Thursday, November 11, 2010

The 'Field of Dreams' Myth

If You Build It, They Will Come

The movie Field of Dreams inspired people to believe that all it took was a decision to make something happen. The building of a baseball field in the midst of cornfields and dirt roads would drive people in droves to experience something.

"Ray, people will come Ray. They'll come to Iowa for reasons they can't even fathom. They'll turn up your driveway not knowing for sure why they're doing it. They'll arrive at your door as innocent as children, longing for the past. Of course, we won't mind if you look around, you'll say. It's only $20 per person. They'll pass over the money without even thinking about it: for it is money they have and peace they lack." Terrance Mann, played brilliantly by James Earl Jones, convinced the Costner character that all it took was building the opportunity. As occurs in just about every movie, the impossible became a reality and the people came.

Too often, those of us in the business of providing marketing services and solutions to clients fall victim to the belief system that if we build it, they will come...and stay. Once the logo is designed and the website is built; the SEO strategy in place, we can wear the banner of success...touting our victory to all who will listen. "Look at us. We are marketing experts. Now they will come." The reality is, if were doing our job well, the efforts we employ in partnership with a business need to create more than just short-term spikes in traffic. We need to develop an environment in which evangelists...those customers that remain long after the shelf-life of an agency...are developed and nurtured.

Unfortunately, unlike in the movie Field of Dreams, the process of attracting new and repeat customers is far more complicated. Developing evangelists, which is the ultimate goal of any marketer, is even more complex. Consumers that are willing to be your greatest evangelists aren't doing so because you built a great website, have a cool logo or the most fans on Facebook. Potential customers may find the visual representations of your brand appealing and may even be inclined to act on it but its no guarantee that they will stay and become evangelists. Enter the difference between marketing and advertising.

As described in a previous blog, Marketing is not a website, an ad or a cool technology. Rather it is a process...a process that encompasses far more than just the development of external elements that may sway customer perception of your business.

Creating Evangelists

The evangelist is the most important person to your business. This is the person that tells everyone they know about the contribution your business has made to their life. Whether it be the vaccuum cleaner that finally picks up all the dog hair or the solution you developed to save their business. Regardless of what it is, this person can make or break your brand. No matter how cool your new website is. If a business is relying predominantly on the tool of advertising to create these evangelists, its most likely they will find themselves with little to no credibility. Building and maintaining a brand that generates evangelism requires multiple tools from the Marketing Toolbelt:

Loyalty Modeling

Maritz Research provides the following definition of Loyalty Modeling: "Competitive Loyalty Model (CLM) addresses loyalty from a brand research perspective. It provides information on what drives brand choice and brand repurchase in a competitive context, thereby helping companies understand how to increase customer loyalty versus the competition. It helps address quite tactically the question of what levers, including product or service attributes, the organization can address to grow customer loyalty relative to competitors?"

Once a business understands what consumers believe about the brand, why they do and dont come back, they can begin the steps to a strategy that will help in the development of evangelists. The value of loyal customers expands beyond just evangelism: Long term customers are less inclined to switch brands and are less price sensitive, are more likely to purchase ancillary products and high-margin supplementals, are less expensive to service due to familiarity, and promote employee satisfaction which ultimately feeds into the cycle of customer satisfaction.

Determining what drives your customers will help you develop not only creative, but strategic and more successful advertising strategies.

Customer Experience

Seems like a pretty simple and basic concept. Every business has at least one person dedicated to ensuring the customer is happy and has a great experience. What some businesses fail to recognize is that each person is responsible for customer service...and the customer is not always who you think it is. If we begin to define a customer as anyone we interact with on a daily basis (from the President of a company to the IT guy) the likelihood for it to carry over to our customers improves.

I am reminded of a situation in which I was stopping in at a company (which will go unnamed) to chat with their Marketing Director. The person behind the desk was unbearably rude and inhospitable. So much so that I decided the company itself wasn't worth my time...and left. Each and every instance of interaction, whether it be with customers, peers, outside reps or vendors is an opportunity to create an evangelist through a personable and enjoyable "experience". Just as someone who has utilized your product or service can generate great buzz for you...anyone whose had a negative experience can generate negative buzz. Its not enough to smile when they walk in the door and shake their hand when they leave. Each step in the process must be conducive to creating a great experience. If your operations arent equipped to create a superior experience over the competition, your cool logo and website designed to bring in swarms of new customers, will provide only a short term bubble.

If You Build It, Nurture It....and They Will Stay

Seems logical. If you say you're going to do it. If you claim to be the the best. If a customer feels that you have somehow not followed through on the promises of your advertising strategy it will cost you dearly. could take years for you to feel the impact...just ask Toyota. But once its happened, the recovery is a long, uphill climb of rebuilding your credibility and brand. A comprehensive approach to any branding initiative must include holding up a mirror to how you conduct every day business and the impact it has on your bottom line.

