After The Flood

Not everyone gets to be a leader. Apple, Starbucks, western capitalism. These guys are leaders. 

Microsoft used to be a leader, but now it's the butt of the joke, stuck behind the edge, forever catching up, forever imitating, aping the leaders. Same could be said for Motorola, Sega, and printed magazines (that last one stung a little, huh?). Once you've been categorized as an also-ran it's very hard to move your brand out of that category. 

Sometimes there isn't a leader. Sometimes it's a closer race and everyone is  neck and neck. In these instances it's almost harder to get ahead, to set yourself out from the pack. Opportunities to rev the engine come rarely and stay fleetingly. 

This week, in the wake of hurricane Irene, someone got ahead: Allstate insurance. 

Disasters are hard on insurance agencies, they have to write checks to a lot of policy holders (no company likes writing checks) and for customers whose damages aren't covered agencies are often forced to present a very negative brand experience. Expensive and ugly. Two words you never want to hear. 

But Allstate really capitalized on Irene, and in an honorable, brand positive way. They pushed their 1-800-54-Storm hotline, a VERY streamlined claim reporting system that doesn't give you the run around or get bogged down with a lot of extraneous automated telephone option branching. 

Additionally Allstate erected trailers and tents in Home Depot parking lots all over storm-affected areas where agents could rapidly file and process claims, report information to customers, and do some brand ambassadorship. Since the rains stopped policy holders have been showing up at these parking lot claims tents with flood-damaged furniture and got immediate person-to-person claim service. 

They got the word out on this remarkable effort by doing a massive radio and cable media buy. People often scoff at radio in this modern socially enabled new media age, but in times of crisis (or just during everyday commutes) people listen to radio ads. And those ads sink in (by it's very nature audio is harder to ignore or "tune out" than tv or print ads). Smart placement on 'round-the-clock news stations insured that the people most concerned with the hurricane (read: it's likely victims) were sure to hear the message.

So what can other businesses in non-insurance industries learn from Allstate's example:

1 - plan for the best of the worst. Identify potential or likely future moments in the public perception where your brand can shine. Prepare for those moments, don't wait for them to happen to start designing responses. If you know when people are going to look to your brand you can get ready for your close-up

2 - commit to bold moves. It would have been easy for Allstate to have done the usual post disaster response. That would have been fine, but we wouldn't be talking about them unless they screwed up. All the work they did took money and careful planning and most difficultly a lot of people saying yes. Big, multi-pronged promotions need a lot of sign offs, it takes approval from  "the boss*."

Your brand needs to be able to pull the trigger on big ideas when the chips are down. Otherwise you face the threat of forever being number two (or worse). Leaders take risks. The path to the winners circle is not an easy one, but if your smart and you plan carefully and your able to make bold moves when it matters most (and of course that's the scariest time to do so) your brand  could make invaluable progress.

*note: in this case, and only in this case, "the boss" does not necessarily refer to Bruce Springsteen.