Episode 14

Published on:

11th Feb 2022

Build a Stronger, Focused, and well Branded Agency by Understanding Your Core Values

This is the Insurance Huddle, the bi-monthly podcast for insurance newbies and industry veterans alike. This week we talk to Peter van Aartrijk the owner of Aartrijk Insurance Marketing

Connect with Peter on LinkedIn or Twitter

In this episode, Peter walks us through the process of strengthening our agencies by building up our core values, strengthening our brand, and telling us how an agency's front door can reveal our deepest organizational flaws. 

John is an insurance industry veteran with decades of experience as a commercial insurance agent and agency owner. This show is available to listen to COMPLETELY FREE where ever you find podcasts. For more great content and resources be sure to join our free Insurance Huddle Facebook group for insurance professionals. There you can ask us questions that might be featured here on the podcast. 

We look forward to seeing you in the Huddle! 

This podcast is brought to you by CoverWallet for Agents, the easiest way to quote, bind and service your small business clients. All online and in minutes. 

Disclaimer: This podcast is intended for general information purposes only and is not represented to be error-free nor is it intended to constitute an offer, inducement, promise, or contract of any kind for you to rely upon. Any information and data linked to by CoverWallet are provided as a courtesy and are not intended to nor do they constitute an endorsement by CoverWallet. To get accurate information for your business and industry we recommend you contact a licensed insurance agent or attorney.


Welcome to the insurance place to be for agents, brokers, and agencies, where we break down topics important to the insurance community. With insights from industry experts.

Today's expert started his career as a newspaper reporter, where he learned how to question the status quo and has worked with insurance carriers, agents, and brokers and related organizations for decades.

surance, marketing firm, and [:



Could you help us with that? How can you help us grow our agency by providing unified brand?


A brand itself it's taken on a whole other level of, of, of mystery for people and, and we can, we can talk about some of this terminology. Um, but the, the, the number one issue is that, is that people believe in the insurance industry because it's led by a lot of left-brain people, rational thinkers, people who are really good at numbers.


I hear a lot of us, well, we don't really need marketing. This is a relationship business. Or we don't need marketing. We have just gotten all referrals anyway, and it's all cross selling. So, we don't really need marketing. But the thing to keep in mind is that you can't, you can't leave this stuff to chance.

s why I formed a CML counsel [:

I'm a volunteer there. I MCA net.com and we did this because the whole role of, of marketing as an important function in the insurance is. Uh, it's seemingly lost even on larger organizations, John, um, let alone the great unwashed independent agent and broker.


I am definitely not a marketing expert. I can, there, there are some tools that we've used. We've had Dr. Billy Williams on here, and he gave us a list of 20 things that we were probably doing incorrectly, but. I'm not an expert. I don't know a lot about the difference between marketing brand.

rocess of how I did that was [:

What are some of the steps that you would recommend that our agents take to better understand what marketing is and what branding is, and to help them use it, to grow our agencies?


Um, it is, uh, a relationship. It's what people say about you when you're not in the room. Um, the marketing function is really about product. Um, the brand is really about a relationship, and they're connected. Um, but when you, when you think about, um, what do you think about what the average agency does it tends to be an a, and please don't get me wrong listeners.

e a lot of tinkering. Um, it [:

Uh, now it's all about starting from the inside out, which we can talk about in minute. But I think the key here is to get started as the think about it as w I'm not just putting paint on my house, I'm working on the foundation to make sure that it's strong and can endure the test of time. Um, I need to think investment, not expense.

That's the other thing. That's the other key missing factor. Here is a lot of agents think, oh, what's this going to cost? Think of it as an investment over time. Um, what happens in the insurance industry is we're very focused on, selling, what did we sell this month? This quarter, this year? Um, there's no one-year return on, on brand strategy that comes over the course of several years when it's done well.

