"One day we were being feted and touted because we were gurus, the next day they felt interactive was cannibalizing their direct channels," says Thom Kennon, on his years as interactive marketing consultant to London-based direct marketing agency WWAV Rapp Collins.
From launching an interactive agency with support from his friend Stephen King, to pitching wavering clients in the UK, to flipping strategies to focus on US business-to-business accounts, Thom Kennon CEO NACIO Interactive, has been there, done that, and got the marketing t-shirt.
We asked him for tips and tricks to wooing clients on both sides of the pond, and on both sides of the B-to-B versus B2C equation:
-> On pitching interactive marketing to UK clients
The ambivalence Brits felt toward the Web, combined with a fear that Kennon's team would "kick ass, take names, and act like Americans," gave relationships -- both with Rapp Collins and with the agency's clients -- a love/hate feel that took some finesse to counter.
"The most interesting piece about that experience, which is still prevalent today, is the breathlessness with which people were yearning for these new channels to save a product line that had been sagging," Kennon says.
The British felt that Americans were ahead of them when it came to technology (though the US was actually far behind when it came to SMS and DRTV), and they were eager to catch up. At the same time, there was what Kennon calls an "institutionalized resistance" to emerging channels.
Here are four techniques Kennon used to respond:
--Technique #1. Focus on results
When fighting resistance to new channels, "incremental results," as opposed to cannibalizing one channel for another, became his catch-phrase.
"We had to show that we'd sell a lot more online, or that we'd sell somewhat more but the cost to sell would be reduced," he says. "It took a little vision for people to say, 'Okay, let's test it.'"
--Technique #2. It's not all about the Web…
"What we found over there was they were constantly looking over their shoulders, saying, 'What are they doing in the States?'" Kennon explains. "They really want to be like Americans but have an inherent disposition to be conservative."
The best thing Kennon brought to the table was an integrated view. "Because we came from direct channels offline, we could see the mix," he says. He didn't come in shouting that online media was the only way to go and that other channels were dead.
--Technique #3. It's not all about the product…
When Kennon was trying to land the lucrative Diageo account -- the premium drinks company wanted to create a branded database and customer platform -- he knew that typically an agency would approach it from a product-centric point of view.
So, he chose to start with data -- laying out how the campaign could work from a simple acquisition point of view: cost to acquire, cost to retain, etc. "We put together a massive thing with people who really understood the pure and simple metrics of marketing," Kennon says.
Then he added icing to the cake with strong brand messaging across every media channel -- "We created a brand presence and value and expression that couldn't have been farther afield from others doing customer segmentation," he says.
Kennon's team also mapped out the back-end. "If you're really going to take it across the channels, you really have to have a single view of customers, customer history. You have to understand the difference between these channels, how they work differently and how the customers would see them differently," he says.
--Technique #4. Theatrics
"We learned that the theatrics of a pitch over there is very important," Kennon says. When he pitched the Diageo account, his team explained the idea, the fundamentals, what it would cost. "You know, teasing out all the analysis," he explains.
Then, "BANG!" he says: In the middle of the pitch, in walks one of the art directors. "His assistant's carrying these five cutouts of brilliant creative work, he stands there talking about the branded customer experience, it was one of the most exciting pitches I've ever been part of," Kennon says.
It was one of those pitches where the client says, before they even leave the room, "I think we're going to work with you people."
-> On transitioning to serving B-to-B clients
"Most of the start-ups we were building huge ecommerce sites for literally evaporated, so we refocused our abilities," he explains. Kennon's agency became a "business solutions agency" and focused on growing markets such as HR, healthcare, and legal services.
What they specifically did *not* focus on was any B2C sector. "With the lessons we've learned, we've moved much more into a B-to-B focus."
Kennon suggests other marketing agencies do the same. "There's still so much money sitting on the sidelines," he says. "I would concentrate on those traditional businesses that are migrating into emerging channels."
These traditional businesses might be thinking something along the lines of, "My cost to do business with a remote sales force is X with old channel management tools, but I can drive cost down significantly using new channels…"
But to help a business in such a situation, a marketing agency needs to be able to provide end-to-end solutions for anything they offer, Kennon says. "The things that people need are the management and support."
-> How to form partnerships to gain & serve more B-to-B clients
"If you're going to hang your shingle as a marketing agency, you must have partners," Kennon says. "Marketers who don't become channel specialists won't be as successful; they'll be more like an advertising model," where you don't have to be a technology expert, for example.
By partnering with a tech company to develop a relationship with a client, "you own a piece of the company you've never dreamed of, the technology piece."
If done well, it almost becomes a hybrid industry: "It's not advertising, it's not traditional marketing, it's not emerging technology. It's a service group that understands all the challenges of a business customer."
Be forewarned, though. Forming those relationships is awful.
You'll find yourself saying, "Are you a competitor? Well, kind of. Well, not really. Why would I want to sell your products before I sell mine?" (Note: Now Kennon never looks at a new opportunity without thinking how he could sell his partners on it.)
For strategic alliances, a well-defined mutual referral contact is important. It should spell out the details of who gets what in terms of percentages: "You get 4% of mine if you're simply referring it, 10% of mine if you're reselling it."
And a client should always have one single contact at one single company. Kennon notes the client relations role becomes super-critical when you're sharing a client with partners.
That's because the more informal the partnerships you form, the less insulated you are from being run around by partners.
If you make widgets and partner with a wodget-maker to sell both widgets and wodgets to a client, there's nothing to stop the client from going directly to the wodget-maker to get them more cheaply. "There's a whole lot less insulation, especially if the woman selling the wodgets becomes best friends with the client," Kennon says.
To keep that from happening, become an expert at managing those relationships and learn everything you can about your client. It takes a lot of time, Kennon says, but it's worth it. The more you understand about the client and the services (down to operations and the financials of the business), the less likely the client is to switch agencies.
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