Why State Farm Tries to Be a Good Neighbor to Asian-American Community

An Interview With Sonya Gong Jent

By Published on .

Bill Imada
Bill Imada
In the past several months, I have attended a number of Asian Pacific American community gatherings around the country. I always take note of the companies who are visible and active supporters of the community. State Farm stands out as one of leading corporate marketers in the U.S. Asian market.

At the National OCA (formerly known as the Organization of Chinese Americans) Convention in San Francisco this month, I had a chance to speak informally with Sonya Gong Jent, VP-operations, multicultural-business-development group at State Farm.

She and her colleagues talked about their commitment to marketing their products and services to the rapidly growing multicultural markets throughout the country, including the Asian Pacific American market. For several years, State Farm has developed comprehensive advertising, marketing and public-relations campaigns that have helped the company achieve significant brand equity among Asian Pacific American consumers. Here is what Ms. Jent had to say about State Farm's initiatives in the diverse U.S. Asian market.

This ad that was created for State Farm by its agency of record, InterTrend Communications, Long Beach, Calif.
This ad that was created for State Farm by its agency of record, InterTrend Communications, Long Beach, Calif.
"State Farm recognizes the importance of our ever-changing population reflecting a multicultural consumer base with a wide mosaic of cultures, languages and needs. As the No. 1 property and casualty provider, we strive to be relevant to all consumers which include the many multicultural markets.

"State Farm has been actively engaged in marketing to the Asian Pacific American community for many years; however, over the last nine years, the focus has increased, with specific in-language marketing that resonates culturally and specifically to the needs of the many different Asian Pacific American communities, recognizing the subtle differences and values across the many nationalities."

The company has also been recognized by several notable organizations for its work in the multicultural space.

Here are some questions that were posed to State Farm and Ms. Jent.

Please describe State Farm's footprint in the domestic consumer markets and in the U.S. Asian markets.
Overall in the marketplace, State Farm is the No. 1 auto and home insurer. According to our understanding of Asian marketplace, currently there is no clear leader in the insurance category.

State Farm has been marketing and advertising in the U.S. Asian markets for many years. What has your company learned from its experience in the market?
We've learned the value of speaking to people through in-language and in-culture messaging and speaking with people in their communities through our public-affairs efforts and our agents in the communities.

"Like a good neighbor, State Farm is there," is your company's slogan and tagline. What steps did you take to ensure that this tag would resonate well with Asian Pacific American consumers?
The tagline was rewritten in-language for Asian Pacific American consumers in a manner that strongly resonated with audience while still reflecting the spirit of the original English tagline. For instance, in Chinese, the English back translation is "With a good neighbor, you are reassured every day." The Asian taglines all tested well in consumer focus groups.

Sonya Gong Jent
Sonya Gong Jent
Describe the level of importance State Farm places in having Asian Pacific American specialists assist you with your advertising, marketing and public-relations initiatives in the U.S. Asian market.
We have a strong network of Asian resources that we rely on and tap into for insights and assistance. Our Asian Pacific American employees are passionate about the marketplace and helping State Farm make a positive impact in their communities. In addition, our advertising agency of record, InterTrend Communications, has been an invaluable partner in assisting us to create engaging and award-winning marketing programs, which are helping to build a stronger State Farm presence in the Asian market.

State Farm has a strong and visible presence in Asian Pacific American communities throughout the country. How has your community-engagement work enhanced the company's image and brand with Asian Pacific American consumers?
State Farm's active participation and support of community programs and events have enhanced our company's image and brand. Being a good neighbor today means investing in tomorrow's leaders and future workforce. That is the reason for our commitment to providing leadership opportunities for [Asian American and Pacific Islander] youth, teen auto-safety programs, youth and college education-excellence opportunities, financial education for all age groups, and community development.

What State Farm products and services appeal most to Asian Pacific American consumers and why?
Auto insurance, because everyone is required to have it. Life insurance and education-savings vehicles also have appeal. For Asian Pacific Americans, personal fulfillment is derived from contributing to their family's well-being and seeing their children succeed.

Agents are the backbone of large insurers such as State Farm. How does State Farm compete with other large insurers that don't utilize agents to sell their products and services?
We're available to consumers in any way they would like to engage with us -- online, on the phone or in person. Understanding the great importance Asian Pacific Americans place upon relationships, our messaging focuses on the value of an agent who can speak their language and appreciates their culture -- all at the same or lower price than companies who don't utilize agents.

Many corporate marketers talk about the importance of executive buy-in whenever a company decides to engage in ethnic marketing. How do State Farm's executives feel about ethnic marketing?
Starting with the highest levels of leadership, it is a top priority in our marketing plans.

"Corporate marketers should hire qualified executives, directors, managers and agents who reflect the diversity of the markets they are entering. This includes the Asian Pacific American market." Do you agree or disagree with this statement and why?
Agree. The success of State Farm is dependent on leveraging our employees' diverse talents, background, cultures and experiences. Basically, without diversity of thought, a corporation is out of touch with consumers and setting itself up to fail.

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