Measuring a good client/agency relationship

June 15, 2010

Most people would agree that building relationships takes work.  We know from our personal experiences that identifying with whom we want to have relationships, building these relationships, and then maintaining them over time takes consideration, effort, and communication (among other things).

While we acknowledge and accept this for our personal relationships, I think it is very interesting that many of us can forget about these requirements when it comes to professional relationships, and more specifically the client/marketing agency relationships.  When it comes to these relationships, many of us on the client side assume that because a project request for proposal is issued and responded to and a scope of work is submitted and signed, these act as sufficient substitutes for the effort required to build an effective relationship with our agency partners.  My experience as a marketing/brand manager for many years, as well as my observations of my clients’ experiences with agency relationships indicate that these are not adequate substitutes and that client/agency relationships take as much work to build, if not more, than our personal relationships.  The amount of trust, collaboration, and reconciliation of ideas that is required in a very short period of time requires more effort initially than many other relationships.

To help build and navigate this type of challenging relationship, as a client, I started using a tool with each of my agencies.  I now recommend it to many of my clients to help them manage their own agency relationships. It is an agency scorecard.  This is typically a document that clearly states the client’s expectations for what the agency will deliver (the work), how the agency will deliver the work (timing, collaboration process, team members responsible, etc.), a set of grades or metrics that the client will use to assess the agency’s performance on each expectation, and clear definitions for each grade level.  Some scorecards also include a ‘weighting’ system — to give performance on certain expectations more weight than others for an overall agency ranking.

There are three areas in the client/agency relationship when I have found the scorecard to be particularly useful:

  1. Identifying the right agency with whom to build a relationship. The agency scorecard is a terrific tool for aligning the members of the client team who are responsible for choosing the agency.  The scorecard should be constructed by the team before the agency evaluation process occurs, and the team should use this scorecard to select its agency. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for team members to be swayed by factors that are not critical to the project or selection process, and a less than optimal agency can be selected for irrelevant reasons — simply because a team member was vocal and forceful in his opinion.  With a scorecard, this is much less likely to happen.  The team as a group decides what should be considered in the overall process and the selection of an agency can only be made based on the objective factors.  Each agency is evaluated in the same way, so that the agency that best fits the expectations of the team is identified.
  2. Holding the agency accountable. Once an agency is selected, the scorecard can be used as a checklist or guide to ensure that everything the agency included in its proposal or plan is executed.  It helps the client manage the project and the agency to meet its expectations and needs.  There are situations when timelines and budgets are tight, and agencies may unintentionally focus on certain aspects of an engagement while becoming distracted from fulfilling all of the expectations that they initially set.  The scorecard is an excellent reference point for the client to ensure that the agency delivers on each commitment made during the evaluation and proposal process.
  3. Improving the relationship. The scorecard can serve as an ongoing communication tool between the client and the agency.  Agencies want to maintain relationships with their clients, and they want to ensure that their clients are pleased with what they deliver.  The scorecard can provide agencies with much desired feedback on their performance so that they can improve the relationship in the future.  The client should share the scorecard with the agency at the beginning of the relationship, and then schedule feedback sessions periodically using the scorecard.  The client scores the agency on each of the key areas of focus (expectations/needs) and then has a face to face meeting with the agency to explain each grade and the rationale behind it.  The candid feedback enabled by the scorecard is generally much appreciated by the agencies and leads to much stronger, better relationships in the future.

Are there other tools that you have used to manage and improve your relationships with your clients or agency partners?  If so, please share them.  If you would like to find out more about constructing a scorecard for your relationships, feel free to send me a note.  I’d be happy to share some examples and more specific guidance.

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The Open Chair

May 4, 2010

This past week, I spent a few days meeting with one of my clients to kick off a new project.  My client had hired me to help them develop an organized marketing strategy for the next 18 months, and our meeting was focused on helping me understand their organization’s overarching objectives and goals, as well as their target customer markets.

While the purpose of the kick off sessions was to give me the proper background and understanding of the direction and challenges facing the company, I knew that the sessions would also be very beneficial to my client.  Many of the key organization leaders participated in the meeting, along with their marketing and sales leaders.   All of them were there to explain their visions of the future and where they needed the organization to focus and grow.  Unfortunately, but realistically, the opportunity to have this type of strategic conversation does not happen frequently in their organization (this is probably the case for many organizations), because the teams are typically too consumed by “fire fighting” and reacting quickly to customer needs or market developments.  It was my presence as an educated but objective outsider who was asking the “who, what, why, and how” questions to understand the background and needs to inform the marketing strategy that got the various team members sharing their plans and rationale. It was my asking these questions that helped the organization uncover some conflicting views as to who were its target customers and realize that perhaps some of the marketing activities that it had been doing for quite some time were not targeted to any of its core customers.  I know that if I hadn’t been asking these questions as an outsider, my client would not have recognized and resolved these critical issues.  My presence helped bring these issues to light.

