More praise for State Farm Next Door before the doors open

As the State Farm Next Door launch here in Chicago nears, I’ll post other thoughts from around the web here that are relevant. In fact, I thought I’d share this recent blog post from Brains On Fire, a South Carolina-based agency, on Next Door (they were also nice enough to throw some kudos our way here at Chicago Brander in the process). From a strategical standpoint, their post gives some reinforcement to what I’ve heard in many of your comments on my earlier post that the “selling without selling” approach is not just a feel-good method but a sensible and realistic one for this audience when it comes to planning their futures. Enjoy.

The 3 People Who Never Belong In A Brainstorm Room

“OK, everybody. Come on into the brainstorm room/conference room and let’s talk about (Insert Initiative Here). We’re going to need to generate some ideas.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Let’s take that a step back. As it turns out, the process of cultivating ideas isn’t for everybody. It’s not an automatic right based on title. I think what we forget about brainstorms is that we’re so focused on getting to the quality of the idea that we forget that in getting there, there needs to be quantity (this is a separate post in itself). The minute you brainstorm, you’re turning on a faucet at one speed: Fast. When you have these 3 types of people in the room, you’ll slow the pace to a trickle, if not shut it off completely. Let’s meet them, shall we?

Negative Nancy
“No, that’s not going to work.”
“No, they won’t like it because they don’t like the color blue.”
“No, we tried something like that before and they didn’t like it.”

The problem with Negative Nancy is that her presence is like tossing a grenade into the room. Her motivation for saying “no” is in all likelihood the fact that she has no or very few original ideas of her own but she wants to appear relevant to others. It’s not about her title, it’s about a deeper issue. “No” is her insecurity talking. It’s not that she isn’t necessarily a valuable employee, it’s just that brainstorming isn’t her forte. So all you’re doing by having her in the room is inviting the rejection of ideas like Dwight Howard swatting away a basketball. Ideas? Not in your house. Negative Nancy will not only shut down the idea presented but the ensuing effect of her presence will be to shut down a steady stream of ideas.

The “we tried that before” is a particular feature of this person I take issue with because there are many variables that may have worked poorly before that can be corrected now. Maybe it wasn’t the right time or place before. Maybe the idea before didn’t have the right audience to accept it. Maybe the idea before just wasn’t that creative compared to its better looking sibling idea now.

Overthinking Oscar
“Well, if we were to do that, how exactly would that work?”
That’s not important right now. Really. You’re putting the brakes on a phase that is geared to be purely conceptual. And when you do that, the brainstorming process goes from 120 mph to 20 mph and declining fast. It’s amazing how quickly the wind changes in the room. Dwelling on the “how’s it going to actually work” is important at a later point. When? When the brainstorm is pretty much over and you have a collection of concepts, scribbles, ideas, seeds, etc. to study more closely for deeper evaluation.

“Me First” Mel
“Well, I can’t relate to that idea in my own life so it must not be relevant.”
Mel probably isn’t trying to appear this self-centered, he just doesn’t know how to step outside of his own skin to identify what the true audience is facing in their lives. It’s not about YOU. The chances of someone in the brainstorming room actually matching the profile of the audience you’re trying to target is rare. So if you’re a 40-something female in middle management who lives in the western suburbs of Chicago who drives a Mercedes, you need to have more of an open mind if your audience is a 20-something who graduated a couple years ago, unmarried and lives in L.A. The behaviors, tastes and preferences are not going to be the same. And even if you are, no offense, but you’re just one person.

“Oh, horse crud. I think I’m one of these 3 people. Should I not be brainstorming?”
Not yet and don’t despair. There’s an easy way to right the ship. It just requires some self-discipline on your part. When someone comes up with an idea, let it get out there without immediate judgment. Yes, the idea may be stupid, but everyone has them. Stupid ideas can be great springboards to better ideas. You don’t know what small seed of something good may lie within that thought. And if it’s truly that awful, trust the judgment of others in the room to let it pass like a ship in the night. Remember, you still have the phase after the brainstorming is over to reserve judgment on ideas – just not right there in the moment. If you can train yourself to think positively and concentrate on keeping the flow of concepts going without shutting them down, overthinking or asking yourself What Would I Do, I think you’ll be on the path to being a valuable asset that others will enjoy inviting into the brainstorm room every time.