So, it's an [:

Um, I know that the best practices agencies within raking consulting, uh, they look at, uh, why are some agencies more successful than others? They do certain things. They make certain investments in talent and technology, uh, and also in marketing. And as typically you see investments annually of 2% to 3% of agency revenue put back into branding and marketing expenses, uh, for larger firms, that can be one to 2% of revenue, but, and typically you see two to 3% of revenue. So, I think, I think there's a need to [00:07:00] really take a step back and say let's stop talking. Let's stop spending money on projects. Take a time out and use this time.

Maybe use these winter months, January, February, March to really get our arms around what, we should be doing, going forward. And even if it's just about cross selling and talking with our current customers, which is a very valuable thing to do, that's what we're going to do initially, before we worry about going after strangers.

So, it's about a strategy first.



I mean, the people will search people, find out about you now, before you know about them as a prospect, this is now the way the world works because the old funnel, the old sales funnel that used to be just a funnel is now more like a colander with, with people coming in and out of the funnel. And the people on the outside are talking about you on social media for example.

have your online office, uh, [:

That's, that's the key. It's great to get referrals, but what happens when they go and do a little bit more research on you? So, I, I find that, um, very often agents can have a website that kind of looks like a rummage sale. It's just, they sort of throw stuff up there, like, programs and products and things, uh, even agencies that are doing a lot of M and A activity.

John that's a huge, uh, uh, a trend in our industry for years now. And it's not slowing down, uh, lots of mergers, um, agencies buy other agencies. They throw them on the website. They don't take the time to really have a standard operating procedure on how we bring in these other cultures and, and, uh, and companies, and people.

sophy here at aartrijk.com/, [:


I would assume that only is a culture, but it's acceptance by the other cultures.


It's always the lack of really understanding. Um, how you communicate early and often about the change. Um, and, uh, in, in smaller agencies too, you can see an incredible, uh, culture differences. And if you think about, um, the culture and the brand as an infinity symbol, John, and I, I always find myself drawing an infinity symbol in the air here on the one side is of that circle is kind of like, uh, the internal brand or the [00:11:00] employment brand or the culture.

And then on the other side is the external brand. What, what people, prospects and customers see of you and the business community see of you, and competitors see of you. And so, you have this infinity, um, culture and brand connected. And in that middle where the X is, is your, is where your core values live. And we need to talk about core values for shorter drive, positive change in an organization.

But what are your core values? Do you, are they authentic to you? Are they relevant still in this climate today? And do you share them externally? Because again, it's that it's the X spot and you see so many; I see, the literal, literal signs of this being a problem in our industry, I visited a beautiful agency in downtown Denver.

ngly beautiful building. The [:

I look at that as kind of a metaphor for a sort of a stale or poorly managed culture, um, fix the door, you know, if you're the agency owner you're, you're, you're in charge of culture, just like everybody else's there. Fix the door. Why do, why don't we make it so that people have to put up these signs that are just like, whoa, uh, you know, you're, this is not a good first impression for me.

So anyway, I, I think Branding and culture are connected. And the way to build your core values, which is part of a series of, of, uh, of exercise that you go through with your staff, with your key stakeholders, um, is to get your people together, talk about these things, write them down. And, uh, and it's, I mean, I, I, I think at, of all the agencies, I know.

Probably [:

I think a lot of them are rethinking all of that and being more adaptable with flexible time and technology to support working at home, for example, and the third area that makes the insurance industry a fabulous employment brand is, is that, um, it's stable. Um, it [00:14:00] we've seen it again with the pandemic.

It is just chugged right along. Uh, just like it chugged, along through 9/11, uh, financial meltdowns, even the great depression, it's a stable industry. Again, very attractive to young workers. So, for agencies that can, can work on their culture first start on the inside out the external stuff is a lot easier.



If you think about our country's bill of rights and constitution and other documents that [00:15:00] make our country the country, and certainly we're not perfect, but if our founding fathers didn't get together, As key stakeholders in the future and argue about what the word should be and, and ultimately, uh, cross things out and, you know, write ones that were more, you know, uh, enduring in their minds and, and more, uh, specific in some cases than, and then sign off on it, we wouldn't be where we are today.

