The marketing landscape is a busy and crowded place – so, standing out requires big thinking from both the agency and the client. But if agencies want to push their best ideas forward, then they must appreciate the environment in which their clients operate. This means taking into consideration not only the risks involved with those ideas, but the tools, content, data, and perspective required to get buy-in.
In this episode of The Marketing Remix, Heather Molina, VP of Cross-Channel Marketing, and Stephanie Ranson, VP of Client Services, discuss the agency-client dynamic, balancing brand and performance, and more.
How do you determine what matters most within a brand’s organization?
Stephanie: Yeah. I think there's a couple of ways you can do this. I'll even borrow a little bit from you Reid, really around getting to know an organization's DNA. I think if you understand really how they operate, how they make decisions, their internal dynamics, you really just to get to know them as a group, as a dynamic. You get to understand a little bit more about their culture and really what matters to them. So I think getting to know them both on a personal level as well as a dynamic level is really important, and then starting to really weave that in to how you make recommendations, how you understand how they make decisions, and that you really get to know what their DNA is all about.
Reid: Do you try to put that back to them so they have some awareness 'cause they don't always necessarily know what we're picking up on, I guess.
Stephanie: Yeah, absolutely. I think that's really core to it, is for them to... They're inside their culture, they may not really completely realize what it's all about, but for us to in a sense interpret it and then facilitate back to them. This is what we understand, you're up against this, these are your dynamics, you're facing these decisions. I think that helps almost for them a bit feel like they're being heard, they're understood, that they have a bit of a partner who can really identify some of those places that we might be able to help.
How can a brand sell through their (or their agency’s) best - and possibly riskiest - ideas?
Stephanie: Yeah. I think again it's going back to understanding how they make decisions. Some are really metrics-driven, some are almost gut-driven. I think it's being responsible about understanding that, but at the same time as a partner giving them a different perspective. So maybe they are a bit anecdotal and gut-driven. We'll be able to answer to that and put a little bit of context around some of those ways and ways that they make decisions, but then maybe we'll turn it around to... But you should be focused a little bit more on metrics, on performance, on understanding the larger business impact. And so we're trying to take it from a couple of different angles and then ideally something really sticks and is something that really resonates with them that they can potentially bring internally or sell internally.
Reid: Now Heather, you run our paid own and earn team. So you got media ideas, you've got social and content ideas and ways that all this stuff can integrate. What sort of things are you trying to pull together for the sake of this conversation, so that those crazy ideas might come out of your team, but then how do you arm the Client Services and say, arm clients to kinda wrap their arms around all of that?
Heather: Well, I would actually say it's Stephanie's team, that Client Services team that actually empowers and arms, as because my team is full of nerds and data geeks and creative geeks who go off of data-driven numbers to create ideas and stuff, and we need to understand how the client works, and that's why Stephanie's team is so key to helping us understand what we should be pushing forward. Because we can look at the data and say, "We know this is important to your industry, to your audience, to all of this stuff." But we need to be able to tailor that conversation so that our client can connect with it and understand how it's gonna drive value. So it's a really integrated relationship that we have at Red Door that's unlike really any other agency that I've worked at. That piece of her team understanding really how decisions are made and understanding that DNA really helps my team figure out "Okay, I need to push this idea because it's relevant to the audience. I need to push it this way to the client."
Heather: And her team allows us to, well, I shouldn't say allows, they just pave that path for us to be able to introduce these ideas and give us that pulse check of, "Okay, this client's most concerned about this, so don't push this type of idea or if you're gonna try to sell that idea through, talk about this benefit and how it's gonna help them achieve their marketing objectives or their business objectives." So it's really key understanding from them how they have interpreted that relationship with the client to be able to say, "Okay, this is what's gonna make the most sense for this client. This is what's gonna drive the most value for them."
Stephanie: I just wanna go on the record and say we love nerds.
Heather: Thank you.
Stephanie: So we can speak for all our client services.
Reid: Well, yeah. I mean we need their talents, their unique talents and the things that they do to educate themselves and push all of that so that we can help clients move the ball. And then, so taking all of that stuff, how do you give... So, say maybe our primary client contact is on board, how do we help them sell it to the rest of the group? 'Cause there's always a fear of the unknown. And we've tried to... I think what we're talking about here is getting rid of some of that unknown through data or things we know about the client, but how do we help them then take what we've done here and move it throughout their organization?
How do you ease the “fear of the unknown”?
