Marketing & More: A tête-à-tête with Rod Brooks [PART 2]
If you’re just arriving at these Rod Brooks interviews, you’ll want to catch up on Part One.
When you ask someone (anyone) what their core values are, you typically get back clichés. But when years of experience talk, the answers are actually thought out and more genuine. The core value by which Rod lives his life at home and at work – is integrity, which he said is an umbrella over three innate qualities (a) Valuing relationships (b) Curiosity and problem solving (c) To be a servant leader, an emerging thought process in his mind.
“The transformation I am going through is how I become the guy who holds the spotlight on someone who is coming up.”
That’s an interesting thought I felt. Rod gauged my curiosity when he said “servant leader” and began expanding on it starting with the thought above. He said his marketing DNA had always caused him to compete, to try and be successful, to be center stage, and in another life he had wanted to be in a place where people could witness him perform – as an actor, an orator, a trial lawyer – you get my drift. But now, Rod says he’s undergoing a transformation and he would rather be in a position of support ..”may be the lights guy!”, he exclaimed. On a parallel, he also likens his desire to be a conductor orchestrating a symphony, a conductor who does not himself play an instrument but brings all instruments together to create music.
Rod is not just a man of words; he also walks his talk. Rod mentioned he was now taking time to personally respond to his second-line employees at PEMCO to tell them what he thought of their performance appraisal reports. By offering kudos for their improvements and extending help in areas needing improvement, Rod is making use of the opportunity to help his employees discover and identify gifts they have.
This segment of our discussion, focusing on Rod’s career insights and philosophies ended with a sports analogy which both of us agreed was an incredible business concept – that players never talk about working hard, always talk about playing hard, and when it comes to performing, the coach is still always off the field!
Sipping water from my glass, as I briefly gazed through Rod’s office window at the now clear skies, I was thinking to myself how I would begin a more targeted conversation on marketing. But that ephemeral thought was exactly what it was as Rod and I were chatting away again! I did not latch onto our previous conversation, to ask Rod’s opinion on the marketing challenges a company (like PEMCO) would face if it wanted to offer products/services to a larger geography than it was already concentrating on. To this, Rod said he didn’t believe in a peanut butter philosophy that applied the same solution across geographies equally. He said he would first consider the USP, would then find out if differentiated relationships are what he could compete on and win at. If he found he could, he would then need the ability to identify nuances of regions, states, and areas; sometimes it could be the uniqueness of the people, the places or cultures. Rod’s understanding of importance of cultural nuances is corroborated by his thoughts on how it worked at PEMCO:
“It’s not enough to say we’re local, everyone says that. We’ve got to be able to show them we know them in ways that others don’t.”
Rod said that PEMCO’s founders had the vision to compete on customer intimacy and relationships primarily. So PEMCO asks the question first: What is it about the people of the Northwest that they would favor a smaller company? – and it came down to relationships. The common denominator among the customers, PEMCO found, is not the differences, although the product positioning is such in broadcast messages..”it’s local”, says Rod. He finds that the people of Northwest want to do business with the local community, feel like they’re part of a big family, and some believe this business refuels their local economy. PEMCO sure does know a lot of the Northwest quirks; it also knows that the Northwesterner likes to like to laugh at himself, hence the We are a lot like you campaign. Part of this deal, Rod said was the bottom-up approach, which started with the asking of a question. So the idea was to work with a team to understand insurance customer problems and come up with a solution, and not first design a campaign hoping for it to work.
“Insurance business was a puzzle like no other. Added regulations, and added complexity of products where people shop on prices, buy on service and don’t want to use it at all. They never call us when they’re having a good day!”
The above is what Rod said in answering my next question on how he was able to transfer marketing skills from one industry to the other. He promised he wasn’t a mechanic while in the auto parts business, wasn’t a cook in the grocery business, couldn’t write a lick of code in the software world, and now is not able to adjust a claim in his current role. Rod said the core competency was an important factor, and that he always thought of himself as a marketer first, who understood a business problem, identified a customer need, and found creative ways to bring both together so the business’s opportunity or problem satisfied this customer need. He further adds that if you can think strategically and can apply those thoughts tactically by going through the process of understanding the objective, identifying available resources, being clear about what the market believes, and by knowing the gap between reality and perception, one should be able to apply their marketing principles across industries.
Rod also elaborated on the importance of Marketing as a key strategic business function. He believes it is good practice for a marketer to understand what the marketing solution will achieve for the final work product or the overarching objective. If Marketing’s tactical steps are along the overall strategic roadmap, there is more bang for the buck – a quicker, cheaper or a longer lasting solution to meet the business need.
Stay tuned for part 3 – the final installment of the Rod Brooks interview.