I’m certainly not one for poking fun, knocking someone when they’re down or feasting on the misfortune of others. Oh, who am I kidding … I have been known at times to send the occasional jab to the mid-rift, professionally speaking of course.
And so in this spirit, you can imagine the eyebrow lift (non-surgical) that was registered when I found out the infamous X10 Corporation had filed for bankruptcy protection.
To continue this story, I would have to take you back to the beginning (cue Wayne’s World flashback music; readers please raise your hands in the air and wave them like you just don’t care). X10 – and I would say beyond a doubt – has been the poster child reluctantly thrust upon us as the epitome of advertising on the Web.
Over the past few years, we’ve been inundated with X10 messaging popping in-, out-, over-, and under at every available pop-ortunity. Frequency capping was non-existent. Media strategy was pretty clear: bombard the enemy with an endless supply of ammunition until they wave the White Flag in Surrender and buy the $#@% product.
If only it was that easy.
Given the choice of terminating all X10 messaging in exchange for purchasing the product, this spy camera (at least I think that’s what it was) would have given Ron Popeil a run for his money in terms of units sold (sidebar: there’s a business model in there somewhere).
From a messaging standpoint, the product must have been aimed at the gender that thinks of sex every seven seconds as the creative pivoted around scantily clad women with the promise of an always-on self-made Playboy channel. In this vane, who could blame the geniuses at X10 for just following in every Beer marketer’s footsteps: Spies great. Less pay-per-view.
Ever so often, we’d be witness to a spark of anemic strategic thought as the creative would shift gears to communicate a real need and a solution to a real problem – a parent’s desire to watch over their children and ensure their safety by investing in a nanny-cam. But alas, this semblance of wisdom was always fleeting. I can just imagine the lone voice of reason at X10 pleading for a chance to prove that X10 could actually serve a purpose, only to be defeated by the failure of a five-hour test on some adult site that ended up being optimization to oblivion.
Most of us deplore everything about X10. Some of us, however, tried to take the high-road by looking for the silver lining in this storm cloud. “They wouldn’t be continuing to advertise if the product wasn’t selling,” asserted some. Now we know that even if product was selling, not enough was being moved to justify a variety of expenditures – even performance-based marketing ones (and even then, bills weren’t being paid).
Another uncommon wisdom (this segment sponsored by Wachovia Securities) was the awareness trap (embraced so warmly by our network brethren): “Who hasn’t heard of X10?” argued some, while others touted X10’s ability to build a brand exclusively through the power of the Web.
Aah yes, building a brand. The remote implication that the words brand and X10 are in any way connected is laughable. X10 was as much a brand as Steve Bartman is the Chicago Cub’s 2003 MVP. A brand is the reason why we don’t go insane with an explosion of choice; an abundance of similar alternatives with about the only difference being the media weight thrust behind it. A brand is a badge of honor that serves to assure its loyal following that their expectations will, at the very minimum, be met. A brand is a reminder that consistency and stability are both cherished and rewarded by time-starved consumers.
A brand has longevity. X10 did not.
Secondly, the notion of ubiquitous awareness is not a proxy of sales success. This statement could not be more apt considering last week’s Ad Age report that network television delivers the worst ROI to marketers. Awareness without relevance is like a house built on a pit of quicksand.
Thirdly and finally, the realization that hitting consumers over the head enough times will result in a sell is flawed and misguided. While every one of us would attest to having seen X10 ads in the past, how many of us ever purchased – or knew someone who purchased – the camera? Exactly. One would have thought that this media savvy community would have made a few impulse buys out of curiosity, just to see whether we could pop-in to our neighbor in the middle of her shower. Apparently not.
X10 was the quintessential arrogant dot-com that believed its deluded status as superior Web marketer who “had it all figured out.” It is not, was not and never will be (clearly) representative of the Web’s ability to communicate, connect and yes, even brand.
To this end, I encourage you all to forward this to your traditional brethren to remind them that dot-com lunacy and online advertising might have been conjoined twins at some stage of their existence, but not anymore. X10 is (hopefully) X-tinct and in its place, we can only hope that real brands will take their rightful place at the helm, with a combination of controlled exposure, targeted messaging and strategic relevance that makes us proud to be in the marketing construction business.
Likewise we also hope that the remaining participants in this game of Russian roulette (you know who you are) will look towards the X10 case as testimony to the fact that the number of empty chambers are rapidly running out.
The indecisive client
This client has final approval on all intermediate phases of projects. It is only when projects are approaching the finish line that the "higher-ups" get involved, and in more cases than not, this results in additional feedback and more rounds of revisions. Getting approval from all decision makers is an integral part of any client partnership; however, when valuable input is withheld until the tail end of projects, completing a project on time becomes a difficult task.
