Take A Really Tiny Page From Urban Outfitters

As I was in Urban Outfitters yesterday buying some fridge magnets I didn’t really need (c’mon, they were those iPhone button magnets, how could I resist?), I was waiting for my receipt and found that instead of providing a paper receipt, they took down my e-mail address. I’d get the receipt e-mailed to me.

A little move but actually quite brilliant when you think about it. They now captured my e-mail address and had a new way to connect with someone who had clearly shopped at the store. As long as they don’t bombard me with daily messages, it’s a smart maneuver on their part.

Not to mention it’s environmentally friendly. If we did away with all paper receipts and did them all electronically, we’d save a few more trees for sure.

Whether yours is a retail environment or not, consider how you can convert from paper receipts to electronic receipts to connect with them. It might be a more natural way to market to people vs. hitting them up to open a card/account that demands more of the money they just spent with you already.

What’s not to like here? Have some simple ways like this that you set the table for a relationship online with customers during their buying transactions in an offline setting that you’d like to share?

First look inside State Farm Next Door : An environment in an innovative State.

As I started to make my way up Diversey Avenue, I heard the clamor of a jazz band playing near Trader Joe’s grocery store.  That couldn’t be coming from State Farm, could it? Surprisingly, it was. And already in that moment, I think that maybe, just maybe, I experienced a small piece of what State Farm is striving to do with its new community-based effort, State Farm Next Door.

The "teaser" wall is down. We're going in.

State Farm was nice enough to invite me to a pre-launch party for select guests to come experience Next Door for themselves. I’m happy to say it did not disappoint. It honestly exceeded what I thought I would see. Along the way, I got to sit down with the managers, planners and vendors who showed me what people could expect from Next Door when it officially opens on Thursday, August 11th.

Is it OK if we have fun in here? Cool.
If this was some thinly-veiled approach to selling services, I seriously didn’t feel it. Really. The subtle references to finances and planning are there, but you get the sense that State Farm has been extra careful not to come across as heavy-handed in selling. If it was too pushy, it just would not work. Period. And thankfully, they know it.

We’re really making a conscious effort to let people come in, discover Next Door for themselves and make it their own,” says Stephanie Reynolds, Next Door’s Store Manager. “Our atmosphere here is all about making it the most creative and collaborative experience possible. It’s not our goal to try to sell. But when they do ask, we want to make consumers more educated and confident about their financial future in a very comfortable space.

Like a Good Neighbor, State Farm is There. With a cool lounge area.

Wander over to the cafe for a gourmet espresso.

Some of the features of Next Door include:

  • A cafe area serving gourmet coffee, tea and espresso as well as baked goodies
  • A main lounge that features large red, black and grey couches with coffee tables
  • A smaller “creative” area featuring little white tables you can draw on and a projection wall that can show TV shows, movies…anything
  • A huge community chalkboard calendar that promotes all kinds of monthly events, from classes to pizza parties
  • 2 conference rooms with flat-screen TVs and whiteboard wall dividers (which you can rent for free, by the way)

And of course, those Pods.
A lot of these design elements are, dare I say, fun and creative. Still, you might be wondering, “OK. But let’s get real. What if I want to get into some sensitive financial stuff? I can’t just discuss this out in the open in a cafe.” State Farm considered that. A financial planner named Adam showed me one of the “Pods” that a planner can take a guest or two into to get more privacy for financial-related chatter. This is probably my favorite feature of the place – these things look right out of the IKEA catalog and are just as functional. You can roll them to different parts of the store if need be.

When you want to chat about finances, step into a Pod with a planner.


“You learn from us. We learn from you. We’re all smarter for it.”

We’re entering a new phase beyond just the “pop-up store” where people can try products for a few days before a temporary store is disassembled. It’s a phase of Store As Audience Research Tool. Maybe you think you’ve seen this before but trust me, you probably haven’t. Very few stores if any have been set up almost exclusively for the purpose of learning and understanding the behaviors of its audience in the way Next Door has.

I’ve heard a lot of questions about ROI and metrics of success for Next Door. So let me just say this – there’s absolutely nothing more important in branding than knowing what your audience is thinking. It’s elusive. It’s shifting. It’s hard to interpret. If it was easy, everyone could do it and I’d have to find another way to make a living. So when you effectively set the stage for that audience to come to you and tell you their thoughts and feelings, you’ve got an invaluable environment worth keeping. Some of us have run focus groups where we’d have to practically bribe people to show up, right? Well, how about someone who voluntarily comes into your environment, has a few questions, winds up signing up for a seminar given by one of your people and returns with 5 of their friends to learn more?

For Brett Myers, a key head at State Farm behind Next Door, this represents months and months of intensive, detailed planning. It’s not a stretch to say every single table lamp, book, piece of glassware and paint color has been obsessively considered prior to entering this space – by the way, do you think about your own environment in reflection of your brand with this kind of detail? Maybe you should.

Strange as it may seem to some marketers in such a research-driven world, it’s not about number of meetings taken in the Pods. It’s not about guests converted into customers. Or number of cups of coffee sold.

