Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A New Role for Ad Agencies in Today's Marketing Environment

The primary role for ad agency execs used to focus on talking to clients about how to say the right things in a creative and engaging way.  The typical account manager spent most of his time thinking about how to send messages, e.g. what do we need to say to persuade people to buy our product or service?

Today that same account manager should spend the majority of his 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 for a digital agency. Every advertising conference for the past ten years has predicted that the future is in building customer experiences, not just in producing great advertising. But it's time for every agency to recognize and understand 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 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 rebounding, but still sluggish 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.

Clients need ideas that will transform their business like never before, and 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.

This new role for agencies is frightening to some, but is a great opportunity for all who embrace it to its fullest extent.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Secret Weapon in New Business - Your Staff

Are you taking advantage of one of the most powerful new business tools you have -- your employees? Many of the agencies I have met with fail to take advantage of this important resource.

When I work with an agency on their new business program, I make sure that everyone in the company is invested in and trained in new business. One of the first questions that should be addressed is this: Do all employees understand the role and responsibility they have in growing the agency?

New business development should not be limited to the new business AE or the executive suite. Everyone can, and should, contribute to promoting the company to prospective new clients. And that requires training, motivation and regular encouragement.

Are you training your employees to make them an effective new business tool for the agency?
Do they understand the goals of the agency? Do they understand how the agency is positioned and why this is an important benefit for clients?

Do you have an easy to remember "elevator speech" that all employees know, understand and feel comfortable in relating to others? If you don't, you should. If one of your employees meets someone and is asked what they do for a living, could they/would they give an answer that might help the agency develop a new client?

I always remind the staff at my agency clients that you never know who the person you are speaking with knows, or lives next door to, or went to school with, or sits on a board with, or goes to church with. So arming them with a canned, but conversational, answer to the question "what do you do for a living?" can be an important asset to your new business program.

Do you have a defined process for reporting leads to agency management?
It is not only important to train your staff to know and say the right things about your agency, they should also understand how to develop potential leads. They should know who to tell and why. They should recognize the important role they can play in developing a lead.

Keeping them involved in some way is a valuable way to build on the initial introduction to the agency. They should have access to additional materials and input to strategic decisions that can help to sell the agency's benefits to prospective clients. It is important for the employee to be kept in the loop if the new business team takes over the process as they can play a valuable role in evaluating next steps.

Is there a formal incentive program to encourage employees to participate in developing new business for your agency?
I've worked with agencies that offered financial incentives for leads, but, quite honestly, I don't think they work that well. The most powerful incentive I have seen is simply public recognition for their efforts. This is especially effective with Gen X and Gen Y employees, who function best when they receive continuous feedback and peer recognition for their efforts.

One agency I know has a monthly "Sterling Staffer" award that is used to recognize an employee for exemplary service to the company at monthly staff meetings. If your agency has a similar program, you should nominate or elect someone, whenever possible, that has been instrumental in helping to land a new client or additional business from an existing client. And if that recognition is supported by an additional incentive (like an extra day of vacation) it will make the program even stronger.

You should never forget that effective training and use of staff in new business requires a continuous effort to encourage everyone to be aware of their role in helping the agency grow. Make your staff a secret weapon that dramatically increases the reach of your new business efforts and your agency will reap the rewards!


Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Successful Marketing Still Begins With Understanding Your Target Audience

Last week, I was reminded that successfully using today's digitally-focused marketing tools must still be based on a smart marketing strategy that understands and appreciates the target customer. Rod Brooks, CMO for PEMCO Insurance gave a sold-out luncheon crowd in Seattle a great lesson in Marketing 101.

For the past year, PEMCO has been running a wonderful local campaign positioning their company as the local insurance company that really understands its customers. The campaign profiles local stereotypes that feature some of the unique, and often quirky, habits and characteristics of people in the Northwest. The campaign sign-off sums up the campaign: We're a lot like you. A little different.

The goal was to connect Northwest values to PEMCO and "own local".
Rod recounted for his audience the basic steps his marketing team took in analyzing the competition (SWOT analysis, etc.) and performing an in-depth review of the general mindset of people toward insurance (not a pleasant experience since insurance is a product that you pay for but never really see, and you can only "win" by "losing"). But two key steps they took are a great reminder for any marketing organization.

First, they did extensive internal reviews to identify and articulate their company culture, values and challenges. Rod knew that good positioning and branding for a service company must come from the inside out; it must be based on who and what you truly are or it is doomed to failure (think about all of those banking commercials that tout friendly service but don't deliver).

The second step was to conduct a series of ethnographic interviews to identify and understand the values that are unique to the Northwest region. Some of those values - fiercely independent, incredibly green, regional pride - were pretty obvious to anyone who lives here. But the two most important conclusions PEMCO made about Northwest consumers are that they love the local guy (there is a very strong local food movement) and they take great pride in their quirky but often colorful local habits and characteristics.

The campaign features these local habits and characteristics in a humorous, self-deprecating way by introducing us to "Relentless Recycler", who judiciously washes, and re-washes, every item before it goes into the recyle bin; "Blue Tarp Campers", who ignore the rainy weather and enjoy their camping experiences through the aid of overhead cover; "Roadside Chainsaw Woodcarver", local artists found in almost every Washington community; and my personal favorite, "Sandals and Socks Guy", an interesting dress code that in my experience is only found in the Northwest.
There are other humorous profiles that relate to individual communities, like the "Fremont 60's Holdout" and the "Marymoor Off-Leash Dog Lady", but all represent the odd, quirky but also colorful nature of Northwest residents. Recently, PEMCO added an interactive website (http://www.werealotlikeyou.com/) that allows visitors to upload their own photo and headline to add to the growing list of profiles.
Word-of-mouth for PEMCO has increased over 300%.
The total PEMCO campaign is a great story in successful integration of multiple media, as it uses traditional media -television, radio and print - in conjunction with community relations and events, and a strong digital component. According to Rod Brooks, word-of-mouth about the PEMCO campaign has increased by over 300% since the campaign began. Sales are growing, and the intangibles of internal company pride and excitement have made this a model campaign in the Northwest.
But it all started with understanding their target audience and their relationship with that audience. And that's a good reminder lesson for all of us in marketing!