John Hancock Repositioning Provides Lesson About Empty Promises

John Hancock announced a new ad campaign called “Cursor” that showcases two areas: the rise of digital communications and the opportunity for financial success. It is trying to reintroduce the company to the public as a relevant and inspirational brand. Here’s how Jim Bacharach, vp-advertising at John Hancock described the campaign:

The thinking behind the campaign was to recognize where consumer sentiment is today. The unstable economy is a source of anxiety for a lot of folks. One of the key differences from what we’ve done in the past is that today, more than ever, these conversations take place through electronic media.

My take: Right below is the John Hancock homepage (from earlier this week). Other than the discussion of the new “Cursor” ad campaign in the lower right, is there anything about this page that reinforces the notion of relevance, inspiration, or digital conversations?

I didn’t bring this up to pick on John Hancock’s Website or even to discuss its repositioning efforts. Instead, I wanted to (re)make a point that advertising alone can not reposition a company.

While ad campaigns can certainly introduce new brand promises, repositioning can only occur of the company actually keeps those promises during all of its interactions. That’s why the second principle of Experience-Based Differentiation is: Reinforce the brand in every interaction, not just communications.

Without designing all touchpoints to fulfill the new brand promises, the hope for repositioning is likely to just lead to empty promises:

Probability Of Success For Branding Efforts

Positioning And Scope Of Effort

The bottom line: Don’t waste your marketing dollars on empty promises.

Written by 

I am an experience management transformist, helping organizations improve business results by engaging the hearts and minds of their customers, employees, and partners. My "job" is Head of the Qualtrics XM Institute. The Institute is still being established, but our goal is to help organizations around the world thrive by mastering Experience Management (XM). As part of this focus, I examine strategy, culture, interaction design, customer service, branding and leadership practices. And, as many people know, I love to speak about these topics in almost any forum. Prior to joining Qualtrics, I was managing partner of Temkin Group (leading CX research, advisory, and training firm), co-founder and chair of the Customer Experience Professionals Association (, and a VP at Forrester Research. I'm a fanatical student of business, so this blog provides an outlet for sharing insights from my ongoing educational journey. Check out my LinkedIn profile:

6 thoughts on “John Hancock Repositioning Provides Lesson About Empty Promises”

  1. Bruce, the notion of “repositioning” a company is tricky in itself. What is a company repositioning? The perception of the company? The opinion of the company? For a company to reposition itself, it must change the actual company. A new brand promise should mean a major shift in the company, not a major shift in marketing.

  2. I don’t think the campaign is effective either. I’m pretty sure most people don’t even understand what the ads and commercials are even talking about.

  3. I think the challenge companies like this face is that because of the complexity of “designing a plan of future financial security”, they have to figure out some way to entice people into the process. Unfortunately, without advisors and education both playing a role in the process, there’s zero likelihood of success.

    as far as what can be done on a site:
    relevance – they try to have stories that people can relate to (old lady, young family, professional, etc.)
    inspiration – personal stories are best, need to spice up the interface
    digital conversations – get people talking enough for them to say, “help !”

    You are absolutely right that the bottom line is how the organization, it’s advisors and the corporate system in place is able to follow through on promises to benefit the consumer.

    Marketing – lead generation
    Sales – lead conversion
    Operations – client fulfillment

    I think the company has to toe a fine line between targeting consumers and the advisors that will use their products to implement the financial solutions for their clients. Good luck accomplishing that with an ad campaign.

  4. Asa: You’ve got to wonder sometimes exactly what companies (and their marketing/ad agencies) do to test their campaigns. Creating a campaign around the word “cursor” is a bit obscure. As you say, who’s going to understand what that means?!? And even if they do, consumers care about retirement, financial security, and items like that, but not the icon on their computer screen that highlights where they are about to type.

  5. Jay: Well said. Most repositioning efforts attempt to change customer perceptions. While I don’t think it’s easy to alter what customers think through marketing (alone), companies try to do it all the time. The campagins that work best are those that reinforce what customers perceive of a brand through all of their contacts with that brand — like the MAC ad campaign which resonates with what many people are already thinking. I think of this as reinforcing existing attributes.

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