Expert Commentary

What Is Your Unique Value Proposition?

As a reminder, this column is focused on examining topics personal risk advisers can use to help insurance consumers more effectively manage their personal risks. Candid feedback from a dozen or so readers on the last practice management topic examined—"Go Beyond the Product Pitch"—has revealed that many in our industry still struggle to provide consumers with anything more substantive than a "policy quote." We should all ask ourselves this important question: are our words and deeds really much different from the same glib, cost-oriented sales pitches consumers are trained to expect from BIG INSURANCE (intended to collectively represent the small group of large insurers spending billions in advertising each year to falsely frame insurance as a commodity)?


Personal Risk Management
November 2014

If we are really focused on helping consumers manage their personal risks, shouldn't we be able to explain with real clarity how it is we actually do that? And shouldn't we also be able to explain why helping others to manage their personal risks offers consumers more value than those who simply advertise they provide faster/cheaper insurance quotes? Each of us needs to assess if we are part of the problem—speaking and acting in ways that foster the false perception that insurance coverage is a commodity, however unintentionally—or part of the solution, helping consumers understand and effectively manage their risks.

If we agree that providing insurance consumers with something more valuable than a price quote is both our challenge and passion (shouldn't it be?), then having a unique value proposition that describes our "something more" is at least part of the solution. This article will examine how to develop a unique value proposition that represents your "something more"—the very characteristics that differentiate you and describe how you actually help consumers manage their risks more effectively than those providing mere price quotes.

The Prevailing Insurance Value Proposition

Before examining how to craft a value proposition that describes what makes you and the services you provide special, let's first take a look at a few of the most popular and widely recognized value propositions that have been so effectively promoted by BIG INSURANCE. With billions spent annually to advertise these brands, consumers have become conditioned to seek insurance solutions that are consistent with these prevailing value propositions:

  • Save 15 percent in 15 minutes.
  • I saved more than that, in half the time.
  • Save with name your price.
  • Born online to save you money.
  • So easy even a caveman can do it.
  • See how much could you save with _______.

My guess is most readers will recognize each of the insurers that so proudly use each of the above phrases when advertising their value proposition. More alarmingly though, readers should ask whether versions of these hollow propositions aren't also being coopted and promoted where they work. Indeed, it seems that rather than promoting the ability to provide more substantive, risk management–oriented protection solutions, many who do not represent these insurance brands have accepted these prevailing and wrong-minded value propositions as their own. Rather than acquiescing to BIG INSURANCE and reiterating their save time/money propositions, shouldn't we strive to offer consumers something different, something more valuable?

Arguably, while the above examples are more "slogans" than formal value propositions, various iterations of the above are used to promote the same value proposition: we save you time/money. The tacit implication is that the protection that is or is not being secured is of secondary importance, if important at all. While memorable, the prevailing propositions that pander to the powerful consumer desire to "save" present a perfect opportunity to offer something more substantive and valuable. How can we better capitalize on this opportunity?

Making Our Value Propositions Unique

The concept of "unique value proposition" has been widely studied and is known by many different terms. Theodore Levitt, renowned author and professor at Harvard Business School, popularized the term unique selling proposition almost 30 years ago to describe advertising campaigns that succeeded because they positively differentiate a product in a crowded marketplace. While the concept may seem obvious to some, why is it that so many in our industry still struggle greatly to explain how the services they provide are different from those provided by others in the industry? Fortunately, there are others who have used these concepts to craft compelling, memorable, and truly unique value propositions that articulate to consumers the availability of something much different from what BIG INSURANCE has to offer. A few of them strike this author as being so original and inspiring they merit a copyright.

Key word search "unique value proposition" and you will quickly see that there are plenty of consultants who market their ability to help us examine and describe what makes us different and valuable. Is there a formula? There is, according to the experts. Meanwhile, each expert recommends using his or her own formula. (After all, this is about differentiation.) While there may not be a magic formula, those who have studied the topic recommend we begin by closely examining these basic ingredients:

  • Who do you serve?
  • What, specifically, do you provide?
  • How does what you provide help those you serve?
  • Why should those you serve want to work with you?
  • Be brief and interesting! The pros aim for pithy. Figuring out how to answer each of the above questions concisely and in an interesting manner is perhaps the biggest challenge!

Good consultants or branding coaches are skillful at helping their clients to closely examine and identify whatever it is that makes them different and helpful to others. Some even offer easy and free access to valuable guidance, usually to create interest in additional services they provide for a fee. Beyond Insurance is one consulting firm that specializes in helping those in the insurance industry to differentiate themselves and develop strategies to overcome the pitfalls of the commodity trap tactics used by many. The following link will direct you to a complimentary webinar that offers the six steps this firm uses to help agents and brokers achieve brand differentiation: Beyond Insurance Brand Differentiation Webinar. Other firms offer similar services for those who would like the assistance of an expert, but having personally benefitted from the expertise provided by Beyond Insurance, I can share this firm as one well worth considering.

If Not Unique, Be Memorable

"I don't know how to put this, but I'm kind of a big deal." —Ron Burgundy, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy

While Anchorman Ron Burgundy's description of his unique value proposition is surely memorable, the goal is to be positively memorable! Over the years, I have had the opportunity to meet with many hundreds of independent agents and have often asked this simple question: "What makes you(r agency) unique and valuable to the clients you serve?" From a few, I have heard memorable responses that conveyed characteristics that were both unique (unique enough) and valuable. More often, however, the responses I've heard were not very memorable, offered little real value, and could be best characterized as mere propositions. "We represent dozens of carriers and shop the marketplace to provide our clients the best deal" and "We provide great service" are two common responses that strike this author as a bit uninspiring.

