Wednesday, March 30, 2011

A Client's Perspective on Five Things Agencies Should Heed

The latest issue of Marketing:Your Business Connection has a great article from Rod Brooks, VP and CMO of PEMCO Insurance. Rod is well known around town and is well respected as a thought leader and exceptional marketer always willing to share his experience and marketing knowledge with others.

The inaugural article in his new series from the client side contains his personal perspectives and insights on advice to share with agencies. Here is a brief summary of his key points:

  1. Loyalty matters. It matters to Rod as he believes that there are advantages and opportunities that come from leveraging the experience and knowledge gained from long-term relationships with partners who understand the brand and its business. He also believes it should matter to agencies, suggesting that agencies should tout their long-term relationships as a reference in new business pitches. But he also reminds us that loyalty is a two-way street, and questions agencies that resign one account to take on a larger one in the same category.
  2. Commit to the journey. Rod admires agencies that know where the client is going, understand what it takes to get there, and work with the client to pull in the same direction. His advice here is to be proactive - don't wait for specific directions from the client. Be observant, engaged and stay in motion with your client.
  3. The brand is everything. This is a great tip from Rod. Focus all of your new business effort on understanding the brand. Do your homework - shop their stores, use their products, call their service centers, talk with employees. It shouldn't surprise you to know that clients don't care as much about you as you would like for them to, so don't focus on you in new business, focus on what they really care about - their brand. (SIDE NOTE: One of the best new business pitches I ever made was when we mystery shopped 100 stores that carried the client prospect's products, completed a short survey on each visit, and used a board with 100 business cards from the store salesman as the first chart in our new business pitch. The prospect was impressed with the effort, anxious to know what we had learned, and, most importantly, awarded us a $20 million business that day).
  4. It is not your money. Of course, it's not. But do agencies treat the client's money the same way they treat their own? Rod doesn't think so, and I'm sure he's not alone in thinking this. He also chastises agencies who "nickel and dime" their clients with petty charges like mark-up on copies, supplies used, and phone calls.
  5. There's no such thing as full-service. As Rod says, like it or not, fragmentation and specialization is a reality, and while it may be more difficult to manage multiple partners, he is convinced he gets better work from someone who is truly skilled in a particular aspect of marketing. His advice - take down the "we do it all banner above the door", and focus on your core competencies.
Rod makes good points on each of these insights, and agencies would do well to listen and heed this advice. Competition gets tougher every day. Not every client shares exactly the same philosophy as Rod, but I'll bet that most of them do!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Managing your client relationship doesn't have to be like herding cats.

Since agency training programs are almost non-existent these days, young people aren't given much guidance on how to handle client relationships ... especially tough situations. Here are some thoughts on what I've learned over the years that may be helpful.

How to say “no” to a client.
Most clients don't like to hear the word "no", but they aren't paying you to be a lap dog, they are paying you to help them grow their business. So there will be times when you need to convince a client that his idea is not a good one. It can be tricky...but it can be done.

I've always tried to look for is a left-brained logical reason for why it’s not a good idea, or can’t be done, or shouldn’t be done. Most clients won’t accept the “we just don’t like that idea” answer from their agency. If you can tie the “no” reason to financials, your objection will usually go down a little better with the client.

Another good strategy for saying “no” to a client, is to not react immediately. Rather, I prefer to say "let me see if that is possible" or "let me discuss that with the team and get back to you". In either case, you will demonstrate that you have taken their idea seriously. If you are still thoroughly convinced that their idea is not a good one, then you have also given yourself time to think through the options on how to present and sell your objection.

I once heard a story about Bill Bernbach that I never forgot. According to the story, Bill carried a 3x5 card in his shirt pocket and during client meetings he would often pull out the card, read it to himself, and then replace it into his pocket. The card read "Maybe the client is right". That's something to think about.

How to calm an angry client.
My first step is always to try to get the client to express the reason for his anger. If you can get him to talk about it, you can understand more about why he is angry.

My next step is to try to empathize with his situation. When an AE comes to me to tell me a client is angry about something, my first question is “why” and my second is “do you agree with him”. If they don’t agree, then I try to understand the AE’s perspective first. Then, I ask the AE to put themselves in the client’s shoes and try to understand why they are acting or overreacting the way they are.

