Jake from State Farm, You Have a Marketing Attribution Problem

Who do you think is the MVP for State Farm? Is it longtime Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers? Is it Patrick Mahomes, QB for the reigning Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs? Or is it Jake from State Farm (the new one), the lovable spokesman who joins both QBs and a plethora of other everyday people thanking him for their special insurance rate in commercial after commercial?

Jake is the real all-star. He is the glue that makes the State Farm branding stick. But Jake and State Farm probably have a huge problem. The Bloomington, Illinois-based insurance giant spends a ton of money on advertising, marketing and branding. The end goal is to help local hometown agents, such as Suzie Smith in Sioux Falls, garner new customers and sign auto, home and life insurance policies.

But how does Suzie know that all that branding, specifically that commercial featuring Jake, Aaron and his dog, contributed to a customer finding her and becoming a conversion? And what about the online insurance marketplaces, such as thezebra.com, that make it easy for consumers to shop and compare car or home insurance rates. If State Farm has the best insurance quote for someone living near Suzie and they come in to purchase a policy, what marketing program should get credit for driving the sale of this new policy?

There’s a problem in the collaborative marketing ecosystem. State Farm and thezebra.com are both “network owners” working hard on behalf of their “seller partners” (Suzie and all of the other agents at State Farm; thezebra.com also has hundreds of other insurers it markets for) to drive business downstream and help agents sell insurance policies.

Those network owners do a great job of marketing and advertising. They typically have pleasant, easy-to-use sites. It’s why Suzie pays franchise fees to be a licensed agent with State Farm, why she likely directly or indirectly through State Farm buys advertising with thezebra.com, and why hundreds of other insurance brands and their agents belong to one or more competing networks.

Suzie might provide a survey to new customers asking how they heard about her agency. Will that new policyholder accurately share their customer journey? No two customer journeys are likely the same; one could look something like this:

1. TV ad exposure: During an NFL playoff game, a consumer sees a commercial featuring Jake from State Farm trying to tell Mahomes there is no special rate just for him.

2. Search engine: From their cell phone, the consumer types “auto insurance quotes” and sees State Farm and thezebra.com as options for doing research. They take no action.

3. Direct visit: The next day, they hop on their laptop and do a deeper dive on thezebra.com, jotting down insurance quote comparisons, of which State Farm has competitive pricing.

4. Search engine: Over the weekend, they type “State Farm insurance agents near me” into their search bar and see Suzie’s agency is located just a couple of miles away.

5. Phone call: On Monday, they call Suzie, agree on coverage and deductible options and a monthly premium that works.

6. Email: Suzie emails the policy documents, and the consumer signs and returns them. Conversion done.

Suzie might assume, and the customer might even tell them, that they searched for local State Farm agents, saw she was close by, and that’s why she got their business. But as the journey above shows, there was a lot more to it. State Farm, thezebra.com, paid and organic search — all should get some credit for driving the eventual conversion. Heck, maybe the customer even asked their neighbor if they know about Suzie and if they had a review, good or bad.

Without some advanced technology, network owners can’t prove to their seller partners (in this specific case, Suzie) that they contributed to that signed policy. While Suzie likely can’t adjust the amount of co-op franchise dollars she contributes to State Farm advertising, she might opt to move ad dollars away from thezebra.com and to other marketing channels, such as paid search or social media advertising — thinking one of those marketing channels got her the new business.

The real problem here is that ad dollars will be improperly allocated and, in some cases, wasted on marketing channels that simply don’t perform. In today’s economy, this can be a huge issue, especially when looking at this issue at scale. Suzie is just one of tens of thousands of local insurance agents all contributing to wasted ad spend.

This story plays out over and over for other industries as well: auto sales marketplaces working with auto dealers, real estate listing sites pushing consumers to local agents, and franchises of all types. With a global perspective, it’s easy to see how hundreds of millions of dollars are likely ill-spent every year. The net result? Online marketplaces and franchise parents are the likely big losers if they are unable to show their systems are in fact driving customer acquisition.

2021 is going to be the year to solve this collaborative ecosystem problem. Watch for big news around marketing attribution for ecosystems. Network owners need it. Seller partners will demand it.