Final thought – if the person who meets one of these criteria above is a manager that you can’t tell to sit it out, all is not lost. What I like to do in these situations is have a designated person announce some brief ground rules (“no bad ideas”) of no more than 2 minutes long EVERY time you brainstorm just to reinforce what should and shouldn’t be said. You’ll better your chances of ensuring the faucet of ideas flows mightily rather than trickles to a few drips.

Every social media cocktail needs a beer chaser.

By now you’ve probably been bombarded with enough posts elsewhere on Google Plus, so you’ll be glad to know this isn’t one more of them. Because what I’m writing about has wider implications than just one tool. It has to do where your entire brand lives in the social media realm.

I’ve come to the conclusion that clearly in terms of social media we should all be on TumblrGoogTwitBookTube.

Sorry for the confusion, but I think others with their behaviors and proclamations of late are just as confusing.

I’ve had it with those who feel another social media tool has to die so that another may live. Maybe it’s the rush to be proclaimed as a prophet of some sort, but it’s bogus. Actually, to be more accurate, it’s dangerous brand strategy and it risks burning the relationships you’ve cultivated.

I really have to marvel at people who are writing about how they are leaving their current outposts because something else has come along that’s far superior.

“We were on Facebook but we’re moving everything to Tumblr.”
“We were on WordPress but we’re going over to GooglePlus. Follow us there!”

Dumb, dumb, dumb.

They’re missing the point of how their own fans and followers use social media, which is to say that we almost never put all our energy toward one channel.

We have a hub and then, many times, we have at least a secondary channel. The most common example I’ve witnessed of this is Facebook for personal relationships, LinkedIn for business relationships. Or LinkedIn/Facebook as primary hub, Twitter as a 2nd, lesser visited destination.

It’s kind of like a favorite of restaurant of mine that serves a Bloody Mary with a beer chaser of Miller Lite during Sunday brunch – every good primary hub deserves a secondary accompaniment. Much like the primary and secondary ways we consume social media. Or “Hubs” and “Outposts.”

It’s downright rare for us to spend 100% of our time in one place and that’s more than OK. Yet, every single time a new tool comes along like Google Plus, it has to be the Killer of something else. It was the Facebook Killer, the Twitter Killer and the LinkedIn Killer.

Nope. I’m not buying it.

Why can’t we research, experiment and explore? I spend the majority of my time on WordPress, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. Not only because it’s what I’m comfortable with at the moment but more importantly, it’s where the people I have relationships with and potential clients are spending their time online. With Google Plus being new, I’ve done my due diligence to check it out because like many other people, I was curious. If enough of my audience is there – and stays there – I’ll deepen my commitment (I wouldn’t get hung up on the 10 million people who signed up for it until we see the staying power months from now).

I remember a much simpler time when we only debated in absolutes between “digital” media and “traditional” media. 

Which was seriously only a couple years ago.

Now, just as social media is gaining credibility in the boardroom as a viable option for marketing budgets – yes, I believe we’re moving past that point – we’re going to complicate matters and confuse them by saying, “No, don’t go here anymore, you want to put all your energy over here.”

“But I thought you said Facebook was equivalent to the 3rd or 4th largest country in the world.”

“Yeah, I did, but it’s on its way out. You want to be on Tumblr. You can do so much more with it.”

“But our audience is in their 40’s. Isn’t that a tool more popular with Gen Y right now?”

“It’s OK. They’ll come around to it.”

Sure. But they’re not all there right now. So it’s more sensible to dip my toes in that water before jumping in with reckless abandon.

This may sound like you shouldn’t be flexible, but I’m actually championing for greater mobility.

Far before this thing called the Internet and social media came along, advertising agencies who had intelligent planners knew that their audience probably watched TV, listened to the radio and read certain magazines. They didn’t tell companies to put 100% of their marketing budgets in one medium.

