Below is a transcription of the above interview between Mary Ann O’Brien, OBI Creative founder and CEO, and Mark Williams, Brokers International President and Managing Partner. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
Mary Ann O’Brien
So, tell me, how do you view a rebrand, and when do you think a company should do a rebrand?
Good question. Most of the time, in my experience, there are six or eight times a company should rebrand, or at least look at a rebrand. And sometimes, it might just be a logo. I think companies change either a tagline or their logo most of the time. Here are a couple of examples:
If you went International, sometimes the meaning of your name in one language might be literally different in another. It might be something that could be offensive or just a word that people use out of context. So, I could see a rebrand if you’re going into another country with your service or brand.
I’ll use an example of Kmart. Now, regardless of what you think of the company as a whole, in the demise of the company, you could submit that the brand, even the logo of the brand, became outdated.
Sometimes it’s just a new look or a refresh of a look. Hotels do this quite often, just to get something new and shiny.
I think about this oftentimes around a merger or acquisition. Or if I brought on a new product line. And we have an example. We were doing business with a company called USA Tax. They were mainly tax preparers but purchased an insurance business and rebranded themselves USA Tax and Insurance Services.
They tacked on that extra name to broaden their product offering or their services. So, to me, that rebrand makes sense. But let’s take Brokers International, where we offered life insurance and annuities. We also now have wealth management. So, now we are Brokers International Life Annuities and Wealth Management. We went into a new area.
Such a rebrand doesn’t always have to be negative. They don’t have to be because you’re antiquated.
You might want to engage in new services or want to connect to a different demographic. Maybe, you’re very senior-based, with more mature clients.
If you moved into a product line that skewed younger, we might want to change our look to look younger – to bring a different look and feel to the company. So, I think those are really good examples of when someone might want to change the brand.
Mary Ann O’Brien
How does a leader have enough confidence to take action and say, “You know what, it is time for us to refresh or rebrand? Or, we need to align our operations back to the mission of the organization?” Being a CEO of a large company in the insurance and finance space, is that a hard thing to ponder? Or is that a conversation with the board?
Great question. So, specifically for us at Brokers International, we take pride in the voice of the customer. So, we take a lot of time every year to send survey questions and get firsthand information from our customers.
So, how is our service level? How are our products and services? Are they attractive in the marketplace? Are there competitors that are doing something we should be doing? We literally ask our customers. So, oftentimes, it’s direct feedback. Our customers are telling us, “Hey, we’re not looking at you as much.” Or, you might have a competitor doing something interesting in the space you want to look at. So, number one is the voice of the customer.
As you said, this feedback usually provides me 60% or 70% of my confidence. I’m getting regular, consistent feedback from our customers. Some of it, I think, is a little bit of instinct.
I’ll brag a little bit, but I’ve been in the financial services business for 32 years. So, some of it is instinctual; I’m looking at the change of financial landscape. I’m looking at our customers, our insurance or financial professionals come into the business.
Different types of marketing attract the younger generation. So, we want to attract that younger person. I instinctively know the hierarchical stiffness of financial services, but it has to be attractive to a younger clientele. I’ll give you the best example.
If you look at financial services commercials on TV, you’ll notice a drastic shift in clothing. It used to be very suit and tie. Very conservative suits, white and blue shirts, always in a tie. Now, you’ll notice number one; I’m not in a tie. Most of our advertising is either with a sport coat with an open collar or no sport coat and an open collar. And you’re noticing that more on financial ads.
So, when you see ads on TV, you’ll notice the clientele might be a little younger; instead of all silver hair, it might be salt and pepper, a little more casual atmosphere. I think that’s to attract, number one, a younger generation, but also an older generation that wants to feel younger. And that’s a different feel than it was for financial services. Even, I would argue, 15 years ago.
Mary Ann O’Brien
Great answers. That’s so insightful. Thinking about the aspirational side of an older generation wanting to maybe identify with someone younger is so true. We only see ourselves as we see ourselves.
So, using the law of attraction to drive action can be very powerful. And I think that’s a great example.
I know we see that in my industry too. Creative services and advertising have always been a little more edgy. Probably a more mature target audience, but we still have some ethos and morals. And approaches, I’ve noticed, are changing a lot as well. So, it’ll be interesting for those of us in our positions and how we manage through all those changes with the next generation coming in.
Mary Ann O’Brien
I know we talked branding and marketing, but you mentioned the word instinct, and having instinct and acting on it are two different things. And I think a lot of times, for us, clients come up and ask us to shake up their marketing or their brand because they want to stand out. And we always ground our recommendations and research. Plus, like you talked about, the customer’s voice is also very important. It really serves as the inspiration for whatever we’re recommending.
But as we make our recommendations, some clients don’t necessarily have that level of courage. So, I was hoping you could help me understand where courage comes from. From you as a leader and as just a human. And what are some of the things you call on from a courage standpoint? Some things that helped move you through your day-to-day business.
Yeah, great question. I’ll use an example of what we did for a 37-year-old company founded in the Midwest, in a little town called Panola, Iowa. The town is about 1,500 people, very small. And in the winter, it’s about 700 people, and there are only about five or six food establishments.
So, about five years ago, I decided to move the company to Des Moines. That’s a 40-mile move, and that’s our entire home office, which was five buildings and 115 employees. And whether it’s 40 miles or 500 miles, a move is a move. But it was a bit about our brand, right? We were changing our brand.
We were moving to the city and were uprooting all our employees. It was a big decision, and a lot of it came from, like you already mentioned, that we did a lot of research.
At the end of the day, what convinced me, or gave me the courage to do it, was that I knew it was the best thing for the company.
Some of that is intuition, some of it was research, and some of it was even feedback from our own employees.
How would it be to attract talent if we moved?
How would it be to host our customers at an event?
Would it be easier? Could we do it with more people?
Could we offer more services, if we were closer?
We asked those kinds of questions, and ultimately, it did become a question of confidence. But confidence for the company’s future, not necessarily for me, or even for our employees.
But, overall, what’s the best long-term decision for the company?
And that’s really where I got my confidence. It’s kind of the old teacher, right? You know one side is the con, one side is the pro, and you just make a list. It’s as simple as that. When the pros started to outweigh the cons, I had enough confidence to say this was the right decision. We have to make this decision, and not even for my tenure at the company. But for the strength and the stability and longevity of our company. It just made the most sense.
Mary Ann O’Brien
That is a big decision. I think sometimes it does come down to being that simple, you know? The human truism of just asking people what they think and making that data in doing it as a pros and cons chart. Sometimes, I think we complicate things as business leaders, and sometimes we don’t. And that’s a really great example of how you simplified a decision. You took a simple approach to a complex issue, and it sounds like it ended up great.
In hindsight, it was one of the best things that we did. Not only for the overall health of the company, because we also found we were attracting better talent, easier.
And we found it was easier to connect with our customers.
We are actually offering more services today than we offered five years ago because, logistically, it made more sense, was easier to do, and was more cost-efficient. So, it did work out well for us at the end of the day. But, if I can tell you within that first 24 months, I second-guessed myself quite a bit. But in the long run, it worked out.
Mary Ann O’Brien
Well, thanks for sharing that part too. One of the things I love to do is just learn from other great business leaders. You’re one of the most stellar guys I’ve met in this business, and I appreciate you being a part of this. And I want to thank you so much for being a part of this and sharing your lunch with me.
You bet. Thanks to OBI. OBI does a great job for us at Brokers International. So, I want to thank you and thanks for the opportunity to be on the podcast. And thanks for lunch. I love the sandwich.