Client: Sugarshots, Inc.
Agency: Basement, Inc.
Ad Network: 24/7 Real Media
Ad Serving + Tracking: Atlas DMT
Site Analytics: Think Metrics
I think it was my first week in advertising. My art director and I had a "discussion" with a client about whether an ad should feature a visual of the product, or some other image we felt was more compelling. We weren’t too jacked up about the product’s package design, and argued long and hard for the alternate image. (They went with our recommendation.)
Fast forward 17 years.
Since then, I’ve seen that debate reenacted 1,000 times. It could be a video game company wanting screen grabs, or an auto manufacturer clamoring for sheet metal, but the issue is always the same. It’s an image of the product versus an image of something less expected.
While the discussions over the meaning of this image or that image can sound like a Hollywood parody of the ad industry, at the core are issues involving audience awareness, brand recognition and point-of-purchase sales.
Consider the product package argument. Part of it is based in brand recognition. Particularly relevant to consumer packaged goods, the logic goes that if a consumer sees the package design in an ad, they’re more likely to recognize it in the store. This could be less of a factor with ecommerce, but then again, online shopping gets more visual by the click.
Package design also factors large for brand image. Theoretically, the product design comes out of the same strategy that’s driving all product/brand communications. And there are plenty of products in which the package design was or is the dominant brand component. The original Coke bottle. Marlboro cigarettes. Absolut. You can understand how a brand manager, having spent a considerable amount of money refining the package design, may want to showcase the results.
Those ‘brand clues’ are even more important for a new product with a clean slate like Sugarshots.
So why wouldn’t we feature the package design in the ad?
For starters, not all package designs are created equal. The truth is that in a cost-conscious business world, most aren’t as defining as, say, a Coke bottle. In that situation, an image of something more functionally relevant or emotionally evocative could grab more initial interest, and have a greater long-term effect on brand impact or awareness.
There’s also the issue of media clutter. When the obvious tactic is to show a package design, something more unique can provide needed separation from the surrounding noise. Put another way, when everyone else zigs, zag.
Lastly, we’re dealing with a food product. Although the package may be nice, consumers won’t be eating or drinking it. Showing the product in use could add relevance to the message.
We’ll test this debate with a graphic image face-off. One ad with a package visual, the other featuring product use.
The logical product shot is the Sugarshots bottle. (See ad 1)
For our alternate ad, we’re going to use an image of a glass of iced tea. (See ad 2) This visual was chosen for its simplicity and its standard table-top food shot style.
Iced tea is also a common use for beverage sweeteners, and it’s a broadly popular drink. And, we happen to be in summertime.
In addition, while we’re primarily promoting the Taste benefit, we’re also making the supporting claim that liquid sugar mixes better. Anyone who’s ever put sugar in iced tea has experienced the undissolved pile at the bottom of the glass. That could provide some added relevance.
Goals & Objectives
Like one of our previous tests, this test can help evaluate our audience’s familiarity with the product category, only sliced visually instead of textually. It’s also a look at how different creative tactics can affect campaign performance.
As for predictions, I find this a tough call. When the ads are viewed side by side, I find the glass version more impacting. Additionally, the glass next to the term ‘liquid sugar’ would seem to form a more complete idea of what liquid sugar is about.
Of course, people are fascinated by new products. And an image of a new product, whatever the package design, can drive a lot of curiosity. We’ve all seen glasses of iced tea, but not many have seen the Sugarshots brand. That additional bit of information provided by the product image could be the defining difference.
We’ll cover the results this Thursday.
Count the votes
Every pitch is decided by one or two key executives and supported by a few others. Make every effort to find out whose vote counts most. Then zero in on those people. Understand who they are and what they like. To impact emotions, you need to understand who you are selling to on a personal level and then scope out the institutional context and the internal food chain that directly affects how good and safe they might feel. This isn't about deck writing, it's about carefully gathering information and observations into a tactical presentation plan that speaks persuasively to the people who can say "yes," and preemptively answers the obvious objections.
Get a read on their business history and track record, their personalities, predilections, priorities, or prejudices. Beat the bushes to find people who know them or have done business with them and gather this critical intelligence. Pitches are not entirely rational or fair. Assume that something other than objective facts and merit will play a key factor in the decision and prepare to influence these unarticulated factors.
Have a POV
Clients hire agencies that have a point of view. If you don't have a POV, you are just another vendor cranking out pretty pictures or punchy copy. Unfortunately too many agencies either haven't developed or articulated a distinguishing POV or are unwilling to expose their POVs for fear of rejection. In a corporate and financial environment that is risk averse, having a POV is a point of distinction that must be leveraged to an agency's benefit.
