Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Social Media As A Branding Tool - A Case Study

Many ad agencies continue to question the branding value of Social Media and remain reluctant to embrace it for their own branding efforts or to recommend social media tactics to their clients. This is not only short-sighted, it is simply not true according to Brad Nelson, Chief Tweeter at Starbucks. Brad recently shared his company's strategies and personal views on ways that Social Media enhances the brand value of Starbucks. His comments offer some interesting insights into how this market leader uses Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and mystarbucksidea.com to build their brand and how agencies should be viewing Social Media for branding.

According to Brad, Starbucks has embraced Social Media because of its growing popularity, but also because it works. He gave specific examples of how Starbucks uses Social Media as a key element in their branding strategy and also cited a recent Razorfish study in which 97% of Connected Consumers reported that a positive digital brand experience influenced their purchase behavior.

Starbucks uses Social Media five ways:
  • As standard operating procedure for any new launch or corporate policy initiative.

  • To monitor conversation and become aware of emerging issues that might positively or negatively impact the Starbucks brand or products.

  • To provide contextual and complete information around issues or controversies (i.e. to make sure that all facts are available as well as to give their brand champions complete information).

  • As a rapid response tool to issues or questions.

  • To put a human face on the company by providing information in a personal and relevant manner.
As part of his presentation, Brad shared several examples of how Starbucks has used Social Media. As part of the new product launch for Via, Brad related how an unplanned leak 30 days prior to launch was generating initial skepticism about the quality and taste of an instant coffee from Starbucks. Starbucks used social media to engage their audience, provide taste test results and promote their sampling strategy. They credit social media with helping to change public perception from negative to positive and shortly after launch, Via was being touted by the blogosphere as "the start of a new category", "the right thing to do for Starbucks", and "a product that tastes as good as regular Starbucks".

Starbucks management is confident that social media, in conjunction with more traditional tools, has played a significant role in the success of the Via brand. Social media has also been used as the primary medium in successful promotions for Free Pastry Day and Red Cup Day.

Brad also related an interesting story of how Twitter and Facebook helped with an international crisis management issue. An update to the Starbucks website has referenced Taiwan as a Province of China. This is a very controversial issue, and the blogosphere began humming shortly after it was posted. The issue was discovered and acknowledged within 3 hours, and fixed within 24 hours, just as the traditional media outlets were discovering the story. Starbucks' fast response made further reporting a non-story and traditional media outlets moved on to other stories. This is a great example of how listening and responding quickly can work to the advantage of any brand.

As more case studies come to light on the value of Social Media as a branding tool, ad agencies must listen and respond. Social media is not a fad. It is a legitimate way to monitor and converse with your brand's audience, and agencies who continue to ignore its power and presence as well as its branding potential will regret it.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Give your prospects "permission to believe" to win new business

An ad agency exec recently asked me "what is the most important ingredient for a successful new business program?" Obviously, there are many things that contribute to new business success. First of all, you must have a defined and relevant positioning for your agency that differentiates your company in some way from the competition. If you have direct and successful experience in their business category or against their target audience you increase your odds of winning. As do case studies and testimonials that are relevant to the prospect.

In the fast-changing world of digital media and social media marketing, the ability to help a client navigate these new and challenging waters is an increasingly important element in new business success. Many clients are simply overwhelmed by the complexity and pace of change and need guidance on how to take advantage of these new technology tools. For many clients, it is important to keep in mind that the ultimate need is not just how to use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc. but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

There are many other ingredients for new business success, but all are based on the idea that you must give your prospect "permission to believe" to win their trust . . . and their business.

Regardless of how you approach new business for your company, unless you can give your prospect "permission to believe" that you are the best resource for their specific needs, you will have difficulty winning the account.

"Permission to believe" is critical for ad agencies because the natural tendency for clients and prospects is not to believe us. For years, our business model was based on a compensation system that promoted mistrust as to our motives for media recommendations. We compounded this error by looking down our noses at "below the line" activities and clients who didn't "get it" when we showed them new and different creative ideas (that may or may not have been consistent with their brand personality). Many agencies had an arrogant "we're the experts, not you" attitude with their clients, so why are you questioning our expertise?

Not all agencies were guilty of these practices, but we are all tainted by them. Most studies still list advertising and used-car salesmen as the lowest on the hierarchy of trusted professions.

Take a look around your local agency scene. Who is winning and who is not? I'll bet it's the agencies that have built a reputation for honesty and integrity. The ones who are known to work hard for their clients. The ones who go out of their way to find new ways to help their clients grow their business.

The agencies who give their clients "permission to believe" every day.

Monday, September 28, 2009

An Interesting Story on the Power of Twitter

Since my last post on using Twitter as a business development tool, I've had several emails from friends who continue to question the staying power of Twitter. They argue that Twitter is a short term phenomenon with limited value for marketers and one that will fade out quickly.

Well, I can't say how long Twitter will be "the next big thing", but I can tell you that today, it is a very big thing. With over 32 million users -- up 700% over the past year according to eMarketer -- Twitter is a legitimate social networking tool that reaches a lot of people in a short period of time. The power and potential of this new communication tool was reinforced last week when I heard a presentation on Twitter and Social Media from Warren Sukernek, Director of Content at Radian 6.

Warren related his own personal story about the power of Twitter and how it helped him to land a new job. Last December, Warren was laid off. He had been actively engaged with Twitter for some time, so he sent this tweet

Friends, I've just been laid off. As a digital strategist, I would appreciate any leads or opportunities that you would be aware of. THX.

That afternoon, he got 250 responses that resulted in 20 interviews and 4 job offers. ALL IN 3 WEEKS FROM JUST ONE TWEET.

Warren's incredible story was featured locally on KING-5 TV, and later picked up by Fortune, The New York Post, The Wall Street Journal and several websites. His story is a reinforcement to me of the power of social networking.

Warren's presentation was an inside look at how to use Twitter as part of a total Social Media Toolbox to build your personal or company brand and to gain awareness and credibility among a wide audience. But he cautioned everyone that "you can't just join Twitter and tweet. You've got to build a network before you need it".

Warren's story is just one of many social networking success stories. That's why I've become an advocate of using Twitter as part of your business development strategy. You should be extending your reach, building your credibility, connecting with thought-leaders, sharing content and engaging in the conversation through blogs, white papers, and Twitter. Whether Twitter is long term isn't relevant. It can be a powerhouse today.

I encourage you to view Warren's presentation on SlideShare at http://tinyurl.com/yezlecg. You'll get a lot of good ideas on how to get more value out of social media tools. And maybe, just maybe, a new way to build business for your agency.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Using Twitter As A Business Development Tool

While many ad agencies are finally acknowledging the power of integrating social media into their business development program, very few are using Twitter. I hear several reasons why Twitter is not used:
  • It's only used by kids and will die out soon.
  • Where's the value - who cares what someone had for breakfast?
  • You can't really say much in 140 characters.
  • I don't have the time it takes to monitor all of the traffic.

After studying how b-to-c companies are successfully using Twitter as a business development tool, I have come to the conclusion that Twitter may be the most powerful b-to-b new business tool your agency can have in your new business program. Here's why:

1. Twitter is not just a kid's fad that will soon die out. According to Forrester, much of Twitter's recent growth is coming from adults, not kids. In a recent study, more than 75% of online adults are using social media on a regular basis, and the fastest growing social medium among this age group is Twitter. Both Nielsen Online and comScore have noted the phenomenal year-to-year growth of Twitter, reporting monthly percentage increases of 1,500% or more.

Social media analysts have observed that adults use social media in very different ways than teens and young adults. While the younger set uses FaceBook and MySpace as a more casual sharing of daily activities and real time reaction to external events, adults use social media as an information resource. This makes Twitter an excellent way to position your agency as a thought-leader on a variety of subjects. It's a great way to build awareness among your prospect target list, and also a way to actually start a conversation without having to fight through spam filters and voice mail.

2. Twitter is a valuable resource to give you a real time picture of the hottest topics in the industry. The most valuable asset of Twitter is that it provides real time information. It allows you to monitor what is being said today by and about your industry, your firm, and your competitors - something that is always important to know. But more importantly from a business development standpoint, Twitter gives you real time information and insight into what is being said about your clients and prospects.