Heather: Well, again I think being able to connect with that client and understand what the intricacies are of their development team, maybe their creative agency if it's not Red or their CMO or somebody else in terms of their organization understanding how to speak their language. It all comes down to communication. We've done such a great job in the last few years of selling through some really innovative ideas for brands, and it was all because we were able to connect the exact benefit of what it is we were trying to achieve for that client and connect it to what it is that they were trying to achieve from a business perspective. And it's not as difficult or overwhelming as maybe it sounds. It's actually pretty intuitive and innate at Red Door. And it's just all about finding that right angle to make sure that everybody from the top down on the brand side feels really good about what we're recommending, even if it's something as simple as changing a title tag on a page from an SEO perspective, really having and being able to speak to that developer team on the client side of why we're changing... Or even the creative team on the client side to really understand why we're changing that one word, that one phrase within that overall tag, a simple little tag, how it resonates and how it will benefit them, and how it will make them look good.
Heather: We're not just doing this to push our perspective from a cross-channel perspective. We're not doing it just to help the SEO. We're helping it to also drive down cost on the paid side and bring the brand forward with aligning on this particular key phrase with their audience and social. So it's connecting it to that bigger picture and really helping them understand the benefit to them directly that it's gonna have and how it's gonna make them look good and help them achieve their own individual objective within the overall organization.
Stephanie: I'll just add a little bit to that around the idea of the fear of the unknown. I think we subscribe to this idea, to a little bit of Heather's point around making the client fall in love with what's possible. So making sure that we're selling through, maybe it's a large strategic idea, it's something really big to grasp, but then actually demonstrating what is possible. You can execute this. This is doable. This will show impact. So taking it all away up from a really large idea all the way down to actually... There's a real strategy in execution and we really subscribe to that. But then also what kind of a business impact is that going to really have on the organization, and I think you'll probably fulfill on a lot of different people inside the organization, whether it's your COO, your CEO, the board, by kind of coming from that perspective, big picture all the way down to daily execution and business impact will go a long way. And I think we'll speak to a lot of different languages to a lot of different people inside the organization.
Reid: Sometimes with that, sometimes people see that in a lot of quantitative ways, what business impact, they say, "Well, it's gonna sell more or do something like that." But what about the more qualitative side or the brand side? What is the balance of maybe some of the recommendations where... I don't know if to say it's risky on a brand side to drive certain degrees of performance, but there are cases in which that's an issue, where we say, "Well, these kinds of things you can do to drive performance." In a recent podcast that we just did was around... With Birkenstock and pulling out of Amazon for example. Amazon's a huge sales channel and would have significant number effect, but you have to decide that it wasn't having a negative effect on the brand.
Stephanie: Brand polluting it.
Heather: Perception. Yeah.
Reid: Right. So now how do you balance those things when we're making these kinds of recommendations or how does the client need to think about it when we're presenting these ideas?
How can agencies build trust with clients, beyond referencing their client roster or sharing past metrics-driven successes?
Stephanie: I'll say we do this exercise, and I hope I'm answering your question. We do this, what we call a pre-mortem exercise around some of these riskier recommendations, where we... And this is I think a way to just build trust with clients that we're not afraid to talk about what's risky, about what could go wrong, and it's better to have a plan that any of this and maybe none of this goes wrong.
Reid: Is my name on that list Heather?
Stephanie: Number one. Reid.
Stephanie: Period. End of list. [chuckle] No, but I think, we've done this at a couple of times with a lot of clients on bigger projects, riskier projects, ones that maybe they haven't done before, and I think that helps ease their mind a bit, just to be able to think through, "Okay, we have thought around a lot of things that could happen. We will have a plan if this does." And I think that that just helps ease their minds a bit on having that plan of what if... And just identifying some of those risks up front and I'm sure I would imagine Birkenstock did that exercise. And what probably ended up happening, it probably wasn't a direct pro/con list, but the real pro stood out the most, and I think that made the most sense for their brand, and it sounds like they're thriving really around that decision.
Heather: Yeah. And I would say that, to jump off of what Steph was just saying, it's we're really good about going through that exercise from a pre-mortem perspective of, "What's the cost of, if you don't do it? If you don't do this, here's what we anticipate could happen. Here's how far behind you're going to be if you do this." And having our backing to the overall decision of what they're evaluating and everything. So we try to demonstrate not only the gains of what they will get if they do this and why they should do something, we also try to demonstrate what's gonna be the downside if you don't do it.
Heather: If you don't update your experience on your website, how far back is that gonna set you? How much money are you leaving on the table that you could be collecting at the end of the day just by not changing this one simple thing that'll cost you maybe $2000 fix, but it could add once it gets up and rolling, it could add $60,000 a month in revenue. And it's something so simple like that. So we go through that exercise to really demonstrate what the value add is, and that is when if it still doesn't align with the brand objectives then, we come up with an alternative strategy. If you don't wanna be on Amazon, totally cool, it's diluting the brand. Let's think about how we drive awareness or how we drive focus and sales down the line through another channel and stuff, if that is a really critical piece to your overall brand identity. So it's the cost of, "What is it gonna cost you by not doing it down the road?"
