Tech Talk: Getting the Most From Your Marketing Firm

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Walton is CEO of Brand Acceleration, Inc., which focuses on economic development marketing. Jim’s tips, however, can apply to all company-marketing partnerships. Learn more at www.brandaccel.com.

After working in the advertising and marketing industry for several decades, I can tell you that there remains a lot of confusion about what a marketing firm or ad agency does. For many, the notion is that such firms are made up of purple-haired, bearded designer types with tattoos and flip-flops. Admittedly, there are some of those, but today’s successful marketing firms offer much more than just design.

So, how do you select a marketing firm? What skills and characteristics do you look for? Once selected, how do you make the partnership work? Here are a few pointers:

It’s a partnership
The first thing the client (economic developer) needs to remember is that it’s a partnership relationship. Great marketing firms work as part of your marketing team, not just as a vendor who is there to take orders and design stuff. They assume an ownership role in you and your community. They’re in it for the long haul.

Think big picture
Great organizations, including economic development organizations (EDO), have a well-thought-out set of goals, setting forth their vision for the community’s future. From the first day, the EDO should get the new marketing firm involved with the visioning, making them part of the team, and sharing the vision. This is not the time to hold back or to be secretive.

The marketing firm should provide depth and counsel
Have you ever hired a designer to create a new brochure or website, just to find that you spend much of your time teaching him or her about economic development? Maybe you even have to do all the copywriting because the designer doesn’t write.

A great marketing firm should know your industry and your audiences as well, or better, than you. Do they know any site selectors or real estate professionals? Have they ever visited c-suite offices or interviewed corporate executives about their expectations of marketing tools? To save yourself a lot of aggravation, seek out a marketing firm that knows your audiences. They should also demonstrate a deep knowledge of marketing principles. From start-to-finish, the marketing firm should know and be able to communicate your story.

Get them involved early and often
Let’s say your organization wants to target the food industry, and you’re considering ways to reach out to people in that industry. From that very moment, that’s when you should get your marketing firm involved. Rather than simply cranking out a food industry brochure, the marketing firm, working as your partner, will help flesh out important considerations and provide ideas for ways to successfully reach the audience with the right message.

Be open to new ideas
Coming off point number four, you should always be open to new and different ideas. A marketing firm with broad experiences may bring you a suggestion that you never considered. They will also offer suggestions that are more in tune with the big picture (point number two).

Cheaper isn’t necessarily better
We are often asked what our hourly rate is, as if a lower rate means a cheaper final product. It doesn’t. If a vendor has a low hourly rate, there’s probably a good reason for that. Instead, you should look for a firm, fixed price that won’t change unless the scope of work changes. That way, you’ll know how much to budget.

What services do they provide, and which ones do you need?
Some agencies offer a very narrow line of services, like web design. Others offer a much broader list, such as media planning and buying, public relations, video production, workforce attraction marketing, event planning and management, etc. It’s unwise to limit yourself by selecting a firm that is unable to grow with your needs.

Be responsive
Working with a marketing firm does not mean that all the burden is on their shoulders. They’re going to need your input to get work done, especially if the work is on a deadline. You’ll be asked to proofread work and answer numerous questions to be sure it meets your expectations. It’s important to respond right away.

By making your marketing firm a trusted partner in your community economic development marketing effort, you’ll have a much greater likelihood of success. Hire the best, and you’ll experience truly positive results.

Voice Searches Taking Over

A recent report by iProspect offers a glimpse into the trends and opportunities regarding paid search marketing.

Google AdWords data showed strong mobile growth in terms of both impressions and clicks. Volume on desktops and tablets, however, was down, indicating an overall decrease in demand for those devices. Cost per click (CPC) increased across all devices, reaching the highest CPC recorded since this report’s inception in 2014. Mobile CPC saw a particularly significant increase, up 40% year-over-year, further closing the gap on desktop.

Voice search is quickly becoming the search method of choice for many consumers, says the report. Today, 500 million people use a voice search-powered digital assistant of some kind, and half of all searches will be voice searches by 2020.

This behavioral shift is ushering in a rise in longer, more conversational queries, causing savvy advertisers to refocus their keyword strategy to ensure it includes question-based keywords such as who, what, when, where, why and how, as well as qualifying phrases such as near me.

