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?