IMCA Blog

It’s an innocent but frustrating request.

“Can I get a sell sheet?”

However you refer to it, the sell sheet — also known as a one-pager, slick, flyer or handout — continues to be a standby marketing piece in the insurance industry. It neatly summarizes a product or service’s salient selling points. You can co-brand it with a business partner’s logo and even include personalized contact information. It’s easy to email or hand out at a booth. It’s the all-purpose tool in the marketing tool box.

The sell sheet’s versatility and ease of use is a primary reason why it has turned into a crutch for many underwriters and producers. They can lift copy from the sell sheet and cut-and-paste it into an email. They can easily convert bulleted coverage features into talking points for a phone conversation or bullet points on a PowerPoint slide. Because marketing creates the piece, and legal approves it (depending on the company), people feel safe using the copy.

The crutch-factor is part of what makes us as marketers cringe when the inevitable request comes in. There’s nothing strategic about this often last-minute request.

“The sell sheet is a default tactic because everyone knows what it is,” explains Angela Kim, Regional Director, Gallagher, and an IMCA board member. “Or we’ll get a request to update an existing sell sheet and the producer wants the same type of piece because that’s the way it’s always been done.”

When faced with this situation, Angela and her marketing colleagues try to determine why the producer is requesting a sell sheet. Once they’ve uncovered the true need, they can offer a better alternative. Angela recalls one situation where the original request for a copy-heavy printed sell sheet for a conference evolved into an infographic that more effectively explained the concept. In another situation, a request for a piece that listed risk control services turned into a digital heatmap of a warehouse that exposed the risk and offered solutions to mitigate it.

Olga Levin, Director of Marketing and Communications for Allstate Business Insurance agrees that uncovering the real need is the way to go.

“Marketers hate sell sheets because they’re not strategic and we can’t measure their value,” she says. “Creating them takes time away from activities that provide more value and can drive the business.”

Like Angela, Olga first determines the problem that needs to be solved. Once her team has an understanding of the true need, their first step is to review existing materials to see if something already created could be the answer. In situations where a new piece does need to be created, Olga will often make recommendations that offer a more targeted solution, such as talking points, a pitch deck or new website landing page.

Another sell sheet challenge for insurance marketers is when the person making the request also tells you exactly what the piece MUST say no matter the copy length.

“The sell sheet is the ‘let’s-cram-everything-into-one-piece’ tactic,” jokes Angela. She recalls a situation where she finally had to flow the copy into design so the requester could see how difficult it would be to read their proposed copy in a 7 point font size.

Both Angela and Olga look upon these sell sheet requests as a chance to educate colleagues about their department’s capabilities. As Angela notes, often people making the request just aren’t aware of how much more marketing can do. Once they see the possibilities, they’re often open to new ideas. More importantly, it often changes their perception of the marketing team and leads them to see marketing as a strategic partner, rather than just a creator of sell sheets.

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Welcome to IMCA’s new blog. We hope this becomes your go-to resource for staying on top of trends, tools and best practices in insurance communications. IMCA leadership, as well as have other communications and marketing thought leaders, will share their ideas for how we can become more innovative and strategic.

We’re kicking off with a discussion of how branding can help us make an emotional connection with agents and clients. IMCA turned to brand strategist Derrick Daye for his thoughts on why today’s brands need to make an emotional connection with agents and clients.

If you have topics that you’d like to see future blogs address please email info@imcanet.com.

 Human-centered or human-centric seems to be the new marketing buzzword. What does human-centric branding look like?

Brands that operate at the human-centric level enjoy deeper connections and earn a lasting place in people’s lives. We have many metrics to support this now. Therefore, it’s imperative to build the human side of your business.

At the core of every brand is its reason for being, its purpose. Purpose is the difference that a brand makes in people’s lives. It’s the answer to a human need and — when strong enough — the catalyst for lasting relationships. 

As trust has eroded with institutions and legacy organizations, we are seeing brands stepping forward, filling the trust void and becoming the catalysts for connection and community. By recognizing that the world needs the warmth of human-centric brands you can set out to adopt human qualities to attract customers in the human-centric era.

For forward-thinking brands the concept is well beyond the buzzword and is a way of life.

Why is it harder to make that emotional connection in B2B marketing?

B2B brands have different drivers than consumer brands. No one makes a solo decision to buy or hire a B2B brand. Typically, there are multiple decision-makers involved, each with their own specific areas of responsibility and priority. As a result, the decision to use a B2B brand is often strongly influenced by track record, responsiveness, knowledge and, of course, reputation.

It’s tempting to believe B2B brands lack emotion because they are subject to highly logical decisions. That’s not the case.  B2B is purchased emotionally as well as logically. However, the emotions for buying B2B are very different from those of consumer brands. For the most part, B2B brands need to focus on risk alleviation. In contrast to the excitement that consumer brands are looking to generate, B2B brands need to focus on generating emotions centered on reassurance — professionally, technically, financially, legally and of course personally (for those championing use of the brand itself).