Agencies often have practical knowledge not only about a client's strategy but generally understand the distribution channels, the media, contact centers, customer service, fulfillment, retail traffic patterns, and nuts-and-bolts operational reality. Use this information in the pitch to address marketplace issues, competitors, and client options. Agencies are often in a position to traffic information, data, and ideas among and between different business units and to infuse grand schemes with a healthy dose of reality. This is a critical value-added service that few clients appreciate.
Mitigate the risk
Change makes clients uneasy. Everyone is nervous when things change. Selling is pure change. Buyers seek to understand the offerings and sort out those that are too risky either because they offer new or untried ideas or people or because they will engender internal conflict over turf, methodology, pricing, or control. Getting the order is about eliminating perceived risk on several simultaneous levels.
Cover the bean counters
Often procurement specialists or senior executives have the final say or have to bless the decision of the pitch team. That's why so many dumb choices get made. This is partly a function of bureaucratic processes and partly a hedge against users falling in love with or favoring their vendors. Increasingly bean counters have benchmarked costs, prices, and ancillary considerations and force the users to find suppliers who will play ball under these rules. As a seller you have to surface these constraints and expectations at the outset if you don't want to get faked out or hammered on profitability in the home stretch.
Talk pricing and value
In a world where clients buy marketing, advertising, and PR services using the same criteria and the same purchasing professionals as they do for buying raw materials and office supplies, setting prices and extracting fees that have any relationship to value delivered is a source of continuing anxiety.
The truths agencies tell their clients are equally true for them. Brand awareness and perception drive demand. Brand leaders can charge more, discount less, earn better margins, and more frequently manipulate the pricing and billing models. But accomplishing these things isn't easy, even for firms with household names. Signal where you fit. Explain your willingness (or not) to share costs and risks and outline your sensibilities about value or results-based compensation.
Tell a story
The pitch process has developed into a kabuki featuring brand-name players from brand-name agencies going through the motions. Few agencies create genuine theater, entertain the prospective clients, or step outside the bounds. For clients, it's rarely fun and usually a pain to sit through multiple agency presentations.
Think like a weatherman. Gather up all the bits and pieces. Then present them in a swift visually compelling way. Remember that half of what is remembered is visual. Focus on what it is, what it means, how it happens, and what they get as a result. Boil down all the strategic insights, hard data, observations, creative explorations, and media numbers into a handful of simple, eye-popping visuals that clients can embrace and understand easily.
Show them the big picture and explain how and when all the moving pieces and parts fit together. Don't forget to tell them what they achieve when this grand design is implemented. Talk results in terms of awareness, competitive posture, market share, revenues, and profits. Don't be afraid to use numbers and make estimated forecasts. Clients expect results.
This is a real but risky opportunity for differentiation and persuasion by crafting a story rather than mechanically laying out the strategy, the creative and media work, the team, and the closing "ask." Agency search consultants warn against doing this, but savvy players with first-rate presentation skills and a few ideas to grab clients can pull it off with aplomb.
Articulate what's in it for them
Self-interest in solving a problem drives most agency searches. Every search is driven by a "fix-it" impetus. Understanding this context should set the framework for how you respond to the RFI.
Find out what the immediate problem or issue is so that you can position your agency as the solution. Also find out what the previous problem was since clients tend to correct one problem by creating another.
Along the way give considerable attention to the usual decision criteria: category/industry/competitive experience, customer insight, chemistry, organizational alignment, and operational or cost effectiveness. Articulate how your shop delivers against these desired goals.
Focus on the client's customers
Ask yourself at the outset: Who are the target audiences, how will they react to the message, and what do you want them to do about it? Effective advertising provokes comment, chat, pass-along, blogging, and all kinds of sharing.
Every campaign is a surge period. Yet every brand is out there constantly affecting target customers and prospects. If you think of a particular message in this context, you'll see the value of surrounding and enhancing a campaign with tentacles into social networks, blogs, search, free media, and online communities because they provide context and continuity both for brand loyalists and for those you seek to attract to the franchise.
Be channel neutral
It's about connecting the big idea with the most likely audience using every channel necessary. Present media ideas that are coordinated, integrated, and orchestrated across traditional, digital, and social network channels. Factor in distributed messaging and plan to use content elements as media. Don't be afraid to weight the channels or to incorporate total communications planning to include public relations, events, or trade promotions. Be conscious of the client's, the industry's, and retail calendars. If you're pitching to be the brand steward, you have to show you know how, when, and why to get the word out efficiently. Increasingly clients want a single resource to drive campaigns that deliver business results.
Surface your team
There are pitch teams and working teams. Clients don't just want to meet the agency's smoothest senior players. They want to see who they'll end up working with day-to-day. Many pitches require the working team to be the pitch team. Identify and engage the account executives, account supervisors, and frontline ACDs, media directors, analysts, or technical people who will actually work on the business.
