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LIMRA’s MarketFacts Quarterly / Number 2, 2015 25
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.
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
By Michelle Jones, LLIF
Assistant Vice President, Marketing, National Life Group
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
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
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.
LIMRA’s MarketFacts Quarterly / Number 2, 2015 27
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@
Adkins, Amy, “U.S. Employee Engagement Holds Steady at 31.7%,” www.gallup.com,
May 7, 2015.
“Study: 81% Research Online Before Making Big Purchases,” www.retailingtoday.com,
July 12, 2013.
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
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
. 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
According to Retailing Today, 81 percent of consum-
ers conduct research online before making a purchase
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.