Friday, May 28, 2010

Will Changing Marketing Needs Require A New Agency Model?

In the latest issue of Marketing News, Josh Bernoff (VP, Forrester Research) asks the question - Is Your Agency Relationship Past Its Expiration Date? He says it's time for marketers to rethink their agency's role, and then rethink their own.

Based on a new Forrester report titled "The Future of Agency Relationships", his premise is that in a stable media environment, agencies can specialize. Despite agency efforts to provide an all-in-one service solution, many marketers continue to have a silo-driven approach to their agency relationships -- an advertising or creative agency, an interactive agency, a direct marketing agency, a PR agency, etc. While this approach creates additional effort for brand continuity oversight and often some internal squabbling, it is the price marketers pay for getting what they believe are experts in each discipline.

According to Forrester Research, that approach works fine for a world where channels are relatively stable, campaigns have a beginning and an end, and customers respond to messages pushed at them. But that stability no longer exists. The number of channels continues to explode - today its Twitter and phone apps, but what will marketers need tomorrow? As word of mouth becomes more important and push marketing less effective, marketers will need a consistent, long-term relationship with an agency model that is more adaptive and understands the need to think more broadly than the current specialization model provides.

The new Forrester study concludes that with the rise of social media and digital proliferation, we are entering an Adaptive Marketing era. In this era, mass media is no longer the foundation of marketing communication, and will force a change in the expectations of what marketing agencies can and should deliver. Marketers will need agency partners that are more agile, can build long-term relationships with active customers and communities, and can use data to drive real-time decisions. The key needs marketers will require from their agencies are ideas, interaction and intelligence.

Agencies must think about ideas that not only build the brand, but will work across every appropriate platform. Instead of creating an idea and leaving it to other specialty agencies to plan and implement, creativity has to be collaborative so that all possible communications get considered at once. And as customers change, marketers and their agencies must change along with them.

Agencies must develop a framework for a new level of interaction with customers. Agencies have always been good at outbound messages, but have not played a similar role with inbound interactions. Smart agencies will need to adapt their approach in order to listen to online discussions, identify and connect marketers with their online social community, and build brand experiences that allow for interaction.

Finally, agencies must find ways to monitor and assimilate customer intelligence from multiple channels and be flexible enough to respond quickly to this information. Marketers and their agencies will need a more comprehensive view of quantitative and qualitative information and insights in order to react in real time and across channels to maximize efficiency. The resultant need for even more data than marketers currently have will require a shared role in evaluating and recommending strategies and tactics.

The Forrester report predicts that these changes will have consequences for both parties. Specialty agencies will need to rethink the depth and breadth of their service offering if they expect to meet this new level of need based on ideas, interaction and intelligence. At the same time, marketers will need to reconsider their own role and a new level of marketing collaboration with their agencies and this will surely require a re-evaluation of the current compensation model.

Forrester predicts that successful marketers will need to focus more on long term relationships and on speedy, adaptive actions that take advantage of the fluid nature of consumer attitudes and responses. And if agencies continue to only deliver silo-based expertise rather than ideas, interaction and intelligence, they will soon be replaced by a new agency form that meets this need.

What do you think? Does this new model sound feasible to you? What other things will have to change to make this model successful?


Friday, May 21, 2010

Adding Value - A Facebook Primer For Retailers

In previous posts, I have discussed two powerful strategies to gain new business - presenting new ideas to build a relationship and helping to guide clients and prospects through the often murky waters of the new digital marketplace. Here is an example of a recent value-added document I produced for a client to help him integrate Facebook into his marketing program.


Are you a retailer who has finally acknowledged that social media is not just a fad but a legitimate marketing tool? You might already have a Facebook page, but do you really understand how to use it to build your brand and your customer base? Are you confident that you can tap into 400+ million users who spend an average of 55 minutes every day checking out the activities of their friends and browsing for info and interaction with companies they trust and appreciate?

Here are seven practical tips you can you use to help you along the way:

1. Before you start anything, write down the objectives of your social media program and specifically how you plan to use Facebook to build your brand identity and customer preference. This sounds simple and logical, and has been repeated by almost every social media proponent. Yet clients still come to me and ask “can you help me set up or improve my Facebook page?” without a clear objective in mind.

Too many retailers and small businesses have jumped into FB on the assumption that it was a cheap way to advertise, only to be frustrated and confused about whether their efforts are bearing any fruit, and disgruntled that it takes up so much of their time. The truth is that it’s not free, or even cheap. Time is money in any business. And it will take someone’s time to effectively use FB or any social networking effort. So you might as well think it through first; determine what you can and can’t accomplish, who in your organization has the time and talent to devote to the effort, and how you plan to monitor and measure the program. Just like you would do for any other element of your marketing program.

