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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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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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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Making a case for business-to-business marketing investment

Marketing execs need to provide accountable metrics that contribute to company revenue.

Marketing execs need to provide accountable metrics that contribute to company revenue.

Soft marketing metrics don’t impress the CEO or CFO.

In most business-to-business vertical marketing segments, marketing is viewed as an expense on the balance sheet. One reason for this is that the justification for marketing has relied on soft metrics — awareness levels, brand recognition, website visitor traffic, target audience reach, etc. While these metrics are important and part of the marketing equation, they lack accountability for revenue generation. This reinforces the perception with the CEO, CFO, and COO that marketing is a cost center, not a revenue center.

Moving to a revenue center requires marketing execs to rethink their role and provide accountable metrics that contribute to company revenue.

Moving beyond soft metrics to revenue cycle metrics

Business-to-business marketers have their feet planted in two different worlds. One foot is in the traditional (and comfortable) world of paid media placement, ad campaigns, direct mail, trade shows, and public relations. These tactics yielded soft metrics and worked to exclude marketing from the revenue generation conversation. Because of this, marketing became the stepchild of sales. It was easy to see the expenditures and hard to justify the results.

The other foot is in the digital world. In this world, everything can be measured, tested, and scrutinized. This can be an uncomfortable place because there is nowhere to hide. However, it does present the opportunity for marketing to shift from a cost center to revenue generation center if it is properly planned, executed, and measured.

Where to start

Start small and plan the program with ROI measurement from the beginning. The goal is not backwards measurement to prove ROI but rather forward focused measurement that influences decision-making.

Don’t try to measure all things. Because digital has a lot of moving pieces, select areas to measure that contribute to profitability.

Plan and establish ROI estimates upfront. Consult with management team members that have a negative view of marketing, and build their pessimism into the marketing forecast. Remember, there is nowhere to hide and it’s all about making better marketing decisions that lead to revenue generation.

Success measurement

  • Select 3 to 5 key metrics
  • Measure success versus goals – good, bad or ugly
  • Drill down – measure every campaign, channel, sales rep, and region
  • Track tends over time
  • Create a dashboard that shows what marketing is achieving and contributing to revenue results

Very few small to mid-sized B-to-B brands have a 100% digital customer base. Many marketing automation programs (MAPs) lean heavily on online lead generation as the basis for marketing ROI planning. Small to mid-sized brands may struggle with this due to the size and sophistication of the markets they serve. Therefore, it is incumbent on marketers to identify digital initiatives that lend themselves to ROI measurement and revenue planning.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

Marketing Automation Platforms (MAPs)

Big data and creativity

People-to-People Marketing and “Small Data”

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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Business-to-business marketing and relationship building

Good business relationships are built on trust.

Good business relationships are built on trust.

The longer the sales cycles, the more important the relationship becomes

Business-to-business marketing has always been about establishing a relationship with the prospect. One reason for this is most considered purchases involve multiple parties, resulting in extended sales cycle time. With the new technology of programmatic buying and selling of digital advertising inventory, ad technology companies would like for you to believe that a constant barrage of banner ads will substitute for a relationship built on trust.

Opening doors for new business

We all rely on new business to keep our companies growing and profitable. Yet in today’s automated marketing environment, it seems that the value of relationship building (people talking to each other) has been deemed as inefficient and replaced with marketing automation platforms and churn-out emails.

To a degree, all B-to-B marketers rely on automation. The problems begin when marketers rely too much on automation and start viewing opens and click-through rates as a substitute for a person-to-person conversation.

Some sales people only want to invest their time with those who are ready to purchase. I can identify with this viewpoint; no one wants to waste his or her time on a deal that is going nowhere. But the issue remains that in the B-to-B sales environment, it can take months for a purchasing decision to be made, and during this time it can be affected by a multitude of external factors. The relationship is developed during this period as the sales person educates and counsels the prospect as to the advantages and positive results that their product offering will have on their business.

That is where the relationship comes in

Good business relationships are built on the following:

  • Trust
  • Accountability
  • Transparency
  • Communication
  • Business understanding
  • Anticipating needs
  • Delivering on the promise

There are also intangibles that go into a good business relationship, like understanding the person’s value system, as well as their background, goals, personality traits, and expectations.

This is the essence of people-to-people marketing and relationship building.

We all know the sales funnel cycle – awareness, interest, evaluation, trail, and adoption. The digital marketing environment is focused on the first three – awareness, interest, and evaluation – because it is transactional and therefore can be tracked using analytics. However, it takes a conversation leading to a relationship to move through trial and adoption.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

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

Do your customers suffer from “E-fluenza”?

Why bother with branding?

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.

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Creating better content

bBrands must know themselves before they can create content that is meaningful.

Brands must know themselves before they can create content that is meaningful.

Brands must know themselves before they start to publish content.

Rebecca Lieb, Jessica Groopman, and Susan Etlinger of the Altimeter Group published “A Culture of Content,” A Best Practices Report. The report covers in detail how leading brands are creating a corporate ecosystem that encourages content development at every level of the organization. While many of their best practice recommendations were not new, one insight that stood out was that brands must know themselves before they can create content that is meaningful and helps to achieve business goals.

When brands decide to jump on the content bandwagon, they suddenly realize that an online presence can quickly overwhelm the resources dedicated to producing content. That’s why we see so much “me too” content from competing brands.

Brands that effectively deliver meaningful content share these three attributes:

  • They are the best at what they do, whether offering a product or service.
  • Everyone in the organization can articulate what makes their brand different from their competitors.
  • They listen to their customers and make the necessary changes, cultural or procedural, to enhance the brand experience.

In today’s always-on media environment, brands can feel pressured to produce content that doesn’t meet strategic criteria for being published. Leading brands have solved this problem by asking these simple questions:

  • Does this content warrant the resources necessary to produce it?
  • Will this content produce a rate of return equal to or greater than a paid media insertion?
  • Does the content solve a customer’s problem or concern?
  • Will the content support the mosaic of the overall brand story?
  • What is the shelf life of the content?

In the not-too-distant past, great brands — B-to-B and B-to-C — knew their DNA. They knew their history, where their value systems came from, and valued the inherent creativity of their employees. This was evident in their marketing and confirmed by their market share.

Today, these same traits are needed to produce content because now in the omni-channel media environment, content is becoming the face brand across every customer experience.

To download a copy of the Altimeter report, “A Culture of Content” click here.

Additional articles you may find of interest on this topic:

What’s your brand’s point-of-view?

Connecting decision makers with your brand

Finding your voice

Please leave your comments or thoughts below.