To be successful in starting a conversation with a new business prospect, you need to know what's on their mind. In my experience, one of the best questions you can ask a prospect is "what keeps you awake at night?" Twitter can give an agency that answer and allow you the opportunity to address the most pressing industry or company issues as a way to start a conversation with a prospect. As I have said in previous posts, many clients are simply overwhelmed with the pace of change and the information explosion that the digital revolution has created. Agencies that understand the client's issues and can offer a solution have a much better chance of new business success.

3. The long term value of Twitter (and all social media) for b-to-b marketing is the opportunity to provide valuable content, not sales messages or minutiae. Twitter and other social media are a great way to provide a valuable statement about your agency without using an overt selling message. Social media can position your agency as a thought-leader and a valuable resource of information and insight to a prospect. The 140-character short form of Twitter can actually be an advantage over long form content, such as white papers or blogs, by initiating an interaction with the prospect that might not otherwise happen.

One of the best practice ways to use Twitter is to provide an intriguing statement that links to a more detailed discussion of that topic. Through that link, Twitter can get a prospect to visit your site or blog and hopefully see more that interests them. It's a non-threatening way for the prospect to gain awareness of your agency that they can then pursue if they choose. At the very least, you've made them aware of your agency as a resource and an asset in an area they have interest in knowing more about.

4. Twitter does require a time commitment, but new aggregation and evaluation tools can make the job easier for you. As Twitter continues to grow in popularity, a number of tools are now available to help you manage your activity. I use TweetDeck to help me organize and monitor my Twitter activity. Tweets are arranged chronologically, and it can be daunting to view that string and determine which are more important to read. TweetDeck provides a dashboard that allows me to group the people I am following (or the subject on which I am searching) into a manageable array. Other tools like Twitter Grader and TweetCloud can help you evaluate the relevance and influence of the people or companies you are following so that you can make the best use of your time.

If you don't want to spend your day constantly monitoring and updating your tweets, you can use a tool like TweetLater to schedule your outbound messages. That way you can devote a specified time each day to reviewing other content and planning your own tweets, or re-tweets.

If you're unsure about what to do and how to use social media, you're not alone. Many companies are struggling with the same issues. But it's the ones who figure out how to take advantage of these new technologies that will gain a leg up on their competition.

As I said earlier, I believe that Twitter may be the most valuable social media tool you can use for your new business efforts. Are you ready to start the conversation?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Five "C's" of an Effective RFP Response

Writing isn't hard for an agency, but writing a good RFP requires more than a creative flair for communicating. It requires careful consideration of the prospect's stated needs, their style of doing business, and their corporate environment. It also requires understanding the process the client will go through to make a decision.

It's important to keep in mind that the prospect is most likely reviewing multiple submissions (often too many). So you must be relevant, and frame your credentials and expertise into something the client wants to know more about. At this initial stage of the agency selection process, many clients will look for ways to eliminate your agency from consideration. So I've developed a proven formula that helps me write a successful RFP using five "C's "-- concise, customized, criteria-specific, creative, and client-focused.

Be concise. Most agency responses are simply too long-winded. They cover every point in excruciating detail and make sure they include every possible selling point. After sitting through the agency review process with multiple clients, I quickly realized that the initial review is a quick scan, not a thorough and thoughtful analysis. I have seen responses rejected on the basis of how they looked, rather than the content. So be quick and to the point. If your agency has what the prospect is looking for, they will see it immediately. And they will appreciate the clarity and brevity of your communications.

Customize the response. Almost every agency has standard language to describe their philosophy, their capabilities and their process. But you should never "mail it in" by simply cutting and pasting from a previous submission. Every question is an opportunity to demonstrate your understanding of the category, the audience and the prospect. Whenever possible, you should frame your response in a way that demonstrates your knowledge of the client's brand, market environment or audience. It is also a good idea to answer the question in a way that demonstrates solutions and benefits rather than just a statement of your agency approach or process.

Address the prospect's criteria, not your own agenda. Everything you say should be relevant to the client and the assignment by addressing the specific criteria the client has identified as important. Too many agencies try to impress the prospect with creative solutions on how to improve on what they think they want, and miss covering the criteria on which the client has determined he will base his decisions. Offering creative ideas is a good way to demonstrate your thought process and creativity, but only after thoroughly addressing the question asked by the prospect. And only with the caveat that these "preliminary ideas can be developed further or rejected when we have greater understanding of your specific situation and needs after we meet". It's okay to be confident and assumptive that you will make the next round.

Another point that relates to addressing the prospect's criteria is to be very explicit about why you have included certain examples of your work. Don't be afraid to say "This is relevant to you because . . . ". Clients can be very literal at this stage of the selection process and may have difficulty in seeing why your experience or process is relevant to their needs. And keep in mind that if your agency doesn't have the experience to match all of the selection criteria, tell the truth. It is better to show them fewer examples of relevant experience than many examples of unrelated work. More is not always more in a successful RFP response.

Demonstrate your creativity and professionalism in the response. The RFP response is an opportunity to establish your agency as a professional resource that can solve a business problem and help them sell a product or service. But the RFP response is also an opportunity to provide a statement of your agency's style and creativity as well as your salesmanship. By making your RFP response stand out in a crowd, you send a message that you can make their company stand out in a crowd as well. Even the most conservative client can appreciate a creative packaging of the response.

Just be careful not to make your response so unique and different that you unintentionally send a message that you don't understand their corporate culture or the seriousness of the decision and process. And correct your typos. Have a good proofreader review the final document before you deliver or you could shoot yourself in the foot and never know why it happened.

Don't forget that the RFP response is about the client, not you. It may seem counter intuitive, but the most important thing to remember is that even though an RFP may seem as if it is about your company's capabilities, it is really about the client. No client wants to make a mistake in agency selection, so you must do everything you can to convince the client that you understand their business and can help achieve their business objectives. Do your homework on the company and the category and demonstrate your knowledge in the response. Share your observations about the prospect's brand and the market environment. The client prospect needs to know that you "get it". They need to feel confident that you understand their challenges.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

White Papers Can Be A Great Tool For Ad Agency New Business

If there has been one constant in the fast-changing world of Internet marketing, it has been that "content" is the key ingredient for success. The same is true for white papers. A well-written white paper generates awareness about a product, service or organization, and is especially valuable as it is most often read while a company or individual is in the evaluation stage for a new purchase. There is a wealth of hard evidence through published case studies to support the value of white papers as a marketing tool, but perhaps one of the more impressive pieces of evidence is the $40 million paid by TechTarget to acquire white paper aggregator, BitPipe.

White papers have been in use as government position papers for almost 100 years, and during the past decade we have seen an explosion of business white papers as B2B marketing and sales tools. But surprisingly, many ad agencies have failed to take advantage of white papers as a marketing tool.

White papers can be used in several ways by ad agencies:
  • As an awareness and lead-generation tool for new business;
  • As a thought-leadership and CRM tool for current clients;
  • As a training tool for employees and clients.

Why should your agency use white papers? That's simple, they work. Several studies have documented the importance of white papers in evaluation and decision-making. A recent study by MarketingSherpa on technology marketing reported that 44% of respondents said they like reviewing white papers. Even more importantly, 70% said they visited the vendor website and 45% contacted the vendor for further information.

According to Information Week, 93% of white papers are passed on to at least one other reader and 86% say they are moderately or highly influential. Case studies have reported that white papers can significantly outperform banner ads and email as a lead generation tool for many businesses.

White papers can establish your agency as an important thought leader. White papers provide a platform for an agency to demonstrate their expertise and the quality of their thinking. Whether the topic is general (e.g. branding), industry-specific (e.g. trends in healthcare marketing), or topic-specific (e.g. how to use social media), a well-written white paper can establish your agency as an authority on the subject. Importantly, studies have shown that executives read white papers, so a white paper can be that foot-in-the-door that you've been trying to establish but can't seem to get past the voicemail and spam blocker screens.

Some of the more popular ways to use white papers are:

  • Discuss trends (can establish the need for a change from the reader).
  • Identify problems (can build a rapport and affinity with the reader).
  • Provide solutions (can confirm your expertise, but must be seen as objective and not a sales message to have credibility with the reader).
  • Suggest what to look for (can also confirm your expertise, but again must not be seen as an overt sales message).