While I've not conducted a formal study, a large percentage of independent agency websites have what can be interpreted as a rather common proposition prominently displayed on their landing page: "Click here for a free quote." While there is nothing "wrong" with such an approach, employing the same lure used by BIG INSURANCE implicitly reinforces the dangerous premise that insurance is a commodity and should be shopped by simply contrasting coverage limits and costs. To those who believe promoting their ability to provide free quotes is a valuable offer or even a wise Internet marketing strategy, I ask if your free price quote can be delivered in 15 minutes. How about 7.5 minutes—the new standard promoted by Esurance? Promoting the same glib value proposition BIG INSURANCE uses prevents independent agents from presenting to consumers the opportunity to receive something more valuable than a quote: customized protection, objective expertise, and independent advocacy.

Fortunately, the desire to offer something different appears to be growing in our industry, as an ever-increasing number of agency websites now feature a utility that encourages visitors to click here for a "consultation" or to "request more information." Can we agree that extending an offer to have a consultation likely reflects an organization that has a far more memorable value proposition than those offering to provide a quote?

Walk the Talk; Be Aligned Organizationally

Take great care in describing what makes you different, as it is essential that you are actually able to deliver the services you describe as being unique and/or valuable. When any of the deliverables you describe involve the performance of others in an agency, it is just as critical that they are empowered and inclined to deliver what you have promised. Training and managing support staff members to consistently deliver the commitments needed to support any value proposition is a challenge for which there are no easy solutions. When other stakeholders fail to consistently deliver that which you have promised to consumers, one of two changes must occur: you must either adjust the value proposition to describe what can actually be delivered or gain organizational support to ensure what is being promised can be consistently delivered. Many organizations in all industries fail to take the steps to consistently ensure their words and deeds are properly aligned. Don't be one of those.

Aligning the value propositions of different stakeholders in any agency is no small task. Among those agencies that can point to a clear and well communicated value proposition, it can be difficult to ensure that all stakeholders within the agency are serving clients in a manner that supports the larger agency plan. Meanwhile, taking the steps to ensure that employees are striving to provide clients with the outcomes consistent with the agency's value proposition is the entire point of having one. Those tasked with developing new client relationships should be experts at communicating the agency's value proposition, as well as the additional value they can personally offer consumers. Given that producers and service providers are well positioned to receive feedback from clients on how effectively the agency is meeting the commitments made to clients, agency owners should seek input from all who can constructively report the feedback received from clients. The agencies I have visited that have effectively integrated a unique value proposition into the work habits of all employees are few, but the results are dramatic and well worth striving for.

My Own Journey

Those familiar with my work are not surprised to learn I believe the value proposition topic is important because I am passionate about offering consumers something more substantive than a policy quote. My view is that anyone can provide a policy quote, and I am not just anyone. And, by the way, neither are you! Which invites these questions: if we are not just anyone, what makes us any different? How does what we offer truly help those we serve? Why should consumers want what we have to offer? When we can answer these questions, briefly and in an interesting manner, don't forget, we can have a unique value proposition that fits us. So in the spirit of full disclosure, here is mine:

I provide financially successful families a proprietary process that finds and fixes the five leading causes of unforeseen and uncovered personal property and liability losses.

My unique value proposition references a process I use to guide my clients to better understand their exposure to personal property and liability losses and to reduce their exposure to unforeseen and uncovered losses. It has been designed to stimulate interest and evoke a response. So, what are the five leading causes of uncovered losses? When asked (often), it provides me the opportunity to explain further. An invitation to further explain my something different. Brief? Compelling? Specific? Valuable? Unique? You decide. More importantly, embrace and communicate what makes you different and better, and craft a unique value proposition that truly represents you!

Conclusion

Ask yourself these questions/consider these points:

  • Do you agree that our biggest challenge as risk advisers is overcoming the public perception that has been created by BIG INSURANCE that insurance is a commodity?
  • Do you reject the myth that insurance is a commodity and have the courage of your convictions to say so and explain why?
  • Do you spend the time to carefully examine all that you provide to help others better manage their personal risks? Describe it. Have others who assist clients do the same thing.
  • Do you use a who, what, why, and how approach to specifically describe what makes you different? Polish it, invite others to critique it, and work on it further until it resonates with others.

Developing a unique value proposition can and will help you contrast sharply with those many competitors marketing their version of the "save X% in Y minutes" commodity pitch used by BIG INSURANCE. That hollow offer invites something different: the "something more" independent agents can and do offer.

Let your unique value proposition become your professional passion. Work to have other client stakeholders feel similarly about it. Embark on a mission to help consumers make well educated decisions to better manage their personal risks.


Opinions expressed in Expert Commentary articles are those of the author and are not necessarily held by the author's employer or IRMI. Expert Commentary articles and other IRMI Online content do not purport to provide legal, accounting, or other professional advice or opinion. If such advice is needed, consult with your attorney, accountant, or other qualified adviser.

Like This Article?

IRMI Update

Dive into thought-provoking industry commentary every other week, including links to free articles from industry experts. Discover practical risk management tips, insight on important case law and be the first to receive important news regarding IRMI products and events.

Learn More