So, so getting your key stakeholders together, if you're an agency, uh, the aggregators who's like 12 employees, 11 employees, it could be everybody in a larger firm of 20 to 30 employees, it might be representatives of, of certain departments say customer service or the personal lines lead, or certainly the principals.

t has to be, um, reviewed by [:

And, uh, and feedback provided to so that you don't send out a final and say, here's our culture. Here's our core values, mission, vision, et cetera. Uh, we want your input as we're building this because we want to be authentic to you. So, it's the key stakeholders getting together. Uh, working on this and writing and there's nine categories.

Uh, John, I, I can go through there very quickly. Um, you mentioned mission, which is what, what you do. Uh, probably one of the easiest things, uh, you know, you, you try to appeal to both the left and right brain with your statement of what you do. So, you know, Smith and Jones protects Montana’s business owners and their workers from the consequences of property, damage, and injury.

business plan. Uh, not about [:

Um, but it's, it's a, it's a, it's about them. It's about a better world you're creating for your employees and for your, for your customers. So, you know, sitting down and writing a strong vision statement with your key stakeholders is really important because you're, you're, you're not being self-centered.

Um, you're, you're talking about, like, I think about my mom died of Parkinson's disease. The vision of Parkinson's foundation says we envision a world without Parkinson's. So, it's not saying we want to be, you know, the premier research organization, you know, et cetera, et cetera, which is about them. No, it's a better world without Parkinson's.

rance that has to help other [:

And so that's needs to go into the vision statement. Um, you mentioned earlier, it might've been before we were recording John about your target audience. And once, you know, as, as you grew your business learn, you know, who the target really should be. This is so important because I think a lot of agencies run into, um, an issue where they don't really know who the audience is.

So, they say things like, well, we're really good generalist agency. And that is really not, not the place you want to be. Nobody wants to give their insurance or their money to a firm that same generalist. So, find ways to look for niches within your book, find at least one, two or three audience groups that you can say we're targeting this kind of person. Many best practices agencies already do this.

to their peers because they [:

You know, I find that today it less and less important. It could be that it's a copy point somewhere, but it's not your main message, but it's where you came from. So, you use it in your narrative story, your origin story. I was at a barbecue one time, and I read the back of a ruffles potato chip bag and they had their origin story right on there and I think agents should also have their narrative or origin story on their websites.

ard barbecues were never the [:

So, it's kind of telling the story where you came from and it, it builds trust, um, with your, with your customers. The fifth area is persona; the personality. If you were a living, breathing person, uh, who people admire and respect, what would be your attributes?

e to be true to you. Another [:

Uh, uh, I I'm happy to email any information by the way, uh, John, anybody who's listening to this and it's, I'm going a little bit fast for them, but, uh, I just think the positioning is important because positioning is where you say, you know what? We have competition. They may not be as good as us, or they may be better than us, or they might overlap in some areas with us, but we know who our competition is and here's how Smith and Jones experience is different from the other competitors.

So, here's how here's who we are. Here's how we're different from them, because this helps people make decisions about where to work, where to go for insurance provider. So that's called positioning and evidence is another category, brand evidence.

t of law and said, the judge [:

Well, prove it to me. Well, 80 percent of our people have advanced certifications like the certified insurance counselor. Okay. That's evidence. We have the best accountant’s liability program available in the market. Okay. We can prove that these are the things that people need to make decisions too. And it's that, that left brain stuff that people use to make decisions.

most important thing the key [:

They'll just make up their own rules of how they should work. Uh, and that's why you see signs like "PUSH the doors sticks". So, what is, you know, what is the core value? Um, well, the, the customer's always right. Used to be a core value. That's really useless and it's not even true. Um, I think, you know, we've seen, uh, statements like challenged the status quo, which is, uh, again, a core value that you could say, you know, what, if you're in a staff meeting you're allowed to raise your hand and say, you know, we've been doing this workflow for the last 40 years and it hasn't worked out really well. Why don't we change it?

every detail, be ruthlessly [:

Uh, every human counts show up early and ready. Uh, stay human treat, treat every person with respect. Yeah, these kinds of things are meant to be a replacement in my mind for the HR manual, which is fairly useless, you know, when they tell you what to wear, you know, when to come in, when to leave, et cetera, et cetera.

