How should insurance brands act in desperate times?

March 21, 2022
By Insurindex Editor

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“People don’t buy what you do or how you do it, they buy why you do it.” Simon Sinek

In an uncertain world, Insurer brands need to act with authentic purpose.

Geopolitical upheaval creates enormous challenges for global businesses for all manner of reasons. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is shining a light on insurance, based on the premise that withdrawing coverage will significantly constrain Russian business interests.

At the time of writing some insurance businesses, notably Marsh, Aon and Generali have withdrawn from Russia, citing ethical – not commercial – reasons.

This is a complex business issue, but what are the brand considerations?

Branding has changed significantly over the last 20 years and is today much more focused on enduring values and the people they affect or represent, as opposed to just product or service benefits. This reflects a shift in modern societal values and a move to a ‘softer’ type of capitalism. Nowadays this is summed up in the term ‘Purpose’ which can be authentic in some corporations but is just as often superficial.

Brands are an integral part of society and at their best represent positive aspects of consumerism and the freedom to make choices between products and services in an increasingly affluent world, albeit one that is still frighteningly geopolitically unstable.

Financial companies promise to give people effective security through the products and services that they sell. The brands of these businesses, while often far from perfect, are fundamentally trusted in functioning democracies; thanks to decent regulatory compliance/oversight and the values that businesses espouse to appeal to talent and customers. These values are abstract but need to be clearly articulated and credible – hence trust, care, social responsibility, purpose and integrity are high up on most insurance businesses’ brand agendas. This all translates into a pledge to deliver.

In ‘normal times’ these fundamental values are only lightly tested. But in times of crisis businesses’ ‘true selves’ are revealed and brands will rise or fall depending on their response. We saw this during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wider societal relevance of well known brands should not be underestimated either. They matter enormously because they so often symbolise ‘betterment’ – positive progression, modernity and personal freedom.

What influence will the visible and sudden loss of iconic products and services such as the Apple iPhone and McDonald’s, and even access to trusted insurers and brokers, have on the Russian polity? Who knows, but they represent a major chunk of the social and media discourse in this crisis and articulate a soft versus hard power argument, exemplifying visions of an outdated dark age where these brands are absent – and to which Russia looks to be returning – and an enlightened modern future where betterment is possible.


So what should insurance businesses do?

The coming period will be even more challenging than the pandemic for insurers. We propose that – at a minimum – insurance CEOs should prioritise the following four principles to navigate the implications of the crisis and beyond.

#1 Review your value and purpose, however it is articulated, and decide whether and how well aligned it is with your business practices in a changed world.

#2 Act and communicate decisively and clearly based on these values, making sure all your employees and customers are safe and making short-term commercial interests secondary priorities.

#3 Review what is authentic about your brand and communicate the values it represents and your unique position and value to the world: think measured communication, empathy, humility and natural influence, not hyperbole, blame, attention-grabbing or joining in with the crowd.

#4 Think long term, about where you want to be in 20 years not two years’ time, linking why what you do matters to a positive future for everyone.

This is a dynamic, fast-moving crisis which is likely to have far-reaching consequences for societies and businesses. The human tragedy is, of course, uppermost in the minds of us all. It might seem trite to hope that brands can play a role in hastening an end to the war, but certainly the way they conduct themselves will send a powerful message. If insurance brands have truly embedded the values they espouse, if they can clearly articulate those values and show themselves to be acting with purpose and empathy, then they can play their part in ensuring a more positive future.

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