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How to put a price tag on strategy

value of marketing strategy

A seven-step proposal will help you highlight the value of your creative strategy.

For starters, don’t make it a discussion about your hourly rate.

In a tough economy, marketing agencies, consultants and freelancers face a daily battle against having their talent and intellectual capital commoditized. I saw this happen early in my career.

In the 1990s I worked for a B2B direct marketing agency that did very well. We had several long term accounts with Fortune 100 companies. We did many ongoing customer relationship programs for them that generated profitable sales over periods of 5-10 years.

We also had a few kinks in the business model that made me uncomfortable.

At that time it was still fairly common for an agency to land full-service business. We were fortunate enough to be one of them. Over time, we got too comfortable with the margins from printing, mailing and fulfillment services while selling creative and strategy services near cost.

Related: The triage marketing death trap

On top of that, the sales model for new business gave away strategy. We would present a complete marketing program, with all the research, analysis and creative rationale at the proposal stage. Many times I would walk away from those presentations thinking, “We’ve given them the whole strategy. They could take the plan, thank us, and then do it themselves.”

When economic hardship hit our biggest client, this came back to haunt us.

In response, they implemented a centralized procurement policy to cut costs. They unbundled all of the printing, mailing and fulfillment services from our programs, pulling them in-house. The body blows didn’t stop there.

Since we had been giving away the strategy work, it showed no value on their ledgers. Eventually we devolved from a full-service agency to a creative vendor. Party over.

I remembered that lesson years later when I became an independent consultant. I resolved to never give away the strategy or creative ideas in a marketing proposal. Instead, I use a proposal format that sells the plan and value I bring. It’s much more than a one-page cost estimate, though. Check out this slide deck to see what I mean.

7 steps to proving your value to prospective clients

Including these seven components in your marketing proposal helps to steer the discussion to how you will help solve a business problem rather than how much you cost. It follows a logical flow that more often than not gets the client to say, “Yes, let’s work together.”

Here’s how it flows:

marketing proposal flow chart

1. THE OVERVIEW

The overview is a high level summary that tells the client (I’m using the assumptive close, here) you understand their business challenges. And it states the problem you will be solving together.

2. THE OBJECTIVES

Sometimes I refer to these as “starter objectives” to get the conversation started. The goal is to get written agreement on specific outcomes and how they will be measured. For more on writing smart objectives see this post. Everything that follows is based on the objectives, so getting agreement on them is most critical.

Related: When execution beats strategy

3. SCOPE OF WORK

This part details the specific work you will be doing, and when appropriate, what is not included.

4. WORK PROCESS

Here is where you explain the steps you will take to complete the work and identify all the parties and responsibilities required to make them happen.

5. COST ESTIMATES

Now it makes sense to show the estimated costs. They are based on work process, which is based on the scope of work, which is based on the objectives. This gives a value basis and strategic rationale to the costs. Discussions about the budget can be focused on scope rather than your hourly rate.

6. WORKING AGREEMENT

The purpose of the working agreement is to establish the legal aspects of working together before they become an issue midway into the project. It covers cost estimates, ownership of work, confidentiality, payment for services and other elements of doing business together. Addressing this up front shows you are a professional.

7. BIO/ABOUT US

This is the place to end on a positive note. Don’t make it fluffy boilerplate propaganda. Direct your narrative to the skills, knowledge and experience you have specific to the industry and the assignment.

Getting to ‘YES’

The important thing to remember is the proposal is not the marketing plan. It is a discussion tool to set and manage the expectations for the project. And it is a tool to help you establish the value of the strategy and work you bring. It is your best bet for getting to ‘yes.’

Tell me what you think.

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To pierce the digital clutter, deliver the unexpected

January 10, 2013 6 comments
direct mail is unexpected

These days direct mail is unexpected.

One of the most basic ways to get attention is to break a pattern, creating the unexpected.

Consumers in this age of online marketing and social media see staggering amounts of digital information every day, so what is more unexpected than receiving a piece of direct mail? That’s breaking a pattern.

Direct mail marketing has been out of vogue long enough to be a novelty again. In fact, some B2B prognosticators predict a return of direct mail in the coming year as a multichannel differentiator used by savvy marketers.

RELATED: You want to send a letter? In the mail?!

In concert with your online marketing strategy, direct mail still offers solid advantages:

  • You can control the message
  • You can reach your target audience directly
  • You can drive a response from your target audience
  • There is less competition for mindshare in the mail box now

With renewed interest in integrating direct mail into multichannel marketing, it’s a good time for a direct mail refresher. Here are slides from a presentation I gave at the University of Minnesota College for Continuing Education on direct mail strategy and execution.

Integrating direct mail and social media

Done right, you can combine outbound targeting with inbound engagement to create a dynamic interactive experience. The key is to align your direct mail objectives with your online marketing objectives. This alignment gives a powerful one-two punch to:

  • Grow your social networks with incentivized calls-to-action offering discount coupons
  • Drive deeper engagement with a promotion by leading a prospect online
  • Expand the reach of a direct mail offer via social sharing

How is this being done today?