Merchandise the individuals who will really run the business and the budgets. Clients are wondering how much fun or how much grief the agency will bring to the relationship. Attractiveness, commonalities, language, and similar ideas often determine who wins.
National and global clients need a well-oiled machine to handle myriad tasks with as little friction as possible. Often it's more about meeting deadlines, expectations, and production schedules than market-changing ideas. Remember that people buy people so connecting with individuals on the selection committee is critical.
Expose your process
Mechanics, skill, and speed determine productivity. Most clients aren't willing to wait four weeks for a five paragraph email or 30, 60, or 90 days to complete a mini-site or a landing page. They are wondering how many levels of editorial review and QA ads will get. Will they traffic drafts digitally or on paper? Will they deploy secure intranets or just use FTP sites? And how will permissions and legal issues be handled?
Clients that believe that agencies are notoriously slower and more expensive than they are frequently have ad hoc processes that can leave them vulnerable. Explain how the agency works and how it takes in and processes the information and produces the work efficiently. Don't get carried away with complicated charts, but find a way to communicate that you have a predictable process than will sync up with client time and cost expectations. If you can map agency operational steps to client internal processes, all the better.
Rigorously edit yourself
Agencies tend to have standard approaches to pitches. Many cast the same players in the same roles in pitch after pitch. This usually keeps peace in the family at the expense of persuading or converting prospects. Focus on prospective client benefits and operational issues, skinny-down the usual agency propaganda, and mercilessly edit out anything extraneous. Keep it simple, streamlined, and on-point. Check your egos at the door.
Clients want to know what they win by hiring you and what you'll actually do for them (versus promise them) compared to your competitors. In most pitches, agency size and skills are roughly comparable so differentiation is critical. Think about what you always say and how you say it. Chances are the competition is saying the same stuff. Do the math for them and draw clear, compelling distinctions describing who you are, how you think, and what you can do better and differently than the competitive pack.
Want to hear the latest from this week's iMedia Brand Summit? Follow the conversation on Twitter #iMediaSummit.
I've never seen so much uncertainty around a major social media platform.
Just do it, or not. Jump in or jump out. Stop testing the waters and just go for it. Or don't. But stop wasting your time playing around with it.
Google+ is like that quiet geek in school that nobody really knows. Nobody really likes him, but nobody really dislikes him, and he keeps showing up at parties. Everyone needs to step up and get to know him, because it turns out he's pretty important, or at least he will be someday. So the sooner you get on his speed dial, the better -- because pretty soon he'll be the one deciding what parties the cool kids go to.
It's great for SEO, Hangouts, making video interviews, podcasts -- but that means you have to figure out why and how it works, and you're already too busy figuring out all the new changes to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Pinterest, etc.
Google+ isn't just Google's version of Facebook. Google+ is Google. Google owns search. Play nice with it, and it will return the favor -- or not.
Being on every social media channel on the planet
So when you decided to launch that new brand product, business initiative, or startup, you knew you needed to be on social media, right? And then your team was all like, "Which channels should we be on?"
Rather than study consumers' habits, the competition, and see what's working and not working, you decided you would be everywhere. Ubiquity! That way, you wouldn't have to worry about missing out anywhere!
You: We'll engage our fans on every social medium platform on the universe and get an intern to write updates for it.
Me: That's dumb.
The problem is that by doing this, you diffuse your efforts. That said, there is some wisdom in trying one of two approaches:
- Launch several social media channels at once, work them like dogs, and then cut the ones that don't yield results.
- Decide on just a few to start with, work them like dogs, cut the ones that don't yield results, and then add new ones in.
Otherwise, you'll be judged according to the lowest performing channel.
Your boss: We here at Big National Bank are very disappointed in our Snapchat stats. Given the resources we've poured into employee selfies, we really expected more.
You: Yes, but our Facebook contest just earned 50,000 new "likes," and new accounts and customer service engagement have gone up significantly!
Your boss: Tell Harold in maintenance he's our new social media person. You're fired.
How is storytelling new? Because it's on the internet? Cavemen told stories around the campfire (they just called it "the fire" back then), and somewhere in the middle, the storyteller probably did a quick promo for "Ugu's BB-Q Cave, featuring the finest mammoth ribs this side of Iceland. And now back to our regularly scheduled story."
Isn't that what we've always done in marketing, advertising, and PR? Storytelling?
Ads are stories. Pictures are stories. Memes are stories. Videos are stories. Movies with product placement are stories. Billboards are stories. Stories that were carefully placed by the PR team are stories. Bumper stickers are stories. I can tell more about someone from their bumper sticker than I can from a one-hour drunken conversation at a marketing convention.
You: Yes, but we must carefully disguise the fact that we're selling something by wrapping it in a story.