What agencies can do: Agencies can help keep last-minute revisions to a minimum by cultivating relationships with contacts at all levels of their clients' organizations. This way, if and when problems surface, an existing working partnership is already in place so a plan can be developed collectively. Please note: This isn't to suggest that agencies should go over the heads of the people with whom they work on a regular basis. But by understanding the internal infrastructures of clients' companies, agencies can at least be a part of the approval process.
On a side note, this client is why weekly status meetings were created. But it works in an agency's favor to document pending approvals and delays so everyone knows the new project timeline.
Testing is never a detriment to a campaign. It enables agencies to make appropriate adjustments and get the most out of every aspect of a campaign. But challenges occur when client budgets do not afford agencies the leeway to test everything the clients want. Testing is not free, and media fees are likely unavoidable.
What agencies can do: To accommodate this client, agencies should focus on only a few offerings and be cautious not to spread budgets too thin. Constant testing of multiple campaign facets will likely never generate the return this client is anticipating. For agencies, it is best to work these pain points out earlier rather than later.
The committee client
This client often leads off new partnerships by saying, "Our last agency said we were hard to work with." They know how frustrating their internal red tape can be, but at the same time, they know there is no way around it. This client is a cousin of the indecisive client, with whom approvals are a time-intensive process. Partnerships usually involve multiple layers of managers, product managers, points of contact and project coordinators. Communication among these groups is ineffective, to say the least, and this commonly results in longer-than-needed meetings and repetitive conversations.
What agencies can do: When working with clients like this, it is best to limit most communications to key points of contact, but keep all team members in the loop with weekly status reports. This way, day-to-day dealings will not be bogged down by "too many cooks in the kitchen," and the whole team will still be aware of progress. If necessary, have a conversation about noise versus activity. This will help keep the noise level down and allow the agency to focus on execution. Do the math and make sure the number of hours spent in meetings isn't at the expense of actual work. And by all means, be friends with everybody. Don't get involved in company politics -- agencies always come out the loser.
The client with internal team issues
Conversations at the beginning of meetings with this client begin like this: "Off the record, I talked with our IT team yesterday, and they do not agree with anything you have suggested." This client does not agree on much internally, and this can manifest itself in entire teams or just individuals. Agencies are tasked with reaching agreement with everyone, and unfortunately, this puts agencies smack in the middle -- exactly where they do not want to be.
What agencies can do: In these Hatfield and McCoy situations, it is important to focus on marketing. This will keep tangential conversations out of the mix as much as possible. It may be hard to ignore, but mending internal issues should not fall under an agency's scope of work. Concern yourself with delivering high-quality plans and products. Nod politely when teams vent about each other, and send deliverables up the food chain to ensure appropriate visibility.
While agencies are not responsible for contentment amongst clients' internal teams, it is partly an agency's responsibility to maintain positive and proactive relationships with all members of the project team. Make sure to concentrate on the work at hand and operate under a clearly defined scope of engagement.
The value-oriented client
These clients can be heard saying, "We love your viral idea, and our team of interns will execute it by Christmas. What other ideas do you have?"
The value-oriented client loves your ideas, but it wants reassurance that they are getting the best possible price. To do so, they tend to shop around and pass ideas through outsourcers, other agencies and vendors to make certain they are getting a deal. The hard part here is that to land business, agencies have to pitch ideas to potential clients. To a certain degree, this puts agencies at a disadvantage. Ideas are out in the open, and at the pitching stage, there is no promise of much of anything.
What agencies can do: To establish a productive working relationship with clients that are value-oriented, agencies need to show clients that they get what they pay for. If clients want your ideas -- but not your execution -- suggest a retainer with quarterly planning deliverables. This way, all involved parties will be on the same page about expectations regarding the client engagement.
The client that needs a caffeine boost
This client type often says, "I am sorry I didn't make the conference call I scheduled today. I had to tend to other obligations."
You know this client hired you because you have the signed contract to prove it; however, when it comes to returning phone calls or attending meetings, it seems like every other responsibility the client has takes precedent over you.
What agencies can do: With clients like this, it is easy to move them to the bottom of your priority list. But let's face it -- that is not the best way to keep clients. The most effective way to wake the dormant client is to be up front and honest about lags in communication and missed deadlines. Perhaps suggest switching up point persons to best accommodate their internal workload. The most important thing is to maintain communication, even if it seems like no one is listening.
Since agencies are hired by clients, it is the agency's obligation to quickly assess how to establish an effective working relationship to service clients in the best possible way. It is important for agencies to establish an internal understanding of the appropriate approach, as it might differ with the agency's own internal culture. Ultimately, an open, transparent and highly communicative relationship with a client is the healthiest approach to forming long-lasting partnerships.