A good white paper must be reader-focused, not self-focused. It is critically important to write white papers from an objective viewpoint so that they are seen as educational, not sales-focused. Too many marketers make the mistake of treating their white paper as a multi-page text ad for their product or service. That approach is a recipe for disaster. And rejection.

A well-written white paper becomes persuasive when the reader is presented with facts and charts to support the writer's viewpoint and avoids any claims about the company or its products and services. Most white papers tend to be 6 - 12 pages in length, which will allow you to present a thorough case without too much effort on the part of the reader. In many cases, a white paper can be a stimulus to drive traffic to an agency's website for more information (or more confirmation of the agency's expertise).

Michael Stelzner (http://www.whitepapersource.com/) , seen by many as the foremost authority on writing white papers, gave this illustration of a reader-focused vs. a self-focused white paper in a recent webinar:

Self-Focused: Groundbreaking TechWidget by XYZ Company Solves Time Management Dilemma.

Reader-Focused: Solving the Time Management Dilemma with Technology.

A white paper can carry more authority than other agency marketing collateral. It is important to remember that a white paper carries a cachet of authenticity that other marketing collateral for your agency doesn't possess. To some readers, there is a perception (rightly or wrongly) that white papers are completely objective and factual, almost like a scientific paper that has been peer-reviewed. So be careful that you don't mis-use or abuse the white paper as a marketing tool. But it can, and should, be used by more agencies.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Social Media Is Not the Solution for Every Business Situation

Despite the media hoopla surrounding Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking options these days, social media is not the solution for every one and every business situation. That fact is very eloquently expressed in today's Ad Age Digital by Judy Shapiro's excellent post "Not Every CEO Needs to Be a Social Media Star". Read the full article at http://tinyurl.com/m47tut.

Ms. Shapiro addressed the recent media headlines that denounced Fortune 100 CEO's as "social media slackers" based on their low participation on Twitter, Facebook, and personal blogs. She, in turn, chastises the media for their lack of understanding and empathy with the tasks and responsibilities of a senior executive with a major corporation. Her article points out that CEO participation in social media is "fraught with practical, business and strategic risks".

Many CEO's don't have the luxury of being able to express their personal opinions or expose their personal lives for practical as well as business reasons. If a CEO mentions that he particularly likes or dislikes a company or product, his statements can be misinterpreted by the business community or the blogosphere as stock manipulation. In 2007, there was a major web scandal when the CEO of Whole Foods Markets wrote anonymous blog posts about Wild Oats Markets in an effort to drive down their stock price before buying the company.

Fastlane, a blog by General Motors CEO, Bob Lutz, has been lauded by the press as a great example of social media from a major company (I suppose we can still call GM a major company). But the truth is that most of the Fastlane posts that I read are nothing more than a disguised advertisement for their cars.

There is also the practical side to using social media that CEO's must consider. To effectively use social media as a business tool requires time and commitment. Anyone who has run a company knows that time is a valuable commodity that must be carefully monitored and utilized. As Ms. Shapiro points out "not every communication challenge is a nail to be whacked by the social media hammer".

So how does this relate to new business development? Simply put, don't try to apply a social media solution to every new business selling opportunity. As I have said in previous posts, social media can be a valuable new business tool for ad agencies. And social media can be valuable as a topic for starting a discussion with prospects, since many clients are overwhelmed by the fast pace of change and need help in deciphering how to employ social media as a marketing tool.

But social media is not the solution for every business situation. And I'm willing to bet there are CEO's who would appreciate your empathy and understanding of their reluctance to use social media tools.

Use social media as part of your new business arsenal, but use it wisely!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Its Time for Ad Agencies To Tweet and Blog For New Business

If you're one of those misinformed souls who think that Twitter is just a fad and that blogging takes too much time to be considered, think again. Yes, it's true that Twitter "churn" is high and that many people join and don't use or drop out quickly. And it's true that blogging takes a lot of time. But more and more businesses are discovering the power of social networking as a business development tool, and the blogosphere and Twitter continue to grow in importance every day.

As social networking invades the corporate world, more and more clients are coming to the realization that they need a strategic plan to incorporate social networking into their marketing program. This represents a great opportunity for ad agencies to step in and help their clients and prospects develop and implement a winning social media strategy.

A recent study by Anderson Analytics reports that 60% of the online population uses one or more forms of social networking. The average social network user is online five days per week four times per day for about one hour a day in total. Importantly, the fastest growing segment of social networkers are aged 45 - 55, according to Forrester, so social networking is being embraced by all age groups. That equates to 110 million users who are actively engaged in social networking every day. That's a number that is simply too large to ignore.

Ad agencies that are successful in new business are able to find and solve a marketer's "pain point", and right now there is no bigger pain point for clients than trying to determine why and how to use social media. Many marketers are simply overwhelmed by the complexity and pace of change with the new technology tools and media that are available. They simply don't know where to start, and your agency become an invaluable asset by becoming the catalyst to help them embrace this new digital marketing world.

And the larger need for most marketers is not just how to write a blog or use Twitter, but how to use email, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, etc. in conjunction with traditional media to create the most impact and return on investment. At a recent conference on social media, the presenter observed that "social networking is still the wild west. There is no order yet and clients are desperate for help".

The hottest topic today is Twitter, and many skeptics contend that the phenomenon is how the "narcissistic keep in touch with the feckless"(see The Ad Contrarian (http://tinyurl.com/mmohft). But even this harshest of critics admits that Twitter has value as a tactical tool for retailers and as a customer relations tool for most marketers. Recent case studies have been published by a number of sources promoting the positive impact that Twitter has had on business in every category.

A recent Business Week article "Twitter Dominates CMO Social Network Plans" (http://tinyurl.com/mcentt) lends credence to the need for ad agencies to embrace this tool and use it as leverage in new business prospecting. The article contains an excellent overview of the social networking world as it stands today and can give your agency guidance on how to approach clients and prospects.

Agencies should also check out a new study commissioned by Michael Steltzner, titled "Social Media Marketing Industry Report - How Marketers Are Using Social Media to Grow Their Businesses" (http://tr.im/rLVY).

Whatever you do, do something. There's an old saying that when you stick your head in the sand, you leave your backside exposed. In this case, you leave your business exposed.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Listen Up For Better New Business Prospecting

In today's rapidly changing marketing environment, the art of listening as a tool for new business as well as for client retention is more important than ever. It never ceases to amaze me that agencies stress the importance of understanding customer behavior and attitudes to their clients, but ignore this most basic element of marketing themselves. Clients' needs and wants are changing every day, and if your agency isn't in tune with those changing wants and needs, you will get left behind by agencies that are meeting those needs.

One of the new rules of new business is that today's CMO is driven by a project mentality. Marketing tools are changing so rapidly that one communications supplier cannot do it all. The days of the generalist AOR agency are rapidly disappearing, so if you want to grow your business, you've got to understand your own USP and develop a niche that you can own. Listening to clients and prospects early and often is a way you can identify that niche and stay in touch with their needs from your agency.

Listening can perfect your new business approach. Do you know why your newest client hired your agency and how that compares to how other clients made the decision? Many agencies desperately seek to understand what they did wrong and didn't get the business from a prospect, but forget to ask the client that hired them why he or she did. Nine times out of ten, I am surprised to learn that something I thought was insignificant was actually an important turning point in my favor. Understanding the element(s) that contribute to success can be more useful that those that didn't win the business. Especially when you consider that those prospects that chose another agency may not be totally honest with you about why your agency wasn't hired.

Listening can deepen the relationship with current clients and forestall any problems that may be on the horizon. An added, and equally important value to listening, is the impact that customer research can have on your current client relationships. Clients appreciate it when you ask these simple questions - What can we do better? What are your biggest challenges? How can we help you meet those challenges? It shows them you care, but it also gives you an opportunity to gain valuable input on how to strengthen the relationship.

Listening can find new growth opportunities that were right under your nose. The best growth opportunities for an agency are often from existing clients. When I was recruited to serve as COO of a mid-sized agency, my first priority was to meet our clients and learn as much as I could about their business. In the process, I identified new growth opportunities from three clients, uncovered a growing concern from a key client, and set the stage for a future relationship that invited open and honest feedback on our agency's work. The results were not only immediate (we added significant new billings and restructured our account management team), but also paid off in future work through positive word-of-mouth among our client's business network.