A final step is to have myself or a senior executive at the agency call the client to let them know we are aware of the situation and take it seriously enough to have the boss call them. Sometimes, just knowing that we are listening to them helps.

How to build trust (and your business) with a client.
If your true desire is to help the client grow their business (not just yours), then you can do things to make sure the client knows you are sincere. Understanding all you can about how the client operates and makes money is a great start.

I have ridden on a bread truck at 3 a.m., made store checks at all hours of the day and night, made pizza, flipped hamburgers, toured chicken processing plants, and a bunch of other things I never thought I would do in order to understand the client’s business better. Then, I have some credibility when I recommend things that might generate more business for the agency.

One of the most powerful things an agency can do is offer a suggestion to the client on how to grow their business that doesn't involve advertising or any revenue stream for the agency. Clients have a lot of skepticism about agency recommendations and commitment to their business, and this has never failed to impress and win over a client.

If a client has multiple agency partners, you must never, ever denigrate the other agency or their work. You don’t have to praise it, but any criticism is a criticism of the client who approved the work or who hired the agency. And it seems petty and unprofessional.

How to generate selling opportunities for your agency.
The first step is similar to the previous one mentioned above - get inside your client’s head to understand what his business is really about. How do they really make money? What are their long term goals? Understand his problems, before you offer solutions.

Make sure you understand their personal or professional feelings on what you are trying to sell as a new opportunity. For example, if the client doesn’t really understand how to use Twitter, Facebook, mobile marketing or other social networking tools, you should pre-sell them through case studies or statistics on penetration and usage before you present your recommendations. There are numerous research studies available to show demographics and usage data on how their target audience is using these tools.

Sometimes, giving them new information about how a competitor is using a new marcom tool will stimulate their desire to think more about other options.

How to get more deeply involved in the client’s business.
I’ve already addressed a few of these in previous answers, but here are a few other things to consider:
  1. Volunteer to work with the field sales force. Or work in the store.
  2. Subscribe to all trade journals, and always be on the look out for articles of interest that you can send to them.
  3. Call the client every day. Make sure they know you are thinking about their business all the time.
  4. Buy stock in their company. It shows a real commitment on your part when you casually mention that you just read the Annual Report and were very impressed with it.

Using their products is another way to demonstrate your commitment to them. When I started my career at Leo Burnett, they were fanatics about this. I'll bet they still are.

If you were a smoker and preferred a brand other than Marlboro, you’d better not leave the pack out in plain sight. When I was there, the company brought in special coffee machines that only dispensed Taster’s Choice coffee. When Leo died, agency co-founder Phil Shaaf, told a wonderful story about Leo’s dedication to using his client’s products. It seems that Leo often had severe attacks of angina that could only be soothed by chocolate. Once, at a P&G meeting in Cincinnati, Leo had an attack in a client meeting, and was doubled over in pain. Someone said “Get him a candy bar”, and Leo shouted “Make sure it’s a Nestle”. I can tell you clients appreciate it when you are that dedicated to them.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Staying Ahead of Trends For Your Clients

For some time now, I'm been preaching that agencies should be looking for ways to add value to their client's business beyond simply being a creative vendor. With new marketing tools being introduced almost daily, it is difficult and confusing for many clients to determine the potential value for their business.

When I read some of the reports from this year's SXSW conference, I saw what may be a great opportunity for an agency to lead their client. SXSW has a reputation as a predictor of what's new and what's next in tech marketing, and if that holds true this year then Groupon, Living Social and the local-deals market are the next big thing.

Based on the success of Groupon and others, hundreds of local publishers have launched copycat Daily Deal products in the last six months, and this is just the beginning. According to reports from the conference, several big names and mobile marketers are going after a share of this newly-formed billion dollar market with new and innovative products, including Google, Bing, Facebook and a host of location-based apps.

Google was forced to confirm the existence of Google Offers in late January when Mashable broke the news, citing confidential sources. Marissa Mayer, Google VP-consumer products, officially confirmed the new product offering with a keynote speech at SXSW detailing the search giant’s plans to offer a prepaid deals program that would compete with local deals giant Groupon, which the search engine failed to acquire late last year.