Before you spend enormous amounts of money on that cool new website, the social media strategy and everything else that will solve your business woes....remember...its not enough to build it. You have to be willing to nurture it, believe in it...and become it. Successful brands understand this, some had to learn the hard way, while some acted upon it immediately. Your business must reflect your brand...and vice versa. Building an image through advertising is not enough. Your business must nurture it and live it each day.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Consider this - Choosing an Ad Agency

In the United States alone, there are over 50,000 advertising agencies, most offering a range of services and products; all proclaiming they alone possess the solution to even your most daunting challenges. Visit with an agency and, unfortunately, you will often find that how they handle you as a potential client is much like they built their own website: Void of valuable insight into your actual needs. Rather, it is often a regurgitation of agency jargon, unrealistic expectations for success, and my personal favorite, a one-size fits all approach. Sound familiar?

Beware of The Pitch

You've, undoubtedly, received the dreaded cold-call from an agency sales rep with his or her quick tongue and catchy phrases like "we'll work shoulder-to-shoulder with you" to find the right solution. Unfortunately and all too often, those that are selling for an agency have spent their career in sales, and may not really be equipped to provide you with the answers you need to make the best decision. You cannot fault the sales people for doing their job, after all, they are given their marching orders from the top. So how do you make the right choices? Consider the following before signing with any agency, and you are more likely to find the right fit for your business.

1. Do they understand the difference between Advertising and Marketing?

One thing needs to be very clear. Marketing is not a synonym for advertising. Despite many agencies efforts to confuse the potential client that they are one in the same, being clear on the definitions will be a big asset when making your investment decision.

According to the AMA (American Marketing Association) marketing is defined as "the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large."

The AMA defines advertising as "the placement of announcements and persuasive messages in time or space purchased in any of the mass inform and/ or persuade members of a particular target market or audience about their products, services, organizations, or ideas."

Marketing is not a website, an ad or a cool technology. Rather it is a process...a process that encompasses far more than just the development of external elements that may sway customer perception of your business.

Definitions matter when selecting an agency. If an agency professes their 'marketing' prowess (as opposed to 'advertising') then the services and advice they offer should reflect a clear understanding of the difference. If the services they offer or the language sets they use don’t and they continually refer to advertising as marketing, move on to the next candidate.

2. Are they prepared to offer services based on the kind of relationship you are seeking?

Before you begin the process of selecting an agency (whether your new to the process or looking to make a switch) a decision about the kind of relationship you are seeking has to be made. There are a number of considerations that go into this decision and it should never be taken lightly. Its important to keep in mind that this is an investment in the business. The relationship definition is of equal, if not greater, value to the financial investment itself.

When selecting an agency, think of it as if you were selecting a physician for your own family. Do you want a leader in the field providing lasting solutions or a follower that is pushing the latest fad? Do you want a clear and concise strategy for achieving your goals or is it a simple matter of execution? Do you want discussion about options and ideas or should they just do what you want? In knowing and stating what you want up front will you be better equipped to judge the candidates. Once your decision for the kind of relationship you want to have is made, be sure they understand and are prepared to reciprocate in kind.

3. Are they interested in understanding your needs or pitching the latest fad?

Of all the key elements to consider, this is crucial. Many agencies will, without a clear understanding of your company goals and objectives, industry, challenges and history, immediately pitch something that may (and often may not) be something that will lead to achieving your goals. Use caution when silver bullets are laid out on the table...the reality is...they are too often duds when it comes to practical application. Only in asking questions and learning as much as possible about your company and industry will an agency be able to decipher what will actually help you in achieving your goals. Ideally, seek an agency that takes a consultative approach. If the agency is pitching at the first meeting, instead of asking questions, move on to the next candidate.

4. Does the agency team have any real-world business experience?

This will tell you a great deal about the kind of agency you will be working with. Too often, those who work in agencies have done so from the time they stepped out of college. They may lack the perspective (and possibly the professionalism) that is required to truly understand your business challenges and thus are slaves to their own industry jargon and belief systems. More likely than not, you are looking for more than just cool ideas (which agency lifers usually are great at coming up with). Your business is in need of a solution...a comprehensive solution to what is likely a business challenge. Those with a practical understanding of how businesses truly operate and succeed (or fail) are more likely to provide you with credible solutions. Ask questions about their experience outside of the agency world and be sure the team you are selecting is well-rounded in its business experience.

5. Are they prepared to provide you measurable data that reflects the success or failure rates of their work?

Trust. That is essentially what this all boils down to. Will the agency you select own up to failures and celebrate its successes with you? Of all company-partner-vendor relationships, the agency relationship can be the most celebrated or the most unfulfilling. Realistically, your agency relationship will fall somewhere in the middle. One key element to ensuring it leans towards celebrated is accountability. Up front establishment of goals, milestones, measurement and accountability will make for a far more productive relationship. If the agency you are meeting with makes no effort to ensure that the relationship is built on a foundation of trust and accountability...move on.

In the interest of full disclosure, I myself am working in an agency and have done so in the past. However, I also have many years of experience working in, with and consulting business large and small and have seen the mistakes time and time again. These five key ingredients are not a silver bullet (remember - beware of silver bullets)...but they will certainly help when the time comes to select the right agency for you.