Building Brand Awareness: Interview with CompSource Mutual VP Chad Zenner

Below is an edited transcription of the above interview between Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative founder and CEO, and Chad Zenner, VP of Marketing for CompSource Mutual Insurance Company.

Marketing in the Insurance Sector

Mary Ann O’Brien

How critical is creativity and creating brand awareness for companies in the insurance and financial sector?

For example, from an insurance standpoint, sometimes insurance can be seen as very conservative. So, how you break through and connect with your audience?

Creativity Differentiates your Marketing Material

Chad Zenner

Creative work is incredibly significant, particularly as insurance products become more commoditized. It’s important for businesses to distinguish themselves from the numerous choices consumers now have.

So, when I think about creative campaign themes, creative images, and creative messaging, those all make viewers more likely to pay attention to and remember and develop affection for your brand and brand awareness. And this all results in budget efficiency and an outsized effect in your market.

In addition, I look at creative ads as the ability to increase the viewer’s motivation to dwell on and to understand your ad and your organization.

The entertainment or informative value they derive from your ad improves their attitude toward both the ad and your brand.

Improving the attitude towards your brand results in revenue gains over time.

Entertaining Marketing Matters

Mary Ann O’Brien

Some of the other insurers that I think about who have created entertaining ad campaigns have managed to break through the clutter incredibly well and really drive brand awareness.

Brands like Aflac, Progressive, Allstate and State Farm are just a few that come to mind.

Chad Zenner

Yeah, absolutely. I mean, at the end of the day, you know, people have such a short attention span and timeframes today.

So, when they see something that’s memorable, or unique, or creative in some capacity, it can actually, you know, spill into the viral world, right? I mean, when that’s really one of the goals that you have, from a creative perspective, particularly for the larger brands who are really focused on your brand awareness and really driving consideration for their brand.

Viral Marketing Builds Brand Awareness

The more insurance and financial brands can do to break through the clutter and the noise of looking like everyone else, the more differentiation they will create between themselves and their competitors.

Chad Zenner, VP of Marketing for CompSource Mutual Insurance Company

And so, you know, I think the Progressive commercials right now where we’re talking about, you know, growing up and trying to not be you parent. The commercials are memorable. People have conversations about them with family and friends.

Mary Ann

Yeah, and Progressive is extended the experience off-screen online with social videos on YouTube. They’re really executing the campaign in a smart way, to not just generate brand awareness, but to attract younger consumers to their brand. They’re doing a good job of engaging that next generation of insurance shoppers.

Chad Zenner

I will tell you, the more often you see those things, the better your affinity is for the brand. And you think it’s cool and it’s unique, and it has some kind of a positive impact, I believe on your purchasing decision later on, even subconsciously.

Because at some point if I sit down with an insurance agent, and they bring up said name of insurance carrier, and I remember those ads and I liked them, I am inevitably going to like that carrier choice as well.

How to Maintain Customer-Centric Marketing while Building Brand Awareness

Mary Ann O’Brien

From a customer journey standpoint, we have to drive brand awareness to drive brand consideration to engagement and delight.

How do you ensure your message revolves around your customers and not your company or the products? For example, some brands in the sector talk about their products and services, kind of in a knee-jerk way, instead of really understanding what’s driving consideration for the customer.

How do you guys handle that? And any insight you have on it?

Chad Zenner

Yeah, I love this question. It’s perfectly timed for what my organization is going through. This is actually a primary focus for my team today.

Our legacy messaging approach was simply to talk about us, our products, our service, and our commitment to customers. It’s what I’ve labeled, “brand generic.” It really had no way of differentiating us from any competitor in the marketplace, it was quite honestly the same old drivel that you would hear from any other company, regardless of being in the insurance sector. And it did not do a good job of really highlighting the strengths and benefits of the organization.

Chad Zenner, VP of Marketing for Compsource mutual insurance company

Intentional and Empathetic Messaging is Key

So, why don’t we talk about that versus talking about ourselves? And so, I asked my team, well, how do we fix it? And there’s two words that came to mind.