In November, Facebook launched Facebook Deals, which lets businesses offer discounts to Facebook users. The world’s largest social network announced it will work with local businesses on a "Groupon-like offering", which presumably means daily deals and discounts. This marks another social networking area that Facebook wants to conquer.

In the coming weeks, Facebook will allow users in Dallas, Austin, Atlanta, San Francisco and San Diego to buy deals through Facebook and share them with friends. Facebook sales' team will bring deals to local merchants and will also source deals through third-party networks like Tippr, Gilt City and Pop Sugar City.

In early March, Microsoft announced the launch of a new Bing Deals section on its desktop and mobile website. Rather than offer any money-saving offers itself, Bing Deals will give users the convenience of single-site sourcing by aggregating 200,000 offers in over 14,000 cities and towns across the US.

The deal search feature on Bing’s mobile website is location aware via GPS, allowing users to find the best offers within a few blocks of their current location. On the desktop version of Bing, deals are linked to venues. Any location you search for that’s currently offering money off will display a green Deal icon, linking through to details. With so many daily deal services out there now, being able to search for them through a unified, user-friendly interface like Bing will offer a major benefit to time-strapped consumers. Yahoo launched a similar service in November last year.

According to daily blogs from SXSW, even the little guys are moving aggressively in the local deals area. Loopt introduced its new Push Deals, a service for local retailers to sell slow moving or overstocked inventory over the course of hours. While Groupon offers deals within 24-hour periods for use over longer periods, merchants can send out Loopt Reward Alerts to get customers to take immediate advantage and drive them to their retail location. This means that if you’re walking by a restaurant and it’s a slow night, they can hit a button to send out a notification to give you a deal to come in. This works on a network like Loopt (as opposed to Foursquare) because the app uses background location to keep track of you.

Another location-based app, SCVNGR, is also jumping into the market with a new service called LevelUp. These deals have different tiers -- everyone gets the same deal the first time around, but you can unlock a sweeter deal on the second visit and one that's sweeter still on the third. "The goal is to turn newcomers into regulars," said SCVNGR founder Seth Priebatsch during his keynote. SCVNGR touts the real beauty of LevelUp for its merchants as retention.

Their execs point out that Groupon has built a great tool for acquisition to get new bodies through the door, but that model has proven easy to copy. As they described their goal, the daily deals crown will likely belong to whichever startup can figure out how to get those bodies coming back as repeat customers at regular prices.

Retaining its own customers is already a huge focus for Groupon. They plan to keep merchants and customers coming back through old-fashioned service and CRM tools. Google Deals is also tweaking the model in an attempt to turn users into repeat customers. The first visit doesn't automatically turn on a discount or offer -- customers have to check in multiple times to gain "Regular," "VIP" or "Guru" status before they can claim the discount. The experiment is only during SXSW for now, but Ms. Mayer said Google plans to expand nationally.

Foursquare has offered merchants deals through its app for some time now, but new features also demonstrate their focus on retaining customers. During the conference, Foursquare has partnered with American Express to tie transactional data to check-ins and customer behavior. Conference goers can link their AmEx cards to their Foursquare accounts so that when they check-in to a participating Austin business, the credit card automatically loads with bonus cash to go toward a purchase. The deal also means merchants can see transactional data through their analytics tools. For example, they can see that the top 20% of customers tend to check-in most frequently, or like one type of deal over another.

How big is the potential for the daily deals market? Well, if Groupon’s rejection of a reported $6 billion offer from Google wasn’t enough for them, they may know something we don’t.

What do you think? Should daily deals be a part of your client's marketing planning?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

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 often read while a company or individual is in the evaluation stage for a new purchase.

During the past few years 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;
  • To establish, or reinforce, expertise in a specific industry;
  • 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 study by MarketingSherpa on technology marketing reported that 70% of respondents said they visited the vendor website and 45% contacted the vendor for further information after reading a white paper from that company.

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 4 - 8 pages in length, which allows 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 ( , 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, March 1, 2011

Do you really need social media?

For most companies today, the answer is yes. Social media not just the "flavor of the day" for marketers. There are real opportunities to engage with your customers to build a loyalty and commitment to your brand or company that can differentiate you in an increasingly commodotized world. And we now have real world case studies in almost every business category that prove its power.