Um, you know, I, I think we needed a reset on, um, like who owns culture. It's not the HR department, it's everybody in the, in the agency, just like everyone in the agency owns brand. It's not left to some marketing consultant or some marketer part-time at the front desk. So, think about your core values, write them down, talk about them.

than saying like, uh, we're [:

Whether it's my CPCU CIC, uh, time management classes, whatever the heck it is, but one of our core values is commit to a culture of education. So, um, the last one I will say is, uh, is the sum total of all the other eight I mentioned. And it's your brand essence and the brand essence is your mantra that you use internally.

So, like Harley Davidson's brand essence is look at me. Look at me is, is a sum total of all their brand elements that I mentioned already. It doesn't say we sell motorcycles or look at my bike or look at my leather to just look at me because it it's really what it's about is creating raving fans. So, I know I've covered a lot.

r group together as a really [:


And I think part of the reason that we're plateauing is because we're not being forward-thinking. I think we're so worried about selling the next policy to pay for the house payment or the next policy to make sure we get payroll that we are not focusing in on the long-term strategy. I have a saying that I use a lot called you know, it's hard to roast [00:27:00] marshmallows when you're the one on fire.

Um, and I think all of these agencies, when we start, we're on fire. I don't think a lot of us investigated the industry very well before we fell into it. And it's funny as I'm talking to every agent on here, contact us on our Facebook page, because I'm interested in your feedback. How many of us ended up in the insurance industry on purpose other than having your, your, your family and your agency and you walking into it, how many of us ended up in the insurance industry on purpose?

Very few of us. I, I, I'm a finance guy. I didn't mean to enter in the insurance industry. So, what happens is when I entered in the insurance agent industry, I was not fully educated on even what the industry was. I went with this recruiter for, uh, for captive and compared to independent agencies.

And I thought, [:

How much money did I need to start the agency? How much marketing and brand spend did I need? How much did I need to develop a real business plan, uh, to go over your points here. I didn't have a business plan when I started, I had, okay, let's sell enough policies to hit my targets, so I can pay for my office space.

That was my strategic, uh, thing. And I didn't have a brand. I didn't have a set of goals. I was doing the same thing every other agent did on the street. How can you help somebody that was in my situation. Let's take a step back and let's look to the future.


Um, I can't, if I'm in, if I'm a, uh, agency principal, I cannot think of a more important project to, to lead than to take a look at how we describe ourselves and where we want to go in the future. I, I, it will be invigorating for the staff to take the time and do this. And even if it's over the course of a couple of weekends, um, or a couple of Fridays, um, and, uh, you know, you think you give yourself six to eight weeks to get all the, all the messaging done, but when you're done with this, you know, you're put in the time.

tant. Um, and, uh, what does [:

Um, maybe not non-important urgent is, is even worse, but this is very important work. It doesn't appear urgent until you start having problems where your website does look like a, uh, a rummage sale. You do have signs on your door that say, push the door sticks, or you're seeing the culture feel a little bit stale because you will have a culture.

This will all come home to roost. Uh, trust me if you leave things to chance. Um, and, and, um, people, people need to feel like they own the, they own the culture too in the brand. That's the beauty of it when you create it with them, um, as, as opposed to doing it yourself and saying, hey guys, here's our brand strategy or hiring consultants to give it to you.

