Marketing has always been an ensemble endeavor. Don Draper may have come up with brilliant insights about the human condition in order to nail the Big Idea, but without graphic artists, copy writers, media planners, account reps, etc., etc., he would have just been another guy with Big Ideas.
Fortunately, there are set steps to creating an original promotional campaign that only change with scope. You take fewer steps with a smaller budget and more with a larger budget, but in general:
Understand the Brand
Whether the client is promoting cars, cookies, a children’s educational app, or a 3D printing marketplace, the first step is getting a feel for what is so special about the offering. What makes it unique? What makes people like it? What is its intrinsic appeal? How do people connect to the brand emotionally?
Different people respond differently, and that’s why segmentation is so important.
Understand the Audience
How is each customer category divergently engaged, intrigued and enamored? What is the most elegant and efficient way to communicate the proper product characteristic to these different groups?
This conundrum has to be addressed by the creative side of the house (the Don Drapers of the world) with input from market research, ethnographic research and now, digital analytics. They need to become experts in their client’s world in order to develop authentic, emotionally inspirational messages.
Reach the Audience
When I was a kid, there were three television channels in the U.S. and they were in black and white. There were a dozen or so radio stations in my market and two newspapers. There was direct mail and telephone cold calling. You could slap your message on a car windshield, a telephone pole or a highway billboard. Your choices for targeting were based on demographics, some psychographics and mostly, geography.
Media planning used to be a matter of buying blocks of TV time and pages of magazines. Today, the options are innumerable and the media planner is a programmatic advertising expert, a search specialist, a social media professional and more. The 23 year old who selects promotional spend based on the coolness of the publishers’ parties is history.
Understand the Results
Did we get any calls? Did we sell more stuff? Can we relate our advertising to our sales?
Today’s results monitors are data scientists. They layer segmentation with attribution patterns and marketing mix models. They spend their time sifting through Big Data to determine the relative and cumulative impact of myriad promotional messages and media, and seek new, actionable insights that the creative side can run with.
Get the Pieces to Fit
Finding the ideal person to determine marketing outcomes is no longer possible; it requires a team. The crucial coterie of creative types has been joined by a trained troop of technologists. Furthermore, great marketing does not come about if each of those skills is housed in a different brain. All contributors must boast a specialty, but each must also possess a deep and abiding understanding of all the others’ specialties. There must be synergy or there will be no results.
A Comprehensive Team
I found an excellent example of a diverse and comprehensive team when I met the founders of Resolute Digital.
Resolute Digital is a full service digital agency, now focused on the migration to mobile with a healthy respect for creative genius and the numbers. It was founded when four guys had individually had enough experience with enough agencies that they wondered why the whole process wasn’t as efficient as it could be. Have that conversation often enough and the inevitable statement is uttered, “We could do this a whole lot better.” Followed by the inevitable question, “Why not?”
To oversimplify, the cast of characters covers four areas of expertise:
- Brian McNamee art director and digital creative & management
- Jarod Caporino ad sales, strategic planning and media buying
- Dan Savage search and digital marketing analytics – data scientist
- Ben Sanders technology and programming experience
Brian McNamee has been a graphic designer at Saatchi & Saatchi, an art director at Ogilvy & Mather and a creative director at Foote Cone Belding. His cross training in direct marketing (both print and TV) gave him some insight into marketing metrics. He’s described by his colleagues as the only creative director in New York who cares about a client’s Google Quality Score.
Brian isn’t shy around numbers. He sees analytics as another arrow in his quiver, along with digital cameras, Photoshop and typography. He likes to do some serious keyword search analysis before diving into the creative because it helps him understand the brand and the audience.
“It helps stir the pot and generate better ideas,” Brian tells me. “Search informs the conversation and then we can create and test.”
Brian also likes analytics on the back end. “It’s more fun convincing clients we are doing a great job of communicating brand essence when we can point to having moved the needle; a real (OK, digital) needle and not just an emotional, aspirational needle,” he says. “Then we can dive into what didn’t work and where and we can talk about why.”
Brian’s creativity also comes to the fore when dealing with non-ecommerce companies. He says, “Clients are more and more interested in the numbers, on a corporate culture basis and then on a case by case, campaign specific level. So we create unique, custom key performance indicators for all those areas that don’t end up with a shopping carts and a Buy Now button.”
He can get creative mapping out the value of a store locator or the brand impact of a cross-channel promotion on products like cameras, TV’s and laptops from a major electronics retailer that sells globally through distributors.
Jarod Caporino had a significant background in media sales before he migrated toward paid search. He likes segmenting his audience by behavioral targeting, retargeting and even geofencing (near field and Bluetooth identification) in retail environments.
He also has a thing for attribution. “We look at two layers for attribution,” he says. “How many touchpoints and how many sources of traffic? Then we can explore conversion rate per touchpoint, sequence of touchpoints and then sequence ad messages based on exposure sequence across media,” In other words, putting the right message in front of the right person at the right time.
He’s at his best figuring out new ways to test and new ways to drive sales. “We’re driving impulse buys of beef jerky because we have maps of convenience stores and we know if you’re going in. We’ll black out TV ads in certain geographical markets for two or three weeks and just run digital and then switch and then see how running both together gets serious lift.”
None of this is capricious. He knows that every device you use is used during a different stage of the buying process. Jarod was busy buying mainstream media when Brian was trying to win awards with his graphic design. The fact that they both knew each other and were equally distressed by how little the creative side talked to the media side in their respective “too big to excel” companies.
