A chalkboard scattered with X's and O's representing team players, and a woman's hand drawing arrows around the board depicting play moves.

Reinventing your brand playbook

December 14, 2020 / Sarah Manley

I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Mike Leon and Jay Wexler from Brand Heroes Inc., to ‘zoom’ in on the brand playbook, its purpose and how it may need to evolve during challenging times.

Consumer behaviors have changed in 2020 and they aren’t necessarily looking to purchase things; they’re looking for advice, reassurance and trust in brands. This is a delicate position for brands to act within – the old sales pitch may not sit well with consumers anymore. So how can a brand demonstrate the values that consumers are looking for, in a sensitive and understanding way?

First, let’s define what a brand playbook is. “Ultimately a brand playbook is what marketers should work from to govern their actions,” explains Mike. “It defines the most important principles that guide how a brand is built, both in good times and in bad. It also can act as a checklist to ensure you stay true to who you are and what you’ve built, while staying relevant to where you need to be today.” During difficult times, it is very easy to be reactive amid business challenges. It’s easy to say ‘what can we do to increase sales’ and ‘what can we do to make up lost revenue’. While these questions may seem important, reaction can come at the expense of your long-term brand, and this can sacrifice all of the work you’ve done to build and elevate your brand in the past.

One may argue that if your brand playbook is a combination of your beliefs and core values, then do they need to change? Maybe not. But how you express these core values is what you may want to consider. “Don’t be tone deaf,” says Mike. “If your brand personality is expressed as super optimistic, putting this out there today may turn off the consumer that is struggling. Making sure you find authentic ways to demonstrate your values, and expressing them in a way that is sensitive to the times is crucial.” These days, consumers are looking for something to be confident in. Something to believe in. Something they can trust. With insurance, these drivers have always existed, so now it’s even more important to be there and answer the questions and offer solutions – it’s the opportunity to be on the right side of the conversation and continue to provide consumers the information and support they need during difficult times.

A phrase often quoted by Mike is ‘Sell the hole, not the drill’. With insurance, people are buying trust, advice, reassurance and confidence – not just a policy. “Would you buy house insurance because you want to buy insurance? No! You buy house insurance because you want to buy a house,” muses Mike. “You may want to raise a family in your house, create a legacy. Insurance is a necessary component of that, and Brokers are the custodians of the entire experience. They aren’t just selling a policy… they’re enabling all the things needed that lead to the experience.”

When evaluating your brand playbook, it’s important to take stock of your values and ensure they are still relevant today. Then double down on them. You don’t need to change your values because of the pandemic – that’s being reactionary. By looking inward at what you believe whole-heartedly, you can determine how to express and communicate today, and consider a new and relevant way to tell your brand story. Through every small touch point made with consumers you must ensure your brand values are being heard in your expression.

We know (well, hope) things will eventually return to some kind of normal. It’s important to also think about the future and how consumers will behave in a post-COVID world. “When this happens, it will be important to again define your expression and messaging,” says Jay. “People are excited and optimistic, but very nervous at the same time. This excitement should be fed and built upon, while also addressing that nervousness.” Jay recommends an exercise to help facilitate this: “Sit down and write out your personal values, while thinking about what consumers may be feeling as we shift into the next phase. Then, think about what you want to be for them when the timing is right in the New Year, and what story you would tell to support your values.”

Jay and Mike both agree that it’s important for Brokers to take stock of their role, what they offer and its importance, in a ‘hole vs. drill’ kind of way. “You’re not selling insurance… that’s not why you’re here,” Mike says. “Being a Broker is an important role, and something that consumers need now more than ever. If you find the best way to make sure consumers understand that, they will come to you and advocate for you. What Brokers do has a lasting impact with both consumers and within their communities. And that’s what separates commodities from brands.”


Mike Leon is an award-winning Digital Marketing and Branding Professional, with 20 years of experience in Canadian and International markets. As President and founding partner of Brand Heroes Inc., Mike is responsible for the firm's strategic direction and can be credited with building Brand Heroes into a leading boutique brand storytelling agency, with a national client list that includes post-secondary, healthcare and regulatory organizations.

Jay Wexler has had the privilege of working on brand expression projects, digital campaigns, video content, and eLearning. As Creative Director at Brand Heroes Inc., he is responsible for the development and application of creative standards, with amazing clients in both the private and public sector. Jay has a strong educational background, with a Masters of Cinema Studies at the University of Toronto, and a post-graduate certification in Digital Strategy and Communications Management at the University of Toronto.