Listening can establish a dialogue with past or dormant clients. In today's project-driven, high turnover marketing environment, doing outstanding work on one project doesn't automatically lead you to the next project. Many CMO's are moving so fast that they don't have time to go through a formal review process for every project assignment. Often the project goes to the top-of-mind supplier, and a short survey immediately upon completion of a project is a good way to keep your agency top-of-mind. And with the revolving door in the marketing suite at many companies, staying in touch through research may be the only way to be considered for that next project assignment.

Listening gives you a platform to introduce new products and services to clients and prospects. A good survey can not only collect data but also disseminate information. As long as it is done tastefully, a client survey is an opportunity to educate your clients about new or soon-to-be-introduced products and services in an nonthreatening and low-key selling environment. It can also be an invaluable asset in a prospect's decision process.

There are many ways to listen to your clients and prospects both formally and informally. One of the most effective techniques is a one-on-one interview in which a standard set of questions are asked by a senior member of your agency or an outside researcher. There are advantages to both, but in my experience using an outside party offers an opportunity for more honest and candid feedback, as well as makes a statement to the interviewee that the information is important enough to the agency to make a financial investment. On the other hand, the interest shown by senior management can build trust and shows the commitment of the agency.

Surveys of this type are best conducted immediately upon completion of a project, and be especially insightful when conducted at multiple levels within a client organization. As noted earlier, listening can keep you top-of-mind for the next project. I have had good success with a one-page fax back questionnaire that makes it easy for the client to give feedback without a major investment in time or interruption in their daily business schedule.

Social media tools like blogs and communities are also great ways to encourage dialogue and elicit feedback on agency strengths and weaknesses, as well as to identify key client concerns and needs. Another advantage of these social media tools is the opportunity for a simultaneous discussion with clients and prospects, as well as a way to expand awareness and buzz for your agency.

It doesn't matter how you listen to your customers and prospects. What is important is that you just do it. If your agency doesn't conduct at least an annual survey among your clients, you've set up a recipe for disaster. And you're missing great opportunities to grow your business.

Are you listening?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Changes in Consumer Behavior Can Affect Ad Agency New Business.

Understanding your prospect's mindset is essential to developing new business for an ad agency. Clients want leadership and new ideas from their agency, as many are simply overwhelmed by the onslaught of new media options and the need for a strategy that marries new technology options with traditional media. Agencies that thrive today aren't just making good ads, they are helping their clients build a bridge between their brand and their customers, and a new report from Interpublic Group's Initiative offers new insights on how the recession is affecting consumer behavior that have implications for marketers that every agency should understand.

"The Game Changer" report concludes that the recession, in combination with the Internet, has created some permanent changes in consumer behavior. This isn't necessarily new information, but the specifics of how much these changes will affect marketers can be a tool for new business prospecting.
Here are three of the main conclusions from this study. I highly recommend that you download and review the complete study. A link is shown at the bottom of this post.

Internet content now seen as more reliable than traditional media.
While consumers still rely on television and newspapers for information, a growing number cite the Internet as their primary source, with 35% now saying that Internet content is more reliable and detailed than TV. This can have major implications for marketers who continue to place a substantial portion of their advertising dollars in traditional media. Brands must be prepared to engage with their customers on the customer's terms, not the marketers, and smart agencies can use this to offers prospects strategic alternatives to transition from a "push" strategy to a "pull" strategy.

"Reliability" and "honesty" are more important than brand heritage.
One of the most significant implications for marketers is that the recession has accelerated the decline in trust of institutions (and concomitantly brand advertising), and created an opening for social platforms and online consumer content to be seen as more trustworthy. The report calls for brand communications that are transparent and authentic, and that brands need to display values that are consistent with the personal beliefs of their customers to be respected and supported. This calls for a totally new approach to communication and offers yet another reason for marketers to consider a new agency.

The Internet and mobile phone have become essential "tools for life".
Perhaps the most far-reaching conclusion from the study is that 75% of respondents see the Internet as an indispensable resource for entertainment, information, communication and shopping. Over half (56%) consider the mobile phone the second most essential form of technology. Importantly, the study concludes that consumers now have an emotional connection with the online world and activities like shopping will never be the same. The opportunity for an agency to help a client develop a more complete and holistic social strategy that complements traditional communication vehicles has never been greater.

There are several other important conclusions, but the overall takeaway from this study is that the economic crisis is a game changer for consumers. And that makes it a game changer for marketers. Any agency looking for new business would be wise to determine how it changes the game for your biz dev efforts.

View the complete study and accompanying article at: http://tr.im/pnqa.
And thanks to @briannewberry for the alert!

What do you think? Do you agree that these changes in consumer behavior affect how you can approach new business prospects?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Building A Strong Agency Brand

Why do we insist that our clients follow the basic rules of branding yet disregard them for ourselves? I've just begun reading Tim Williams excellent book "Take A Stand For Your Brand", and his conclusion that ad agencies are as "undifferentiated as cows on a hillside" is a powerful condemnation of our industry.

Tim points out that if you read a typical web site or agency brochure, you get essentially the same message: ___________ is a full-service, diversified marketing communications company serving a wide variety of clients, from health care to high tech. We offer integrated solutions to make our clients successful, blah, blah, blah, yadda, yadda.

As I have noted in previous posts and white papers, a strong brand identity should contain these four elements -- it should be unique or differentiating, believable, relevant and true. There is nothing differentiating about being "full-service", "integrated", or wanting to "make our clients successful", although they may be believable, relevant and true. So is it surprising that clients have trouble distinguishing one agency from another?

One agency that has built a unique brand identity for itself is Crispin, Porter + Bogusky. They do excellent creative work, but their truly distinguishing characteristic to me has always been their creative and unorthodox use of media and promotions to garner buzz for their clients, especially Burger King. Their hidden camera prank called Whopper Freakout in which they pretended to discontinue the Whopper to gauge customer reactions was a creative way to demonstrate customer preference over the Big Mac. But their use of a longer form video on the Internet was a great way to integrate television and web video. The campaign generated millions of views on YouTube, a Grand Effie for the agency, and double-digit sales increases for Burger King. Another unorthodox promotion that demonstrated their out-of-the-box thinking was the Subservient Chicken (http://www.subservientchicken.com/). To some critics, the promotion was confusing/weird/stupid/sophomoric yet five years later it is still creating buzz and has garnered over 450 million hits according to Adweek Magazine.

Recently, BooneOakley in Charlotte (http://www.booneoakley.com/m/) has been generating a lot of buzz with their innovative use of YouTube as their web site. Personally, I'm not wild about the cartoon storyline or the difficult navigation, but the idea is brilliant . . . and differentiating.

BooneOakley will not appeal to every client, but they aren't trying to. As they say on their home page, they are "a full-service ad agency for those who dare to do daring work".

Defining your agency brand means not only deciding what you are, but also what you are not. That's a hard decision for many agencies to make, but it must be done. If you don't have a distinctive philosophy, distinctive capabilities, or a distinctive way of doing business, then your agency is a commodity. And commodity agencies have only one way to distinguish themselves from one another -- a lower price.

If you transform your agency from a commodity into a distinctive agency brand, you will most likely exclude some potential clients. But as Tim Williams points out that's OK because the ones who are attracted to you will be strongly attracted because you offer something they want from an agency. And that can give you a competitive advantage over those full-service, diversified marketing communications companies you may be competing against.

CP+B and BooneOakley aren't agencies for every client, but as Bill Cosby once said "I can't give you the formula for success, but I can give you the formula for failure: try and please everybody".

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Maybe TV Advertising Is Not As Dead As We Think

With the rise in media and marketer interest in social media and other new technology and media tools, many industry observers have officially signed the death certificate for traditional advertising. But to paraphrase Mark Twain "reports of television advertising's death have been greatly exaggerated".