2. “Companies they trust and appreciate” is an essential concept that must always be uppermost in your mind. In everything you do on Facebook, you should be transparent, honest, listen before you engage, and add value to the community. FB is not a push medium. It is an opportunity to have a two-way conversation with your customers. If you don’t respect your customers by adding some value to their spending time with you, they won’t respect you. And many will tell thousands of their closest friends not to respect you either. An addendum to this point is that retail brands with social media campaigns must be increasingly sensitive to the privacy of their customers. This is especially important in light of growing public scrutiny of some missteps by FB corporately on how they are using the information many users innocently added to their profile.

3. Your Facebook page is not just another shopping website for your company, but it can work like one if done right. Users come to a FB page with a different mindset and objective. Most people visit a retail website to gain information or to shop. FB users come to interact – with friends and family or with companies they trust and appreciate (see above). It’s okay to offer a shopping option on your FB page, but if that is the sole thrust of your effort, you will alienate many potential “fans” and not use FB to its true potential.

1-800-FLOWERS.COM offers a good example of walking the line between shopping and interaction. Their Facebook page allows fans to share their favorite flowers and send virtual bouquets to friends, but also to browse flower arrangements and send actual flowers to their friends without ever leaving Facebook.

But that’s not all they do on their site. Wall posts introduce special promotions, offer information about specific flowers and engage their fans with conversation starters to encourage response, e.g. what do you think is better for cheering up a sick or injured friend – flowers, gift baskets, balloons, or something else?” They also invite fans to post pictures of flower arrangements they have received and to comment on the occasion.

Shopping and selling is not verboten on FB, but it must be done in a way that fans see as a natural course of action based on interactions with the company.

4. You can engage and reward your customers and build your “likeability” through polls, contests and other giveaways. Several companies have used a “Cutest Baby” contest to not only solicit entries, but also to encourage the sender and others to solicit votes to determine a winner. In the process, they have gained awareness and fans. If you give your fans an incentive to associate themselves in a positive way with your brand, you can grow that trust and appreciation discussed earlier in this post.

Disney recently offered a great example of providing a traffic-building incentive with their “Give a Day. Get a Disney Day” promotion. Through Facebook and other media, Disney encouraged their fans to celebrate the spirit of giving by volunteering for one day with any local non-profit to win a free day at any Disney park. Their plan was to give away 1 million free passes throughout 2010. Instead, they reached the 1 million mark in only 10 weeks.

5. Cause marketing is an integral part of the Facebook culture, so a great strategy is to partner with causes your customers care about. Don’t just think about driving traffic to your site or encouraging your fans to come into your stores to redeem their coupons. The Facebook culture is steeped in sharing causes with friends, and users have a great appreciation for companies that support worthy non-profit causes. You can take advantage of that pre-existing mindset by sponsoring a cause your fans will appreciate and by creating a way for them to interact with your brand in the process.

Target found a creative way to use cause marketing this past Valentine’s Day to encourage fans to send their love via a Super Love Sender e-card to one of five listed charities. Target responded by donating $1 million to those non-profit groups based on their percentage of response. St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital was the primary beneficiary with almost 50% of the donations, but Target is reported to have gained almost 170,000 new fans.

6. Take your conversation and interaction offline by promoting events but look for ways to draw them back to your page. Using Facebook to promote in-store or other offline events is a natural, but one key to success is to find a way to sustain the event in order to promote fan interaction and discourse. In 2009, Ben & Jerry’s introduced a new packaging innovation they call Flipped Out. They used their Facebook page to promote a city-by-city national tour that was successful in gaining trial, but also kept their fans talking and sharing tips for several months.

7. One final tip is to make creative use of the tabs to direct your visitors and fans to specific pages you want them to visit. The majority of successful Facebook pages continue to use the Wall and Info tabs as presented in the basic FB format, but them rename and reconfigure other tabs to take advantage of ways to build interaction with the people who visit their page. A common tab is for Photos, to encourage users to submit their own photos, but other tabs can range from specific Shopping pages to New Products. A good strategy here would be to see how your Facebook pages can complement your website interaction approach. The important thing to remember is that your Facebook page is a two-way conversation, not a one-way push. So make tab changes that promote user interaction with your customers’

As it is with any element of your marketing program, creativity rules. And the newness of the Facebook experience offers many opportunities to try new things. I’ve given you some examples of how other retailers and companies are incorporating FB into their marketing program. But let me repeat something I said at the beginning of this post. In everything you do on Facebook, you should be transparent, honest, listen before you engage, and add value to the community.