But surprisingly, there are still some Luddites who haven't at least explored parts of the social media scene. And, I've spoken with more than one marketing manager lately who is questioning the value of social media for their company.

Here's a news flash folks. Social media won't work without a real understanding of what it can do for your company, a realistic plan for implementation, and the patience (and passion) to make it happen.

With humblest apologies to Will Shakespeare for my play on Hamlet's famous words, "to blog or not to blog" is not the right question. Let's talk about the real questions you should be asking before you launch your corporate blog, draft your next tweet, upload that video to YouTube, or whatever social media you want to use. Even if you are already using social media, it's not a bad idea to stop, take a deep breath, and really think through what you want to accomplish with the new digital marketing tools that are available.

Here are the real questions you should be asking about social media:

1. What is my goal for social media?
It is certainly logical to start with the big picture, but you would be surprised at how many companies say "we need a Facebook page" without a clear understanding of its potential value for their company and its role in an integrated communications plan. Just because everyone else has a Facebook or Twitter account is not a good reason for opening one.

If you are already using or considering how to use new technologies like blogs, podcasts, online video, wikis, widgets, etc. you need to make sure you know what you want to accomplish or you may end up using the wrong tool.

2. Who do I want/need to reach? Can social media reach that audience?
Technology has added a new dimension to analyzing and defining the optimum target audience. In addition to understanding their demographics and their psychographics, we also need to factor their technographics into the evaluation. How comfortable are they with using the new technology tools? Do they use their smart phone or their home computer most often? What new technology tools are they currently using? How would they prefer to interact with your company?

Good marketing still requires the basics of understanding your target audience, their media consumption habits and the benefits you can deliver.

3. What are the best strategies and tactics to reach this target?
This seems so basic, but is still a critical question that must be answered in order to optimize your ROI. Notice that I used the plural "strategies and tactics", not the singular. In most cases, you should be considering multiple social vehicles, but before you jump in you should make sure you have mastered one vehicle before launching another.

I believe that many companies that are failing or disillusioned with social media are simply trying to do too much at one time. They've launched a blog, added a Facebook page, YouTube page and Twitter account and are trying to monitor and evaluate, etc. with limited resources or without a realistic understanding and appreciation for the time and effort it takes to mount a successful program.

I recommend that you stop what you are doing and take advantage of the many free reports and white papers on social media for guidance on who's doing what. For example, a 2010 study concluded that Facebook is more popular for B2C, while LinkedIn is used by more B2B companies. But is that still the case? The challenge, and beauty, of social media is that it is continuing to evolve. Some have described the social media scene in the past as the Wild West. In many ways, that is still the case. So take the time to read current case studies that show the effectiveness of different options. And decide what is best for your business.

Internet search can help you gain better understanding of the best strategies and tactics to consider for your social media program. Just type "social media research" into your search engine and see how many hits you get!

4. What resources do I have available or need in order to implement an effective, on-going program.
Contrary to popular belief among many companies, social media is not a free alternative to traditional media. It will take time, money and patience to use social media effectively. Too many companies jump into social media without understanding how much time it really takes. Unlike Kevin Costner, you cannot assume that "if you build it they will come". That may be the most misunderstood element of social marketing. You can just set up a Facebook account and expect people to automatically LIKE you and visit regularly. You've got to give them a reason. And in many cases an incentive to do so. There are many tools to help you post, share and monitor your efforts more efficiently, but it will still require time on some one's part.

And it will require someone who understands the company and the audience, as every social media "expert" will tell you that content is king. So if you think you can just hand it off to that recent college graduate who is more comfortable with technology than some of your older staff, you should make sure they not only understand the technology, but also know how to write well and can represent your company brand.

There are many other questions that come up along the way, but these are the basics for anyone who is considering starting or expanding their social media effort. And if you've been using social media for awhile, it never hurts to stop, take a deep breath, and analyze what you've been doing based on these questions. Whatever you do, don’t make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse, as my dad used to say. Know the basics of who you need to reach and what you want to accomplish before you decide which new technology to explore.

And keep this thought in mind. Most of your customers don't want to have a relationship with your company unless there is some value associated with the effort that is required on their part. It's up to you to figure out how to engage them and keep them engaged. Good marketing still requires good marketing.