By Mark Tungate
I heard a new expression the other day: “boomerang employee.”
That’s someone who leaves a job to take up another post, only to return to the original company sometime later.
I remembered it while chatting to Katie Krum, who is on her second stint at PURE Insurance – a homeowners’ insurance company for high net worth individuals and families.
Katie worked there from 2006-8 and returned as CMO in 2020.
“When I was here the first time around it was truly a start-up,” she recalls. “That excited me, because I really wanted to be part of that experience.”
Her posts since then haven’t been too shabby either – senior marketing and digital roles at Nickelodeon, Marriott, Under Armour and Weber Shandwick – so what lured her back to PURE?
“It was mostly because of Ross [Buchmueller], our CEO and founder. In the very early days there were only six of us, and he was my first great boss.
He had – still has – a passion and a high set of standards for the work we do, but he also cares intensely about the team and the culture here.”
Katie “grew up” as a marketing person at the company because she was obliged to turn her hand to so many aspects of the job.
“The logo, the website, the annual report – there was a lot of learning, both about marketing and about myself.”
When she began talking to Buchmueller about returning – this time as CMO – the idea quickly became a “no-brainer,” particularly as she’d be heading a compact department of around 20 people, with all the disciplines under one roof.
“I always say that when you have everything under one umbrella, one plus one equals three. Integration is effective – and to me, it’s blissful and exciting when you can make everything work together.”
She was also attracted by the opportunity to market insurance again. “I was enthusiastic about the challenge of getting people to pay attention to something so important.”
Finding the right tone
Most of us probably wouldn’t consider insurance a glamorous business, but PURE is a gleaming luxury brand among insurance providers.
To put it bluntly, it works in a niche market of very wealthy people.
Katie says: “We put a lot of focus on finding our customers.
We need to reach people who have homes worth more than a million dollars and our sweet spot is really families with several homes, valuable collections of art and jewelry and other high value assets, so we do a lot of work using first and third party data to identify the people we want to speak to.”
From a creative point of view, talking to those people requires a particular tone of voice. “We’re very careful about how we communicate high net worth.
It’s all in the details. When you look at the hero spots for our campaign, ‘Join the Club’, we paid a lot of attention to how we portrayed the characters and the spaces that they inhabit.”
“Join the Club” emphasizes that PURE’s customers are members of an exclusive and valued community. It carries echoes of the strategies used by American Express or Diners Club, but feels unusual for the insurance sector.
“Technically, PURE is structured as a reciprocal insurance exchange – we call it ‘the membership model,’” says Katie.
“We already knew that membership is not only a key feature of what we do, but also our core differentiator across our competitive set.
The challenge is that it’s complicated to explain – and in any case how hard are people listening when you’re trying to tell them about insurance?”
Instead of avoiding the challenge, Katie and her team ran towards it. They came to the conclusion that membership was a concept they could own.
Katie understood the importance of a rock solid brand identity from her previous experiences:
“Nickelodeon is ‘funny’; Marriott is all about ‘hosting people brilliantly’…So I knew that we really had to reinforce what was core to PURE, which is membership.”
A consistent experience
PURE worked with 50,000feet, an independent agency that Katie discovered thanks to a recommendation from a friend.
She’d been wary of working with one of the major network agencies, where her niche brand may have ended up as “a small fish in a big pond”.
She adds: “I liked the idea that they’d evolved from brand consultancy into campaign work, because we needed that close understanding of the brand. I find them to be both thoughtful and methodical. They’re also great listeners, so it was a collaborative process.”
Insurance advertising can be surprisingly creative, and often leans on humour (I’m looking at you, Geico).
But Katie feels there’s sometimes a distance between the tone of the ads and the overall image of the companies concerned. “From my standpoint, creativity has to slip into everything you do. There has to be a consistency.”
For example, PURE produces an annual report for its members every year. Needless to say, it’s a very classy publication.
“Word of mouth is very important in our business, so we try to create valuable experiences and ensure that if there’s a conversation between two people about ‘Who’s your insurance company?’ they’re primed to say positive things.”
Talking of positivity, it became clear during our talk that Katie exudes upbeat energy. I’d already noticed it in her official headshots, which feature a welcoming grin rather than the usual corporate steeliness.
“That’s always been my personality, and I’ve never been afraid to be myself.
For a long time I didn’t see it as something I could necessarily harness from a leadership standpoint – but it was actually my Dad who told me that it was unique and sort of my superpower.
He was a really corporate guy so he was very aware that I was different! And it’s true that I absolutely believe in creating a positive culture where people feel safe to do their work.”
She played a lot of soccer in the past, and some of that pre-match team spirit still informs her attitude, she adds.
Positivity, the ability to tackle problems and a willingness to create a safe environment – sounds like a perfect combination for the insurance biz.
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