Future-Proof Brand Series: Evelyn Borgsteijn, Coöperative VGZ
With almost two thousand employees, Coöperative VGZ works every day on building a healthier Netherlands. The cooperative is one of the largest non-profit health insurers in the Netherlands who provide health insurance under nine different brands including VGZ, Univé, Zekur and IZZ. With its extensive brand portfolio, Coöperative VGZ insures no fewer than four million people, without a profit motive.
How do you manage such a complex brand landscape? Which trends influence the brand? What role does a strong company purpose play in the success of your brand within the insurance industry? We asked Evelyn Borgsteijn, former Director of Corporate Affairs at Coöperative VGZ.*
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Coöperative VGZ stands for Sensible Care. What does the company purpose mean to you and how did it originate?
Evelyn Borgsteijn: We introduced ‘Sensible Care’ about two years ago. An extensive internal process preceded this. Together with our employees, we really wanted to know what makes our hearts beat faster every day. It clearly emerged that our purpose is to work together for a healthier Netherlands. We also look towards the future – how sustainable is healthcare in the Netherlands and how can we also guarantee good healthcare for future generations to come?
I strongly believe that a good company purpose connects employees. This must come from what our employees consider important and give a clear direction to who we are, what we do and for whom we do it. That is why we have set up a large internal campaign, ‘Together we are making sense’. The measurements and evaluations show that this campaign contributes significantly to the involvement and sense of ‘pride’ of employees. That also helps us to create a strong ‘employee brand’, which is very important to us. Our employees are the most important ambassadors of our brand. We have won three awards for our internal campaigns, they are proof that our purpose fits.
How important is VGZ’s purpose in relation to your position in the insurance sector?
EB: It is difficult to measure what our purpose does exactly for our position in relation to competitors. Of course, various factors play a part in the consideration that people make when choosing health insurance. Image, conditions and user-friendliness play a role, but price is still the most important factor for many people. For example, we had a fantastic competitive premium this year and you can see that immediately reflected in the growth of new customers.
In recent years, the financial aspect of healthcare has been under a magnifying glass, we believe that health insurers must play a social role in this issue. That is why we increasingly try to look, together with patients and caregivers, for solutions and initiatives to make good care more affordable. The starting point of the ‘Sensible Care’ strategy is that we focus on the needs of our customers and continue to investigate what we can help them with. We do this, for example, by means of ‘In debate at VGZ’ events and customer panels where members of our board of directors engage with customers. This results in various initiatives, like, thinking of smart technological innovations that can make it possible for patients to physically visit a doctor less often.
You are responsible for the VGZ corporate brand. For many people, VGZ is only known for the product brand. Can you explain what the brand landscape of VGZ looks like?
EB: In 2016 we celebrated the 275th anniversary of Coöperatie VGZ. Our cooperative ideas are reflected in our mission – to ensure together a healthier Netherlands. The cooperative has various independent brands, including of course VGZ as a product brand, but also Univé, Zekur, Zorgzaam, IZA, IZZ, UMC Zorgverzekering, Bewuzt and SZVKK. From the VGZ cooperative, we purchase care for all those labels for more than four million insured customers. You could therefore say that we are a ‘house of brands’ with regard to brand architecture. The different products and labels have their own visual identity and are aimed at different target groups; from young people who think convenience and affordability are important, to people who work in a specific sector. In this way, we can optimally match demand and needs in the market.
"You could therefore say that we are a ‘house of brands’ with regard to brand architecture."
What are your biggest brand management challenges?
EB: A major challenge for us remains the fact that the cooperative and the main brand VGZ carry the same name. Synchronising the house style of the cooperative and the product brand is sometimes difficult, you naturally see the cooperative performing in the media. Journalists usually use ‘VGZ’ and forget to specifically name the cooperative, which is not always clear to the public which brand is being mentioned. In our visual identity, the difference lies mainly in the different use of our corporate identity colours and photography.
In addition, we have been working for a year and a half in an Agile working environment that is divided into sections based on the customer journey. This means different teams are focused on communications from the same brand, the responsibility for the brand is invested deep within the organisation. Control, consistency and timings are sometimes a challenge. Good coordination is important and it is also important that everyone within the organisation understands and can apply the brand and our brand values – we guarantee this by providing internal training. But we have also used internal campaigns, we use ‘brand toolkits’ and make a lot of information available through our intranet. We also regularly examine how our brand is experienced, both internally and externally, through research.