The most important element is to add value to the time they spend with you on your FB page. If you respect your customers and make it beneficial in some way to spend time with you, they will respect you. And that has always been the first step in driving a customer to any store.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Optimize Your Elevator Pitch To Win More New Business

When was the last time you updated your elevator pitch? Do you even have a formal elevator pitch? If you haven't sat down and thought it through lately, or if you just wing it on the spot, you could be missing prime opportunities to grow your business.

Most companies know the concept of the elevator pitch, and even practice it to some degree. But, in my experience, very few companies use this important new business tool as effectively as they could or should.

Here are five ways to take greater advantage of this tool:

1. Be prepared to tout your unique benefits, not your attributes.
As a member of several business associations, I regularly meet people at luncheons and other networking events and the variety of ineffective answers to the simple question "What is your company all about?" never cease to amaze me. Two common answers are "we make widgets" and "we serve the (your industry here) industry". Neither are very stimulating or motivating answers because they tell me your attributes, with no hint of the benefit of your company over competitors.

Many who do try to tell me the benefit their company provides often use the generic phrase full-service solutions provider in their answer. I suppose this does separate you from some companies, but a quick search on Google has over 82 million companies using that exact phrase in their web copy, so how unique are your benefits?

Since many of the people I meet are in their company's marketing department, or are entrepreneurs with their own company, these answers make me want to scream. You have an opportunity to "sell" your company to someone who was interested enough to ask. Be prepared to tell me what makes you unique in a world overrun with similar competitors by telling me your benefits, not your attributes.

2. Be prepared to adjust your pitch to your audience.
As a business development consultant, I work with both ad agencies and companies to help them be more effective and efficient in their marketing efforts. If I'm at an Ad Club meeting, my benefits are focused on positioning the agency, building a better target prospect list, and more effective RFP's and presentations. If I'm at a marketing association meeting, I still talk about positioning, but the benefits of my consulting practice are focused on corporate brand values, audience segmentation and target insights. As an independent consultant, I also promote the dual benefits of time and cost efficiency to both audiences.

In both cases, I am constantly refining and updating my story to take better advantage of the opportunity. By staying abreast of what people are most interested in knowing, and understanding the basic benefits I can deliver, I can adjust the framework of my company story to match the situation and the audience.

Perhaps the most important thing I have learned as a consultant for the past five years is that you never know when an opportunity will arise from a chance encounter. The person you are talking with has other friends and acquaintances that might also be opportunities, so I never want to miss a chance to spread the word about my company and its benefits.

3. Be prepared to give your audience permission to believe.
Everyone knows that it's a tough market right now, but it has always been tough, and will always be tough. A good elevator pitch should automatically build in some statement(s) to give the audience permission to believe that what you say about your company is true.

I will always incorporate my background and experience to lend credence to my story. When I can give a specific category or company example of a project I have worked on, my benefits story is dramatically strengthened. I have also learned that when speaking to a Gen Y or Millennial, I always reference my blog and Twitter handle to reassure them that even with gray hair I am actively engaged with today's technology.

4. Keep everyone in your company informed and engaged in touting your company's benefit story whenever they can.
One of the biggest mistakes companies make is to only arm senior executives, or business development staff, with an understanding and appreciation of the company's elevator pitch. Everyone in your company has the potential to help your business development efforts, even that new trainee or summer intern. We all have family, friends, neighbors, acquaintances who know other people. Maybe that summer intern lives next door to the CEO of company that could use your services. Or maybe their parents belong to a club or association or go to church with someone who could benefit from buying your company's products or services.

The important thing to remember is that you never know who, how or when an opportunity will present itself. My recommendation is to invest all of your employees in the new business process by touting their potential importance and arming them with the right benefits to promote when they can. In my experience, younger people are often more enthusiastic than experienced veterans when talking about their company and its benefits, so why not take advantage of that exuberance.

5. Read any good website copy lately?
A final thought on building a better elevator pitch is directly related to your website copy. In today's digital world, nearly every company relies on their website to interest and entice customers. Your website is a written version of your elevator pitch, but too often sites are homogenized with buzzwords, platitudes and jargon that does little more than fill space.

Remember those 82 million companies that use the exact phrase full-service solutions provider? Would you believe that Google shows 224 million entries for full-service advertising agency? Quick, go look at your website and then see how many other companies are using the exact same words you are using. I think you will be surprised, and somewhat dismayed, at the answer.

If you subscribe to Inc. Magazine, you should check out Jason Fried's column in the May issue. His article is titled "What's Your Point? and his sub-title says it all "Nearly every company relies on the written word to woo customers. So why is most business writing so numbingly banal?"

Perhaps the same statement could be made about the elevator pitch. Think about it!