After the sessions, I thought that it was interesting that an outside perspective helped uncover some strategic issues needing to be addressed, but I did not really think about how this could become a formalized practice.  However, later in the week, I met with a woman who has years of experience in brand management and advertising. In our conversation, she happened to mention that she had just started implementing the “open chair” policy with her current agency — a practice that she had used extensively with other companies over the years.  She explained that the open chair policy was the practice of leaving an “open chair” in key strategic meetings.  This chair could be filled with an external subject matter expert or individual who is not directly involved with the project or issue at hand, but has some experience or perspective that enables him or her to ask thoughtful questions or add ideas to the discussion.  The role of the open chair individual is to provide a different perspective from the rest of the group to help the group come to an optimal decision or resolution.

As my acquaintance explained all of this to me, I realized that I had served as the open chair participant in my client’s discussion earlier in the week, and I recognized the value that this brought to my client.  It got me to thinking that this type of practice could be a very useful tool for all sorts of organizations facing many different issues.  Sometimes the day to day pressures and work load  force teams to make assumptions about what everyone knows, or thinks, or agrees on, and it takes an outsider with a slightly different perspective to question these assumptions.  It is when these assumptions are questioned that significant break-throughs can be made.

Is the open chair policy something that you could try to implement as you face your next decision or challenge?  Is it something you are already doing?  Let me know if you are using it and how it is working.


Top 6 marketing articles from the last two weeks (3/7-3/21)

March 22, 2010

It has been a little while since I compiled my list of marketing articles and posts that I have found to be particularly insightful. Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve read several articles that I really enjoyed, and I thought I would highlight these, just in case you might have missed them (after all, a lot of people are on spring break these days).  I hope you find a few of these useful or interesting.  Enjoy!

CMOs, Go Beyond a PR Plan to Prepare for an Inevitable Product Crisis (Ad Age).  There have obviously been quite a few branding crises these days — between spokespeople losing their respect and credibility to massive product failures and recalls.  This article provides a great reminder of the plan that every brand leader should have in place before a crisis strikes.  The plan should not just have a well-planned PR component, but it must consider and address every touch point that the brand has with its target customers.  The article raises quite a few issues that might not be top of mind in the heat of the moment, but that are absolutely critical to the crisis management process.

Real-Time Brand Management:  Lessons from Virgin America’s Hellish Flight (Harvard Business Review). Continuing from the theme of the first article, this blog post presents a good miniature case study of how Virgin America quickly managed a perception crisis last week.  While this article does not necessarily highlight the plan that Virgin America had in place to mitigate the crisis, it does illustrate some additional things that brands can do routinely before a crisis occurs so that when it does, the brand can be managed in “real time”.

Wal*Mart, Target, Best Buy Named Most Valuable (Retail) Brands (Brandweek).  While the list of the most valuable retail brands is fairly interesting in itself, this article provides some good commentary regarding the strategies that helped brands grow and the strategies that undermined the value of brands.  One unsuccessful strategy mentioned is the “flight to price” strategy.  The analysis of the strategies is applicable to all types of consumer brands — not just retail brands.

Opinion:  Customer Service is Key Strategy (Brandweek).  Joseph Jaffe, the author of this editorial, writes, “During increasingly confusing, cluttered and complex times, what is it that really separates — or differentiates — one company, product, service or brand from another?”  He answers his own question that customer service or “servicing the customer” is the key differentiator for brands and should be the focal point for the marketing department.

How to Write a Mission Statement that Doesn’t Suck (Fast Company).  The author Dan Heath provides an entertaining yet very accurate assessment of how the mission statement development process can fail.  For anyone who has ever participated in developing a mission statement, this article is worth reading just for its humor and insight, if nothing else.  If you are currently developing or revamping your mission statement, this article provides great inspiration for what you should focus on, and what you should avoid.

Shopping Aisles at Cutting Edge of Consumer Research and Tech (Ad Age).  This article provides some interesting examples of what consumer packaged goods companies are doing to study their consumers during the act of shopping for products (from making the shopping list at home to purchasing in the store).  The emphasis on and investment in shopper marketing in the last few years has grown substantially among CPGs and retailers, and it is fascinating to understand some of the insights that have been uncovered.  If you are in the process of considering investing in or building a shopper marketing research program, this article worth reviewing.


Top 5 Marketing Reading Recommendations 1/11-1/24

January 25, 2010

Two weeks ago, I published a list of some of my favorite marketing articles that I had read over the previous several weeks.  I got a lot of great feedback that this list was very helpful to fellow marketers, and so I’ve decided to make it a regular post.  So with that, here’s a list of marketing related articles from 1/11-1/24 that I recommend you take a look at. Enjoy!