Me: That's called branded entertainment, and everyone sees through it anyway. If the story's good enough, they don't care that you're trying to sell them something.
You: OK, but we must also properly tell our "brand story."
Me: Nobody gives a crap whether your company was founded by a one-legged farmer in 1806, a 17-year-old with a car battery and a Commodore 64, or a bunch of Stanford students huddled around an iPad at Starbucks.
At first, I thought it was just advertising done by natives -- like they had a certain style or something.
Native advertising is like a guy from Minnesota that gets a fake tan, flies to California, and tells everyone he's a local so you'll buy his book on California living.
It used to be called paid content, or related content, and you placed articles and videos on relevant blogs or websites with the thinking that if a reader or viewer is interested in what they're reading or watching, they might be interested in the paid content as well.
The ideas still makes sense, and it works, but now we call it "native advertising" so agencies can redefine themselves and offer new tactics.
The only difference between native advertising and regular advertising is that native ads are designed to trick people into thinking the guy's really from California.
Subscribe now and mandatory subscription pop ups
I'm three lines into an article and -- bam! -- there's a pop-up that wants me to subscribe with some agonizingly friendly message like, "Are you enjoying this article? Don't forget to subscribe." Sometimes it even follows me down the page as I scroll, covering up what I'm trying to read.
I actually was enjoying it until you pulled me out of it with your self-serving "subscribe now" crap. Now I'm mad and debating if I even want to finish. At that point, it all comes down to how well you've hidden the X button for me to make it go away. If I can't find it within two seconds, I'm out.
Worse yet are the pop-ups that won't let you even view the website until you sign in via Facebook, Twitter, or email.
I see the value, but I don't know if it's worth the cost of pissing people off.
One-hit-wonder viral video expectations
So you've decided that your online marketing strategy will revolve around one, single, epic video that will raise overall awareness.
That's not a bad idea, but you have to factor in all the elements that will go into making that first video successful, including video seeding and plenty of social media and digital PR hustle.
Even if your viral video does go super viral, then what? There has to be consistency. Getting lots of views is easy, and it's getting cheaper and cheaper. Getting your video(s) viewed by the right people -- defined as those either in a position to buy what you're selling or share with a friend who might buy -- is harder, but more effective.
Start thinking in terms of quality, quantity, and consistency rather than one-off smash hits.
Enough already with big data and all the tech startups clamoring at the gate to get in so they can provide us with even bigger data.
Too many marketers are using big data results as success metrics when the only true success metric is an increase in sales.
Here's my take -- real simple.
- You set sales goals.
- You develop your sales and marketing strategy based on your knowledge of your product(s), service(s), need in the marketplace, and key target demographic.
- You establish and divide up responsibilities for hitting those goals among the departments, including sales, traditional marketing, online marketing, social media, PR, and promotions (flash sales, gimmicks).
- You use data for one purpose only -- to track which departments and tactics are producing and which aren't.
- If overall sales go up, great. If they don't, why?
Infographics, animated infographics, and explainer videos
Enough already -- they were new, cool, and actually pretty interesting until everybody (my agency too) made them, and we still do.
Now they all look like somebody ate a statistics book and a case of finger paints and puked it all out onto a really long piece of paper.
In all fairness, and another reason for them to go away quickly, is that they're not as easy to make as they look. You have to select an interesting topic, do research, write a script, lay out the graphics, and put it all together in a way that makes sense.
The animated infographic/explainer video is basically an infographic that either moves graphics around to music or features cartoon characters explaining seemingly complex concepts in a way that appeals to 6-year-olds.
I think there's always room for animated marketing videos, but it's as if somewhere around 2012 everyone decided that their products and services were waaaaaay too complicated for their demographic to fully grasp, so we all started making videos that look and sound like a first grade teacher trying to explain algebra to a monkey.
Needing to measure ROI
I'm not saying this isn't important. I'm saying that all marketers wish it would die. Know why? Because it's hard to do.
Ultimately, ROI should be measured by sales. But there are steps along the way.
- Set goals/expectations that define what a successful return on investment would look like.
- Define a social media marketing strategy that will meet or exceed that expected return on investment.
- Assign a price tag.
- Execute the campaign.
- If everything goes according to plan, the campaign will achieve the goals and meet the expected ROI.
Think of social media as pushing a boulder up a hill, at a certain cost, with the goal of getting it over the top of the hill. At which point gravity and inertia take over and roll the boulder down the other side of the hill at no additional cost.
But, without the required spend on strategy, resources, really good content (still hate that word), paid ads, PR, and social media distribution and/or influencer or star power, that boulder's not getting over the top of that hill.
"Young man making a wish isolated on white background" and "Shabby Wood Background" images via Shutterstock.