(Re)branding Opportunity

Suzzette Chapman, ivari’s vice president of marketing and strategy, shares how its marketing department embraced the challenge of rebooting its image

After eighty years as a leading insurance multinational insurance company, Transamerica Life Canada was on the cusp of change. The company, which was acquired by life insurance leader Wilton Re last year, made the decision to rebrand as ivari—therefore establishing its line of business on a fully Canadian basis and formulating a unique, fresh identity for the home market.

Heading this rebranding is Suzzette Chapman, ivari’s vice president of marketing and strategy, who has spent nearly a quarter-century with the company. Advantage recently spoke with Chapman to find out more about her team’s role in the rebranding.

What has last year’s acquisition of Transamerica Life Canada and the decision to rebrand as ivari meant to the company?
This decision has given us the ability to really focus on the Canadian marketplace and really tailor things to our Canadian strategy, as opposed to being part of this larger multinational company. It’s a very rare opportunity that most marketers in the insurance world never get a chance to do. For us, it’s amazing, exciting, and scary because it’s a huge responsibility.

Chapman’s Rules to Rebrands

1. Make sure you understand your target markets. According to Chapman, sometimes people forget it’s not just knowing the markets, but understanding them.

2. Focus on the customer and not just the creative aspects.

3. Establish a framework for decision-making that aligns with strategy.

What were your initial steps in getting everything under the same ivari umbrella?
Our initial approach was to try and avoid getting caught up solely in the rebrand’s more creative aspects, because it’s really easy to rush into what we think looks cool or cutting-edge. We took a step back when developing a strategy and a framework for how we wanted to move forward with the brand. We had clear objectives both with the business and the brand. That helped us set parameters for the direction we wanted to move in to make sure we had the right branding for our target market, which is the middle market. We also conducted some research to ensure we shaped the framework properly and in order to validate that we were on the same path.

Can you explain a bit more about that research?
We used a company called Leger for its regular omnisurveys. From there, we were able to specify our market and ask some questions about how Canadians felt about buying life insurance, how they felt about life insurance companies and their brands, and how they felt about the process. We then asked them to rate the qualities they would find attractive in a life insurance company.

What proved to be one of the biggest challenges of the rebrand for your team?
While this opportunity was a dream, it was also daunting because we basically started with a blank slate. There was also a time crunch element, as the trademark agreement we had with Transamerica was ending. So for us, the biggest challenge was not getting caught up in personal aesthetic and personal bias. It’s easy for a team to get caught up in things like, “I don’t like that, it reminds me of,” or “I hate green,” and it was difficult to avoid that appearing in the framework—especially since we were trying to do this quickly. When we had to have those kinds of discussions, what we did was bring it back to the brand objectives: “Does it meet the objectives and does it move it forward?”

What were some of the ways you got the word out about the rebrand? Videos? Advertising? Directly contacting clients?
We have two parts to the approach: One is to make sure our advisers are comfortable with the direction and have a story that they can talk about with their customers. Secondly, and more importantly, we want to make sure customers know how to find us. We have some videos available for both customers and advisers. We did a lot of trade advertising to make sure that advisers who didn’t have a lot of interaction with us knew about it and knew how to get hold of us. We’ve done a letter mailing to every customer and are putting a slip in every mailing we send out over the next two years to remind people what our new name is and how to contact us. We also did a series of road shows last fall where we presented our brand to our advisors and talked them through why we did what we did.

How did marketing ensure its mission and vision were aligned with the company’s other departments?
We had check-ins with the senior team during key parts of rebranding, which included the framework and securing explicit agreements about what we were trying to achieve, what the objectives were, and how it aligned with company strategy. The other part of my responsibility is corporate strategy, so it was natural to align these two groups. Most importantly, when we were ready to begin the process of rebranding, we had a company-wide meeting to announce it. We walked through the story, and employees had time to ask their questions before it became public.

Looking back, what do you wish you knew before starting the rebrand process that might have made things easier?
There’s nothing that’s cringeworthy, but I certainly wish I understood a little more about how crowded the worlds of trademarks and URLs are. Making sure that we had a clear path even though nothing could be 100 percent certain. I think we did a good job of navigating, and certainly our search engine optimization has been really good in giving us visibility in the marketplace, but it’s something I think I underestimated at the beginning.

What opportunities did the transition create? Is there anything you’re able to do now that you weren’t able to do before?
The rebrand opened a whole new set of opportunities for us. One thing we were really able to do is look at the way we talk to consumers and use the research we conducted, with the branding, to develop a much more customer-friendly voice. We’re able to project our message loud and clear, and that’s what people were looking for. Looking at everything from a new place and with a fresh eye has helped us challenge what we already thought was plain language and realize we had a lot of opportunities to make that a better experience for consumers.