Two other insights are worth noting. The first is that the sense of value add is most important for publicly visible products and services. Next, that the importance of a strong and recognized brand increases significantly for those products and services that are clearly visible to the end user.

Indeed it is harder to make emotional connections in B2B but it’s every bit as rewarding. An important shift must take place in the organization’s mindset in managing B2B brands. It’s the acceptance that brands have moved from B2B and B2C to B2P —  business to people.

 You encourage marketers to overcommit to their brand promise. What do you mean by that?

Marketers talk about the ideas they’re committed to and are quick to tell themselves and each other that they’re doing a good job of bringing these things to market. But the numbers tell a different story. One piece of research I saw recently said that while 85 percent of brands think they’re delivering great experiences, only 15 percent of customers think they’re receiving them.

So there’s a significant gap between what brands believe they’ve committed to and what customers feel they’ve committed to. Simply put, from a customer perspective the evidence isn’t there. Over-commitment is just that, going beyond the delivery of the brand’s promise. That requires identifying new ways to reinforce and keep the promise. The more evidence, the more trust.

Take your customer’s journey. Over-commit at every point and in every moment of customer contact.

In your recent IMCA webinar, you stated that insurance companies don’t have a license to be boring. So what can they do to not feel so stale?

Today, no one has a license to be boring; brands have to be interesting or else. In an increasingly over-communicated society, brands are either noise or a signal. GEICO, for example, proved that humor and personality could create and drive an advantage, others eventually followed.

Brands are the sum of all experiences a customer has with you. With that in mind, a good exercise is to think about how you want your customers to remember your brand and find creative ways to reinforce that. The process should eliminate the dull areas in the experience. What counts is what gets remembered.

For more of Derrick’s thoughts on brand, listen to his recorded IMCA webinar, Brand Leadership in an Age of Disruption.

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This article first appeared in Insurance Journal

By Leslie Lash

Marketing is inherently a competitive space. Our sole purpose is to drive revenue; some may disagree, but fundamentally, every activity a marketing department performs should be to support their firm’s business objectives (read: make money) through marketing strategies. Period.

Meeting this objective takes many forms. We use terms like brand equity, customer journey, omni-channel, earned media and so on, evoking the occasional eye-roll from our non-marketing peers who simply don’t speak our language.

Marketing is the closest role you can get to sales without actually being in sales (which is fantastic, because most of us don’t want to be). We’re creative and passionate, and we love seeing our visions come to life, like the inspiring video that drove social traffic through the roof or the big account we landed thanks to a killer presentation deck.

We like to win. We want to win.

The bitter truth is that most marketing departments don’t get the recognition they deserve because their work is usually anonymous. There are no closing credits at the end of a knock-your-socks-off explainer video or a wildly successful pay-per-click campaign.

One way that marketing teams can shift this reality is through entering and winning marketing and communications award competitions. Here’s why I’m a huge advocate for these programs.

1. It’s an amazing morale booster for your team.

Most marketing departments in the insurance industry have relatively few employees, and they don’t always scale alongside their company’s growth. They’re expected to do more with less, which can sometimes wear on teams that may not have a marketing agency to lean on for guidance or support.

So much of what marketing departments do is behind the scenes, and the employees don’t always have a sense for how their work fits into the broader marketing landscape. In my experience leading marketing teams, winning an awards competition can boost your employees’ morale tremendously. Knowing their work is top-tier provides a sense of pride and pep in their step that is tough to replicate.

2. It’s a great resume builder.

I encourage everyone, including those on my own team, to celebrate their award-winning status on their resumes and LinkedIn profiles. Unless you are truly a team of one, no single person contributes to the success of a project or campaign by themselves, and everyone should feel good about their role in winning the award. If you’re a confident leader, you won’t squash this public declaration of enthusiasm. Does it look intriguing to other employers scouring LinkedIn for recruits? Absolutely. If you’re taking care of your employees and keep pushing them to win – and celebrate those wins – they won’t want to leave you anyway.

3. It encourages more thorough project planning and performance analysis.

There are plenty of marketing professionals who will reluctantly admit that for some projects, creative takes priority over analytics. Sometimes making a big splash that wows audiences is what drives us, and we lose sight of the bigger picture.

When it comes to awards competitions, fancy creative without results doesn’t always cut it, especially on digital campaigns. Judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Earlier in my career, I’d scrounge up as many stats as I could to satisfy judges who wanted to understand how my entry performed. It’s always tough to get post-competition feedback from judges who remind you that marketing without substance is basically fluff.

We must measure. Not just to win awards, but to show value and see what’s working (and what’s not). As far as awards competitions go, if the results aren’t great, but the team worked like crazy on it, consider submitting it anyway. Remember, judges are looking for a combination of creativity, impact, relevance, and ROI. Sometimes the numbers just aren’t there, but a huge part of marketing is learning and adapting and getting better. That’s a result worth mentioning.

