The myth of the “full service” advertising agency

Finding the right advertising agency requires being honest with yourself

Finding the right advertising agency requires being honest with yourself

The advertising/marketing ecosystem is too large and complex to offer all services in-house

It’s an old illusion in the advertising business that agencies wanted to look larger then they actually were. The thinking behind this was that the more services you claimed to offer, the better chance you had of reeling in new accounts. It was this mindset that coined the phrase “full service” agency.

Enter reality

Today’s advertising/marketing ecosystem is far too complex for any one agency to possess all of the needed skill sets in-house. In fact, the major advertising holding companies have been on a buying spree acquiring specialized agencies and then trying to integrate them into their multinational brand name agencies.

What clients are ending up with is a convoluted mix with a lead agency that directs different specialized groups under the holding company umbrella. Of course, what goes along with this are turf battles, divergent strategies, off-brand messaging and a revolving door of well-intentioned agency people operating with a minimum amount of knowledge, trying to keep the client happy.

The small agencies specialize and the big agencies get bigger

Advertising Age recently published an article about how the forces of technology are ushering in and shaping new business models that will affect advertising agency service offerings, size, and profitability.

What we are seeing now is the rise of small boutique agencies that specialize in category, market, or technology expertise. These agencies have no illusions as to their service offering and are very transparent with their clients about what they bring to the table. They also offer their clients the greatest amount of flexibility, because they can contract with best of breed suppliers when a specialized service is required.

The multinational holding company agencies will continue to gorge, fueled by large brands that use advertising as a blunt force weapon. For all the prediction that consumers want to engage with brands and have a relationship, the majority of consumers just want to watch TV and tune out of their socially hectic worlds for a few hours entertained by mediocre television programming, supported by advertising that makes it hard to remember the name of the brand or what it is actually supposed to accomplish with daily use.

The forecast for the future does not bode well for mid-sized agencies

Mid-sized agencies suffer in two areas. First, they try to staff for too many specialized skill sets in the belief that their clients care about this. There is too much technology and infrastructure at play for any small department to be competent in the nuances of code and the required updates of operating systems to keep this humming along.

Secondly, mid-sized agencies suffer from non-billing personnel “creep,” ranging from administration to human resources to accounting. This starts to take a bite out of agency profitability at a time when clients are demanding more services for less cost.

Finding the right agency requires being honest with yourself

Do you want a long-term or a project-by-project business relationship? Do you need strategic planning and research or more of a tactical execution of internal strategy? Are you looking for an agency of record or interested in working with several agencies based on the need at hand? Each relationship has its pros and cons based on resources and expectations. I believe the agency of the future is small and nimble, creatively driven and staffed by a small team of experienced managers that can bring forth the forces and talent needed to complete the task at hand in an efficient manner.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

The Precarious State of Advertising & Marketing

Why Business-to-Business Marketing is Transforming to People-to-People Marketing

When to rethink

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7 essential elements for a website measurement plan

You only need a few key measurements to ascertain if your advertising and marketing is supporting contribution to revenue

You only need a few key measurements to ascertain if your advertising and marketing is supporting contribution to revenue


Making dollars and sense from Google website analytics

Google website analytics: love them or hate them, they are here to stay. Interpreting the data those dimensions and metrics provide can be challenging for the analytic novice. To Google’s credit, they do provide online tutorials to help marketers start to think in analytical terms, interpret analytical data, and take the necessary action to achieve the business objective.

While the sheer amount of data that is available can be overwhelming, it’s important to remember that you really only need a few key measurements to ascertain if your advertising and marketing is supporting contribution to revenue.

Spend the time up front developing the website measurement plan

I can’t stress enough how important this step is. Without a plan, you are guessing about the effectiveness of your marketing (both offline and online) and the related investment being made by the company.

The measurement plan serves multiple purposes. The first is to gain consensus from management on what’s important from their perspective, and secondly, to be able to supply qualitative and quantitative data that identifies and tracks customer behavior as they interact with the website.

7 essential elements of the website measurement plan

  1. Why does this business exist? Start with this simple question. If you can sum up the answer in one sentence, it will help to identify the objectives to be met to support the business.

For example: Burk Advertising and Marketing exists to help businesses achieve optimal contribution to revenue generation through their advertising, branding, and marketing efforts.

Certainly, this is not a Harvard business school approach but it strips out all of the excess baggage that businesses accumulate that can convolute focus.