Stephanie: Inaction is its own strategy.
Reid: Yeah. Well, so there's inaction, but there's also I think a risk, and sometimes is having enough success and then how that may lead to complacency. So, things are getting better, why do I need to do anything? 'Cause to some degree you can have made a change or do a few things and then things are starting to look good. Not extraordinary or whatever, but we're moving the needle. How do you fend off some of that complacency when what you've been doing has worked up to this point but it could be more? How do you encourage that sort of innovation which oftentimes comes with risk taking and putting some of that growth maybe at risk, but the reward ideally is something way more magnified.
How do you fend off complacency (what we’ve been doing has worked up until this point) and encourage innovation?
Heather: I think how I would answer that is... And how I answer most of these questions I go back to the business goals, and I'd wanna tie it back to, "Well, you wanna accomplish X and maybe they're a little risk-adverse, maybe they're not really open to a lot of innovation, but this will actually work towards that business goal." So I think making sure that we have a really clear understanding of those, have a really clear understanding of how we can accomplish those. That might be a very tried and true proven way or it might be an innovative way. And so I think making sure that we come back to understanding those and repeating those back to the client in a sense, and knowing that we could put a strategy around it that would actually accomplish that, could be really innovative. But I think you have to just make sure that it's laddering back up to those larger strategies.
Stephanie: And I would say also one of the things that we really talk about internally is the idea of crawl, walk, run. So if there is an innovative idea, there is something we wanna test and maybe the client's a little bit risk-adverse to it, we can outline and map out, "Okay, this is what testing or going towards this new type of thing. If we do it at a crawl rate and just dip your toe, here's what that looks like. Here's what it would look like if you were walking and getting a little more efficient with it, and if you wanna go all in and really drive some excitement, to really do some disruptive stuff. Here's what it looks like when it's running." And so, we're able to really provide those evolutions or those recommendations that really fit a level of comfortability for a client. So it doesn't always have to be, "You either do it or you don't do it." It often is like, "Hey, let's just dip our toe." Especially on the digital side, it's digital, you can test it. There's a very easy way to test something out and have it be not so cost absorbing and stuff. It's something you can do very safely. And we talk a lot about that with clients and getting them comfortable with new things and innovating for themselves.
Reid: So it's not totally binary where, "Here's the thing, you either do it or don't. Here are some options that they have there."
Stephanie: No. Not at all.
Reid: So, related to then moving the ball on something like that, what does maybe the presentation look like internally? So again, we have these ideas and we're collaborating with the client. We think maybe we got something, and again they need to sell that thing internally. What does that look like? I would assume, actually I will put it up there, as it's not always a, "Here's a PowerPoint. Good luck."
Reid: What else is involved? How do we make that magic happen and see some of this stuff through?
What does a presentation look like internally? How does that set the stage for client buy-in?
Stephanie: Yeah, I think one of the best ways that we make the magic happen is we tell a story, is we make sure that we have a very strong beginning, middle and end. We have a hero and a villain and we really try to subscribe to the idea of really insight-driven story telling and that's even in our recommendations and even in our PowerPoint. So I think that's a big part of what we do, and it's not a just, "Here's a recommendation. Here's what it'll cost. Here's the timeline." It's really about, "Here is the challenge. Here is the opportunity. Here's the way forward. Here's potential options." And making sure that it's got a very clear narrative and that it's something that the client can understand, can shop around and make sure that it's hitting all of the high notes to the right folks internally. And that as much as I like to say, I love our team and they're fantastic in presenting this, I'm also a big fan that ideally we'll do such an effective job in this recommendation in telling an effective story that they're able to tell it internally too. So we have a role and a responsibility to really educate them and get them equipped to do that if we're not at the privilege of being in the room. So there's a pretty tall order when we're making these recommendations. But I think telling a really strong story is hard to debate.
Reid: So they can't just shop around an Excel spreadsheet or do something like that?
Heather: Exactly. You could. Good luck. No Oscar for you.
Reid: Well, good. What else does somebody need to know from a marketing standpoint around some of the new tactics. You talk about story telling, other things that people could be doing to sell some of these ideas forward. There's story telling. We've got videos and presentations. We've seen some clients present things in that format too, looking at historical whatever else. What are other things that people could be doing?
