Monthly Archives: August 2008

2 Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post

Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

Marketing is a very judgmental business. Business owners and CEOs are constantly judging the results of their marketing efforts. Sometimes objectively, sometimes not.

judging your advertising agency's workAd agencies and design firms judge each other in a constant battle of “my work’s cooler than your work.” They also subject themselves to judging in award shows, where a few peers get to judge the work of hundreds of competitors on an entirely subjective basis.

When it comes to television advertising, everyone’s a critic. TV viewers sit around and judge the advertising they see, based on entertainment value alone. If it’s entertaining enough, they might talk about it over the water cooler. If not, they vote with the remote.

But playing armchair critic is less harmful than being judgmental.

Critical thinking is tremendously important in marketing. If we didn’t look at things critically, we’d never push ourselves to come up with fresh, new ideas. Critical thinking is a key to good judgement.

You can be critical of someone’s ideas without judging the person. But there’s no such thing as constructively judgmental.

For example, “That’s the worst commercial he’s ever done,” is being critical. “That director’s an idiot for making that commercial” is being judgmental. Judgmental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgmental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice. When people jump to conclusions about a political candidate, they’re usually being judgmental.

Bend Oregon ad agency BNBranding brand insight blog post I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgmental.

One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil shysters, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgment to the point of being obstinately ineffective. His poor judgment in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgment, on the other hand, is the ability to form sound opinions and make sensible decisions. Great leaders and effective managers continually demonstrate good judgment. They’re open minded, they listen well, and they make good decisions based on balanced insight, rather than conjecture or some ill-conceived notion of what’s worked in the past.

Many people who strive to be less judgmental in their personal lives still fall into the trap in their professional lives. It creeps into their hiring choices, their strategic planning, and their marketing plans.

Here’s a classic example that I’ve heard more than once: “Oh, I tried radio, and it doesn’t work.” That particular business owner condemned an entire medium based on one lame attempt… he had a crummy story to tell, a poorly-written script, and a media schedule that was thinner than a supermodel on a new year’s resolution. Of course it didn’t work.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. They won’t approve any design work that involves IBM blue, blue-green, aqua, teal or any other form of that color. How rational is that?

Personal preferences and stereotypes creep into this business constantly. And stereotypes, based on judgmental conclusions at best, are not a helpful component of your marketing program. In fact, poor judgment based on stereotypes or close-mindedness can ruin a small business.

At my firm we go to great lengths to get beyond the usual stereotypes of the target audience. One sentence cannot possibly sum up the feelings, attitudes and behaviors of a group! On the creative side, we always try to develop intriguing stories with quirky, unexpected characters. (In Hollywood writing circles it’s common knowledge that most memorable heroes and villains are those that defy traditional stereotypes.)

Here are three stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with…CMOs can’t possibly be creative. Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work. Art directors don’t know a thing about business. And advertising account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.

Nonsense. Ad agencies perpetuate the stereotype by segregating their creative teams from the rest of the staff, but great ideas can come from anywhere and the best campaigns come from collaboration.

And creative teams pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully and working with clients in a wide variety of business categories.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. It’s also ingrained in American culture. You hear it in post-game interviews… a ball player or track star or golfer comes in second, and immediately concludes that the winner was a “better person.”

No he isn’t. He just performed a little better that one time.

Unfortunately, we judge the quality of the person according to his or her performance. Ironically, we even judge ourselves for being too judgmental.

Blogs are inherently judgmental. The whole idea of an on-line soapbox lends itself to judgmental rants on just about any subject imaginable. I addressed the soapbox syndrome in my very first post, and I’m working hard to make sure this blog doesn’t digress into a petty critique of the latest marketing blunder.

I urge you to do the same. Use good judgement.

Don’t let preconceived notions and stereotypes cloud your judgment when it comes to marketing programs.

Don’t rush to judge someone based on their performance on one day, in one meeting, or on one project.

Oregon advertising agency blog post on stereotypesMake sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something.

Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution.

And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Do ads that break stereotypes, rather than reinforce them.