  1. Business objectives – What does the website need to accomplish to help achieve the business objective? Thinking in analytic terms, this focuses on customer acquisition, behavior, and outcomes. Depending on the type of business you are in, outcomes may consist of the following:

 Desired outcomes

  • Drive product sales
  • Drive contact form submissions
  • Encourage engagement and awareness
  • Encourage frequent visitation
  • Provide information quickly
  1. Strategy – specific actions that will be taken to achieve business goals. Strategy can cover areas such as lead generation, awareness building, thought leadership, or building a community of returning website visitors.
  1. Tactical execution – where micro and macro conversions are identified that help support the strategy. Attribution for conversions can be first step attribution or last step attribution, depending upon the importance of the action taken by the customer. For example, if a new website visitor can be attributed to a digital ad, that could be a first step attribution.
  1. Key Performance Index (KPI) – reports that analytics generate to identify specific customer behavior on the website. These reports can identify specific behaviors and events that can lead to a macro conversion. For example, downloading a PDF or signing up for a newsletter are desirable behaviors that can lead to sales.
  1. Targets – metrics (data) that represent achieving goals. For example, if a KPI was to increase the visitor’s duration of time-on-site, the target to achieve could be greater than (>) 2 minutes.
  1. Audience segments – consists of new vs. returning visitors, geo-traffic sources (country, region, metro area and city) and converted visits.

Successful digital outcomes are based on having a well-structured website measurement plan. The plan not only guides marketing efforts but can also help to identify areas in IT and human resources that may need attention to compete in the digital marketplace.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Making a case for business-to-business marketing investment

Learning to Love HTML Code

Inbound marketing essentials

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

Why brands should establish ethical principles for data collection

The internet of things is constantly collecting intimate data.

The internet of things is constantly collecting intimate data.

Data collected should provide value to all concerned parties

The Altimeter Group published “The Trust Imperative: A Framework for Ethical Data Use.” The report gathered information from several different sources to provide a well-rounded view of how consumers view data collection and how organizations are starting to rethink data collection practices.

Data collection is becoming more ubiquitous, thanks to the “internet of things” – thermostats, refrigerators, wearables, and of course smart phones, to name a few. Therefore, protecting consumer data, from encryption, to storage, to online marketing, is becoming a brand attribute.

Rethinking the digital cost-benefit analysis

The online marketing axiom, rooted in cost-benefit analysis, is that consumers will trade their personal data for perceived discounts. The internet provides consumers with free services – search engine, photo archive, social media networks, etc. – if the consumer shares personal, friend list or email information.

This appears to be a good deal on the surface. However, upon closer inspection, many organizations use data collection as a profit center, selling data to programmatic media firms, credit reporting operations, database marketing firms, and large retailers. In fact, there is so much consumer data for sale (over 1500 data points for each of the 500 million active internet users, most of them in the United States) that a precise mosaic of the consumer’s lifestyle, actions, interest, food preferences, and ailments can be purchased for marketing purposes.

If this comes as a shock, it shouldn’t be

Most Americans are resigned to the fact that there is nothing they can do to thwart the onslaught of data collection by marketers. This comes from a lack of understanding about digital marketing and a preconceived notion that the Federal Government is looking out for their best interests when it comes to their personal privacy rights.

Why brands should be worried

The internet of things is constantly collecting intimate data. This is changing the nature of data collection from something that requires action to something that just happens. Consequently, consumers are becoming more uncomfortable with how brands will use their data.

As the tension level rises around data collection, trust becomes a serious issue for brands. An Altimeter® survey of over 2000 consumers revealed that over 45% of those surveyed had little or no trust in how organizations use their data.

This lack of trust has a quantifiable effect on business performance. The 2015 Edelman Trust Barometer survey of 33,000 general population respondents found that 63% of people that lack trust in an organization will refuse to buy products and services from it. 58% criticized the organization to friends or colleagues, and 37% shared negative opinions online.

The impact of distrust clearly affects revenue, reputation, and stock price.

How brands can benefit from ethical principles in data collection

Brands should establish principles for ethical data collection, beginning with the expectation that any data collected should deliver value to all concerned parties. This is a litmus test for any “go or no go” marketing initiatives.

A second principle that organizations should consider is data minimization, meaning what is the least amount of data needed to meet the marketing objective? By practicing minimization, brands promote more sustainable and less risky analysis.

To download the report “The Trust Imperative: A Framework for Ethical Data Use” click here.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Digital Ad Targeting – What Do Marketers Know About You?

Ad Technology: Programmatic Advertising

The challenges of “Big Data”

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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Why your brand promise matters more now than ever

The brand promise is the differentiating characteristics inherent to the brand experience that will be delivered to every customer, every time.

The brand promise is the differentiating characteristics inherent to the brand experience that will be delivered to every customer, every time.

Does your customer’s brand experience live up to the brand promise?

