(RE) Learning The Brand
Rebranding and growth can deliver humility along with a stronger organization
By Lori Widmer
Matt Masiello says that the insurance industry perception of the previous iteration of SIAA, Inc., could be summed up in three words: “Big, old and bold.”
For an organization that boasts over $12.5 billion in total written premium and a strong network of strategic master agencies, insurance carrier partners and 5,000 independent members, that realization came as a bit of a shock. Yet, Masiello says the re-examination of the organization and its branding allowed leadership and their equity partner to see both the weaknesses in the organization and the opportunities those weaknesses presented.
One of the weaknesses was the brand itself. “When we looked at our logo and our messaging and our brand, it was stale. We hadn’t realized that,” Masiello says.
The real awakening happened two and a half years ago, at the same time the topic of insurance perpetuation arose. SIAA, previously owned by Jim Masiello, chairman and founder; Nick Pappajohn, president; and Matt Masiello, CEO, was experiencing change. Jim was looking to retire and Pappajohn was seeking to take on a more advisory role.
Ironically, perpetuation came to the forefront just as the insurance industry itself was being forced into change. Customers were demanding more value for their premium dollar amid one of the hardest markets in recent history. Agencies were struggling to compete with larger corporate entities.
“Agents have to explain their value proposition,
and it can’t—it never should have been—based
on price. It has to be based on the consumer, the client. And the brand has to match
the experience you’re providing. Those two things go hand in hand.”
Chief Executive Officer
The path to perpetuation
“We were in need of a different ownership model and a different structure,” says Masiello of SIAA’s organization prior to rebranding. The focus was twofold, in fact, and included ensuring that SIAA remained a viable, strong organization for its constituencies. So, the organization started exploring ways in which to secure the future of the alliance.
Enter Odyssey Investment Partners. After considering several options, Masiello says SIAA leadership entered into an equity partnership. “The private equity path was the best one to allow us to perpetuate, but then still have the ability to invest in and grow the business without being strangled with the debt (of that growth). Many of us on the executive and management teams believed that we had an obligation to our constituents (our member agencies, our regional master agencies, their staff members, our staff, and even the strategic partners we do business with).”
So, SIAA partnered with Odyssey, the latter acquiring the organization in conjunction with the management team, to develop a more sustainable business model that could transcend changes at the top, in the ownership, investors, and any other sizable changes. The business model, says Masiello, had to allow for SIAA to grow “for the next 20 years, not the last 20 years.” Businesses, he says, are often perpetuated for historical reasons—to preserve a family legacy, for example. “We wanted to perpetuate for future growth reasons.”
So far, so great, says Masiello, who remains as SIAA’s CEO; Pappajohn is a board member. “It’s been a fantastic experience for us.” The reason: Odyssey liked the premise of SIAA’s business and mission. That in turn has fed a two-year growth rate that outpaced the company’s expectations. “We actually grew our employee base both through acquisition and through organic growth, from 71 to about 270 in two years.”
That growth came without the usual growing pains, it seems. In early 2023, SIAA was designated a Great Place to Work by Great Place to Work, a global research and consulting firm.
Time to align
Yet, as the organization and its equity partner started to develop a path forward, Masiello says the realization was that the organization’s brand needed reform. “People will go through mergers and acquisitions and say, ‘Well, nothing’s going to change.’ And our experience is that when you go through mergers, acquisitions, perpetuation, new partnerships, everything’s going to change.”
Getting each of those pieces right makes for positive changes, he adds. SIAA executives had chosen the right partner, he says, but the brand and mission statement were out of date when measured against the monumental shifts in the insurance industry that were ushered in with the pandemic. Because of new customer demands, newer market pressures, and a deeper reliance on technology, SIAA needed a rebranding.
“Rebranding is interesting,” Masiello observes. “It’s not something we had thought about. We thought we had a pretty good and powerful brand in the industry.” But as he and the team began to work on improving processes and providing better services and benefits, evolving existing services, and bringing in more technology and analytics, it was clear that the SIAA brand was not representing the full scope of the new SIAA.
“We’ve made all of this investment in people and helping people build successful careers and businesses and in improving processes and bringing forward-thinking technology and data analytics to the forefront of how we work with agencies and our carrier partners,” Masiello notes. “So, it’s difficult to have a brand or logo that’s three decades old and then say, ‘Hey, look at us, look at all the changes we’re making.’”
So, Masiello says, the team “took a step back to take a step forward.” That allowed them to reevaluate what SIAA offered its members. “For us, it was people, process, and technology. That’s the core of our business. Everything else comes off that.”
The people aspect is everything from the right equity partner to the insurance carrier partners, and from membership right down to the SIAA staff.
From there, Masiello says, the organization was able to build processes that helped people respond to market demands and changes while remaining competitive. Then, SIAA ensured that the technology and analytics were in place to allow for easier insurance distribution, particularly for the independent agency channel, so that they were able to be more competitive and win more business.
It’s a mission statement and focus that the organization applies internally. Masiello says the rapid growth of SIAA would not have been possible without a strong set of processes and a keen focus on building collaboration. “It’s one thing to add all these people. It’s another thing for them to be able to work together and get along. So, as we were building out the executive team, the leadership team and the management teams, we made sure that we were focusing on individuals within our various departments.”
He adds that the goal was to build relationships based on honesty, open communication, and joint accountability. “We were very thoughtful and purposeful about making sure that if we were about to start growing dramatically, everybody would feel comfortable with each other.”
The agent takeaway
Masiello stresses the importance of open communication—something he says all agents can apply and leverage. For agencies, he says, the lessons learned from SIAA’s revamping is “understanding who they are and who they want to be and what they want to be moving forward.” It’s no longer about how an agent has been perceived by their community, he says, but rather how they want to be perceived in the future.
“Do we really want to be seen as we were seen 20 years ago? Or do we want to be seen now and in the future as really providing a valuable service and being a trusted partner to our personal lines and our commercial clients in protecting their most valuable assets?”
Gone are the days of performing a transaction, Masiello says. Independent agencies, he says, should be thinking about rebranding, starting with an honest evaluation of what the business looks like now and what the vision is for the future. “Who and what do we want to be? Who are we today? Where are we going? What is our mission? If you’re an agent that is creating a fantastic experience, not a transaction for the consumer, then your brand should reflect that.”
Also, Masiello says that agencies should be asking what their reference is to the market. “Agents have to explain their value proposition, and it can’t—it never should have been—based on price. It has to be based on the consumer, the client. And the brand has to match the experience you’re providing. Those two things go hand in hand,” he concludes.
Lori Widmer is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor who specializes in insurance and risk management.