Customer Service as Important as Ever

I was at a marketing conference a couple years ago when a presenter asserted that a company’s top marketers are really its customer service people. I found that to be one of these really simple, yet complicated concepts. We are lucky to have a great customer service team in place here at the Chamber, and they are often the face of our organizations both via phone and at our conferences. Fast Company delved into this notion in a recent interview with Thor Muller of San Francisco-based Get Satisfaction:

1. Re-humanizing consumer interactions

For Muller, it is simply not enough that companies use their tools. "We really want people to change their whole approach to what it means to talk to customers," he explained. "For a long time, maybe a hundred years, we’ve been gradually squeezing the humanity out of our interactions; scripting it, automating it, scaling it." Instead of asking people to take a number, "Companies now have to revolve themselves around individuals." Muller noted, adding that in doing so, "we’re making the world a better place, certainly more human!"

2. Elevating the conversation from transactions to aspirations

While traditional customer service is often about addressing transactional issues like resetting passwords, Muller believes that community-driven customer support can go much further. "Customer communities at their best are really tapping people’s deeper goals, their deeper desires," explained Muller. This requires companies to, "rise above writing help documentation and be more of a good cocktail party host." Muller links this change with the new staff post of Community Manager who is part therapist, part help desk and part cruise director.

3. Reducing the costs of the traditional help desk

For years, companies have sought to drive down support costs with automation and the ironic goal of minimizing human interaction with their call centers. Part of the reason Get Satisfaction has grown so quickly is that it flips this notion on its head, increasing human interaction but decreasing costs by making support more peer-to-peer driven. Noted Muller, "we’ve seen with our communities at scale typically reduce the number of [service] tickets that go to [call center] agents by 75% or so." Muller referred me to case histories for Mint.com and Yola, both of which reduced "repetitive support by two thirds."

4. Extending support beyond your website to Facebook

While most companies recognize the need to engage consumers on social media, only the savviest have begun to offer customer support on platforms like Facebook. For these enlightened marketers, Get Satisfaction offers a Facebook application in two distinct versions, "one for enterprises who have a lot more demand for customization/controls and one for everybody else," noted Muller. Having a support tab on Facebook gives fans one more reason to "Like" a brand and get the information and support required to encourage and enable over-the-top evangelism.

5. Turning customer support into searchable content

Given the fundamental importance of search to customer acquisition, finding ways to improve organic search results (SEO) is a top priority for most businesses. That said, few have recognized that content generated via customer communities can do just that. Explained Muller, "somebody asks how they can use a particular camera to take better pictures, that is then indexed by Google and then next person who searches finds that conversation. Get Satisfaction] is taking something that used to be a cost center, customer service, and turning it into lead generation."

6. Listening builds trust in and of itself

Dell famously solicited customer ideas and ended up producing a Linux based laptop that no one bought. This kind of listening and responding is not the ultimate intent of Get Satisfaction. While community members are encouraged to offer ideas, Muller does not advocate, "design by committee" or conclude that the customer is always right. "Even if [a brand doesn’t] build what I want them to build or do what I want them to do, I may be less likely to change to another product because I feel close to them," explained Muller.

7. Integrating customer conversations with your CRM system

Many sophisticated marketers, especially in B2B, rely on well-honed CRM systems to track leads through the funnel. Get Satisfaction allows these companies to take this one step further by connecting the social web with workflow systems, trouble tickets and project management tools. Explained Muller, "Knowing who a customer is, what their buying history is, and what they care about is important to servicing them well." Suddenly a customer complaint becomes "actionable within an organization," given the CRM integration concluded Muller.

8. Measuring C-Sat on both a qualitative and quantitative basis

While some pundits strive to simplify customer satisfaction to one basic metric like Net Promoter, this may not be the ideal approach for your particular business. Having witnessed thousands of customer comments and complaints, Muller encourages clients to take a "more holistic approach" and "measure satisfaction in various ways." Having developed something called a Satisfactometer, that explained Muller, "might be something fun like an emoticon and other times might be something more structured and numeric," Get Satisfaction is delivering both sides of the measurement equation.
 

Canada to Misleading Marketers: Get That Junk Ote-a Here!

I like Canada, and not just because of the walleye fishing. The people are really dang nice. Turns out, they may also have higher standards of decorum than us, too. (Considering the popularity of "Jersey Shore" in America, this shouldn’t exactly blow you away.) PR Daily comments on a Vancouver Sun/PostMedia article:

Note to companies operating in Canada or thinking of expanding north of the 49 parallel: Do like momma told you, and tell the truth.

A whopping 89 percent of Canucks are “very likely” or “somewhat likely” to stop buying a product if advertising around it is untruthful, according to a new poll by the Gandalf Group on behalf of the Canadian Advertising Standards Council.