  1. Is Your Brand a Beacon or a Spotlight? (Ad Age). The article explains that while many brands are based on understanding their customers and their customer’s current needs, it is important for brands to stand for more than this.  Brands should also have an aspirational component to them to make them especially compelling to their customers.  This article is a great argument for brands to have a defined brand vision.
  2. Build Your Customer Experience Roadmap (Forbes).  This article summarizes the findings from a recent report from Forrester Research that ranks brands in terms of the overall customer experience that they provide.  The article highlights examples of brands in several categories that are providing excellent customer experiences, and then it provides ‘Three Golden Rules of Customer Experience.’  This article is definitely worth a read for anyone who is interested in improving the experiences that customers have with a brand, or anyone who is interested in improving customer loyalty for a brand.
  3. The Cost of Not Branding (MediaPost Online Metrics Insider). This post is a refreshing reminder that not investing in marketing or branding has a cost associated with it, and it mentions a couple of examples of how one could calculate the cost of not investing in branding.  For individuals who often find themselves in a position where they have to justify their marketing budgets, they will find this post very helpful.
  4. More CPG Players Embrace E-Commerce (Ad Age). This is an interesting article that describes how CPG companies are seizing a new opportunity to sell products to and better understand their consumers through e-commerce. For marketers in the consumer packaged goods industry who are not yet exploring e-commerce as a channel, this article is a good thought-starter.
  5. A New Rung on the Social Technographics Ladder (Forrester). For those of you who have read or are familiar with the book Groundswell, you know about the different technographic profiles that your customers may have when it comes to social media — these are the creators, the critics, the joiners, etc.  In a new report, Forrester Research unveils a new social technographic, the Conversationalist, and explains why this is a group that brands will want to watch closely.

Top 10 Marketing Reading Recommendations 12/28-1/8

January 10, 2010

In case you’ve had trouble getting unburied from your emails, Google Reader, and other marketing reading from over the holiday, here are my suggestions for recent articles that you should be sure to check out.

  1. Brand Focus Leads to Power and Profits (Brand Strategy Insider).  An interesting and persuasive argument for limiting line extensions under a brand.  The post uses several examples to illustrate that brands that are highly focused have higher profit margins.
  2. Kraft Makes a Bet on At-Home Eating (Ad Age).  For any food marketers, this article is worth skimming to see where Kraft is making its bets for new products in 2010.
  3. Taco Bell Latest QSR To Promote Weight Loss Angle (MediaPost Marketing Daily).  Okay… I couldn’t help myself with this one.  Marketers are abuzz right now about Taco Bell’s latest campaign.  Subsequent articles to this one have shown that Taco Bell is taking a bit of hit with this campaign since it isn’t true to its brand core and character.  If you still aren’t sure what all the fuss is about, take a look.
  4. Is Copernicus or Aristotle Running Your Business (The Marketing Technology Blog).  A short post that has a few questions to ask yourself to make sure you are running a truly customer-centric business or brand.
  5. CSPI Charges Brands With Mislabeling in FDA Report (MediaPost Marketing Daily).  Another article for food marketers highlighting the increased attention and concern around misleading labeling claims.  My prediction: statements/claims on labels are only going to become more restricted.
  6. Tipping the Iceberg (MediaPost OMMA).  Northwestern professor Don Schultz has found that only ‘4 to 5 percent of customers account for a preponderance of a consumer product’s sales.’  Knowing this could have a significant impact on how marketers advertise and target media.
  7. ‘Imperfect’ FreshDirect Gets Close to Consumers (Ad Age).  Interesting interview of the CEO of FreshDirect highlighting that understanding its customers has been the key to FreshDirect’s success.
  8. 6 Tips for Treating Your Customers Like Friends (SmartBlog on Social Media).  Some great tips for activating your customers, using the famed Maker’s Mark Brand Ambassador program as an example.
  9. The Principles of Marketing Can Be Summarized in One Word (Ad Age).  Excellent column that is thought provoking and appropriate for all marketers to read.  You don’t want to skip this one.  I’ve already referenced it in a couple of meetings.
  10. A Campaign Linking Clean Clothes With Stylish Living (NY Times).  This article covers Tide’s new campaign that taps into the insight that ‘clean clothes are a mean to an end — expressing personal style — rather than the end itself.’  The article shows Tide’s focus in emphasizing a higher order benefit, that is more emotionally motivated, to help continue to build its category dominance.  It’s a good example of some strong marketing.

4 blog improvements in 2010

January 5, 2010

With the start of the new year, I’ve decided that it is time to make some changes (hopefully improvements) to the ALL In One Marketing Greenhouse.  Admittedly, 2009 was a year of learning, trial and error.  I intend to make 2010 the year of engagement with value to the Greenhouse readers.

