Rebranding a Consulting Service: A Case Study
By Brett Heineman
NewsDirect, May 2021
This is an article about how rebranding helped a business turn itself around and taught this actuary a thing or two about marketing.
Up until a couple months ago, I worked for a small boutique underwriting and actuarial firm that pioneered the risk management practices in our industry. Despite being first and being well known in the industry for three decades, by early 2018 the company was losing clients and challenged to win new business. After some investigation, several key problems facing the company’s growth were identified.
- The company had a reputation of only working with the largest clients in the industry.
- The company had a reputation of being too expensive.
- The market changed and the company was perceived as being out of touch:
- The market wanted more technology;
- the market wanted a low-touch, low-cost option; and
- the market wanted an unbundled service offering.
The company spent much of 2018 changing how it worked in order to meet the market where it was. By March 2019, everything was in place and the company felt ready to launch the new and improved customer experience to the world.
The company was small, and it was all hands on deck—although an actuary, I was asked to take an active role in sales efforts.
Before the transformation, the company frequently used comprehensive sales presentations highlighting all of the company’s capabilities that would be used when meeting with clients. The company’s deck masterfully and precisely listed everything the company did in great detail—the value of the services and experience was obvious! The company was proud of the breadth of its offerings and convinced that clients would love the convenience of a single partner for a wide range of needs. But they didn’t. Time and again the company got the same response at the end of its presentation: the prospective customer had no idea how the service offering compared to what they needed or what was available from competitors.
Lesson One: Talk to Your Customer in a Way They can Understand
After one of those frustrating meetings, it occurred to me that the company simply wasn’t talking in the way the client understood. For example, the company liked to talk about “risk assessment” instead of “underwriting” because it’s more precise and underwriting became a four-letter word after the Affordable Care Act was passed. On top of that, the company felt its newer, more advanced approach to underwriting needed a better word than, well, underwriting. But guess what, the customer doesn’t care which term is more precise, they were looking for someone to help them with underwriting. So, the company had to change its message to something recognizable to the prospective client. This ultimately extended beyond wordsmithing the sales deck and into how the company talked about its value to customers in general. But changing the language alone wasn’t good enough, which brings me to the second lesson in sales.
Lesson Two: Tell a Compelling Story
Rethinking the terminology led the company to consider what else it was miscommunicating. The company swapped out more technical and precise language for the more common terminology. Next, I went through our presentation trying to look at it through the eyes of a customer. I discovered the presentation didn’t tell a story. It was just a list of stuff the company did that seemed thrown together into a slide deck. So, the next epiphany I had was to tell a compelling story. How can the company’s services help a client to achieve success? The company reoriented the way in which it talked about its capabilities so that it was rooted in the ultimate purpose. But not every actuarial firm’s purpose is the same. If the company’s story didn’t touch on its customer’s specific goals, they’d have no chance convincing them to bring the company on their journey. And that’s lesson three.
Lesson Three: Know Where Your Customer Wants to Go and How You can Get Them There
The company’s clients have the same goal as any other business: to grow profitably. If the job was done right, its clients could create sustainable competitive advantage in their health insurance benefit programs. That advantage would lead to growth and profitability.
Now that the company had the client’s goals clearly articulated, and its own services put into terms the client could recognize, I needed to flesh out the story. The story, it turns out, was super easy. The company’s sister company operated as the consulting and brokerage arm of the service bundle. They already had a version of the story. All I needed to do was tweak it to focus on just the actuarial and underwriting services.
The story that was crafted had four parts:
- A successful health insurance program will lead to growth (the clients knew this part, that’s why they were talking to the company!)
- There are a few (three to be exact) core activities a company needs to do to run a successful health insurance program.
- The services provided by the company enable each of the three core activities and include a feedback loop to make sure models align to reality.
- The company’s services are scalable but can be customized to every unique customer. (This was the company’s key comparative advantage)
With this new and powerful story, aligned to our customer’s goals, the company was ready to get back in front of prospective clients. But, there was still one thing missing: A name.
Lesson Four: Naming Something has Tremendous Power
The company needed a meaningful and easy-to-remember name that could simply encapsulate all of its capabilities into a single term. I wanted a name that invoked action and movement towards the dual aims of growth and profitability. After stumbling over a few words and phrases, I landed on a name that has really resonated with clients. I was surprised at how quickly I was able to settle on a name, until I remembered that all of the hard work over the preceding few months to refine the company’s story for how it could help companies grow profitably was critical to knowing that this new name was the right one.
It was a huge success—in 2019 alone, the company added more new clients than in the six years prior. But they weren’t done.
Lesson Five: You’re Never Done Refining
The company has continued to refine the sales pitch and the brand to include doing even more for clients than it was before. The tag line has evolved from “grow your business in the right direction” to “moving faster together.” The primary impact the company sought by naming its product was to have something tangible that would resonate in the market. The company achieved that the first time it explained the brand to a prospective client. The really interesting thing was watching how articulating the brand in a new way improved the company’s own understanding of the service offering and changed the way it delivered that offering.
Two years and one pandemic after naming the brand, the company is going very strong. Although I’ve moved on to a new role with a new company, it is wonderful to see that my former team has truly embraced the new brand and continues to refine their service offerings and sales pitch. As for me, the lessons that I learned from my experience in sales has helped me to be a better actuary—I hope they will do the same for you too.
Statements of fact and opinions expressed herein are those of the individual authors and are not necessarily those of the Society of Actuaries, the editors, or the respective authors’ employers.
Brett Heineman, FSA, MAAA, is a health actuary with 17 years of experience working for carriers, consulting firms and most recently, a startup InsurTech firm, Gradient AI. He can be reached at email@example.com.