Since the Global Financial Crisis, there’s been something different about the way businesses make decisions. Compared to the heady days of the 80s, 90s and dot-com boom, it seems the financial struggles we endured have left us with a hangover of mandatory consensus and risk aversion.
Whereas decisions in the past were made by an individual, nowadays new campaigns, strategies and creative executions are all subject to significant scrutiny, requiring approval by multiple stakeholders across departments. Managers and C-Suites are still looking to develop their brands and grow their businesses, but many steer their decisions based on risk mitigation, and not opportunity, when considering new initiatives.
In marketing and media, just like any other sales-led industry, the “no decision” is often more resource-intensive and time-consuming than the “no” decision. In this cautious environment, how do we cut through the noise and convince our client stakeholders to trust us, and to take important risks?
As research and advisory firm Gartner tells us, the answer is to lead with insights; if you lead with insights, you’re able to take control of the process and maintain a great experience while putting yourself in the best position to win new business and do great work.
Lead with insights
The statement “Buyers are more informed than ever” has been so overused, it’s little more than a platitude at this point. However it still rings true, especially in the pitch process: agencies quite happily put together these monster powerpoint decks all about their numerous offerings, but when clients are being force-fed 40 slides of bread before the first slide of meat, they can’t help but switch off.
I wonder, how much does this practice commoditise us in the eyes of our clients? This scene from the HBO series Entourage comes to mind. How many of these presentations do our clients go through in a large-scale account review? How many do they actually want to go through? Hint: they only need to choose one winner…
Business development has evolved from product-focused to solution-focused, and now, it needs to move into the realm of insight-focused. With data and insights at the core of what our clients want from us as agencies, what should this mean in the context of an agency-client pitch?
Tell them something about their business that they don’t already know. If you can’t, be prepared for someone else to step up and win the account. Insight is the trigger for clients to say things like “They understand our brand more than anyone else,” whether they realise it’s a conscious part of the process or not.
Take control of the process
Don’t conflate strategy with tactics, and be prepared to challenge your clients’ preconceptions if you have good reason to. Too often, we’ve tended to leave out enormous factors like non-primary stakeholder influence, industry change unrelated to marketing/advertising activity, and limiting our research to narrow-lensed, output-specific areas. These rabbit holes cause concepts to become stuck, and it’s only after the dust has settled that we work out the true reason why something didn’t go ahead, or why a competitor secured a client over us. And by then it’s too late.
Maintain a great experience
Think of this as the UX of your new-business strategy and pitch approach. We mustn’t underestimate the value of optimised UX as an influencer of conversion, even if improvement only comes at one tenth of a percent at a time.
We must find ways to ensure that the message is being delivered in the most efficient and timely manner – not unlike what our clients expect us to do with their own customers. The emphasis here is on the process and experience, and not the agency, its credentials, or its product-focused deck.
The advancement and application of technology has yielded some fantastic results for digital advertisers over the last decade, but the noise factor for so many areas of our industry is at an all-time high. An awareness of risk aversion – and a willingness to understand the forces at play outside our clients’ immediate marketing environment – will foster the kind of consultative relationship needed to do truly great work.
If you’re in the agency world I ask you: when is the last time you delivered insight to your client, beyond standard reporting and results? If the answer is often, I’d wager your retention rate is solid! And if you’re on the brand side of town I’d ask the same question: when was the last time your agency gave you some real insight about your business or industry – not just your results? If your answer is often, I’d say you’re in good hands.