For marketers with good memories, the end of the 20th century might well be footnoted as the era when general advertising pundits everywhere finally seemed willing to acknowledge the critical importance of buttressing brand identity with direct response components.
Even in the traditionally less-branded financial services arena, there are indications at The Hartford Financial Service Group Inc., Hartford, CT, that a heightened emphasis on the DM-branding link may be around the corner for many in the insurance world.
“The value of our brand and the attention we place on it influences customers,” said Geoff Smith, president of commercial affinity at The Hartford. “Even though we've always had a strong image in the marketplace, the stag — our symbol since the 1800s — is getting an added emphasis.”
Founded in 1810, The Hartford has long served a range of diverse customers — both individual and corporate. It's the No. 1 annuity writer in the United States and one of the top five financial services companies offering group life insurance. The company also writes commercial insurance, workers' compensation insurance and is a top 10 reinsurer. Last year, it began offering discounts for what it calls “diverse households,” which it characterizes as single individuals with dependent children or unmarried domestic partners of the same or opposite sex.
Recognizing that its diversification provides numerous opportunities for strengthening its identity, the company isn't hesitant to use innovative DM, co-branding or co-partnering programs to draw added attention to its stag emblem at every turn possible.
“We have a new business model we've been using since 1997,” Smith said. “A customer could be approached in a number of different ways because we have taken what we've learned in the small, commercial business market and linked that up with our knowledge of direct marketing as learned through our AARP program, where we are the endorsed carrier for auto insurance.”
Some industry analysts say blending co-branded imagery and language into as many facets of the marketing arena as possible will become commonplace for the insurance and financial services industries. Apparently, The Hartford already sees that notion as a critical marketing requirement. In its relations with independent agents, it's currently using business-to-business partnering programs that emphasize locally integrated direct mail initiatives that are not only prequalified by ZIP code but based on independent vendor modeling.
“We have a turnkey program we call The Hartford Prospector,” said Mark Lange, The Hartford's senior vice president of sales and marketing for agency personal lines. “It's available to our direct agents and it enables them to focus on a specific geographic area down to a specific ZIP code when they're targeting leads. We also have relationships with vendors that help us prequalify leads.”
In addition, the company provides co-funded, niche market advertising templates touting The Hartford's various products, which its agents can use to place brand-consistent print ads in local publications. Even company-branded direct mail buckslips can be commingled or directly nested into third-party bank and checking account statements in the agent's prospect territory — all part of The Hartford brand push. And then, of course, there's The Hartford's online outreach program, which maintains communications between customers and the company while helping local agents scout out new prospects.
Whether or not The Hartford's moves will spur competitors and even smaller insurance and financial service companies to take as many deliberate steps to honor and defend their own brand equity is yet to be seen, but ripple effects are surely inevitable as the blurring of lines between contemporary financial services and traditional insurance products continues.
Those calling the shots at The Hartford seem not only cognizant of this reality but already focused on ensuring that the $13.3 billion brand remains unshakable for what soon will be its third century of service.