For more on how to manage your marketing efforts, try THIS post.

38 State Farm is Where??? A customer service disaster.

By John Furgurson

A couple years ago, when my kids were just 9 and ll years old, the subject of insurance came up at the dinner table. God only knows why.

My kids could recite — and often sing — the slogans of every major insurance company in the country. They had been exposed to so many commercials, they knew ‘em all…

“Nationwide is on your side.”

“Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there.”

“You’re in good hands, with Allstate.”

Prudential. “ Like a rock.”

As a parent, I was aghast. As a branding professional, I was amused, and a bit curious. Why would the insurance companies spend millions advertising on the Disney Channel and on ABC Family? At first glance, it seemed like a lot of wasted exposure.

Then I think about my own experience, and it sort of makes sense.

My parents were insured by State Farm. My wife had a State Farm agent when we got married. It never occurred to me to look anywhere else, and we’ve never had a compelling reason to change.

Insurance is one of those low-interest, out-of-sight-out-of-mind service categories that no one really wants to think about. I’d rather have a root canal than deal with insurance of any kind. And that’s why those early branding efforts are so important… once they have ya, they have ya.

We’ve stayed with the same insurance company for almost 20 years not because State Farm has good service or great rates. Not because we’re loyal to our agent, who lives 120 miles away and never speaks to us. It’s because we absolutely hate the thought of switching.

It’s like brand loyalty by default. Life, auto, home, boat, cabin… We’re all in, and the hassle factor of changing insurance carriers is just too much to even contemplate.

But that was before we ever filed a major claim. Before our little winter disaster.

It always snows a lot in the Oregon Cascades, but January 2008 was crazy. The garage/shop at our mountain cabin eventually collapsed under the weight of 10 feet of heavy, wind-packed snow. It was a total loss, to the tune of about $60,000.

Naturally, we called our agent. Her assistant put us in touch in contact with a claims adjuster, and for the first time, we realize that State Farm is like two separate companies. The independent agents who set up the policies and collect the money have nothing to do with the claims adjusters who pay money out.

For 80 years, State Farm has branded itself as a neighborly, down-home sort of company that would be there for us, if we really needed ‘em. That’s the perception they’ve spent millions to maintain.

The reality, however, is quite different indeed.

The lady who’s supposed to be handling our claim definitely didn’t get the memo about being a good neighbor. In fact, any goodwill that State Farm has built up with us over the years went right out the window with just one claim.

It’s been seven months, and they haven’t even finished cleaning up the disaster area. Our neighbors are not happy. State Farm is going to cover the loss, eventually, but the process has been painful at best. When we called our devoted agent to complain, we got nothing but excuses and second guessing.

I can’t even imagine what the Hurricane Katrina victims must have gone through. The State of Mississippi finally had to sue State Farm to get them to pay the claims due.

Talk about a PR debacle. Instead of looking like a good neighbor, State Farm came out of that storm looking like an evil, corporate giant that could care less about the little people. I’d love to know how much market share they’ve lost since then.

There are two important morals to this saga:

1. When it comes to branding, actions speak louder than words. You have to be very, very careful about promising something in a slogan or ad campaign that you can’t deliver day in and day out. Fifty years ago, State Farm probably could deliver on their promise. But not anymore. Today, State Farm is country’s largest home insurer and in the top 30 on the Fortune 500 list, It’s too big to be a good neighbor.

2. Branding is not just a function of the marketing department. It’s also an operational issue.

State Farm’s operation is totally out of alignment with their brand. The sales side and the claims side are not operating from the same playbook, and State Farm can’t fix their problem by changing their tried and true slogan. They have to change the way their claims division works in order to live up to that slogan. They need to align the experience with the brand promise.

A tall order, no doubt.

Brands have always been about trust, and promises kept. For me, State Farm betrayed that trust. The behavior of one claims adjuster was so “off brand,” I’m ready to start the long and painful process of changing insurance companies.

I think.

If anyone knows of an insurance company that doesn’t operate like two separate entities, let me know. And if there’s anyone out there who works for State Farm and would like to expand on this, please do!)