A February report from Association of National Advertisers and Forrester was featured in Ad Age and The Huffington Post with the cryptic headline "TV Ads Losing Their Effectiveness". That study was based on a survey of marketers where 50 percent said they believed television ads have become less effective due to the growth in DVR penetration and usage.
But a new study released by American Research Foundation begs to differ with those assumptions. The study, titled "Empirical Evidence of TV Advertising Effectiveness", analyzed 388 case studies from seven different research agencies and concludes that TV ads are still effective, if not more so. This ARF study is only one part of a major project currently underway at The Wharton School on "The Future of Advertising".
Among the conclusions to be released in the upcoming issue of ARF's Journal of Advertising Research are that threats to TV advertising posed by DVR's and clutter are overblown; print and online advertising are effective; and word-of-mouth about brands are largely driven by paid media ads.
According to ARF Chief Research Officer Joel Robinson, "we're trying to replace assumptions and mythology with factual evidence from independent research". He went on to support the ARF's objective viewpoint by reinforcing that "we are not a lobbying organization for any medium . . . we are on the side of truth".
Much of what these studies show is the need for more research, specifically on how to allocate funds among media and the full implications of growing consumer use of search and social networks, said Jerry Wind, Lauder Professor of Marketing at Wharton. "The major concern about the decreased impact of television as an advertising medium is unfounded, but there are still a lot of things we don't know.
Look for more updates on this and other media effectiveness research as they are published. In the meantime, what do you think? Will this new batch of research change your thinking on what to recommend to your clients?

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

7 Steps for Building Stronger Client Relationships.

Many business development strategies focus on tactics for prospecting and gaining new business from outside sources, but often neglect to stress the importance of maintaining and building your relationship with current clients. Keeping a strong and healthy relationship with your current base is particularly important in a recession when budget cuts and loss leader offers from competitive suppliers make your agency more vulnerable.

Another point to keep in mind is that when looking to gain new business, you should not forget that the low-hanging fruit if often already on your client list. A recent study for the CMO Council found that 92% of respondents did not feel they had maximized the potential of their current client list. So here are seven important steps you should take to build your relationship with your current clients.

Step #1 - Identify your most important clients to prioritize your efforts.
You have limited time and resources, so it is important for you to focus your efforts where they will be most valuable to your agency. As a general rule, your largest client(s) should head this list, but not always. A detailed cost accounting analysis may reveal that our number two or number three clients are more profitable based on work load requirements and the type/quality of work you do for them. You should also make an objective evaluation of the strength of your relationship and the potential for growth. You may find some surprising insights on where and how to focus your client nurture efforts.

Step #2 - Develop a marketing plan for each client.
How many times do we stress the importance of developing a plan to our clients but fail to write one for ourselves. Take the time to develop customized objectives and strategies for each client and share the responsibility by giving specific assignments to senior members of your organization. Strengthening and growing your current clients is too important a task to rely solely on lower level account managers to do the job.

Step #3 - Get visible at multiple layers of client management.
If your primary contact and exposure is limited to only one level of line management, you are much more exposed than if you have a working relationship at the EVP or C-level. Most budget directives and hire-fire decisions are top-down, not bottom-up. We all know this, but the lackadaisical approach many agency heads take to keeping a high top-of-mind awareness and appreciation with client senior executives never ceases to amaze me. Many times the direct client contact discourages multiple contacts, but this is something you must not allow to happen. Don't go over your direct contact's head without his knowledge, but find ways to get others involved or face the consequences.

Step #4 - Promote yourself to your clients to reinforce your value and ROI.
Don't assume that the client recognizes and acknowledges your value just because the program is working. Do you think the marketing director is giving your agency all the credit? You should regularly look for ways to promote the quality of your agency and how your programs are adding value to the client's business and marketing goals. In today's soft economy, a focus on how your work is helping your client weather the recession is a good place to start.

One strategy that is helpful to many agencies is to generate a regular flow of program analyses, competitive and category updates, relevant articles and white papers on current or future areas of interest for the company. I always encouraged my account managers to read and search industry publications and websites for articles to forward to the clients, and to regularly screen competitor websites for new items that the client may have missed. This simple act can often make your direct contact a hero in the organization by keeping him informed and demonstrates the commitment you have to their business.

I also recommend that agencies develop two versions of press releases -- one to distribute to the media and a second version for clients and friends. The clients and friends version can go beyond the "just the facts" approach desired by reporters to include more acknowledgment and praise for the agency.

Step #5 - Conduct a Client Satisfaction Survey to identify opportunity areas and uncover potential problem areas.
If you aren't asking your clients regularly and formally if you are meeting or exceeding their expectations, now is the time to begin that process. Client needs are constantly changing, and a formal survey provides a platform for the agency to make changes and recommendations to meet those needs. Take the opportunity to talk about the economy and ask if there is any more you can do to help them in these difficult economic circumstances. Become part of the solution to the recession in their mind, not part of the problem. This is also an excellent way to build your knowledge and relationship with multiple levels of client management.

In some cases, it may help to outsource the survey to an independent party in order to gain the most candid feedback. But even if you take that route, there is an opportunity for senior management to meet with the client to confirm what you heard and how you plan to respond to that information.

Step #6 - Take your client to lunch.
As simple as that sounds, I see too many agencies that fail to appreciate the value of face-to-face contact in building a professional and personal relationship. As business has evolved in our 24/7, on demand world, many business relationships have become too impersonal. While voice mail, e-mail and text messaging are certainly more time efficient, they can never replace the value of reading the client's body language and visceral reaction to a recommendation. And you should never forget that it is more difficult to fire a friend than a vendor.

Step #7 - Offer a steady stream of insights and recommendations on ways to grow their business or improve their profitability.
The need for proactive thought-leadership as a relationship tool cannot be stressed enough. Your agency must be seen as more than a vendor of ads to have a long-term client relationship.

An obvious area to explore is the fact that many clients are simply overwhelmed by the complexity and pace of change and need guidance on how to take advantage of new media alternatives and technology tools. But keep in mind that the ultimate need is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

Clients also need help in understanding how their target audience attitudes, needs and motivations are changing as they adapt to new economic and social conditions. The Internet doesn't just change how we communicate with each other. It is having a profound impact on our shopping and buying habits, as well as our understanding of the world around us and how we relate to each other. The more real insight and information you can provide the client for his unique business situation and needs, the better your chances to be seen as an invaluable asset to their business.

In a recent post, I referenced a study by Rain Today that found only 42% of clients said they were "very satisfied" with their marketing/advertising/PR agency. Only 42%! That means that over half are not satisfied and are vulnerable to leaving their agency. The time to act is now! Building a stronger relationship with your current clients may be your best chance to avoid becoming a casualty of the recession.

What do you think? Do you agree or disagree that building current client relationships is just as important, if not more so, than gaining new clients? I would love your feedback to this post.

Monday, May 18, 2009

7 Ways To Piss Off A Client

In a recent study by Rain Today, 42% of clients said they were "very satisfied" with their marketing/advertising/PR agency. Only 42%! That means that more than half are not satisfied, and are vulnerable to leaving their agency. Most of the talk about how to survive this recession has focused on gaining new clients, but it is just as important to keep your current clients (and income).

A few years ago, I gave a speech to an AAF regional meeting on "7 Ways To Piss Off A Client". My talk was based on actual quotes from clients on why they had recently fired their agency. Word about the speech spread, and I eventually gave that same talk to over 30 local ad clubs and business organizations. When I read the report referenced above, it reminded me of that speech and a quick review convinced me it is still valid today.

All of these "seven ways" are what I call BGO's (i.e. blinding glimpses of the obvious). But the sad fact is that even though agencies know these actions break down the relationship, many still commit these basic relationship mistakes every day. I could have titled my speech "7 Ways To Keep A Client Happy", but doing everything right doesn't always translate into keeping a client happy and loyal. I gave my audience the assurance that following my advice was guaranteed to upset their client-agency relationship. Here are my key points, followed by actual quotes on why that made them angry enough to look for a new agency supplier.