In all the clutter being injected into business-to-business marketing, it seems that the quaint idea of the brand promise has been forgotten. Yet there are some large global consumer brands that invest untold time, treasure, and resources to define their differentiated brand experience and articulate it across their industry segments to ensure powerful and consistent customer communications.

Why business-to-business brands should revisit their brand promise

The brand promise is the differentiating characteristics inherent to the brand experience that will be delivered to every customer, every time.

How the brand articulates that promised experience depends on five specific components:

  • Personality of the brand
  • Values of the brand
  • Emotional needs of the customer the brand promises to satisfy
  • Functional needs the brand promises to satisfy
  • Supporting features that distinguish the brand

These five components form the brand pyramid which leads to formulating the brand promise.

Elevating the brand promise beyond feature/function

Brand features and functions are basic attributes of the brand. For example, a Phillips head screwdriver (feature) will tighten or loosen (function) a Phillips head screw. Elevating this experience to fulfill an emotional need requires insight into why that particular brand of screwdriver was selected. Is the brand promise that this tool is of high quality, comes with a lifetime guarantee, and is the choice of professionals? Or is it that the phenolic ergonomic grip is designed to reduce the chance of shock if touched to a live wire? The brand promise in this case goes beyond adjusting a screw; rather, it addresses an esteem or safety need that is deemed important by the customer.

Vision and values of the brand

If you accept that the brand promise is related to the brand experience, then vision and values of the brand come into play. The vision and values of the brand define the brand’s behavior; i.e., how the customer should be treated and what the customer should expect when interacting with the brand.

Referring back to the screwdriver example and the brand promise of a lifetime guarantee, one would expect the brand to replace the tool free of charge if a defect became apparent. But what if the tool was damaged while being used for an unattended purpose? Would the guarantee still apply?

If the brand chooses to honor the guarantee, especially without regard to cause of damage, it sends a strong message to the customer about the value of the relationship. This action also reinforces the quality perception associated with the brand personality. In addition, positive actions by the brand can move a customer along the engagement cycle from support to loyalty and advocacy.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

The difference between positioning and the brand promise

Defining your brand’s personality

The difference between strategy and tactics

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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Have we lost sight of creativity in advertising?


As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish?

As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish?

Is the constant drumbeat from ad technology firms overshadowing the importance of creativity?

For those of us left in the advertising business, it seems that every message we receive has something to do with ad technology and its unlimited possibilities for making advertising more effective.

We, as agency creatives (if that is still even a relevant term), are overwhelmed with digital platforms. From programmatic media buying, to optimization, to first and third person data, it appears that ad technology has become the means to the end.

As practitioners of a creative craft, what are we trying to accomplish? Once, our primary job was to inform and entice people to purchase our client’s products and services. This usually required the talents of humans that could string together words, pictures, thoughts and emotions into a memorable experience executed across different mediums.

To accomplish this, a deep understanding of human psychology, communication and interaction was required, intertwined with a point of view. The message could be perceived as funny, clever, sarcastic, and informative, a hard sell, or any one of hundreds of different tones and styles of human communication.

Ad technology is nothing more than a delivery mechanism

Ad technology providers would lead you to believe that the message is secondary to the channel from which it is delivered.

With all the streaming bits and bytes of data swirling around our sensory receptors, it is no wonder that the “human” part of us has learned in a relatively short time to tune out internet advertising.

The reason for this is that the message has been compromised by the delivery mechanism.

The religion of ad technology practiced by the providers of ad networks, mobile apps, and behavioral retargeting wants us to believe that the scripture of analytics trumps creativity and with enough retargeting, our resistance will ebb and we will succumb to the purchase of a product we don’t want or need.

The reality is that we have already learned to block out such annoyances that appear on our screens as we read the opinion page of the New York Times or catch up the on final quarter of the game we slept through last night.

John Wanamaker in 1898 was correct that half of the money spent on advertising is wasted. The trouble is knowing which half. I’d make the case that this still holds true today, considering half of digital advertising cascading across the internet is never seen by a human being.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Do your customers suffer from “E-fluenza”?

The Precarious State of Advertising & Marketing

Why bother with branding?

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.
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Mobile marketing: Shiny object or game changer?

The mobile environment represents a further blurring of the lines between consumer and business marketing and advertising.

The mobile environment represents a further blurring of the lines between consumer and business marketing and advertising.

There is considerable content being generated on the topic of mobile marketing. Data suggests that by 2016 there will be over 196 million smart phone users (60% of the population) in North America. eMarketer is predicting $67 billion in digital ad spending, of which $40 billion will go towards mobile internet ad spending. Obviously these are sizable numbers but we should not lose sight of the total ad spend which is close to $200 billion, with traditional (broadcast and print) representing $132 billion.

