The ANA Masters Circle is speaking with CMOs from around the world to get their thoughts, experiences, and learnings from leading their brands through the COVID-19 crisis.
Rand Harbert, the CMO of State Farm, the largest auto, home, and individual life insurance provider in the U.S., spoke about the most pressing issues to him and his organization right now.
1. What is the most pressing issue to you and your organization right now?
I’ve got 106,000 people in my group, from call centers and agency team members to the entire internal marketing and sales apparatus. I have had to get them all to operate from home in less than one week. This alone has been the biggest challenge of my career. Today, we have the ability to run the entire company remotely. And while it may feel like we just won the Olympics, the reality is that we depend on 19,300 retail locations. So how are we going to make our retail operation work remotely?
Now we are struggling with transitioning from “How do we operate in a COVID-19 environment?” to “We have to operate in this environment.”
Our mission at State Farm is to help people manage the risks of everyday life, recover from the unexpected, and realize their dreams. That’s what our brand stands for. As a first response to the crisis, we had to re-imagine our brand and articulate it in a comforting and reassuring way to our 86 million customers.
Doing that was quite a challenge. Because of social distancing, we had to find a way to create new spots without actually shooting them in person. We had to rely on stock footage. In less than one week, we were able to go from ideation to in-market. Not only did we do it, but we did it less expensively and more efficiently than anything else we have ever done. Often, as classic marketers, we think there is only one way to do things. Now, out of necessity, we are discovering that there are new ways to get the job done.
2. What is the role of marketing today vs. pre-coronavirus, both within your organization and externally?
As insurance providers, we are the best in the world at handling catastrophe. State Farm was built for that. We know how to do it. And when you are in the moment of it, like we are now with COVID-19, providing messages of comfort and reassurance to our current customers is critical. How we behave now in the marketplace will speak volumes — not only to our current customers, but to future customers as well.
As our marketing adapts to demonstrate how we take care of our current policyholders, we know that future customers will see it in market as well. And we believe that this experience will compel them to ask themselves, “Wow, what is my company doing for me?”
3. What advice do you have for other CMOs in the short term? In the long term, after the crisis has passed?
For the first two weeks, we were 100 percent focused on COVID-19. Now we are still dealing with the crisis, but we know we have to get back to business. We are beginning to think about how we operate in the next 30 days and the next 60 days. We have a business to run, and we can’t forget that we have to care for it too, so that we can be in a better position when we come through the crisis.
4. How have your consumer needs, behaviors, and attitudes changed? How are you adapting?
Every month we conduct a research panel across 20,000 customers. Although we are still analyzing much of the data from this past month, I can tell you that customers are expressing massive financial insecurity. We are seeing shifting spending patterns as a result of work-from-home and online business. For instance:
• 66 percent have indicated that they are modifying their financial decisions.
• 57 percent are shifting spending priorities to the longer term.
• 49 percent state that they are feeling negative financial impacts already.
• 63 percent are more interested in doing business with us online. •55 percent feel that it is more important to be covered with right insurance.
• 53 percent indicated that self-service online is important.
These are big shifts. Are they permanent? We don’t know yet.
5. What can we do together to help the industry emerge stronger than before?
• Catalog our lessons. We need to prepare the next generation for the next unbelievable, impossible-to-imagine event or situation. What does “being prepared” mean? In marketing, we often create scenarios so we can prepare for the unexpected. For instance, what would you do if your revenue dropped to 80 percent overnight? That’s a fairly common scenario to prepare for. But no one is prepared for a scenario that projects your revenue becoming zero overnight.
• Be stronger. How can we be stronger together? How can we stop being proprietary? As an industry, we need to share more best practices. In light of today’s experience, understanding how to earn back your revenue after you lose it overnight will be a very useful case study.
• Mentors. After a 30-year career, what would have been helpful to me over the past 30 days? A mentor. Someone who would have told me at the time to pay attention to similar situations or crisis. No one ever prepared me, or anyone, for this.
6. Has your business strategy changed? Do you foresee any modifications to your products or services based on a projection of how consumers’ behaviors have changed?
It will, for sure. We haven’t gotten that far yet. But we anticipate creating more flexible products with different coverage options. Also, work from home changes everything. Nothing will ever be the same.