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The Rough Notes Company Inc.



September 28
09:55 2020


Our industry needs transformational leaders—not just transactional ones

By Peter van Aartrijk

“We don’t need marketing. This is just a relationship business.” I’ve heard those words many, many times in my insurance industry career.

  • And I always want to ask:
  • How do you create a relationship in the first place?
  • How do you even get to the point where you can have an opportunity to make a sale?
  • When you get past the first martini, what will you say that is more meaningful and relationship-building than what your competitors say?

This is why marketing is crucial. It is the engine that drives brand, business development and sales strategy. The Insurance Marketing & Communications Association (IMCA) is on a mission to elevate the role of marketing in our business. Carriers, agents, brokers, wholesalers and all business partners of the insurance industry are welcome as members. And we are launching the IMCA CMO Council to create senior-level networking and research opportunities.

Let’s take a step back. Even the word “marketing” is upside down in the insurance industry. We have so-called “marketing directors” whose job it is to position a piece of new or renewal business with underwriters. That’s a necessary and noble task, of course. But prospect and customer marketing is a whole different kettle of fish.

Besides nomenclature, there’s another issue. Marketing and related marketing communications professionals—the ones who carry the messaging flag to prospects and customers—are often relegated to mid- or lower-level status at insurance organizations. As a result of this relegation, marketing too often is viewed as a project or an expense rather than an investment. Or even a nice-to-have resource.

Devoid of a well-constructed brand strategy created from a well-informed business strategy, organizations that view marketing as a project or an expense will move from one tactic to another like children tinkering with toys.

Devoid of a well-constructed brand strategy created from a well-informed business strategy, organizations that view marketing as a project or an expense will move from one tactic to another like children tinkering with toys. (This is why I routinely hear out-of-context and lack-of-strategy comments such as, “Yeah, we’re not sure about marketing. We tried a postcard campaign last week and it didn’t work. We only got one response.” I have so many questions about that, I don’t even know where to start.)

And there’s more. The insurance organization C-suite is replete with technical folks who have come up through the ranks. Business leaders in commercial lines. Lawyers. Under-writers. Actuaries. Sometimes field sales reps.

Why don’t we see more chief marketing officers in the insurance industry? The relatively few CMOs out there already are under the gun. The average CMO—across all industries, not just insurance—lasts 18 months on the job. It’s not surprising. They’re constantly being asked for a silver bullet.

They can find it difficult to manage the digital marketing landscape, especially when they’re undermined by jealous IT teams, corporate inertia, or other internal politics. And, typically, they’re scapegoats for underlying business issues, like a stale product set, inconsistent agency appointment tactics, and poor underwriting results.

Insurance organization leaders tend to be transactional thinkers. I believe leaders who embrace marketing in the classic sense are transformational leaders.

Transactional leaders are left-brain heavy. They think in a linear, rational fashion. The left brain is all about the numbers. Now I don’t want to downplay the importance of those numbers because, in the insurance industry, you have to pay attention to the financials. Conversely, transformational leaders are right-brain heavy and bring more emotion to the game. Emotion is critical when you’re tracking the customer journey and trying to influence human beings, like employees and agents.

Organizations need both types of leaders to succeed, but I believe that insurance firms typically should be thinking of hiring or promoting more transformational leaders. These individuals:

  • Genuinely care about the organization’s role in the world and are passionately engaged.
  • Always seek improvement and are willing to shake things up.
  • Realize the world is dynamic and see change as an opportunity, not a threat.
  • Develop employees, at the right levels and in the right places, and allow them opportunity to grow.
  • Inspire staff to work as a team toward a common goal—and accomplish goals without management’s handholding.
  • Seek an organic, evolving culture that drives employee and customer happiness.
  • Organizations of all types—agencies, brokers, wholesalers, carriers—will see more success when marketing isn’t sales, field operations, underwriting, IT, finance or HR. When done well, marketing is informed in and is informing all of those disciplines.
  • Take stock of your situation:
  • Does your organization have a solid brand strategy that articulates your mission, vision, core values, brand essence, narrative, persona, evidence, and other key messaging? Is it up to date? And is it widely shared and actionable throughout the firm?
  • Does the organization view marketing as an expense? Or is it just a series of projects? Why? When structured and executed properly, marketing is an investment.
  • Who leads marketing? Is the role relegated to a part-timer at the reception desk? Is it hiding in HR or sales? Create a C-level or, at the least, an EVP, SVP or VP level marketing role, and allow the person who fills that to build a team that can make a difference by driving growth. Hire strategic thinkers as well as marketing “doers.”
  • Provide your marketing exec a seat at the decision table. Enthusiastically allow your marketers to integrate with other disciplines in the organization.

At a recent IMCA meeting, Arthur J. Gallagher CMO Chris Mead spoke of the big opportunity in front of us as marketers. “The insurance industry is a rocket ship,” he said. I agree. This is an excellent business for marketers to see future success. And to propel your excitement, knowledge, networking and career along, I urge you to get engaged with fellow marketing enthusiasts.

The author

Peter van Aartrijk ( is the author of branding guidebook The Powers, available on Amazon and A former journalist and corporate communications professional, he is a member of the board of the Insurance Marketing Communications Association (, and has worked with independent agents and carriers on marketing for several decades.

IMCA Creates Insurance CMO Council

Many local and regional associations or conferences aim to serve top marketing executives with education and networking opportunities. But what about an insurance industry-specific venue? Nothing has existed for insurance chief marketing officers—until now.

Citing the lack of a networking and informational forum for senior insurance marketing and communications leaders, the board of directors of the Insurance Marketing & Communications Association is launching the IMCA CMO Council. Invited to join are marketing leaders at carriers, brokers, agencies, wholesalers, MGAs, program administrators and others, including:

  • Chief Marketing Officer
  • Chief Experience Officer
  • Chief Growth Officer
  • EVP, SVP or VP, Marketing/Communications

The IMCA CMO Council will engage industry-leading marketing and communication officers and their team members at the annual IMCA Conference. The next face-to-face conference is scheduled for June 2021 in Orlando (although virtual events also are planned for the remainder of 2020 and into 2021). In Orlando, we will:

  • Invite CMOs to participate in discussions on trending topics in insurance consumer preferences.
  • Include participation from top advertising and social media executives.
  • Provide participation in panels or roundtables moderated by journalists.
  • Provide plenty of networking opportunities.

In preliminary discussions, 30 senior insurance marketers enthusiastically agreed to embrace a forum like the IMCA CMO Council. We are encouraged that we’re onto something valuable.

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