With that in mind, I am introducing the following enhancements to the blog:

  1. Dear Amy.  Have you ever heard of a little column called Dear Abby?  Well, in 2010, we’ll have some posts that feature Dear Amy.  Any marketing or branding questions that you have can be emailed to me at amy@allinonemarketingusa.com, and I’ll analyze, respond, and recommend solutions in a post (free of charge!). These can be questions on any marketing topic such as how to raise awareness for a local charity you are trying to get off the ground or how do you get 30 million people to try your new product on a $10,000 budget.  No marketing question is too big or small.  I’ll do my best to give you my two cents in a post or two.
  2. Book reviews.  As marketing professionals and business leaders, it’s sometimes all we can do to get through our industry journals and Google Alerts each day, let alone stay up to date on some of the latest strategic marketing thinking.  To help you know what’s out there and what you might want to invest time in reading, I’ll do periodic book reviews that will summarize the key points that I take away from these books.  Think of it as Cliff Notes for marketing strategy.
  3. Top articles and blog posts.  As a consultant, it is my job to read the latest brand, product, and retailer news daily.  You probably try to do this too — but like the books — it can be very challenging to keep up.  As a result, I’ll be writing posts every couple of weeks that summarize my ‘must read’ blogs and articles.  I hope that you’ll find this useful.
  4. Shorter posts, but more frequently.  Okay, this isn’t an enhancement, but this is something I will try to work on this year to make the blog more useful and user friendly.

What else?  What would you like to see covered?  What would really add value to you?  Talk to me…I’m listening.


5 Ways to Activate Your Customers

October 28, 2009

It seems that it is a commonly held belief that a highly satisfied customer is one of the strongest marketing assets a business can have.

Despite this accepted assertion, I have recently been in contact with a surprisingly large number of businesses that haven’t given any thought to how they can leverage this asset.  These businesses have been hoping that word of mouth will be an inexpensive, effortless method for growing sales and their customer base.  To a degree, they are right; positive word of mouth will help.  But they could grow so much more if they thought about how to activate their satisfied customers.

What I mean by activating customers is very simple:  motivating customers and giving them tools to enable them to spread a brand’s message easily and authentically.  Customers generally like to share information that they acquire through their experiences with products/services and brands.  By activating this inclination, a business has a greater chance of having customers share their experiences with others and spreading the news or information that the business wants them to pass along.

There are many ways to activate customers.  Some of these are unique to certain industries, business models, or customer segments. However, below are a few ideas that should be applicable to most businesses.  None of these has to be complex or expensive, but these suggestions do require some thought, planning, ongoing management, and measurement to have the greatest impact.  Take a read through these to help spark some ideas on the best ways to activate your customers.

5 Activation ideas

  1. Create a program to formally recognize your best customers. Acknowledge and thank them for being good customers.  Make them feel valued and appreciated with special offers, ‘sneak peaks’ of new offerings, etc.  These customers will feel more loyal, and hopefully so special that they can’t help but tell their friend about their special treatment and great relationship they have with your business.
  2. Give your customers a voice and solicit their ideas and opinions in low or high tech ways. The medium isn’t as important as the act of listening to your customers.  The important aspects of this are that you can ask your customers what they think, give them a chance to respond, and consider their responses in the future to improve your products, services, or overall customer experience.  These things can be accomplished through social media tools, but they can also be accomplished through face to face discussions, phone conversations, focus groups, customer events, and other outlets.  The medium you choose really should be driven by your customers’ preferences.
  3. Keep your customers informed. Whether it is a new product launch or your next tradeshow appearance, ensure your customers are ‘in the know’ so that they can anticipate their next experience with your brand.  By keeping them updated on a regular basis on your news (such as through a newsletter, email, or blog), you can stay top of mind with them and further help them spread your news to other potential customers.
  4. Arm your customers with exclusive ‘marketing materials’. Ideally, this would be something that they can use in their daily lives, but that also happens to tell your brand’s story for you when they use it around others.  These ‘marketing materials’ could be product samples, special catalogs, or any other collateral that customers would find useful and better yet, would be proud to share with their friends because it is so unique or exclusive, and it has made them feel special by receiving it.
  5. Implement a ‘tell a friend’ referral program. For every person a customer refers to you resulting in a strong lead or a sale, give a ‘thank you’ in some form to the referring customer.  There are two things about the referral program that are very important.  First of all, the thank you has to be sincere.  The customer should believe that you really are thankful.  Secondly, the program should motivate the customer to continue to refer people to your brand.  This motivation typically means rewarding the customer in a way that is meaningful and valuable to them.  The hardest part about this is figuring out what that is (and this is where you refer back to #2).

I hope that these ideas encourage you to think about the ways that you are activating your customers currently and inspire you to develop some additional methods you can give to your satisfied customers to leverage.  And if you have some other suggestions of ways to activate your customers, please share them.  They would be much appreciated!