business has a brand, whether they are aware of it, and proper brand investment is incredibly important. Branding may not always be top of mind for an agency owner. However, a strong brand can set you apart from the competition, boost profits and raise your profile among potential and existing clients, as well as buyers.
While it may be easy to see how brand management has translated to success at larger companies like Apple or Coca-Cola through their advertisements or brand-loyalty statistics, smaller independent insurance agencies could have a bit more difficulty seeing the value in investing in their brand. Why? Results from brand investment may not be as visible or measurable as other agency investments, such as investments in technology or people.
That said, tremendous value can result from the right investments in your brand. Consider this scenario: A nonclient in your local community is looking for insurance. The person reaches out to his or her friends and family to find recommendations for agencies to consider. You’re getting a return on your branding investment if your agency is mentioned. You have captured a share of the mind of the people referring to you.
But branding can bring more value than simply new business. Often, an agency sale happens because a larger agency is aware of your brand and approaches you. Strong brand awareness will drive additional suitors and lead to a higher overall sale price.
So, how can agency owners take control of their brand? As with most business decisions, it’s a process that includes conducting a self-assessment, understanding your community, and developing a way to measure your results.
Step 1: Assess your brand
It can be difficult for smaller agencies to afford dedicating resources and funds to their brand, so a great place to start is somewhere without hard costs—a self-evaluation. To develop a strong brand identity, owners of independent agencies need to determine their goals. What does the agency want to communicate and say to the public?
What are your core values and mission? Your mission will determine the best course of action for representing the brand to the public. Over time your agency changes and this step of self-examination can help you ensure your brand still best aligns with your offerings and core values.
What is your style? When your agency communicates, is the language casual or formal in nature?
Where do you operate? Similarly, consider where you want your agency to live. Are your operations predominantly online or conducted more in person? This will determine how best to allocate your budget between local partnerships or digital work.
Who do you want to be? After a self-evaluation, it helps to determine what a strong brand looks like. When people think about insurance, they probably first think about companies like Liberty Mutual or Progressive that are spending billions on advertising. This is not the target for an independent agency. Branding for an agency is about community. A strong brand supports various community organizations, has an online and social-media presence and is a known community figure. When people talk about an agency with good branding, they should only have good things to share about their influence and impact.
Step 2: Understand and build community
Once you have established your brand identity, leverage it to build better business and community relationships. Building a reputation in the community as a valuable brand is more than just partnering with a wide range of local businesses and community organizations. It’s critical to partner with the those that fit your identity.
Leverage business relationships. Working with community businesses is important to expand your reach and this requires consistency. The way you present yourself needs to be consistent with your brand values.
Consider working with the local chamber of commerce. Local businesses rely on the chamber of commerce as a resource for growing their own operations and that could include finding an insurance partner. When attending these chamber events though, it is not always about selling. The key is to be intentional about your communication. Don’t be the person who goes to a chamber event and uses crass language or talks over others. Have conversations that align well with your brand in terms of the language you use, the way you communicate, and how you offer opinions of others, even when these conversations are not actually about insurance. It can be easy to forget about branding when connecting and communicating, but consistent messaging will make it much easier to attract new clients.
Charitable giving and volunteering. Philanthropy and volunteerism are crucial for building out a community brand. Does your staff have a passion for the arts? Consider partnering with the local amateur theatre and supporting some of their initiatives. Get involved and volunteer at local soup kitchens or sponsor local school teams.
Often successful agencies sponsor teams like the local girls’ softball team. If that team makes the championship, your logo will be present on their materials (or should be) and you can promote that on social media. This showcases that you are in touch with your community and will be a valuable tool for relationship building with potential clients.
Step 3: Regularly evaluate the brand’s strength
These initial steps are not enough to develop a long-lasting brand in your community. Brand management is an ongoing exercise. Take the time to evaluate the strength of the brand. Some steps for this include:
- Survey clients. Agents should ask for client feedback regularly.
- Contact your community. Contract a third party to survey your community. Give them a list of your clients to suppress from the list and have the third party reach out to other community members. Questions should determine whether you have strong brand recognition within the area.
- Look at sales. The easiest way to determine if your brand is successful is through sales data. If your agency is not generating sales, it’s time to go back to the drawing board or spend resources to find the inconsistencies impeding the team.
Ultimately, the goal should be to determine a baseline with the brand. Sales data and data aggregated from clients and community members can provide an agency with a place to start when it comes to brand evaluation. The goal should be to take that starting point and keep growing. When this growth stops, it is time to consider if a rebrand is needed.
Get out there
Branding is core to growth for independent agencies. While it may be tempting to divert resources to other areas of the business, agencies should maintain a consistent focus on assessing and growing their brand.
Every business has a brand and ignoring brand identity can severely limit growth. Taking these steps can make your agency a force among your peers and a valuable resource to your clients and the community.
Doug Coombs is the executive vice president and chief marketing officer of SIAA, The Agent Alliance. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.