For the two of them, it’s all about analytics by design; baking it into the process of strategy, design, development and optimization.
Dan Savage was selling ad space in Byte Magazine, Computerworld before the Internet turned commercial and then for the B2B Thomas Catalog when the search industry started up and he saw the writing on the wall. He dove head first into understanding all of the search engines so he could tell which ones would be eating his lunch and how soon.
He used original web analytics tools (Webalizer and Urchin) for monitoring search traffic and realized the winners would be the ones who bought keywords best. For Dan, the goal has been building better, faster, smatter bid management systems, starting in 2005. He was one of the first to tap into AdWords through its brand new API. The very long tail – at 5¢ per click – paid off big.
Today, Dan gets equally as excited about Google Shopping. “It’s going to be more important than AdWords to Google,” he opines. “It’s really, really important to be one of those six pictures that showing up in the upper right position and pricing is critical. You need to be automated and optimized at the right price because you’ll be right next to Amazon. That means a unique bid strategy for each of 6,000 product categories and that’s an automation problem to solve. And then through Google Places on top of it.”
Dan gets excited when these elements come together with mobile and the data get integrated with CRM systems. “Seven out of ten people in line in front of me at Starbucks paid with their phone. They know what I drink and when and where and how often and they have my customer ID. That makes them a data house that happens to sell coffee.”
Dan knows it’s not all a bed of roses. He sees that we’re still stumbling over the cost of integration and a lot of infrastructure is still required. He sees that people are still trying to get their arms around responsive design and choosing between too many tools to mine the data they have.
Having come out of Harvard Business School, Dan looks at each of these problems as an opportunity. “Just like at Harvard, where you bang your head against case studies. Each one of my clients is a case study and I’m running handfuls of experiments every week. It’s exhilarating!”
Ben Sanders has been a programmer since he was seven years old. He also started long enough ago that he got a traditional computer science degree. Most people don’t do that anymore, as there is so much to learn today. But that formal background that emphasized solid, thoughtful work instead of agility had made him more able to create things fast that require less rework.
After school, Ben supported himself by perusing project requests on craigslist. He would cherry pick assignments, code them, collect and move on. That experience served him well when he took “real” jobs as a technology director at JP Morgan-Chase, Ogilvy & Mather and Omnicon.
Ben was enamored with phones and had been an embedded Java developer on flip phones, waiting impatiently for smart phones to catch up. He went from developing m. sites to building business intelligence into apps.
Ben met Dan at a keyword arbitrage company managing hundreds of millions of keyword phrases. Dan came up with the ideas for the bidding tools and Ben wrote the code. That was back when then page rank mattered. Proving that location matters, they were renting space from Dan and Jarod’s agency.
“The four of us understood the big picture faster than the rest.” Ben told me. “We started a smaller boutique so cross-polarization makes us more agile. Rather than getting bogged down by functional silos, we can just get stuff done.”
Through it all, the four founders recognized the need to keep an eye on the numbers. “What started out as a
slap-dashboard became a five year project,” according to Dan. “I wrote a script to the Google API when it first came out and that has turned into a tool that pulls data from multiple sources and aggregates it. Now, we have to host it in the Amazon cloud to make some of the analysis run and we can spin up a couple of hundred instances, chart out the queries, aggregate it and then decommission them without breaking a sweat.”
Dan is intrigued by coding finesse but his blood really starts pumping when his technology is put to use. “I like the business application of tech – not the grinding out of the code. I also like getting there first and you can’t do the mobile-first stuff we’ve done or jump into wearable tech and the quantified self like Pebble, FitBit, and personal networks when you work someplace that can only move at an elephant’s pace. Especially not if you want to make sure it’s all done in an integrated way.”
Where the Clients Come From
I asked each of the founders how they identify the best fit when approached by a potential client. I was told that sometimes people call up and ask for specific help. Sometimes, it’s as simple as “Oops, I deleted my Google Analytics account can you help?” Sometimes people call up and ask if Resolute Digital can take a look at their analytics and give them some advice – like looking over their EKG and blood work results.
But the clients that get the most value from this company are the ones who have tried some of this and some of that and are ready for a partner with a lot of deep experience rather than a junior team at a giant firm. They are ready to start working strategically instead of piecemeal.
Jarod knows they have a great potential partner when the prospective client understands the value of having a creative guy who knows to ask about URL structures and designs with wireframes and not Flash. “People have turned to the Microsite Agency when that was popular and then they got help from The Mobile Agency when it was needed and then they went out to find the best Social Agency and that just doesn’t work.”
Dan feels their easiest win is a company that has acknowledged that they are behind the eight ball. “They know they need a real, integrated solution to tie all of their point solution marketing projects together. We get involved with strategy, taking a systems-level approach to marketing rather than, ‘Hey, let’s do a video!'”
Dan summed it up by pointing to a large retail client with 600+ stores as an example. “The problem with Big Data is no longer technical. We can cross correlate anything. The hard part is clearly articulating which business problem to solve. What questions will elicit the most insightful and actionable answers? People still don’t know what’s possible.
“Clients engage us strategically rather than purely in an executional mode of ‘build this website’. They want help figuring out a mobile experience and realize Resolute is best-suited for discovery, functional specifications and wireframes, custom creative with strong mobile concepts, and best-of-breed technical fulfillment. They take the highroad and that’s where we shine.”
Being successful in marketing requires an ensemble effort, approached as a strategic initiative and supported by an agile team that works together as if they’ve been doing so for years.