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38 State Farm is Where??? Insurance industry marketing

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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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radio advertising

Is it car sickness, or just nauseating radio ads?

radio advertisingKids get car sick. Cleaning vomit from the back seat is part of every parent’s on-going indoctrination. But when adults start getting woozy every time they run a quick errand, you have to wonder about the cause.

Is it car sickness or the constant barrage of bad radio advertising that makes you want to throw up?

Thankfully, the automotive engineers have devised a cure. With steering-wheel mounted audio controls, drivers can change the channel, quite literally, without lifting a finger. So the instant a bad commercial comes on they’re outta there. Before the gag reflex forces them to the side of road.

You’ve heard the commercials I’m talking about. The worst offenders involve a ridiculous, up-beat jingle or dialog between two “real people” who are stiffer than a week-old corpse. In the worst-case scenario, it’s a double whammy of bad dialog with a poorly-produced jingle sandwiched on both ends.

How does this happen? Why do so many radio commercials degenerate into one long string of corporate cliches and yes-man mumbo jumbo?

Radio is potentially the most creative of all your advertising options. There’s a reason it’s called  “theater of the mind.” In a 30-second spot there’s time for character development. Plot lines. Even intrigue. Well-written radio engages the human imagination and entertains while conveying a clear message about the character of your business.

You can be concerned, caring and compassionate. You can be convincing. You can create drama that moves people, or comedy that cracks them up. You can literally make people hungry just by using a few choice words and some sizzling sound effects.

radio advertising agency bend oregonUnfortunately, most companies come off sounding obnoxious, greedy or condescending. Announcers talk about “our friendly and knowledgeable staff. ” Jingle lyrics sing about “qual-i-ty and crafts-man-ship.” And in phony slice-of-life commercials people talk enthusiastically about douches and over-the-counter hemorrhoid medication. Puke alert! People just don’t talk that way, and everyone knows it.

If you want your radio advertising to be more palatable to the listeners — and more profitable for you — you have to do more than just the usual sales spiel set to music. In fact, the most memorable radio campaigns all contain five crucial elements:

1. A smart, coherent strategy.
2. An original idea.
3. Exceptional writing.
4. High production values.
5. Plenty of air time.

Devising a simple but intelligent advertising strategy is the single most important step in the whole process. Unfortunately, it’s also the most widely neglected. The radio stations won’t help with strategy. That’s your job — or your agency’s job. If you want results in the long run, you really need to spend some time thinking it through before you run out and book the air time.

Most advertisers use radio only as a tactical sales tool. But a long-running campaign can be much more than that. It can be a major asset to your business and a constant thorn in the side for your competitors. (You want them thinking, “gee I wish we would have done that.”)

A smart advertising strategy combines a high degree of business discipline with a good dose of imagination. It’s a creative thinking process that few business owners ever take time for and that many people consider pie in the sky… delving into issues like your core values, positioning strategy, brand personality and competitive analysis.

So if strategic thinking is not your strong suit, get some help. Find someone who can guide you through the planning process, help you prioritize your messages and hone-in on the dramatic difference that will resonate with listeners. Insist on a thorough strategy statement that will become the foundation of all your future advertising.

Once you know what to say you can begin thinking about how you’re going to say it. That’s where an original idea is absolutely invaluable.

Radio is great for conveying ideas, but lousy for listing details. People tune out when you start throwing laundry lists of products and services at them. You have to whittle it down to one main idea and then hammer that idea home time after time.

Doug Hall, Founder of the Eureka Ranch says, “articulating your overt benefit is a never-ending journey. You can always do it with greater relevance, interest and excitement. “

What you’re after is one idea that has thousands of possible iterations. Tom Bodett’s timeless, down-home humor for Motel 6. The Great American Hero series for Bud Light. Orkin’s authoritative announcer for their product that “kicks fire ant butt.” “Pizza Pizza” for Little Ceasar’s. These are big ideas that have produced big results over the long haul.

radio advertising agencyThere have been many copywriters on the Motel 6 account, but the campaign stays fresh because the idea is consistent, the character is well developed and the writing is sharp. Which brings us to the third major component of great radio advertising.

Every word has to be written with an ear for alliteration. You have to hear it. You have to sound it out. Then you have to edit mercilessly. Dialog should flow naturally, as if from the lips of a real person, not some cheap pitchman. It should be quick. Snappy. And smart.

Easier said than done. Some of the finest fiction writers in the world have trouble writing believable dialog. In Hollywood the problem is pronounced. The major movie studios employ writers who do nothing but re-work the dialog on existing scripts. And even then, there is a lot of really lousy dialog that gets through. It takes a special ear. Just because you got A’s in English class back in college doesn’t mean you can write a good script.

Of course a good script, an original idea and a brilliant strategy won’t get you anywhere if you cut too many corners on production. All the radio stations offer free production services. The sales rep will write you a script and the station’s producer will record the voice-over, add sound effects, drop in a music bed, do a mix, and cut the necessary dubs. The problem is, the producer might have as many as 40 spots to complete in a weekend, and after a while they all start sounding the same.

For instance, finding good voice talent is always a challenge. There are plenty of people on the radio with great voices who can’t act worth a hoot. And that’s what we’re really talking about here. Acting.

We can produce radio spots here in Bend, Oregon while using actors in London. So you don’t have to settle for a local DJ who’s also doing spots for a used car dealer. Keep in mind, your talent is the audio personification of your company. He or she better be able to convey genuine emotion using just the vocal chords. He better be ready to capture the flavor and the inflection of a well-written script without going through thirty different takes. Otherwise, even the most talented audio engineer with all the latest sound enhancement software won’t be able to save it.

The last piece of the puzzle is reach and frequency. That is, how often are your spots running and how many people are listening. (Without getting ill.)

The most common mistake is spreading your budget way too thin across too many different stations. Inc. Magazine recently published some good guidelines for this. “You should be buying more frequently over two weeks instead of spreading it out over a month, and buying 30 spots on two stations instead of 18 spots on three.”

A rough rule of thumb is that listeners need to hear an engaging ad at least three times a week before it starts to break through the clutter. Believe it or not, if your spots are well done you’ll get sick of them a lot faster than the general public will. So resist the temptation to change. Stick with it until the airwaves are saturated.

Radio is a wonderful, cost-effective medium. (Contrary to internet rumor mill, it’s not dying.) When all five elements come together in a 60-second spot it can be pure magic. Remember, you’re looking for solid strategy, an original idea, concise writing, strong production values and plenty of air time. Even four out of five would be nice. But when several of those elements are missing, there’s a good chance your ads will just be turning stomachs. And ultimately, it’s your responsibility as an advertiser to keep that from happening.

Need better radio ads and better results? Contact me. 

Want to learn more about how to devise effective messages for your radio advertising? Try this post.

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