Monthly Archives: August 2008

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Judge Not. (And make better marketing decisions.)

BNBranding logoMarketing is a very judgemental 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 judgemental.

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 judgemental. Judgemental of who he is, versus critical of what he does.

Being judgemental has negative, disapproving connotations. It’s based on intolerance, stereotypes and prejudice.

I’ve seen a lot of sensible, savvy business owners and high-level managers make hair-brained decisions because they were too judgemental. One client I know believes that all advertising people are evil con-men, preying on well-meaning business owners. Once burned, he lets his past experience cloud his judgement to the point of being obstinately ineffective.

His poor judgement in that one area puts his leadership in question and hurts the morale of his entire team.

Good judgement, 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 for him — that time.

I’ve even run into CEOs who are completely biased when it comes to color. And I’m not talking about race. I’m talking about favorite colors and pet peeves like red, yellow or any shade of orange.

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 on a creative brief 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 a few stereotypes from the marketing world that I’m familiar with…

  1. CMOs can’t possibly be creative.
  2. Copywriters aren’t analytical enough for strategy work.
  3. Art directors don’t know a thing about business.
  4. Account planners can’t possibly contribute on the creative side.
  5. Anyone over 40 can’t be trusted to manage social media or digital advertising.

Nonsense. Great ideas can come from anywhere. Writers and art directors pick up a lot of business acumen by listening carefully to clients in a wide variety of business categories. And creativity is not something you lose as you get older.

Being judgmental is so common it’s listed as a personality type on Meyer’s Briggs Type Indicator tests. And it’s so ingrained in American culture you even hear it in post-game interviews… athletes who come in second openly admit 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 judgemental.

Blogs are inherently judgemental. 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.

Oregon advertising agency blog post on stereotypes

• 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. Just because you didn’t like one idea, or one campaign concept, doesn’t mean the team is a failure.

• Make sure you’ve done your homework — your research — before you dive into something. That’s a prerequisite for good judgement.

• Set aside your personal preferences when making decisions about creative execution. Even though you may not personally like orange doesn’t mean it should be eliminated entirely from the brand design guidelines.

• Remember that your creative team is constantly judging  their own work against the best in the business.  And if they’re any good, they’re probably quite hard on themselves.

• And most of all, be open minded to new ideas. Don’t reinforce stereotypes, break them.

Click here for an unbiased, non-judgemental assessment of all your marketing efforts. 

Try this post if you want good judgement when it comes to website design. 

 

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34 State Farm is Where??? Insurance industry marketing

brand credibility from branding experts

Insurance industry marketing isn’t exactly exciting stuff. Not on most people’s radar, for sure. And yet when my kids were just 9 and ll they could 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.”

“We. Are. Farmers…”

As a parent, it’s alarming. As a branding professional, it’s very interesting.

How could Progressive Flow,  The Geiko Gekko and Mayhem Man become so ingrained in our everyday lives?  And why would the insurance companies spend millions on advertising that reaches children? Seems like their media buy on the Disney Channel and on ABC Family is a lot of wasted exposure.

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

My parents were insured by State Farm, so that’s all I knew when I bought my first auto policy. 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 industry marketing is a matter of momentum… if you can get ’em young you’ll probably have ’em for for a long time.

Because 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. That’s when all that insurance industry marketing hype came crashing in around us.

Here’s what happened:

insurance industry marketing bnbrandingIt always snows a lot in the Oregon Cascades, but January 2012 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 $75,000.

Naturally, we called our Sate Farm agent. Her assistant put us in touch in contact with a claims adjuster, and for the first time, we realized 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 and deal with the stressed out customers who have experienced a disaster. Of any kind.

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. That was the perception I grew up with.

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 was a nightmare.

It took seven months before they finished cleaning up the disaster area. Our neighbors were not happy!  State Farm covered the loss, eventually, but the process was 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. The promises that are routinely made in insurance industry marketing are hard to live up to.

Fifty years ago, State Farm probably could deliver on their promise. Not anymore. Today, State Farm is the country’s largest home and auto insurer, with 21% market share in the homeowners category, and $18% in auto insurance. It’s too big to be a good neighbor. That’s why so many upstarts, like Progressive, have stolen market share in the last ten years.

waste in advertising - BNBranding's Brand Insight Blog2. Branding is not just a function of the marketing department. It’s also an operational issue.

State Farm’s claims operation is 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 the brand. 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,” it actually prompted me to  start the long and painful process of changing insurance companies.

I went with Progressive for one reason only… I can do business entirely on line, and the user experience is quite pleasant. I don’t have to deal with an agent at all.

At least until I have to make a claim. Then we’ll see how Flow compares to the “neighbors” at State Farm.

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