4. It helps build the legitimacy of marketing in your own organization.

Depending on the size of the company and management support of marketing operations, marketers can get lost in the mix. With hands in lots of different areas, marketing teams may get dubbed the “arts and crafts” or “party planning” department or some other subtle indication that marketing isn’t a real job. We laugh it off, but deep down, it bums us out because we know how hard we work hard to make everyone else look good.

When you win marketing award competitions, especially those specific to the insurance industry, opinions start to shift. You prove that you’re the real deal and others know it. You walk a little taller, and your peers take notice. Suddenly, they’re celebrating your success too and realizing how critical the marketing function is to the company.

5. It’s a cost-effective form of public relations, but beware of “pay-to-play” competitions.

There are countless marketing and communications awards competitions out there. Most are not specific to the insurance industry, so it’s important to consider the companies (and budgets) you may be up against if you choose to enter a competition with a broad scope.

Most legitimate award competitions require a fee to enter; a reasonable expectation is $125 to $300 per entry. For some competitions, costs start to rise once you win. You might be required to pay for promotional tools, such as an award logo for your website. It is reasonable to receive an invitation to an event (for additional cost) during which you receive a physical award and recognition. However, attendance at this event should not be required to win the award. In short, unless you feel strongly about participating, you should avoid any competition that feels like a “pay-to-play” situation.

Since entering competitions can be time-consuming and costly, the key is to be selective. Look for organizations that will provide you with tools and resources to promote your win without additional expense. If you win, the result is an inexpensive form of PR and great content for social media and your website’s news section.

I am a long-time supporter of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA) annual showcase awards program because not only is it specific to the insurance industry, but entries are 100% peer-judged. That means other insurance marketers and communicators are giving their seal of approval.

Winning awards competitions is not only gratifying for your marketing team and company, but it is also an excellent opportunity to develop emotional connections between your audience and your brand. When customers see your employees caring about the quality of their work and celebrating success, it reinforces the positive impression those customers have about working with your company.

Leslie Lash is the Senior Vice President, Director of Marketing for The American Equity Underwriters, Inc., the leading provider of longshore workers’ compensation to waterfront employers. She has 14 years of strategic marketing, communications, advertising and brand management experience in the specialty insurance industry. She serves on the board of directors for the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). 

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This article first appeared in Insurance Business America


By Emily Hathcoat

Any relationship takes work. Your marketing department’s relationship with its advertising agency or design firm is no exception.

In a good relationship, your agency responds to campaign requests with several creative options, helps solve business challenges and produces projects on time and on budget. A great relationship is one where the agency — with your help — develops a working understanding of your business and understands its corporate culture. They become an integral part of your marketing team. Not only do they help you solve business challenges, they anticipate them.

So what does it take to turn a good working relationship into a great one? In conversations I’ve had with my insurance marketing and agency colleagues, two of the themes that came through were trust and collaboration.

“When there is mutual trust between an agency and the customer, then you know the agency is recommending two or three great options to meet business needs and goals,” says Paula Negro, director of advertising, communications and media relations at Starr Insurance Companies, as well as a board member of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (IMCA). “They’re realistic in their guidance and aren’t creative for creativity’s sake but rather because it makes business sense.”

Your agency partners value trust in a working relationship as much as you do. It’s what makes them feel comfortable in bringing you their best ideas.

Beth Roth, owner of design firm Thrive Creative, believes that trust allows clients to take that leap of faith that can lead to something great. “Everyone is afraid of change so you can’t try something new unless you trust the person who is trying to lead you down that path.”  

Anna Hargis, director of advertising at Shelter Insurance, agrees that trust leads to better marketing ideas.

“My agencies are valued partners so I want to hear what they have to say,” says Hargis, who also serves on the IMCA board. “We don’t have a monopoly on good ideas so it’s important to get feedback and share ideas.”

Collaboration also makes the difference between a good and great relationship. In a good relationship, an agency works for you. In a great one, your agency collaborates with your marketing team. But collaboration doesn’t always mean agreement.

“Often the best projects result from situations where my client and I challenge each other,” explains Roth. “You need a certain type of relationship to do that on either side.”

In a professional relationship built on trust and collaboration, as you work together over the long-term, your department and your agency care equally about the company. Hargis wants her agencies to have long-term teams in place because, “Those individuals go from knowing our brand to caring about our brand.”

Negro agrees, recalling a 75th anniversary program at a company she worked at several years ago. The company’s agency responded to what she needed, and offered additional on-target program ideas, because, “They took as much pride in our 75 years as we did.”

If you’re ready to go from good to great, approach your agency about a relationship relaunch. Be candid about what’s working and what’s not. Be open to their feedback and be willing to let down your guard. It takes many hands to move the needle and your marketing team can’t do it alone.

Emily Hathcoat has worked in insurance marketing for more than 15 years. She is currently vice president, marketing, at Risk Placement Services and chair of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (IMCA).

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Important Dates

2020 IMCA Annual Conference & Showcase Gala

Monday, June 22 - Wednesday, June 24, 2020
Omni Orlando Resort at Championsgate
Orlando, FL