Um, [:

You know, I, I, um, I tell you when you're, when you're in the, in the, in the business of hiring, um, to be able to slide across the table or, or across the zoom call, if you will, a, a list of five or seven core values and say, listen, this is what it's like to work here. This is how we, how we treat each other and treat our customers.

of people need to come into [:

And you've touched on this too, John, in the next couple, 3, 4, 5 years, we need hundreds of thousands of people. Um, I mentioned earlier what a great place it is to work. Most people do not choose it. Um, but I, I guarantee you, most people are grateful that they did choose it. And so why not find a way I would love it in our lifetimes to habits so that insurance has a place that people want to work.

Not just because they need a job because they really want to work in the insurance industry.


And then I could also, uh, talk, uh, talk to people. I, it, for me, it was a huge, uh, swinging opportunity that allowed me to do, you know, vary my day, rather than just come in, sit at a desk, and do the same [00:33:00] thing every day. You brought up a good point about, uh, you know, making sure that you had core values.

I wrote down a statement here. Your staff can't follow you unless you know where you're going. You can't fire up a GPS unless you have a destination and it has me thinking, you know, what, what destination do I want? How do I want our company? You know, my, how do I want my company to look?

How do I want my agency to look? Uh, how do I, you know, how do I want to align myself with the industry and my prospects? So rather than going out there and selling, I, you know, I sell homeowners insurance, well, why am I selling homeowner's insurance? And what is our culture around, uh, around the product? Why are we selling this?

So, thank you. That was, uh, that was, uh, a very good, uh, piece of information.


So. Great. Um, what things though, do we want to stop doing that? We, we w we want to stop, uh, with, with, you know, slow, crappy workflows. Do we want to stop being a firm that sort of has haphazard technology? Um, so let's then the third bucket is what are we, where are we? You know, like you said, where are we going?

What do we aspire to be? We're not innovative today. Why are we not innovative? Well, X, Y, and Z reasons. Okay, well, we're going to have in our brand strategy for the future and our culture is going to be about, uh, innovation and here's how we're going to get there. Right. So, it is future for a future thinking it sets that path you mentioned.

s happening all the time and [:

Every single agency will be bought, sold a merged given to the kids, sold to the kids, um, go out of business. It's going to happen. So why not drive more agency value by having a strong brand, as opposed to just the name and some nice people working at them at the name Smith and Jones. Why not have a strong, powerful brand that will be worth more, um, you know, the multiple of EBITDA be worth more in a sale because another thing that raking consulting does is track this and brands, um, agencies that are brands sell for higher multiple that's a fact.

So, I think this is a great investment for the happiness of your team, but also for the happiness of the people who are going to own the firm in the future.


Are we bringing in the same type of inconsistent customer or we bring in a customer that's focused with longevity?


Um, [00:37:00] this here's a quick example of beacon mutual insurance company up in, I think they're in Rhode Island. They only sell workers comp and I think only in Rhode Island, um, I might have a state wrong, but I know that they do workers' comp only. Their vision statement is empowering businesses to succeed by caring for the safety well-being and security of their employees.

Again, the vision statement is about them, about the better world that you're creating for your customers, not about you beacon mutual. Um, so they're empowering businesses to succeed by caring, et cetera for others. So, if I'm a, if I'm a, um, a, a commercial enterprise and I need workers comp, um, I'm looking at this company saying, well, if they're making this about me, these are the, this is a firm that's aligned with me.

, but the staff has to also, [:

Yes. That is when you're going to stop selling insurance to people who are rude, condescending, don't pay their bills on time, time, uh, you know, the, the, the drunken plumbers out there, we all have them where they just, they always make an excuse. You know, like this, these people are not in the books anymore.

And not only that, even if everybody was nice, here's where he was the customer segment that most aligns with the core values we have around here, the firms that are more successful. John do this. They may not think about it in these terms, but yes, that alignment of your staff core values with the things that your customers care about, then you start getting referrals and then you start writing more of that kind of person.

is somebody that also looks [:

So that's a great point.



I don't mean to be great and be ungrateful for the industry, but a lot of them, I, in school, we used to call it a high lousy. Like, they'd be like a C plus kind of thing. And they're just sort of muddling along. They don't have distinctive products, they don't have any innovation in terms of expansion of, of, uh, of technology.