The integration possibilities are limited only to your imagination. Many of the multichannel approaches used today center on QR (quick response) codes and personal URLs (PURLs). Including a scannable QR code on the mailing piece allows you to interact with prospects at the moment of interest by:

  • Taking them to a microsite or personal landing page with custom content that guides them through the decision process
  • Giving more information via video demos or online catalogs
  • Offering discounts and the ability to order online
  • Taking them to a social media page to view testimonials and interact with your brand

Post card delivers

One case study using these tactics tells a compelling story of how well multichannel marketing can work.

A new restaurant franchisee used integrated direct mail and social media to bring traffic to the new store. They mailed 5,000 targeted post cards printed with PURLs that contained the customer’s name in the domain.

Customers were instructed to go to the microsite to activate a discount coupon. The microsite contained more coupons for additional discounts as an added reward for participating.

The customers were incented to share the offer with friends on social media. By sharing, they were entered into a sweepstakes to win free chicken meals for a year.

The campaign resulted in more than 14,000 visits to the microsite. That’s a 280 percent response from the original mailing of 5,000.

As you can see, there is great potential for leveraging direct mail with digital marketing channels. And, the prevalence of digital marketing makes direct mail seem new again. Unexpected, even.

What are your plans for direct mail this year?

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Why is consistency hard?

November 14, 2012 6 comments
consistency and context marketing

Old Town Cozumel

For marketers, consistency has been a simple rule to follow for communicating across channels and optimizing customer experience.

However, it’s not always easy to achieve consistency. Let me illustrate with a story.

One of my favorite vacation spots is Mexico. Years ago I discovered Cozumel, and became infatuated by its charm. It offers all the things I enjoy in a getaway: tropical weather, beautiful beaches, authentic food and interesting tourist attractions like Mayan ruins.

Wandering around the port district is an escape into old town Mexico, where roving Mariachi bands and bazaar merchants are framed by colorful, historic architecture. It is an atmosphere that takes you into a different world.

One year I planned a return trip, but all the hotels were booked solid. The alternative was to go to Cancun instead. It was nice, but not the same experience I had in Cozumel. In particular, the shops did not have the same native charm. In fact, they weren’t shops at all. They were strip malls with all the slick stores and merchandise you’d find in any city in the U.S.

The contrast was striking. It set my marketing brain to reeling. Logically it makes sense for retail chains to create a consistent shopping experience for customers wherever in the world they may be. But the context didn’t fit my expectations. This consistency seemed, well, inconsistent. Does consistency matter as much as we have assumed?

The case for marketing consistency

Consistency is a key ingredient for social influence, brand loyalty, customer satisfaction and integrated marketing communications success. Consistent actions and messages deliver many positive benefits.

Consistency builds trust and integrity. In Return on Influence, Mark Schaefer’s book on influence marketing, he notes “a high degree of consistency is normally associated with intellectual strength, logic, rationality and honesty.”

Consistency establishes authority. This year Altimeter Group published a report on digital influence identifying topical relevance as a pillar of influence. When an individual or brand invests in a topic of interest, they earn authority and expertise from a community of focus.

Consistency builds confidence. Successful relationships thrive on predictable actions and messages. When others know what to expect of you, they are comfortable in knowing you will deliver on promises.

Consistency strengthens your message. “People cannot focus on two conversations at once,” says Harry Beckwith in Selling the Invisible. A focused message repeated over time has power to influence and persuade.

Consistency sells. “Would you like fries with that?” There is a reason fast food cashiers are trained to ask you that. Joseph Sugarman, author of Triggers, says once a purchase commitment is made, a buyer tends to act consistently with the decision and is more agreeable to buy more.

consistency and context marketing cancun shopping mall

Cancun shopping mall

Challenges to consistent messaging

The “always-on” nature of new media puts demands on business communications that make it difficult to maintain marketing consistency. In an environment of rapid change, it can even render consistency moot. Consider:

Information overload. With the sheer volume of information on the Web, social media messages can evaporate soon after they are published. One recent study found the median lifespan of a tweet to be 18 minutes. You have to question the real impact of consistent messaging in that environment.

Real-time communications. Being able to respond to events as they unfold on social media is a powerful marketing opportunity. In the heat of real-time marketing it is also an opportunity to veer off-message and off-brand.

The attention economy. Because of information overload, we are increasingly challenged to find ways to make ideas stick. In Made to Stick, Chip and Dan Heath note one characteristic of a sticky idea is that it is unexpected. One way to get someone’s attention is to break a pattern. They explain, “Humans adapt incredibly quickly to consistent patterns. Consistent sensory stimulation makes us tune out.”

Putting it in context

Are we witnessing the end of consistency as a marketing maxim?  I don’t think so. It’s more of an evolution pushing content marketing toward a higher degree of context. It’s a call to a deeper understanding of customer and prospect personas to reach them where and how they are consuming our message. And of course, this has a shiny new name: context marketing. One of the better explanations I’ve seen describes it as using known qualities of prospects to present content in a frame of reference that is natural or noteworthy.

I’d like to hear your thoughts. Has marketing consistency become irrelevant?

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