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Building A Modern Brand

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Building A Modern Brand

  1. 1. LIMRA’s MarketFacts Quarterly / Number 2, 2015 25 FOCUS ON BRAND ur company recently went through an extensive branding “refresh,” which got me thinking about brand- ing in general. What does it mean to be a brand in our industry? Why is brand important? What impact has social media had on brands? Who builds a brand — the company or consumers? In considering these issues, it became clear that creat- ing a brand is much more complex today than it has been in the past. Building a modern brand is no longer about simply creating a new logo, changing your color palette, and coming up with a new tagline. It’s really about creat- ing positive experiences with your customers, potential customers, distributors, and employees. Today’s consumers seek to do business with companies that share their values. Although price, packaging, and product are all critical factors in the buying decision, they are all things that can be replicated. What can’t be replicated is the heart of a company. Necessary Elements There are two non-negotiable elements every powerful brand must have: It must be authentic, and it must be unique. A brand is authentic when it is truly an extension of its employees. A brand is unique when it stands for something different than its key competitors. Much has been written on these two brand attributes, which I won’t repeat here. By Michelle Jones, LLIF Assistant Vice President, Marketing, National Life Group Building a Modern
  2. 2. 26 LIMRA’s MarketFacts Quarterly / Number 2, 2015 “A brand has to be deeply rooted in company culture. A brand is not flat, and it’s not something you look at; it’s an experience you create. ” I would, however, like to talk about our experience, which underscores the importance of the following five critical factors: 1. Secure CEO Commitment. Branding is no longer an initiative the marketing department solely owns. For it to thrive, company leadership must be fully on board, and strong commitment from the CEO must be evident. Unfortunately, many CEOs view branding as a “soft” initiative. If they don’t see it as relevant, then the process becomes an uphill battle. Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence understand that branding happens from the inside out. For example, according to our CEO at N­ational Life Group, Mehran Assadi: Branding requires personal engagement and delib- erate involvement, and that can’t be accomplished without being fully invested. Effective CEOs know how to communicate the brand clearly and promote its importance to the business. They enlist the entire employee base across the enterprise — not just senior leaders — to help spread the message. They know that a power- ful brand gives a company and its people a strong sense of purpose. 2. Remember Culture Comes First. A brand has to be deeply rooted in company culture. A brand is not flat, and it’s not something you look at; it’s an expe- rience you create. The actions of the company and its employees can’t be in opposition of the brand. For example, if you want your brand to stand for being environmentally responsible, then your busi- ness practices can’t harm the environment. It is crucial to ensure that all employees under- stand their role as brand ambassadors and that ­every action they take has an impact on your brand. Help them understand the difference between brand builders and brand busters. It’s not just the big things that matter, but the simple things as well — including how they answer the phone, respond to an email, or follow through on a request. All of these actions leave an impression on prospects and customers. Regardless of their specific role, employees must deliver on your brand promise. We know that the experience people seek with a company is built one touchpoint at a time, with individual representatives across the organization. 3. Foster Employee Engagement. According to a recent Gallup poll, U.S. employee engagement holds steady at 31.7 percent.1 Where does that leave the other 68 percent? How are “unengaged” employees affecting your brand? In a recent conversation I had with Dr. Jackie Freiberg, a bestselling author and expert on leader- ship, culture, and engagement, she told me: Engaged employees will deliver on your brand prom- ises not because they have to, not because they are told to … Engaged employees do so because they want to. When employees believe in the brand, they ‘own it,’ and they are willing do whatever it takes to bring the brand to life for customers and colleagues alike. This is what enables them to execute and deploy the brand. She went on to say: It’s the difference between buying in and opting in. Engaged people opt in. Opt-in happens when people are inspired by the significance and impact of the brand — they believe in it, and they want to share it. They opt in because their personal values resonate with the values driving the brand. In other words, they’re ‘all in’! 4. Understand the Impact of Social Media. In today’s environment, it is clear that companies no longer maintain control of their brand message — social media now plays a tremendous role in driving per- ception. It’s turning the tables on what companies shout through a megaphone about themselves. Social is giving consumers an equal voice in the conversation. FOCUS ARTICLE
  3. 3. LIMRA’s MarketFacts Quarterly / Number 2, 2015 27 FOCUS ON BRAND It is also imperative to have marketing collateral that clearly reflects your brand voice and mirrors your website. These pieces should be written in such a way that uniquely exemplifies your company, and they should be consistent in look and feel across all prod- uct lines. It should go without saying that “simple is better,” and collateral should be designed for the end consumer to easily understand. Finally, develop marketing initiatives that position your company as a good corporate citizen. Look for ways to get involved with the communities you serve. The Bottom Line At the end of the day, it’s important to realize that compa- nies don’t build brands — people do. Employee actions, and customer perceptions, ultimately define your brand. That’s why it is critical to ensure that each and every person throughout your organization, from the CEO all the way down the line, knows the brand, believes in it, lives it, and shows up every day with the goal of delivering the brand promise. After all, we know that it doesn’t matter what you think your brand is — the only thing that matters is how consumers perceive it.  Michelle Jones, LLIF is Assistant Vice President, Marketing, with National Life Group. She has more than 26 years of experience in the sales and mar- keting of life insurance and financial products. In her current role, she is primarily responsible for the develop- ment and implementation of proprietary marketing programs, including social media, multicultural marketing, life product marketing, and the company’s prestigious CPA Advantage program. Jones is also responsible for Creative Services and producer rewards and recognition programs. She can be reached at mjones@ 1 Adkins, Amy, “U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady at 31.7%,”, May 7, 2015. 2 “Study: 81% Research Online Before Making Big Purchases,”, July 12, 2013. TC85181(0515)1 We know that, in the past, any customer who had a positive or negative experience with your company would tell one or two friends, who would tell one or two friends. The impact was minimal. But, my how things have changed! Today, thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (to name a few), they can broadcast their comments out to the world in just seconds. Consider these two recent examples: • #loveapple. Guess how many times #loveapple shows up on Google® ? 7,040. Each one of those instances takes you to a page filled with comments about how much people love Apple® . Do you think that’s driv- ing consumer behavior? Absolutely. As a matter of fact, many of the posts were about the newly released Apple Watch® . After reading all the comments, it made me want to run out and buy one! • #unitedsucks. Google displays this hash tag 2,140 times. On the opposite end of the spectrum, these links are filled with posts from unhappy custom- ers sharing their experiences with United Airlines® . This is a clear example of the potentially damaging effects social media can have on brand quality and ­perception. According to Retailing Today, 81 percent of consum- ers conduct research online before making a purchase decision.2 This makes it highly likely that they will see both the positive and negative comments out there about your organization. So in a world where people are eager to share their opinions, it’s critical to create a positive experience every time — and if you don’t, then you must take action to make it right. 5. Develop Marketing Initiatives That Support the Brand. To grow your brand, you first must grow awareness. Companies with limited advertising dol- lars have to be strategic — and often creative — in their approach to accomplishing this. First, you need a modern website powered by a strong content engine. You want to give your customers and prospective customers a reason to visit your site and keep coming back for more. According to LIMRA, 71 percent of adults who recently bought insur- ance (offline) did some research online. Because of this, you will benefit from ensuring your site is fully optimized to appear higher in search engine results.