1. Don't listen.
"Agencies have all the answers. They think they know more about my business than I do. Or worse, they are only thinking about winning awards and not what sells."
2. Miss deadlines without warning the client.
"Agencies will tell you anything to get you to approve a job, but when the pressure's on, they're always late."
3. Be over-budget.
"All agency people are overpaid and under-worked. No wonder they're so careless with my money."
4. Be intractable. Argue about everything.
"Agencies argue about periods versus exclamation points. They try so hard to be right all the time, they lose sight of what they should be doing."
5. Be greedy.
"Agencies think that advertising is the only way to sell products are are always recommending ways to increase their billings, not increase my sales."
6. Don't support your client's products.
"Agencies are whores. They don't really have a commitment to my business."
7. Be preoccupied with new business or other business.
"After the honeymoon, the agency just didn't give me the service they had promised. They never seemed to be there when I called."

Do any of these seven ways sound familiar? If they do, maybe you should re-think your business development strategy.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Fishing for new business.

Trout season opened last week, and I had a very successful fishing trip this past weekend. It occurred to me on my way home yesterday that most of the principles for good fishing apply directly to best practices for new business. And even though I've been fishing (and prospecting for new business) for many years, it never hurts to take a few minutes before you pack your gear to remember the basics. If you want to be catch the limit every time, you need to follow a few guidelines:

1. Know which fish are biting before you get in the boat.
A good fisherman needs to study the fishing reports before he leaves the house so that he can know which lake or stream offers the best opportunity. An essential part of successful new business prospecting is to know all you can about general marketplace trends and the business category or niche in which you are competing. You need to keep a close watch on which companies and industries are growing and which are stagnant. Both offer opportunities for new business growth, but must be approached from a different perspective and with a different promise.

2. Have the right equipment within easy reach.
I always carry extra rods and reels, along with my tackle box to make adjustments if something breaks or if I need different equipment without having to return to the dock and missing an opportunity. Successful agencies make sure they have a variety of creative samples, a strong website that shows their versatility and capability to good advantage, and a library of case studies and client testimonials that can be used to adjust their sales story as they learn more about their prospect's needs. And they need to have the flexibility to incorporate new strategies as the sales cycle advances or changes.

3. When you find the right bait stick with it.
On Friday afternoon, my boat partner and I caught over 50 trout (it was a catch-and-release lake, so we didn't worry about over-fishing the area). On Saturday, he decided to try a different lure, while I stuck with the same basic set-up as the previous day. I caught 3x more fish than he did. Every client prospect and situation must be treated as a unique opportunity, but if you find a winning strategy stick with it. I don't mean that you should use a cookie-cutter approach, as that seldom works. But if you find something that works, don't abandon it just to try something different.

4. Compare notes with others on the best places to fish.
Before we leave the dock, I always ask around to see if I can pick up any tips to improve my fishing success. I've found that the real pros don't mind sharing advice on the hot lures and flies, or the best depth or locations to find the most fish. The same kinds of information can be found when new business prospecting by joining professional associations, reading blogs and hiring new business consultants. That last point may sound self-serving coming from a new business consultant, but I truly believe that independent, experienced counsel from an unbiased perspective can dramatically improve your success rate.

5. New technology tools can help your success rate, but only if you know how to use them correctly.
A fishfinder can be an invaluable asset to improve your odds for success. But you must know how to properly mount the transducer, tune and adjust the sonar settings, and correctly read the screen to use it to your best advantage. In new business today, social media marketing is the hottest topic around, and can be used to increase your new business success. Agencies can use blogs and social networking sites to broaden their awareness and build their reputation. They can also use these tools as a part of their sales strategy as many clients need help in understanding how their business can take advantage of new media alternatives. But their ultimate need is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact. Be careful not to jump on the social media marketing bandwagon without knowing how to use it properly.

6. Be prepared for changes in the weather, but don't change your tactics too rapidly or drastically.
Every fisherman knows that the weather can change in a hurry, so they should be prepared to adjust their strategy, their gear and their clothing to match new conditions as they arise. But if they spend all of their time setting up their new gear or putting on their rain outfit, they might miss a fish or find that the conditions have already changed again by the time they finish their adjustments. The same can be true for new business prospecting. Some agencies are constantly looking for the next, new thing and thus are always making adjustments in their prospecting approach, their presentation techniques and their materials. My advice is to be careful not to move away from what you know or do best just to have something new. A smart strategy and good insights to help the prospect grow their business don't have to be presented in a fancy high tech video or Powerpoint presentation to win a client's trust (and business). I've had just as much success with hand-drawn flip charts and ideas that were scribbled on the back of a napkin as I have with a fancy presentation. Be prepared to make adjustments when needed, but never forget that good ideas trump everything else.

Good fishing!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Make new marketing tools part of your new business strategy.

Winning a new business assignment starts with understanding and responding to your prospect's needs. Clients are dealing with a laundry list of challenges – a struggling economy, new competition from all sides, a continued drive for lower costs, and a growing realization of the power that a connected consumer has over their business strategy and success. And many clients are simply overwhelmed by the new digital media options and how to use them to their advantage.

This creates a significant opportunity to redefine and expand the role agencies can play with their clients. Clients want new ideas to grow their business, but clients are not just saying to their agencies "how can you help us make ads or design a new web site?" They are also saying "how much do you understand about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers?"

Building bridges means understanding the category, the target audience and the company, but it also means understanding how to evaluate and use some of the new marketing tools that are available today. A key role that agencies can play is not only how to use these tools, but, more importantly, how they will impact a prospect's business.

For example, social media marketing is the number one topic in today's marketing press. But agencies should caution clients and prospects to think carefully before they jump in just because everyone else is doing it. Social media is a process, not an event. Agencies can help clients by focusing on how it can impact their business, not just on how to start a conversation using Facebook or Twitter.

The shift from traditional media to online and other new media alternatives is accelerating. But many marketers presume that the rise in on-demand media consumption and lower entry costs make it s better option. Agencies can help clients by looking for new and better ways to analyze their ROI.

E-mail marketing continues to grow in importance, but many experts predict that consumer fatigue from mailboxes overloaded with too many unsolicited and irrelevant offers will force consumer shutdown and rejection. Agencies can help clients by showing how to take advantage of behavioral targeting and other analytic tools to deliver e-mail that is triggered by consumer actions, not their own promotion activity.

Word-of-mouth marketing has become more intentional as a primary marketing tool rather than just as a happenstance event. Agencies should be looking for recommended efforts to generate beneficial consumer conversations through viral marketing and other buzz marketing tactics. At the same time, agencies must caution marketers to be transparent and honest in their efforts, or they will face the wrath of a growing blogosphere.

There is no question that clients need help in understanding how their business can take advantage of new media alternatives. But the ultimate need is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

Clients need help in understanding how their target audience attitudes, needs and motivations are changing as they adapt to new economic and social conditions. The Internet doesn't just change how we communicate with each other. It is having a profound impact on our shopping and buying habits, as well as our understanding of the world around us and how we relate to each other. The more real insight and information you can provide the prospect for his unique business situation and needs, the better your chances to secure a new client assignment.

There are many other new marketing tools, but when all is said and done, you can't win new business on a regular basis without really smart strategic thinking. Agencies are in the business of selling ideas, first and foremost. And that's how you win new business.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Are You Using Case Studies The Right Way For New Business?

A good case study has always been an effective new business tool. It's a great way to give a client prospect “permission to believe” that your agency can help them grow their business. But agencies need to re-evaluate their approach on how to write and use case studies in light of today's marketplace.

For many agencies, case studies are simply a device to show off their creativity or versatility. They might have a few words about the client or business situation, but their primary goal has been to present the agency's creative credentials in a specific medium or business category. Today, however, the case study needs to be much more than a creative show-and-tell.

Don't get me wrong. The power of a strong creative story in new business can never be discounted or eliminated. Creativity is the most exciting aspect of our business, and a well conceived idea that is presented in a unique and memorable way will always gather praise and admiration from clients. But the most desirable characteristic an agency can offer to a prospect today is return on investment, so agencies need to build an ROI story into every case study.

In today's 24/7, on-demand, fragmented media environment, marketers are desperately seeking ways to break through the clutter to reach new customers and sustain the attention of profitable customers. They not only need creative messages, they need messages that succeed. Agencies that demonstrate an understanding and a process for how to meet the client's business goals more effectively will have a much higher success rate than agencies who continue to market themselves just as creative experts.