One, is intention. And the other, is empathy.

Our team is in the process of creating new collateral material focused on specific industry verticals. They are intentionally and creatively writing messages that are specific to the challenges business owners are facing in their respective industries.

Each message is carefully crafted to display empathy, with the demands and expectations that our customers experience.

And by doing so, it highlights our understanding of their challenges, and why we are the right carrier to provide their coverage because we understand what they’re faced with on a day-to-day basis.

So, the story has completely pivoted and switched from being, you know, focused on us, to being focused on the customers and their issues and their burdens. And the more we can communicate about how we understand what those challenges are and that we have a solution for them, the better that appeal will be between the prospective customer and ourselves.

Mary Ann O’Brien

I agree. I know we’re like minded on that, but bravo. From my perspective, the ‘90s was all about, kind of, the product. And, you know, this generation is all about what’s in it for them. So, we have to know what they want, what our customers want and then figure out how to fit into their ecosystem and not force it.

Experience-Focused vs. Product-Focused Marketing

Chad Zenner

I totally agree. And I would add to that, that we’re becoming less product-focused and our messaging is much more experience-focused.

And talking about what’s different about working with CompSource Mutual in a way that benefits you, the business owner, right?

We want to make it easier for you to submit a payroll report or to pay your bill or whatever that function is you need. We want to create simple, elegant experiences for you.

Which, to me, an experience has become a product that’s part of what we sell. Not just, you know, the work comp insurance from our organization, but an experience that allows you to get done with your day that’s been long and hard and challenging.

Now, you got to go submit a payroll report and we want to make that as easy as possible for you. We want you to feel, ‘Wow. That was so much easier than my previous carrier. I’m going nowhere. I might even pay more for this because it’s so beneficial.’

Sometimes We Need Courage to Inspire Change

Mary Ann O’Brien

Your brand isn’t what you say. It’s what you do. And your brand really is your experience. So, how aligning, kind of, your brand to your experience takes a lot of work. I know you’ve done it before, in the form of a rebrand. Can you talk a little about, you know, a time when you had to use some courage to really drive the results that the organization needed? And using the brand as a sort of catalyst? To inspire change?

Mary Ann O’Brien, Founder & CEO of OBI Creative

Chad Zenner

Yeah, that’s a really interesting question. And I would kind of respond this way.

It’s been my experience that, you know, when you’re going through a brand transformation, that you’re modifying the visual identity of an organization. Unless it’s a world-class brand, it’s not the most challenging aspect.

I found more anxiety and identifying the story and the messaging that accompany that new brand, new employees, partners, and alumni.

They only know the organization as it was not as it’s going to be. They may not have awareness or understanding of the strategic direction of the organization to which the new brand is aligned.

So, when you’re modifying that story, a new tone, a new voice, or expression, that can actually be more jarring than a visual identity.

Also, the way a brand sounds is just as important as it looks.

So, changing the story or updating it requires courage and conviction. It also requires careful research, planning, and execution so that all stakeholders understand they why. Particularly when you’re talking about your employees, partners, alumni, and your customers. They need to understand why you’re doing that.

After all, you want brand champions and advocates. And if this is done well, it can not only be a boost to your marketing efforts, but it can also positively influence the culture of an organization.

And I think it takes a lot of courage for, you know, an executive team, a marketing team, for your agency partners that you work with, to really step forward with a new story. An updated version of that, to bring to marketplace, as against some things from a visual identity perspective can be somewhat challenging.

But I don’t find that to be nearly as difficult as the messaging around telling the story of who you are and what you mean and what is your purpose.

Mary Ann O’Brien

Agreed. I mean, I have personally seen you do that. And you know, you are an expert at it. And I know that you are very busy. I know you’ve given me a lot of great insight and time today. I really appreciate it.

Chad Zenner

Absolutely. More than happy to do that. Thanks, Mary Ann.


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