American Fidelity. A case study in branding insurance.

The American Fidelity Case Study.

How we helped American Fidelity find the right brand promise.

American Fidelity is one of the leading providers of supplemental insurance and benefits, specializing in auto dealerships, education, municipalities and health care. Its core customers are employers who offer supplemental insurance to their employees in those segments.

American Fidelity
The old logo of American Fidelity had little brand meaning.

As a business, it operates in divisions based on those specialites. At issue was that American Fidelity had no overarching brand promise that brought the divisions together, increase preference with existing customers and attract new prospects.

Finding meaning for American Fidelity.

To achieve that, the project entailed qualitative and quantitative research with employers, employees and associations – both current customers and those who use a competitor. Also, an analysis of the competition and a brand audit was conducted to see where the current brand stood in the market and what it could claim.

Our competitive analysis found that competitors, which range from regional carriers to giants such as Aflac, focus solely on price, coverage and, in the case of Aflac, quick results.

American Fidelity
The new logo for American Fidelity redefines who its customers are: Those who always seek a different opinion.

The research demonstrated that administrators and employees believed all supplemental benefit providers were basically the same.

For the employer, who has complete control in selecting a supplemental benefits provider, the research clearly showed that they viewed their individual organization’s needs as unique. To find the right coverage for their particular needs, they seek something different.

Wanting something different was also part of their belief system, which is the emotional driver of human behavior.

Using an existing strength of the company – its niche focus – the new brand promise of American Fidelity stated that it represents a different opinion from the status quo because it is a specialist that knows there are no pat answers.

As the company says now, “When it comes to making health decisions, many seek a different opinion from a specialist. When choosing supplemental benefits, it’s important to seek a different opinion too.”

To reflect that brand, a new logo was developed that demonstrated American Fidelity being different and more important than the rest of the pack.

From advertising to collateral systems, signage to stationery systems, Stealing Share created a comprehensive brand structure for American Fidelity. Included was a brand standards guide that demonstrated cues for logo uses along with messaging and brand personality guidance. Stealing Share also conducted brand training for its thousands of employees.

The Force Awakens and its brand equity

From a brand perspective, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is just about perfect. It leverages its brand equity while connecting to a refreshed cast of characters to replace Han, Leia and Luke.

The Force Awakens
The Force Awakens is about the past and the future.

As for the quality of the movie, I’ll leave that up to others although I found it to be no The Empire Strikes Back. But it wasn’t The Phantom Menace either, thank God. Put its quality square in the middle of the series.

What fascinated me as a brand guy was how well The Force Awakens straddled the need to leverage the brand equity of the most cherished episodes of the series with the other need to open the series up to new characters and new audiences.

I’ll do my best to not spoil The Force Awakens here, but I can’t promise I won’t suggest a few things. I’ll need to point out a few examples to correlate how director JJ Abrams managed to bridge the two purposes.

The past and the future of The Force Awakens.

Yes, Han, Leia and Luke are in the movie, although Han Solo of the three dominates The Force Awakens. Luke and Leia were always the soul of the series, but Han was its true audience surrogate. (And, it must be said, Harrison Ford was its breakout star.)

Han plays a central role in The Force Awakens in what has been the main theme of the Star Wars series, which is about family connections and how the past plays out in the future. Leia and, possibly, Luke play a role in that as well. But by including Han in the mixture, Abrams found the leverage to vault the new series into one about Rey, Finn, Poe and Kylo Ren.

The new group isn’t completely a copy of the original centerpieces (which included Darth Vader) but the symmetry feels right. Rey, played by impressive newcomer Daisy Ridley, has taken the central role and her family lineage is still a mystery much like Luke’s was in the original movie.

In the world of brand, it’s not easy making the transition from one brand to another while maintaining the equity. Making it fresh and new for a new audience is tricky business.

The Force Awakens turns the trick nicely and the next chapter will should further evolve the themes and meanings for today’s audience.


TriVantage Textile Distribution. Customers of TriVantage are awning and marine fabricators and installers who need their orders quickly and without complication. Stealing Share combined the utility of logistics with the feeling of expression to create a brand that inspires and acknowledges.


Integra LifeSciences. For surgeons, uncertainty must be limited in order for them to do their work with confidence. In a sea of blue, Stealing Share created a brand of order, simplicity and differentiation for a company who makes thousands of skus and in a myriad of disciplines.