The study noted that 57 percent of Canadians report having followed through on this promise. Conversely, according to the survey, only 36 percent of Americans claim to have stopped buying a product because of untruthful advertising.

Canadians are also a moderately cynical bunch regarding advertising, only 50 percent said they found most ads to be truthful, a figure that drops dramatically when it comes to political ads.

Study: Social Media Gaining on Email in Popularity with Small Businesses

I’ll be honest; I found this rather surprising. eMarketer reports:

Social media has quickly moved up the ranks of top marketing tactics among small and medium-sized business (SMBs). April 2011 research from Pitney Bowes indicates that by some measures of desirability, it’s in close competition with email.

When asked why they used several marketing tactics, US SMBs were most likely to say they chose social media marketing for its cost-effectiveness (54%) and ease of use (53%).

Respondents were still more likely to rate email as cost-effective and easy to use, but the older online marketing channel was ahead by less than 10 percentage points. No format besides social media approached it in these dimensions.

SMBs also tended to feel nearly as comfortable and knowledgeable with social media as they did with email, ahead of other channels.

Social media fell behind two other marketing tactics—direct mail and advertising—in “proven effectiveness,” however.

Still, its value for money spent has helped social media adoption rise quickly among small businesses. Pitney Bowes found that social media was used more frequently than direct mail, though still behind email and advertising overall. And it was the marketing tactic most likely to have been adopted in the past year, with 20% of respondents having taken it up in that time.

Email marketing software firm Constant Contact also found in April 2011 that usage of social media marketing was more popular among small businesses than direct mail, and behind only email marketing, a company website and print advertising. Four out of five respondents to that survey said they had increased their use of social media marketing in the past year.

Within the social realm, respondents were most likely to use Facebook, and rated it most effective of any venue.

Customer Loyalty Programs: Don’t Forget to Follow Through

Most of us are in some type of customer loyalty program or another. I have more rewards cards jammed in my billfold than David Blaine in a Hold ’em tournament. But here’s an interesting survey revealing that most customers don’t really feel closer to businesses that have these and other customer loyalty programs. I guess the theme is that if you do have one, be sure to go the extra mile and let the customer know you’re grateful.

You’re about to slide your card through the credit card reader when the clerk asks, “Are you a member of our rewards program?”

It’s a simple enough, but determining the value of these customer loyalty programs is not easy.

Do these rewards programs work? That’s what ACI Worldwide sought to answer with a recent study.

In short, no—these programs don’t benefit the consumer and can actually hurt customer loyalty for the retailer.

Here are some takeaways from the study:

  • 44 percent of consumers have had a negative experience from a loyalty program.
  • 27 percent of Americans have received a loyalty program reward or promotion that made them feel valued as a customer.
  • 81 percent of American loyalty program members are enrolled in a program that they don’t completely understand.
  • 85 percent of members report that they haven’t heard a single word from a loyalty program since the day they signed up.

Getting a ‘Trustful’ Business Boost with Proper Advertising

Sometimes it’s the simple things that make a difference. Researchers found that including 10 words at the end of an advertisement can help a company’s perception with its customers.

After using the statement, the business was rated higher in the following categories:

  • Fair price, up 7%
  • Caring, 11%
  • Fair treatment, 20%
  • Quality, 30%
  • Competency, 33%

And those magical 10 words: "You can trust us to do the job for you."

Dealing with Haters on Facebook

Some good advice here. Many Hoosier businesses likely now have Facebook pages. While it’s a great way to reach out to customers and supporters, you’ll also get the occasional basher who uses your page to constantly "refudiate" (that’s Palinese) everything you try to do. The blog Journalistics takes a stab at how you can deal with it:

Few things are as gratifying as positive feedback from your Facebook Fans. Unedited commentary from your viewers can be both the greatest gift social media has to offer and your worst nightmare. While all the story ideas and friendly interactions make it worth all the effort, there are always those fans who find pleasure in being argumentative, disruptive, disagreeable and otherwise as negative as possible.

Some might argue that you need the negativity to balance things out in your social community. I think there’s an obvious difference between offering your honest opinion and being negative. Regardless of how you feel, if you manage your Facebook Page or another social community for your newsroom, you need to know how to deal with negative feedback from haters, potty mouths, know-it-alls and more. I’ve categorized the most-common negative personality types I’ve seen across a lot of different Facebook pages and have provided some suggestions for how to deal with each one.

The writer then dissects each category (below) further, so read the entire post:

  1. The Haters
  2. The Know-it-Alls
  3. The Pottymouths
  4. The Uninvited Guests
  5. The Spammers