Today, a good case study should articulate the business problem and the strategic as well as the creative solution. But it must also feature the results as definitively as possible. If your client can’t or won’t offer specifics of a program, be general. But you must give the client prospect some indication of the success of the program for them to transfer its credibility to their specific need.

One tool that is often overlooked is a client testimonial statement touting the effectiveness and/or quality of the agency’s effort for their brand. A prominently placed affirmation from the client can lend credibility and power to your case study.

Marketing analytics are not the cure-all for marketers’ woes, but they are the next big thing for agency new business prospecting. Are you taking advantage of that fact in your case studies?

Friday, April 17, 2009

Agencies must kick the can if they want to win new business

In previous posts, I've talked about the new rules of ad agency business development and the futility of continuing to prospect and pitch for new business the way it has been done in the past. Marketing has changed. Marketers have changed. Agencies must understand and accept that in today's challenging marketplace, clients are not asking, "How can you help us make ads or a new web site," they're saying, "how much do you understand about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers."

Clients need help in understanding how their business can take advantage of new media alternatives. But the question is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

Clients need help in understanding how their target audience attitudes, needs and motivations are changing as they adapt to new economic and social conditions. The Internet doesn't just change how we communicate with each other. It is having a profound impact on our shopping and buying habits, as well as our understanding of the world around us and how we relate to each other.

The more real insight and information you can provide the prospect for his unique business situation and needs, the better your chances to secure a new client assignment. The key words here are "insight" and "unique". Clients don't just need to know how to start writing and maintaining a blog; they need to know if a blog can really have an impact in building preference and advocacy for their specific products and services. To win their trust, and their business, agencies need to take their general sales materials and customize them to speak specifically and directly to one prospect at a time.

Too many agencies try to develop a generic selling story that can be used for all prospects. They try to sell their process, without selling how their process works for a specific client. They assume that the client will automatically see the connection and appreciate its value for their own business. Unfortunately, that doesn't happen. Most clients don't have the time or the inclination to make that intuitive leap. We've got to make it for them.

This means that agencies need to research each prospect, search for some unique aspect of their business situation and give them some insight and direction on how they can grow their business by hiring your agency. If all you have to give them is a generic statement about your agency, you will have a tough time winning their trust and reduce the uncertainty every prospect faces when hiring a professional service.

In other words, kick the canned pitch if you want to win new business.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Brilliant Strategy Still Trumps Everything Else in New Business

In recent posts, I have talked about the need to transform your agency's approach to new business to meet the changing needs of clients - see my posts titled Beyond Advertising and The Ad Agency of Tomorrow. As marketers face the daunting challenge of blending new digital technologies with traditional tools, agencies can play an important role in helping them navigate these unfamiliar waters.

Clients are dealing with a laundry list of challenges – a struggling economy, new competition from all sides, a continued drive for lower costs, and a growing realization of the power that a connected consumer has over their business strategy and success. And many clients are simply overwhelmed by the new digital media options and how to use them to their advantage.

There is no question that social media and other digital marketing tools open opportunities to redefine and expand the role agencies can play with their clients. But when all is said and done, you can't win new business on a regular basis without really smart strategic thinking. Agencies are in the business of selling ideas, first and foremost. I will never forget my conversation with Stan Richards years ago, when he said that the secret to his new business success is that they always try to give the client some new insight, especially if it is an idea that was right under their nose yet they had missed it.

That thought has never been more relevant than today when clients are not saying to their agencies "how can you help us make ads or design a new web site?", they are saying "how much do you understand about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers?"

In recent conversations with marketing directors about how their businesses are faring in today's economic environment, I have been struck by the the fact that many seem more preoccupied with how to use Facebook or Twitter than in researching and understanding how changing customer attitudes are affecting their brand position in the marketplace. This is a great opportunity for an agency to step in and show a client how to find better answers.

In one recent new business meeting, I asked the prospective client if they had done any audience segmentation modeling for ROI and was met by a blank stare. The blank stare was quickly followed by a question "how do you think we should initiate that kind of analysis?" I created an opportunity for an extended conversation on how to segment their current customer base that will have a significant impact on their future marketing strategy. And on mine as well, since I gained a new client.

That conversation reinforced my belief that clients are hungry for ideas, and agencies can win new clients by providing those ideas. Yes, they need help with how to find the ideal marketing mix of creative, technology, new media, and traditional media, but the best media mix doesn't work without a strategy that differentiates the brand and speaks to a real customer need. When all is said and done, smart strategy still trumps everything else.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Beyond Advertising - A New Direction for Ad Agencies?

In 2007, the IBM Institute for Business Value issued an insightful report titled The End of Advertising As We Know It in which they predicted that the next five years will hold more change for the advertising industry than the previous 50. Their study concluded that the accelerating shift of media experience and control to consumers and more self-reliant advertisers who are seeking more interactive, measurable formats will redefine how advertising is sold, created, consumed and tracked. As a result, traditional agencies run the risk of becoming irrelevant without a major shift in their approach and services offering.

The IBM study asks us to imagine and consider the consequences to traditional agencies in an advertising world where:
  • Interactive advertising surpasses traditional mass media vehicles as the preferred advertising format.
  • Ad space is sold through auctions and exchanges.
  • An advertiser can know who viewed and acted on an ad, and pay based on real impact rather than estimated "impressions."
  • Consumers self-select which ads they watch and share preferred ads with peers.
  • User-generated advertising is as prevalent (and appealing) as agency-created spots.

Last month, IBM issued a follow-up report based on their conclusion that major advertising trends identified in the previous study are happening at a faster rate than anticipated, while agencies, content owners and distributors have not responded sufficiently to these changes. This 2008 study, titled Beyond Advertising. Choosing a Strategic Path to the Digital Consumer, addresses these changes in more depth and from a very pragmatic perspective. Importantly, this report offers some practical advice to agencies on how to leverage their strengths in the creative area in the near term while they look for ways to adapt their business model and services offering to address the new environment.

Some of their suggested areas for immediate focus are:

  • Look for ways to broaden capabilities that can be integrated with traditional services offered by the agency as a way to diversify revenue and build a stronger client relationship at the strategic level.
  • Begin to proactively experiment with new tools and services that can deliver and automate ways to analyze ROI.
  • Restructure the organization to promote more collaboration by breaking down self-created silos across disciplines.
  • Consider partnerships to complement services and expertise that may be lacking today.
  • Look for ways to operate more efficiently through workflow automation, automated creative development tools and alternative media buying scenarios or partnerships.

One of their more intriguing suggestions is to redefine the agency role to be that of an "insights broker" that can analyze and integrate cross-platform sets of data to generate actionable solutions that better profile, target and measure ad campaigns. This represents a dramatic change from the traditional mass-oriented approach to analysis and measurement based on reach and impressions-based measures like cost-per-thousand.

The overall conclusion of the study is that agencies will need to adapt to this new environment in order to survive. Even while we must navigate the current economic environment that suggests a limitation on investment, agencies must start to experiment with and build these new capabilities now. The future will not just be the "end of advertising as we know it", it will be the end of the advertising agency as we know it.

To read the complete IBM study, go to this link:


Thursday, March 26, 2009

Successful Agencies Listen Better

One of the most common mistakes that agencies make in new business prospecting is to develop a messaging strategy that is focused on what they want to say, not what the client or customer needs to hear. Even when the agency thinks they know what the client is looking for, they may still miss the mark, if they don't truly understand how the prospective client defines the issue.

This point was driven home today when I attended a luncheon presentation on healthcare marketing entitled "Messages that Resonate on Quality". The speaker asked each table to discuss how to define quality in healthcare, and then proceeded to show us research that showed we had all missed the correct answer.

Our table quickly defined quality as a positive outcome. When you are sick, the doctor diagnoses your problem and prescribes a cure that works. Problem solved. Except neither the patients nor the healthcare professionals who responded to a national study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation defined quality as a positive outcome.

To the patient, quality is about the relationship and the personal experience during the entire process of setting the appointment, visiting the doctor's office, spending time with the doctor (or nurse practitioner), and the billing experience with the insurance provider. Of course, they want a positive outcome, but if the experience is sub-par, so is the perception of the quality of the healthcare provider. To the healthcare professsional, quality is about the efficiency and mechanics of the process. How difficult is it to schedule an operating room? What is the availability of specialty nurses?