Hotel Branding: Aim For Intelligence

Holiday Inn Express. Hotel rebranding

By Tom Dougherty

HIEXS_mCMYK300dpiThis examination of the Holiday Inn Express brand considers the pitfalls of humor, and whether its “Stay Smart” campaign (unveiled in 1998) works.

The concept behind the Holiday Inn Express brand certainly should be “smart.” Customers are supposed to feel an increased sense of intelligence after staying at Holiday Inn Express because they have recognized and capitalized upon good quality for a great price.

With the reputation of Holiday Inn’s quality for reasonable prices backing the brand, Holiday Inn Express should have a win-win status in the mindset of the consumer and should also boost the efficacy of the Holiday Inn parent brand.

The Hotel Branding Campaign Messaging

Does the current messaging for Holiday Inn Express accomplish this status? We think not. Many brands use messaging that makes the customer feel smart, as though he has made the right choice. Wal-Mart and Target are examples of brands that ensure customers, that if they shop at those stores, they are avoiding the embarrassment of overpaying and not finding what they want or need.

question-marksCustomers not only like to know that their purchases matter; they like to know that their choices matter. Brands that give customers real affirmation that they have “done the smartest thing” will succeed. This affirmation must be evident through effective brand execution, which also includes marketing and advertising. The message must be both clear to the customer and clearly shown by the brand.

Does Holiday Inn Express have a sure-fire brand message? Yes. Does Holiday Inn Express convey and execute this message properly? According to our brand model at Stealing Share, it comes up a short. In fact, if you read how the “Stay Smart” campaign began, the brand is more superficial than it even appears.

The Customer Feedback

According to customer questionnaires conducted before the campaign, the two reasons why customers felt more savvy for staying at an HIE were free breakfast and free local calls. Perhaps these two elements created a little more of an advantage for HIE over other limited-service establishments. But these kinds of table stakes are not what fuels real brand. Clearly the right questions were not asked. The customer’s connection to the brand should go deeper than cinnamon rolls.

going-upFurthermore, the commercials for the “Stay Smart” campaign contribute to the shallow continuum of brand execution for HIE. For example, one commercial opens on a group of scientists hovering around a microscope, observing a strain of the Ebola virus.

The man standing in front of the microscope explains the characteristics of the virus and proceeds to knock the sample off of the table, assuring the group that it was not airborne. When his colleague asks him how long he has been studying the virus, the man responds, “Well, I’m not actually a scientist. But I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Several other commercials followed in a similar pattern. One commercial showed a man who had not graduated past the seventh grade winning Jeopardy because he stayed in a HIE the night before. While the commercials are humorous and borderline ridiculous, they demonstrate a rather narrow interpretation of the brand.

Although the commercials are effective for short-term brand awareness and recognition, this brand execution is overall unsatisfactory because the customer will not consider the brand a serious option. If anything, the brand has become more of a joke among consumers because of the blatantly ignorant people portrayed as customers in the commercials.

The Real Brand

sb10067679w-001The customer’s perception of himself when he uses the brand, is not one of intelligence. In fact this brand face mocks intelligence rather than reinforcing it. This failure to execute is more at the fault of brand management than advertising creation.

Unfortunately, in all industries, one directly influences the other. Humorous commercials are memorable and entertaining, but does the brand directly reflect the customer and benefit from this type of execution? In the case of Holiday Inn Express, we argue against this method.

The hotel branding execution began with category benefits rather than the belief systems of the customers. The advertising had to rely upon a general campaign focus of “Stay Smart” without knowing what being smart really meant to the target audience. In order to correct this problem, Holiday Inn Express would need to take a few steps back, observe what its customers want/need from the brand and challenge the brand to accommodate these expectations. They would need to get a full outside-in perspective from the market.



balanceThe “Stay Smart” campaign was effective in getting HIE’s name out in the market, but that is where the effectiveness remains. Real brand success goes beyond the reiteration of a funny punch line. The “Stay Smart” messaging does not reinforce the brand as a tangible option for the customer. The humor, in this case, actually creates distance between the brand and the customer.

Overall, Holiday Inn is all about quality for a sensible price, and Holiday Inn Express can make that message work as well. Holiday Inn Express needs to convey this message with a little more honesty and customer perspective in order to own real estate in the mind of the customer looking for reasonable hotel accommodations. In short, “smart” needs to be more about intelligence of the customer than the cleverness of the business and its agency.

(Read our market study on destinations here)