It’s about getting consumer feedback and lots of it. It’s about understanding the real fears and questions that a young target has. And it’s about taking all that feedback and reporting it back to State Farm corporate so they can use it for all kinds of initiatives – undoubtedly to ensure that the brand is speaking in a voice these consumers want to hear.

Anybody can rent one of these conference rooms for free. Really.


Partnered with Doejo

To get the cafe portion of Next Door off the ground and give it a feel authentic to the neighborhood, State Farm partnered with Doejo, a digital agency whose founder is behind several independent Lincoln Park/Lakeview coffee shops, including Kickstand and Noble Tree. As Darren Marshall of Doejo explains, Next Door will revolve and evolve around those who enter.

We’re very interested once people start coming in because their feedback will help shape this space,” says Marshall. “When you think about it, a coffee shop looks and feels different one week to the next because of the people inside it more than anything. It’s the same way here. In some respects, this store may look different 30, 60, 90 days from now and if it does, that will come from what the consumers within it tell us.”

While Doejo will concentrate primarily on the cafe portion of Next Door, their team may very well collaborate with State Farm when necessary on ideas involving the overall environment.

Special thanks to Desiree Fuzak, Stephanie Reynolds, Brett Myers, Darren Marshall and many others on the State Farm Next Door/Doejo team who helped provide me with their insightful thoughts for this post. 

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.

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? 

Why Trader Joe’s beats your grocery store brand

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As many of us in Chicagoland who grew up in primarily a Jewel and Dominick’s world, it’s easy for me to have comfort with both of these grocery store brand names. Yet, I’m ready to step outside of that comfort zone thanks to what Trader Joe’s has brought to the table. And I’m not just talking about food.

I’m a big proponent of building the brand from within – not with only terrific products/services, but a culture that is aligned with that brand and in turn results in better customer experiences.

Joe’s nails this.

The store oozes an unparalleled happiness from the moment you walk through the door. Here are people over a wide range of ages who seem to be genuinely enjoying working in their environment and helping people. The walls are bright and painted with several mantras (“Great wine shouldn’t mean expensive wine”) as if they were coming from the founder himself. As part of a promotion, we walked out with a brightly colored Trader Joe’s bag that we’ll not only be able to re-use over and over again, but a walking advertisement to be seen all over the neighborhood (further building credibility). Some employees have Hawaiian print shirts, others have colorful and fun t-shirts. At least 3 of them asked me if I needed help finding what I was looking for. The kicker for me is an extensively written newsletter that goes into rich detail about the featured products – contrast this with the typical flyer that just shows pictures of food and pricing.

Yes, perhaps you could get something close to this kind of experience at another store. But do you? Every time you walk through the door? Is it even clean half the time?

I realize some of the elements of service described above are the “sizzle.” The “steak” is the product itself – you fully expect the stuff to be overpriced across the board as gourmet items often are. But surprisingly, these items are reasonably priced and a good value for the quality in return. Heck, I don’t mind saying that sometimes you don’t mind putting a $3 bottle of Charles Shaw in your bag – in times like these, you just feel smarter for getting decent quality. And where it seems most stores are almost embarrassed to have a wine like that on the shelf, Joe’s puts it out in the open, in the center of the aisle, with the price boldly seen.

I know, I know. I sound like a paid spokesperson – trust me, I’m not on the payroll. My point is this: Think about how the Trader Joe’s culture template can be adapted to work for your company. And just because this is a business-to-consumer audience, don’t mistake this for thinking that you can’t make it work for professional services either.

Start with your product/service – is it of exceptional quality? Let’s say that it is. Think about what you believe in relation to what you’re delivering and why you do it better than anyone else. Knowing this: How do you wrap that identity around your environment? Are there colors on the wall that speak to your creativity or brand identity? How do your people answer the phone? Are there mantras that everybody can say by heart? If I talked to 10 of your clients, would they say the same kind of praise about you – and are you absolutely certain of that? Are you giving them outlets to provide feedback to you in multiple ways? If there were/are more than one location of your business, how easy is this to replicate?

Some dismiss these other elements beyond the product or service itself as just “nice to haves” rather than something being so essential to the brand. Maybe that’s why they provide a good service, but there’s still something missing that keeps them from being a great culture and as a result, a great brand.

For example, do you feel a disconnect between departments? Are there people who think their department is the heart and soul of the company rather than part of the team? This is akin to people in one department of the grocery store dressing differently than the others and providing a different level of service that’s inconsistent with the other departments. That’s not a different department – that’s pretty much a different company within the company. And that you don’t need when you’re trying to convey a united front.

An environment like Trader Joe’s doesn’t happen overnight. But when you start with a vision and brand strategy that operations later aligns with, you begin to have the makings of a brand that feels real. Genuine. With loyal employees who don’t need special incentives to be great ambassadors on your behalf.

This isn’t a mere theory. There’s a whole lot of people living and breathing it – see for yourself. On Diversey and probably just about every other Trader Joe’s location in the country.