We shouldn’t be telling people that now.

What I’m hearing is the equivalent of someone not only telling a marketer to put all their money in TV, but all their money in one channel like ABC. That doesn’t sound like good advice, right?

Well, telling a brand to go “all in” on one social media channel is probably along the same lines of competence.

We should be telling people to diversify and plan based on what we have gathered about the way their audience has, is and will behave. If social media is a component of their brand strategy – which it is – we should be treating it as such by diversifying our percentages of time spent on various channels rather than flipping off the light switch while people are still in the room talking.

I’m not suggesting that you should spend time on a dying channel or a channel that’s not reflective of your audience. That would be silly. What I am suggesting is that you should add social media channels rather than burn bridges. We can still be pioneers and sherpas of social media while being true to how our brand’s followers are living today. Then, if and when it appears that either the channel is on its way down for the count or that your audience is steadily trickling away from that channel, you make a move to change your commitment to it. From “primary” to “secondary” to “non-existent” if you have to.

So it’s OK to suggest when appropriate that we should take a hard look at spending time on a new channel because that’s where we believe based on research and conversations that this is where our audience will be headed. We’d be doing a disservice not to communicate this.

It’s just that when you build up a following on any medium, it’s something that’s not only taken time on your part but is a serious investment made on the people who have chosen to follow you that should never be taken for granted.

Sometimes I wonder if brands and gurus remember that before they torch the old place.

State Farm becoming a better neighbor with Next Door concept

As someone who worked on the State Farm account for a few years, I view the company’s latest concept with more than a casual interest. The company with the familiar “Like a good neighbor…” jingle is about to launch an entirely new retail idea smack dab in the middle of my neighborhood in Lakeview. And at least at a first glance, I think they’re on to something good that more in the insurance industry might want to take a closer look at doing themselves.

State Farm Next Door opens August 1st and the concept is a more open, casual community space that offers free Wi-Fi and coffee (via its Next Door Cafe) as well as personalized coaching/small group classes on financial matters that range from paying off student loans to learning how to budget your finances.

The "Good Neighbor" with a new look.

This may not seem like a huge departure from the typical agent office, but it is. Here’s why. For a long time, State Farm talked about the fact that their agents live in the same community as their customers. Which is normal. But even though you can continuously say, “We live where you live,” there’s nothing quite like actually demonstrating it visibly by being more of a central hub.

Plus, there will be no actual insurance sold at State Farm Next Door so they aren’t cannibalizing their own agents’ efforts by selling policies here. There will be financial consultants and all the services at Next Door are free. Personally, I think the latter part of that sentence is important for bringing down some barriers among younger people who would normally walk on by because they don’t see the point in planning when they don’t even have the funds to pay for ongoing classes.

Stepping out of the “Auto/Home/Life” rate rut.

Let’s be honest. You first walk into or call State Farm, Allstate, Farmer’s, etc. because you have a need for auto, home or life insurance. You need to get covered, you compare rates,  you buy. You don’t like your rate after a while? You look around, you compare again, you buy.

Fighting a branding battle based on rates doesn’t benefit State Farm. I never thought it has. It’s territory that Geico and Progressive have owned quite well for years. Even when State Farm talks about the dangers of “cut-rate car insurance,” they’re still planting the seed of shopping based on rates and playing into the hands of their competitors.

That’s why, even though the newest ad work for State Farm is entertaining, that’s not necessarily what I see pulling people in. I see the Next Door concept having real upside by broadening out from buckets of insurance sold from an agent behind a desk into more generalized classes on finance and budgeting for 20-somethings and 30-somethings in the neighborhood who needed that guidance but couldn’t find it up to this point. You don’t have to walk into Next Door with an intent to buy. You walk in with an intent to learn (sorry, I don’t think I’ll walk in with an intent to just have a cup of coffee when there’s Starbucks and Caribou close by, but I appreciate the offer).

