Geico is beating back the negative perceptions in Insurance brands

Auto Insurance brands

By Tom Dougherty

It sounded like a simple process when the dentist said our oldest son had a tooth lodged in his head and a simple procedure would bring it down where it should be. You know, like in his mouth.

Insurance brandsBut the problem wasn’t with the procedure. It was with the insurance company, which refused to pay for the procedure because the tooth wasn’t affecting his health – yet. If it was coming out of his cheek, well, that was another thing. Then they’d ante up.

It’s those kinds of stories that have made most of us come to despise the insurance industry. However, insurance companies – and other companies and industries with faulty reputations – can reverse that perception and even create preference when the negativity that comes along with the industry (and even your brand) threaten to bring you down. You must find a way to reduce negative attributes

The trick is not in public relations or even advertising that tells customers how much they are going to save on a rate or that you’ll “get the protection you need.” It’s about being different and better, and how those are defined is what separates those who emerge from a bad reputation and those who get swallowed by it.

Different and Better

All of us know different means what Webster’s says it is, “Dissimilar in form, quality, amount or nature” but it’ astonishes how many brands fail to meet that definition in comparison with their competitors. Take just about any industry – banking, autos, beer – and what you see are a cornucopia of brands that are similar in message, tone and personality. When that happens, consumers simply buy (or not) into the industry as a whole, based on that wide-reaching similarity in perception, and default to the market leader. (Read how to use your brand value to build preference here)

gecko Insurance brandsIn the insurance branding industry, for example, being different in tone and attitude is one reason why Geico, the nation’s third-leading auto insurer, is so often recalled. (The other is the sheer amount of marketing dollars it spends, courtesy of owner Warren Buffett.)

Whether it’s the caveman, the gecko or the dollar eyes, Geico feels and looks unlike any other insurance company.

However, it forgot the second part: Being better. You could take an EXIT sign and turn it upside down, and it’d certainly be different. But it wouldn’t be better and, just because Geico is different, possibly separating itself from the negative connotations of the insurance industry, doesn’t mean it’s creating preference either.

At its core, Geico is telling the same story as its competitors. (Read a market study on the insurance industry here) The “dollar eyes” are about price. The cavemen are about easy of use. And the gecko, well, he’s all over the map. Even a recent spot featuring an actor playing a Geico executive with the gecko on in his desk is about all the things you hear insurance companies believe makes a difference to consumers: Longevity, value, etc.

Therefore, because the message isn’t all that different and it certainly isn’t better, consumers don’t believe Geico really is cheaper, has better value or is any easier to use than the competition. Therefore, it just gets lumped in with all the rest of the insurance companies we have grown to dislike. The insurance industry does not do it well. They need to re-look into the science of insurance branding and understand that different can be better.

Reflecting back to the customer, not the industry

To be better, that means having better understanding of your target audiences beyond the wants and desires of product and category benefits. You have to know what drives them as people, within context of your brand, by understanding what they believe about themselves and the world, and how that relates to self-identification.

Ultimately, we all buy ourselves. If we consider, for example, laundry detergent, many of us buy the same brand each time. Why is that? Is it because we have tested all the detergents in the market and determined which one is best? Of course not. We buy the things that say something about us and mark us as the brand. That’s how we choose a car, the clothes we wear and even the computers we buy.

Insurance brandsThe best brands – Apple, McDonalds, Harley-Davidson, Disney, etc. – say something about who we are when we use the brand in order to create preference and even overcome the negative perceptions that may be associated with the category. Same is true of insurance brands.

The Insurance industry is certainly among them. Stealing Share recently conducted national research and found that 50.8% of all Americans say they don’t trust insurance companies. That lumps them in with credit card companies, car dealers, tobacco, big oil, mainstream media and airlines as the most hated industries today.

What’s astonishing is how little those in those industries attempt to overcome the negative perceptions of their categories by being different and better than its competition. They all follow the leader, which carries to continued unrest, little change in market share and preference left to be determined only by the category benefits all the competitors have.

Maybe they should be hated.

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