So how does this relate to business development for an agency? Simple. We need to listen better to what the client says and then try to understand what they really mean.

How many agencies continue to focus their sales presentation on creative execution when the client really wants to know how effective the campaign was in generating sales and profits? How many agencies try to make a big splash by showcasing their award-winning television, when the client's need is print and outdoor, or when their customer base is 18-24 males who are infrequent television viewers?

When the RFP asks you to describe the "efficiency of your media department" are they asking about the planning and buying process or about the relative cpm vs. SQAD data?

Agencies that succeed in new business listen better. They ask questions. They try to understand what the client really means. They build a relationship to make sure they focus their selling message on what the client needs to hear, not what they want to say.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

A Look at the Ad Agency of Tomorrow

If you do nothing else today, read the lead article in the newly released Razorfish Digital Outlook Report titled "A New Role for Agencies. From Breaking Campaigns to Building Client Businesses". Follow this link to the complete report http://digitaloutlook.razorfish.com/publication/xml/4837/13617/13617.pdf
This year's DOR is filled with many excellent articles, but for anyone involved with new business, the most thought-provoking is the introductory one by CEO Clark Kokich.

Clark explains that his primary role as an agency head used to focus on talking to clients about how to say the right things, e.g. what do we need to say to persuade people to buy our product or service? He says that today he spends more time talking to clients about how to build relationships with their customers -- what do customers need to know to make smart decisions? how do we reach customers on the go? how do we help customers share their experiences with their peers?

This is not a new message from a digital agency. Every advertising conference for the past few years has predicted that the future is in building customer experiences, not just in producing great advertising. Clark takes this message a step further by pointing out the impact this change is having on the role all advertising agencies can, and should, play within client organizations.

As I have noted in previous posts, many clients are simply overwhelmed by the plethora of new digital tools and how to use them to their advantage. In today's challenging marketplace, clients are not saying to their agencies, "How can you help us make ads or a new web site," they're saying, "how much do you understand about our business in order to help us build a bridge between our brand and our customers." The question is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact.

There is no question that the new digital environment opens opportunities to redefine and expand the role agencies can play with their clients. Clients are dealing with a laundry list of challenges – a struggling economy, competition from companies and places that they never dreamed would impact their business, a continued drive for lower costs, and perhaps, most frightening of all, a growing realization of the power that a connected consumer has over their business strategy and success.

Clark's essay concludes that clients need ideas that will transform their business and that now is the time for agencies to step in as a partner in setting business strategy, designing products and services to meet changing customer needs and wants, and creating new revenue models for their client and for themselves.

This is, indeed, a new role for agencies. It will not only require new skills, it will demand that agencies expand their definition of what it takes to be a great agency. The agency of tomorrow will truly understand how to help their clients find the ideal marketing mix of "creative, technology, media, user experience and analytics."

It's a new role for agencies. Frightening to some. A great opportunity for all who embrace it to its fullest extent.

Monday, March 9, 2009

New Rules for New Business - Part 3 of 3

In Parts One and Two of this series on New Rules for Pitching and Winning New Business , I focused on how to approach new business today and how to build a sales story for your agency. To recap, the first six rules for a successful new business program are:

Rule #1 - Project work is the name of the game. Most clients don’t want or feel they need an Agency of Record (AOR) relationship.
Rule #2 - In today’s world of fragmented media and extreme audience segmentation, you must own a niche, or even a niche within a niche to differentiate your agency.
Rule #3 - Creative expertise is yesterday’s discriminator. It’s still important, but ROI is the most desirable characteristic today.
Rule #4 - Agencies need to build an ROI story into every case study.
Rule #5 - Your website is the “front door to your brand”. Make sure it is tells a powerful brand story or prospects won’t even bother to knock.
Rule #6 - Give them a new insight on their business that will grow their sales and profits.

In today's post, we will focus on a couple of practical strategies to be more efficient in your new business program and finish off with the one thing every agency must be doing to grow their business.

7. Be very specific in building a prospect target list. You can’t afford to waste time, effort and dollars on long shots.
New business has always been a numbers game. The more clients you can effectively network with, the more clients you can potentially gain. For many years, new business plans have organized prospects into three buckets – short term prospects (the proverbial low-hanging fruit that you have already built some level of relationship with), developmental prospects (those who need to be developed but are still well within the agency’s reach), and long shot prospects (the clients that can redefine an agency). As a new business consultant for several agencies, I used to promote this strategy in building a new business plan. Today, however, I counsel agencies to focus on short term prospects with some effort against developmental prospects and to be very cautious about investing in long shot prospects. This is especially true in today's cautious business environment or if the prospect’s business category or audience is outside the agencies’ general niche of expertise or size.

When building a prospect list, an agency should ask themselves how difficult it will be for the CMO to choose their agency for the assignment. Is your agency the right size for the client? Does your agency personality and style match, or closely resemble, that of the client? Do you have the right category experience? Does your agency have solid case histories that prove you have been successful for similar clients with similar needs?

If your answers are no or maybe, there may be too many hurdles to overcome for a client to choose your agency. In my experience, today CMO is not only looking for an agency that can do the job, but also for an agency that is defensible to their management.

I’m not putting client marketing directors down. I’m simply stating a fact. They can’t afford to make a mistake – their job depends on making a good choice in selecting an agency partner. So they are more likely to opt for the logical choice, whether that is the best one or not. The challenge for the agency is to pursue prospects that can more easily defend their selection as the best choice the CMO could make.

8. Look first at your current clients for new business opportunities and actively seek to build a more solid trust relationship.
Everyone in business knows that it is much more costly to attract a new client than it is to retain a current client. Yet too many agencies don’t devote enough time or effort to client retention even though the level and intensity of competitive activity in the agency community is mind-boggling. According to a 4-A’s study, the average client-agency relationship tenure in 1984 was 7.2 years. By 1997, that number had declined 25% to 5.3 years and today is thought to be less than three years.

That means that for most agencies, one-third of their business needs to be replaced each year. Now, more than ever, an agency needs to find a way to continue to build their relationship with their client. Performing at a high level on today’s assignment is no longer a guarantee of a successful, long-term relationship. The marketplace is changing too rapidly to expect next year’s marketing program to have the same marketing mix or line item budget than this year’s plan.

Agencies should be constantly looking for new ways to help their clients. And the key phrase here is “to help their clients”, not to help their agency. For too many years, agencies have failed to grasp the erosion in trust that comes from self-promoting recommendations to increase television spending or to use the super-expensive director or photographer. In a world that is increasingly dominated by specialists, virtual agencies and free-lancers with lower overhead, clients can be swayed by the genuineness of your efforts to control costs as much as the quality of your work product.

9. The confusion and uncertainty of how to use social media and other digital marketing tools are a great opportunity for new business growth.
To say that the Internet has changed the way people interact and communicate with each other is only half of the story. It has profoundly influenced how brands go to market, and the effect can be overwhelming to marketers. As noted earlier, clients are looking for ideas and insights. An agency that can give information, understanding and guidance on how to use the new marketing tools presents a great opportunity for agency new business efforts.

The question for many advertisers is not just how to effectively use email, blogs, podcasts, mobile marketing, viral marketing, pay-per-click, user-generated content, Twitter, etc., but how to mix them with traditional media to create the most impact. The concept of “above the line” and “below the line” is no longer valid, if in fact it ever was. It’s all important. It’s all potentially valuable. And, most importantly, it’s a great opportunity for an agency to attract new customers. Or build a stronger relationship with your current clients.

I'm a fan of David Meerman Scott and his book, The New Rules of Marketing and PR. His ideas on the convergence of marketing and public relations on the web and on the futility of continuing to embrace the old rules of marketing in an online world make a lot of sense to me. When a buyer uses a search engine to research a company or category, it doesn't matter whether his first impression came from a television or magazine ad, a PR release, a hit on the client's web site, or a link from a Tweet. The only criteria is that a company has a consistent branding message across all access points. Clients are hungry for an agency partner that can help them utilize the new tools that are available.

So there you have it. Nine new rules to add to all the others. Understanding and adapting to these new rules can mean the difference between life and death for your new business efforts. And that can mean the difference in life and death for your agency!

Good hunting!