As with any projection, the numbers serve the needs of the presenter. Therefore, one must consider the source and take a rational viewpoint concerning the size of the mobile marketing environment.

People-to-People marketing and the mobile marketing environment

The mobile marketing environment represents a further blurring of the lines between consumer and business marketing and advertising. Because the emphasis is on connecting with individuals, a strong case can be made that this is a transformational shift to People-to-People marketing.

People-to-People marketing shifts the conversation from companies to individuals as the workplace is deconstructed and mobile devices become the primary business platform. Mobile technologies such as Apps and mobile web are becoming part of the marketing mix as smart phone and tablet users adopt direct brand interaction, from ordering a pizza, to tracking health trends, to mobile banking.

Preparing B-to-B brands for mobile marketing

B-to-B brands would be wise to adopt a People-to-People marketing strategy and tactical implementation as they enter into the mobile marketing fray.

First, make sure your website is ”fully responsive” for viewing on different mobile devices. One way to check this is through Google’s Mobile-Friendly Test site. This test site will analyze the URL and report if the page has a mobile-friendly design. Google is also in the process of optimizing their search engine results to favor mobile-friendly sites.

Advertising is also an option for reaching mobile users. As individuals uncouple from the traditional office environment, mobile devices become their primary business platform. Mobile programmatic advertising placement is becoming prevalent, with a host of real time bidding scenarios for placing advertising on mobile networks.

Marketers should also consider developing Apps if the cost is justified by the contribution the App makes to the revenue stream.

App development can cost between $50 and $150 thousand depending on the complexity of the App and the number of operation system platforms it is designed to run on. Think desktop, tablet, smartphone, running on IOS, Android, Unix, Windows, etc.

Once the App is built, the challenge of getting users to download and place it on their device comes into play. This can be accomplished via App stores or by direct download.

Then there’s the maintenance side of the App equation. Once it has been introduced, it must be maintained with updates as the operating system environments are upgraded and new releases become available.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Why Business-to-Business Marketing is Transforming to People-to-People Marketing

People-to-People Marketing and “Small Data”

5 reasons why aviation manufacturers need to embrace People-to-People Marketing

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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In today’s ubiquitous multi-screen environment, brands must work harder to stand out and create a unique brand experience.

The best experiences provide visceral engagement involving the 5 senses to create lasting impressions

The best experiences provide visceral engagement involving the 5 senses to create lasting impressions

We stand at the threshold where multi-sensory technologies will become part of the brand experience.

The purchasing process, once dependent on advertising, salesmanship, display, and brick and mortar showrooms, has been usurped by the internet and emerging technologies. Search, brand experience, and visceral sensory excitement are becoming more important as purchasers look for personalized experiences that create lasting impressions.

It is reported that 70% of purchasing decisions are made before the buyer contacts the seller. This is why legacy brands can become invisible if they do not continually reinvest in their marketing and explore new digital channels and multi-sensory experiences.

Agile marketing

Agility in marketing equates to quick strike capability. Being able to adapt to changing market conditions provides a safety net.

Take product introduction, for example. Rolling out a new product at a trade show creates the opportunity to borrow ideas and executions from different industries. Creating a sensory bashing, multimedia experience supporting the launch generates excitement among the customer base, media buzz with the press, and social media spikes, resulting in more lead activity flowing into the sales pipeline. Contrast this with the “drop a business card in the fish bowl to win a digital tablet” approach. In addition, much of the multimedia execution can be repurposed for website and mobile video use.

Spend wisely — invest in the brand experience

Museums are a great place to start when looking for ideas for multi-sensory user ideas. The best experiences provide visceral engagement involving the 5 senses to create lasting impressions. One example was the “Rain Room,” a temporary installation in which water rains down except where sensors detect people, giving visitors the illusion of walking between the drops. It was not unusual for visitors to wait four hours or more for their opportunity to experience this exhibit at MoMA.

The connected television

You don’t have go out on a limb too far to recognize that we are creatures of habit. One habit we share is the attraction to television. Viewership is at an all-time high, driven by streaming technology and the ability to personalize media selection. The mass personalization of media will lead to more opportunities for marketers to apply behavioral targeting, tapping into big data sets and using their brand experience as a form of currency. This will encourage users to share their information, providing brands with deep insight into selection, usage, and emotional attachment.

While this may sound like future shock, it is not. Many of these technologies exist today. With implementation comes the responsibility for safe guarding users’ personal data. In the not-so-distant future, brand loyalty may hinge on personal privacy safeguards and data security.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

 Does your brand embrace change?

Why content development will drive the future of aviation marketing

Aviation Marketing: When to rethink

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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