How do you ensure that the VGZ brand is on the agenda in the boardroom?
EB: Reputation is one of the most important pillars of our long-term strategy within the VGZ cooperative. This subject is standard on the agenda in the boardroom and is often discussed with the supervisory board. We constantly monitor our reputation and regularly conduct qualitative research into our brand experience among our customers and stakeholders. I naturally, share those results in the boardroom.
You could say that our image is our ‘license to operate’. It is important that we have support in society to properly perform our role and to take a position on how to ensure good healthcare is affordable. Healthcare is a topic that concerns everyone, so as a health insurance brand you need to be well on the map in order to be successful.
"You could say that our image is our ‘license to operate’."
The insurance industry has been subject to many changes in recent years. What impact does that have on the corporate brand?
EB: As a health insurance company, we are at the intersection of public and private. The government has full control over the basic insurance, so it is the supplementary insurance on which we can compete with other health insurers. I think, in addition to reducing costs in health care, prevention has been an important theme in the health insurance world in recent years. People expect that you not only play a role in solving health problems, but also preventing them. We try to pay attention to this with various initiatives and campaigns. For example, we introduced a campaign last year specifically aimed at nutritional advice to tackle the diabetes problem in the Netherlands. We also contributed to various ‘stop smoking’ campaigns.
61% of people expect banks to be IT companies in 2030. Will health insurance still be health insurance in ten years?
EB: Whether a health insurer will still be the insurer as it is today? No, things are definitely going to change. In fact, we are in the midst of that change. Digitisation is an important theme, certainly in our industry. We are currently working on chatbots and are working towards being more and more data-driven. In addition, we are working on a number of smart e-health developments that can reduce costs based on digitisation and automation by helping patients in alternative, more efficient ways. One example of this is the care robot that gives people a signal when they have to take their medication and communicate with your doctor via a smartphone or tablet.
"Whether a health insurer will still be the insurer as it is today? No, things are definitely going to change."
Looking ahead ten years is obviously difficult. If I knew what would happen in ten years, the world would be a lot easier! Still, I think things will always stay more or less the same. Young people naturally want to do more activities digitally, but there is still a target audience that prefers contact to be offline and collect medication at a pharmacy. That is why we have different brands and propositions to serve the needs and preferences of the different target groups as much as possible. I also think that to be a good health insurance policy provider you have to take a flexible approach; you won’t get there with one proposition for your entire target group. To remain future-proof, you need to always ensure that your services and products match your target group, which in our case is very diverse.
A fourth industrial revolution is being discussed. What does this mean for the VGZ corporate brand?
EB: It means, among other things, that we will have to renew our brand over and over again. Developments are going so fast nowadays, you simply cannot take a break. We increasingly look for digital solutions that are available for all devices, customers want 24/7 access to their data. They want to be able to make a claim and ask questions anytime, anywhere. Convenience and speed are becoming increasingly important. You have to make sure that you have everything in order with your brand so that it can grow with the needs of your customers.
For example, we are experimenting with VR and augmented reality for contact with customers. These initiatives are still in the development phase, but can do a lot for the brand experience of your customers. With this kind of innovation, we are adding ‘colour’ to the VGZ brand. However, it is important to keep listening. You can come up with all kinds of new services, but your target group must actually be waiting for them.
How do you ensure that the corporate brand is and remains future-proof?
EB: We have worked hard in recent years to create a great brand and we are proud of that. Above all, I think we can continue this success by staying true to our purpose and our ‘Sensible Care’ strategy to bring out what is genuine and what our brand stands for. You should also keep investing in your brand to come up with sensible solutions that will make the customer’s life better and easier. In addition, I think it is important as a company to continue paying attention to the brand. We will soon be launching a new phase of our internal campaign with which we focus on bringing out the story ‘our heart for sensible care’. So that we can continue to work with our employees on delivering good, relevant and affordable care.
* Evelyn Borgsteijn was the Director of Corporate Affairs at Coöperative VGZ. Since September 2019 she is Director at ‘MarketingOost Regio- en Stadsmarketing’.
Read more interviews in the Future-Proof Brand Series.
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8 tips to future-proof your brand
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