Flexing Our Muscles

A mission to restore consumer confidence in the insurance industry netted a number of positive results, and showed that concentrating on the right message and consistent branding really does have a significant and positive effect.

Just as a good athlete cannot expect to win a medal at the Olympics without adequate training, an industry like ours cannot expect to win consumer trust without building some goodwill.

In 2004, the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC)–on behalf of Canada’s home, car and business insurers–embarked on a mission to reach out to consumers and restore their confidence in the industry. At that time, the industry’s image rating was at an all-time low. At 4.9 out of 10, we were about as popular as Stéphane Dion during the 2008 federal election campaign. So, IBC designed a campaign that allowed our industry to engage with consumers in the communities where they live, work and play. From creating programs like “Be Smart. Be Safe.” to supporting already-established programs like “Operation Red Nose,” IBC and the industry have made a difference in the way ordinary Canadians perceive us. Consumers have started to realize that insurance professionals are caring and socially responsible, and concerned about their well-being.

Four years later, in 2008, consumer polling indicated that the industry’s public image rating hit 6.0, up from the initial 4.9 rating. In other words, we went from Dion to Arnold Schwarzenegger, at least in terms of popularity.

Like the athletes competing at the Vancouver Olympics, we can’t stop training just because we’ve qualified for the games. The goodwill we’ve built up over the past five years is being put to the most difficult test yet: constitutional challenges in Alberta and Atlantic Canada; rate reviews in the West and auto reform in Ontario; a global recession, a suspected hardening of the insurance market and consumers who are more powerful–and more cynical–than ever. If our industry is to succeed, we can’t lose sight of the goal: consumer satisfaction.

Over the years, IBC has commissioned many in-depth surveys and focus groups across the country to take consumers’ temperature where home, car and business insurance is concerned. So what do consumers want? The truth is that there are many factors that affect how consumers perceive our industry.

Premiums are undeniably a factor, but they’re not the only factor. The consumer’s willingness to trust information from insurance companies–in addition to price and perceived value of the insurance product–actually has the biggest impact on how consumers view our industry.

Consumers trust an industry that is fair and accountable, that is concerned and caring, and that contributes to the economy. We need to keep building muscle in these areas to win with consumers.

And that means not just doing the right things, but ensuring that consumers know that we do the right things. We need consumers to like us. If they don’t recognize the good work we do, we’re in trouble. Unhappy consumers can result in negative media coverage for the industry, hurting the industry’s reputation with the general public and with government. And with tools like social media at their fingertips, unhappy consumers can easily make their voices heard.

Last year, a musician from Nova Scotia had his guitar broken by United Airlines. He was displeased with the way his complaint had been handled, and wrote a song about how “United breaks guitars.” In days gone by, he may have written a letter to the CEO, complained to an ombudsperson or taken some other usual course of action. But this is 2010. Instead, he posted a video of his song on YouTube–a cyber-video that has received a whopping 5,520,489 hits. The song and video sparked stories on CNN and CBC, was featured in The Globe and Mail and created an Internet buzz around the world. The result was not only a public relations nightmare for United Airlines but a warning to organizations everywhere. Consumers have power.

And that power, when fuelled by preconceived notions–whether they are correct or not–colour how we perceive the world around us.

That is why it is important to do all we can to make sure a consumer’s concept about the P&C industry is positive. If consumers see our industry making an effort to reduce the incidence of distracted driving, promote injury prevention and control the cost of insurance premiums, they will enter into dealings with us with positive preconceived notions. And that is invaluable.

We may be an industry that, historically, people love to hate, but if we give consumers more of what they want, we can change that attitude. We have proven that the P&C insurance industry has the muscle and endurance, but we need to keep training and rising up to the challenge in order to win.

Mary Lou O’Reilly, vice-president, Public Affairs and Marketing, Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC).

© Copyright 2010 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the January 2010 edition of Canadian Insurance magazine.

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Transcontinental Media G.P.