No hard selling, new look

In a way, State Farm’s Next Door feels a lot like smart social media itself – not a hard sell but a place to inform a community. And possibly learn from it along the way. I also like the fact that State Farm has the guts to do a true departure design-wise (different logo, wood background) for this sub-brand of Next Door, because in this case anything that looks too close to the familiar auto/home/life color palette would be a bit of a turn-off. A bright red building would scream “State Farm,” but it wouldn’t say “come in with your financial questions or just to hang out.” The location doesn’t hurt being steps away from Trader Joe’s and the Diversey/Clark/Broadway intersection.

Some may think the idea is a stretch, but I disagree. I think for a brand that’s been around for as long as State Farm, it’s a stretch within their brand that makes sense and might even be overdue. Even more so than insurance and agents, State Farm is supposed to be about, well, being a Good Neighbor with warm, friendly guidance. I think the Next Door concept is authentic and true to that ideal. Will that translate into a steady flow of interested customers? Well, we don’t have to wait until the doors open. Let’s hear from you:

Does this type of cafe concept with free classes, coffee, Wi-Fi and “no strings attached” appeal to you from a financial services and insurance company? 

I found my Klout on Empire Avenue while staring at the PeerIndex.

The other day, someone bought 200 shares of me. I was flattered, but would’ve been even more excited had it been real money. Still, the virtual game that measures your influence, Empire Avenue, had shown that in my brief period of time on it, my shares were going up and up. Mind you, I’m not really sure what the algorithm was for this other than the fact that I’d participated in several social media outlets including Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn, all while doing a blog post.

Hey, driving up your simulated shares is hard work.

Meanwhile, I noticed that my Klout score was similarly going up and up. Normally, I would be very excited by this, except for a few things.

There are people in my industry who I look up to who I can’t imagine having less real “clout” than me yet have less Klout than me. I’ve enjoyed reading Bart Cleveland for years as an AdAge columnist along with his work at McKee Wallwork Cleveland. I’ve admired the work of David Oakley at BooneOakley – frankly, I am looking up at them in a balanced world, not the other way around in a Klout world.

The second quibble I have is that while it says I am influential about social media and social entrepreneurship (OK, I’ve written about those plenty, I’ll buy that), Klout also says that I’m influential about, of all things, Groupon. I wrote about Groupon in one blog post in my life. Unless that was a hell of a post, I don’t see how that’s possible.

The third issue with Klout is that, unless I’m off, the system can be potentially gamed. If you like someone and are influenced by them, you can give them a “+K” to their Klout rating. Which sounds fine and good until I convince 20 of my closest friends to get together and Klout our scores into the stratosphere.

Meanwhile, over at PeerIndex, I have a similar issue with the influentials as I do with Klout. I’m a humble man and there are some peers that are ranking lower than me that just shouldn’t. My score is fine enough, trending higher and nothing to sneeze at. Kind of like my Klout score. At least here I can tell it’s from a combination of Audience, Authority and Activity. So I know which “A” to work on most.

What to believe? Who to believe? Are these tools helping or hurting?

I think I have the answer – you have to take these “measures of influence” for what they are – the best methods we currently have to measure social media capital that have room for improvement. Better than nothing? Yes. I would not ignore or blindly dismiss them. They do have meaning. They are a fair measure of activity, reach, etc. And like most other tools, they will probably be replaced by something more efficient and accurate, if these tools can’t tweek themselves fast enough.

But don’t get so wrapped up in your score that you can’t stop looking at your Klout, Empire Avenue share price and PeerIndex rating. I’m not proud to admit it, but I was doing just that when I first signed up. The worst thing you can do is say to yourself, “Oh heavens to Betsy, my reach isn’t far enough, what do I do?”

Breathe. Relax. These are algorithms that need work and will get better. Embrace the technological steps forward for what they are and realize there are slight imperfections – hey, Google’s algorithm isn’t perfect, but I’ll bet you still used it to search today, didn’t you?

Meanwhile, focus on what you CAN control:
Creating great content regularly and interacting with people who matter to you most on the channels where they “live.”
I believe when you concentrate on that consistently, the rest will hopefully take care of itself anyway when it comes to influence.