Heather: I mean overall, I think the thing that we've had the most success in helping drive innovative ideas forward with clients and prospective clients is giving them access to the subject matter experts. And even if our client doesn't understand our subject matter, they will bring someone from their side who we would be working with or maybe connecting with or who has that skill set that we would be dipping into if it's... Again, going back to a site recommendation that will help paid search perform better, connecting with that person on their site who owns the website and being able to have that direct conversation, so that that person who doesn't work maybe directly with our client on a day-to-day basis, they just work collaboratively in-house, they're able to show that they're bringing somebody, an agency partner to the table that wants to work together, that wants to help them achieve their objectives. So we allow our subject matter experts to go forward and have that connection and really talk, the geek talk to some degree to get things sold through and really have them come to fruition and everything.
Heather: So, I think that's one thing that we do really well, and it's how we've gotten a lot of recommendations that have vetted out into really well performing campaigns and initiatives that we now have case studies for Red Door to showcase what our talent, what we can bring to the table from a performance perspective or a brand perspective.
Stephanie: And I'll add to that. I think a tool in our belt is really around data and how this connects to the business, and so a lot of the times we'll be giving some really highly technical recommendations. Heather mentioned a lot of nerds on our team and really smart technically savvy people that may be speaking to a room of C-suite executives that may not be as savvy, but when they start to talk about the impact on the business, "And by increasing your page speed, you're going to expect this amount of increase in your revenue." I think that's when everyone kind of perks up. So leveraging that data, those insights...
Heather: Speaking the language of the audience. Yeah.
Stephanie: Their language and tying it back to the business metrics, I think is a really powerful tool that we definitely like to leverage and I think that helps us get a lot closer to the things that we think are really important for our clients to accomplish.
Reid: So there's a lot of opportunities out in this world where maybe it's not brand-safe, it's not something that would align with what's right for the brand, but could maybe drive performance. What's our reaction there? How do we adapt to that? 'Cause sometimes the client could bring it, sometimes vendors could bring it. And we say, "Oh I could see how that would work." But then we have to take a step back and say, "Wait, I don't know if this is right for the brand." How do we react to something like that?
How do you drive performance, while also staying true to the brand? (i.e. media placement(s), influencer affiliations, etc.)
Heather: Well, again it comes back to the brand objectives and stuff, so I know we had talked at one point in the past about SEO and my team might be recommending some specific keywords or sometimes the brand comes to us and says, "We wanna be showing up on this term." And it's completely not a term that has any traffic, and we're gonna tell them, "Hey, that's not gonna drive back to your objectives of, in this case performance and trying to get more traffic and more sales ultimately." Or sometimes we'll have a vendor who talks directly to a client and wants to sell them on an ad network, and we'll look at it and say, "A, that's not a brand-safe place for you to be, because of these specific reasons. 'Cause we've done our research and our due diligence. We know this isn't the right fit for you from a brand perspective. It's not safe, but also we don't believe it'll perform and here's why. Here's how they do their tracking. Here's how they send traffic to your site."
Heather: That's where the data side, the geeky side from my team comes into play of being able to actually dial it back to the brand objectives and in that case, it's gonna be like, "Yeah, I may drive a lot of traffic to you, but do you really want it associated with your brand? Do you really wanna be there? It's not a right fit. That's not the kind of quality traffic or quality effort you want going towards your brand, and when we wouldn't recommend it."
Reid: Yeah. And Steph, and as a brand champion in a lot of ways. How do you layer that in in terms of what's right from our recommendation standpoint, and what you get the team to look at, as well as then what may be a client is looking at and how they should interpret recommendations or things coming their way?
Stephanie: Sure. I think it goes back again to telling a really good story and we're definitely big fans of providing to the client what they want, but also what they need. And so we'll always deliver on the ask as far as responding to those recommendations to answering to their request, but it's our responsibility to make sure that we're providing our expertise, our recommendations that line up to the larger goals. And yes, sometimes you might be in a situation where this tactic is gonna drive tonnes of performance, and that's exciting, 'cause often we're rated on that, but not to the expense of the brand. So I think we often have to find that balance, we have to weigh that balance, we have to work with our clients to make sure that they know we're also weighing it. And neither one ever really wins out, but it's really a matter of making sure we're weighing our options and knowing what those unintended consequences of some of those decisions and really working very closely and transparently with our clients to determine that together.
Reid: Yeah. So brand performance, that is balancing that is our responsibility and it's collaborative with the client. So, I think that's, for me, obviously that was the take-away and want everyone to understand is there's always opportunity, no shortage of it. So we're trying to figure out what to say yes to, what to say no to, and telling a good story, and connecting that back to the business goals is what's key. So Heather, Steph, thanks for joining us today.
Heather: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
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