Um, they're just not really, uh, writing great business. They're in the super competitive, like it's a race to the bottom from a price standpoint. All those things that you hear about in a competitive world. Um, I think, um, they're also disconnected from the ultimate customer unless they're writing direct like Amica Geico.

f it in groups of three. You [:

So, they pick the top 10 to 20%. Those guys are fine. They're going to, they're going to be good. We already know some of these names out there. They're the ones doing the buying. Uh, they're the ones that are really strong on a regional basis. They're the ones who have a really strong niches, uh, in saying the wholesale space. Um, they're fine.

Then you have this big middle group. Um, and it's probably 30 to 40% of the agencies out there and brokers, they're the ones who know that they want to make some changes. Uh, they might not get to, uh, because they're quote too busy as we talked about it. But at least they know they, they want to do some things and some of them are striving to get better.

go out of business or just, [:

So, it's a, it's a mixed bag. I will say. Um, the technology has gotten so much better to support, um, what agents and brokers do. And I have this, I have this feeling that, um, agents and brokers on the, on the per on the, um, the human side of this are going to be, are going to be incredibly important going forward in a world that's gotten a lot of, um, traction in the digital marketing space where it's sort of like. It just feels less warm.

I think, uh, the technology is going to allow, um, much more of a personal interaction and all the, all the research that I've seen, uh, with customers on the commercial and personal lines side, people really do want a trusted advisor.

lanning and so on. They need [:

They, they need help, they need guidance. And so, the technology is going to going to help a lot of those agents, the ones that the top, already know it. The big middle, technology is going to help them out a lot. So, I'm, I'm really, uh, I feel great about the future of the industry. I think it's going to change. Um, and some of the, some of the old ways of, of doing business, probably a good thing that we, we buried some of that thinking anyway.


So, I think the, from what we've seen during the pandemic has been a big learning lesson because human interaction didn't, you know, social distancing didn't kill human ag interaction. It just changed the way we do it.


Um, when you're in conversation, a person, the next generation is going to be a much more as if you're actually in the room, which is kind of a, it's kind of a game changer. I know a lot of. Like to go to coffee shops and sit with people. That's not going to change, but your ability to use video to have a deeper customer connection where it's not a fatigue, it's not exhausting for your eyes to have this conversation on a screen.

If [:


Peter, as we start wrapping up here, can you give our agents your contact information, if they would like more information or have questions on your content, how can they contact you?


Um, we have, uh, Facebook and LinkedIn as well. And, um, I'm always happy. You know, John, I, I'm always happy to talk with people about, about the issues. I always learn [00:46:00] something from our customers as much as, uh, we impart knowledge. Um, we're a hundred percent insurance industry focused here. It's all we do.

Which has been just a delight in the last 22 years to have a farm that's really, you know, really trying to elevate the insurance brands in the world, whether they're retail agent or a big, uh, multinational re-insurance.



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The Insurance Huddle
By CoverWallet for Agents
This is the Insurance Huddle, the bi-monthly podcast for insurance newbies and industry veterans alike. Every other week Dr. John Wales will bring you a brand new episode where he chats with an industry expert on trending topics and all things related to running and growing your insurance agency.

John is an insurance industry veteran with decades of experience as a commercial insurance agent and agency owner. This show is available to listen to COMPLETELY FREE where ever you find podcasts.

For more great content and resources be sure to join our free Insurance Huddle Facebook group for insurance professionals. There you can ask us questions that might be featured here on the podcast. We look forward to seeing you in the Huddle!

This podcast is brought to you by CoverWallet for Agents, the easiest way to quote, bind, and service your small business clients. All online and in minutes.

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John Wales, General Manager of Coverwallet for Agents has 20+ years of experience in the insurance and finance industry and has experience in starting companies and growing them beyond multi-million dollar valuations, through the use of technology, team building and by creating unique industry marketing strategies.