Of course, if this post influenced you and you’d like to throw a few “+K” to DanOnBranding or buy a bunch of shares….ah, never mind.

I liked the Groupon ads. There. I said it.

Yes, we saw a lot of ads yesterday around the Super Bowl, but none have touched off a firestorm of controversy quite like Chicago-based Groupon’s ads. I’ve re-posted one of them here for your viewing pleasure.

My pure, unvarnished reaction to them wasn’t shock or horror or an immediate rush to say that I would never use Groupon again. You know what I did? I chuckled. My mouth dropped open not because I was put off but because I admired Groupon for having the guts to run ads like this.

Many don’t agree with this opinion. But here’s my theory – deep down, some people had the exact same reaction but couldn’t admit it to anyone because it would seem like you don’t care about Tibet or whales or deforestation. So you had your inner laugh and then took to blog and tweet about how offended you were and how these ads were going to bring out the end of Groupon. Others were genuinely offended from the get-go and I can respect those folks for their opinions too.

But if I was to sit here and say how morally wrong I thought those ads were, I wouldn’t be true to what I felt the first time I watched them. Ads are meant to bring about a reaction on the most emotional level and Groupon achieved that with me in a positive way. It didn’t make me dismiss Tibet as an unworthy cause of my attention. Not one bit. I care about all those causes very much and I think everybody should. If you think an ad that isn’t even trying to detract from worthy causes is going to make want to care less about saving the whales or saving a tree in the rainforest, you’re not giving me much credit to think for myself. Or most people watching the ad for that matter.

Come on. Ads don’t instantly brainwash us from our existing principles. They can offer persuasive arguments that cause us to investigate further and in time they can shape behavior as a result. Sure, part of the immediate response that Groupon did get from some folks was to instantly stop using the service. That was their right to do. But there are also those of us who can actually have it both ways – to understand what Groupon was trying to say in its message and appreciating it while understanding the importance of social causes at the same time. It doesn’t make us bad people to have this dual understanding or stay loyal to Groupon.

Brands have a right to try to be provocative when they have only 30 seconds to do so and are spending $3 million each time. Being offensive should not be on the agenda — but right or wrong, I do not believe this was Groupon’s first and foremost goal.

Political commentators on cable networks can say practically anything they wish over the span of several hours, even drawing parallels that push the boundaries of good taste. They do it almost every day. But a company runs an ad lasting a mere 30 seconds that we don’t agree with, so let’s call for their heads? I don’t think so.

These ads aren’t going to bring about the end of anything. Certainly not Groupon. Groupon has a strong product and if anything, it is possibly the most talked-about ad the morning after the Super Bowl. I realize that some of that talk is very negative. But there are other voices in the crowd saying, “Lighten up. It’s just a commercial.”

Ads on Bathroom Mirrors: The Charm of O’Hare Airport

I wonder if weary travelers delayed at O’Hare during this record snowstorm will want to put their fist through one of these ads in frustration, but I’ve got to hand it to Clear Channel Outdoor and Mirrus for an unusual innovation: Airport Bathroom Advertising.

Coming soon to your favorite public restroom.

It’s actually a cool concept if you don’t feel violated. On your way in or out of the airport restroom, you stop in front of a mirror to check yourself. When you stand directly in front of the mirror, it works like, well, a mirror. But when you’re not standing in front of it, presto! An ad will appear.

I’m sure some will be annoyed by the whole thing in the beginning of this rollout. I expect to hear, “Do we really need ads in here too?” Admittedly, we probably don’t. But truth be told, advertisers have been trying to invade restrooms in creative ways long before this. This method does it rather stylishly and as long as it works quickly rather than becoming a distraction by staying on the ad a second too long, I’m all for it. I also kind of see it as the Billboard 2.0: More environmentally friendly and you don’t have capture the attention of someone going 65mph. Taking it one step further and crafting a message around where the ad is placed (bathroom, the airport) would help it stay in a few more brains too. From the sound of this article, O’Hare might be just the beginning of this test concept.

What do you think? Invasion of privacy or cool way to reach out to people?