Memo: Building Fandom

An insurance company, a service provider, a media brand, and an exclusive driving club: Hagerty wants to be all-in-one. The brand has taken the best of modern brand development and applied it to a car insurance business that is 37 years old. Of the nearly 11 million pre-classic vehicles in the United States, nearly 12% are insured by Hagerty.

For most, car insurance is not an emotional purchase. Insurance companies, despite their savvy marketing teams ten to lack brand affinity; this is by nature. Hagerty, a classic car insurer backed by Progress Insurance, wants to change that. Now publicly-traded as of last week, it’s bringing brand, media and culture to the forefront. When you think of classic car insurance, Hagerty wants you to think of their service but also the emotional attachment and status of association with the insurance provider. Can it pull it off? It certainly has the pedigree with the backing of Progressive Corporation. In 2015, The Progressive Group of Insurance Companies expanded the definition of a classic car and partnered with Hagerty to offer its service. 

In an earlier conversation with PYMNTS, CFO Fred Turcotte explained his vision.

The way that we view it is that the collectible vehicle segment is its own unique sort of industry. It has factors that maybe don’t weigh into the standard auto market. For instance, in the standard auto market, the people that buy insurance are trying to get from point A to point B. It’s about mobility. In our world, it’s much more than that. It’s about family. It’s about fun and freedom and passion, and status in some cases. People love these cars.

A key step is to build the business beyond insurance. As an insurer of classic cars, Hagerty taps into the lifestyle and personality around the pastime, with a YouTube channel, editorial team and magazine.

The monthly edition is sent to 1.2 million readers, according to the feature article by the New York Times, while an exclusive edition is sent out to top-tier collectors. Additionally, Hagerty maintains a non-profit foundation that promotes car collecting. It runs car storage and lounge spaces for customers called Garage + Social. It’s also stretching its tentacles through acquisition: Hagerty recently purchased a classic car rental platform called DriveShare. An age-old industry (insurance) that focuses on vintage assets (cars) may be one of the more well-executed linear commerce opportunities.

Hagerty’s journey to the public market through a SPAC proves that the DTC model can be useful in stalwart categories like insurance. Linear commerce is cultivating a brand beyond insurance for Hagerty by tying its client services to broader media operations, experiential marketing, and setting out to grow car culture. All of this because, Hagerty is tapping into an avid community of people who care about classic cars, and therefore need insurance. The underlying approach is to promote car culture and build, in McKeel Hagerty’s words, an ecosystem:

The purpose of the company is to save driving and car culture,” Mr. Hagerty said flatly, as we piloted a zippy, Hagerty-insured 1972 BMW 2002 tii toward the tip of Lower Manhattan. “If we’re going to save car culture, we have to make investments outside of the core business, and really help create a whole ecosystem.” Achieving this lofty goal required hundreds of millions of dollars in additional investment, he said: “That would have been tough for us to afford just as a private company.

Now public, Hagerty can become a bigger force in nascent niche, supplying protection and opportunity to classic car enthusiasts. There is risk of Hagertizing the classic car industry, that is remaking too much of the ecosystem in one company’s image. But one thing is for certain, Hagerty insurance has taken the best of modern brand development and community building. This is not all what separates Hagerty from other insurance providers. The NYT report on the company explained that “[McKeel] Hagerty said he sincerely wants to help people find the pleasure in “the experiential sides” of the automobile.” And that while older consumers are the majority of its current customer base, Hagerty is hoping to attract Generation Z and millennial consumers. From Forbes Wheels:

In some corners of the enthusiast sector, soaring prices in the used and classic-car market are creating some lamentation about unattainable cars. Is there room for Hagerty to not only make an impact on current owners but Millennials and Zoomers coming of age in the market? CEO McKeel Hagerty says the answer is a resounding yes.

Most insurance providers optimize for risk minimization (age, car make, mileage, and joylessness). Everything about the Hagerty company strategy seems to idealize maximization of life’s premium joys at the risk of, well, more risks and higher premiums.

Edited by Hilary Milnes with art by Christina Williams and Alex Remy 

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