The Green Sheet Online Edition
February 22, 2010 • Issue 10:02:02
Marketing: Are you in or out?
Whenever a person hears the name of a company, a seed is planted. If the name is associated with concepts like reliable, trustworthy, safe and secure, people may consider the company to be one of the "good guys." Add to that testimonials, eye-catching graphics and positive press, and the company's name may engender veritable enthusiasm on the part of those who hear it.
How much easier it is for ISOs or merchant level salespeople (MLSs) to make a sale to a prospect who has been thus primed for their particular offerings. ISOs and MLSs rely on brand recognition, reputation in the marketplace, and marketing brochures and materials to prepare their prospects for the sale of the products and services they are pitching to merchants.
What is marketing?
Many people confuse marketing with sales, use the term interchangeably with advertising or are simply unclear about what the term means. Marketing is the process of persuading potential customers to do business with a particular company or purchase its products or services.
It begins with a strategy or plan and includes elements like television, print, radio and Internet advertising, direct mail, event marketing, online marketing, social media, public relations (PR), Web design, e-mail marketing, promotions, customer-facing newsletters, product brochures and more. With the advent of mobile smart phones, new methods continually present themselves to communicate a company's brand and value to its target audience.
Twenty or 30 years ago, companies dealt with media buyers, advertising agencies (which handled media advertising design and placement, signage, promotions and so on) and PR firms. Marketing agencies encompass all of those areas and much more.
Marketing, these days, is always integrated. Rather than a one-off ad campaign, companies are branding themselves and delivering the message of their unique products, capabilities, trustworthiness, reliability and so forth to potential and existing customers through a variety of channels on an ongoing basis.
With so many channels and methods of marketing, a company may find its marketing needs have outgrown the resources of its marketing department. A company may excel in its tradeshow and product placement efforts but fall short when it comes to online marketing or producing a newsletter. The brand itself may need a face-lift.
Even a company with a large marketing department may lack the knowledge or experience in the latest tactics such as search marketing or social media. Also, a marketing department can get entrenched in old ways of doing things and need fresh ideas from outside.
"I think those large companies like ourselves ... really need to bring a third party into the equation so that they have a different perspective on how to get the message out to the end user," said Christian Murray, National Director, Business Development for Global eTelecom Inc.
For companies with existing marketing departments, outsourcing isn't necessarily an all or nothing proposition. However, to get the most out of an agency and the best return on investment (ROI), letting an agency help define the brand, devise the marketing plan and handle the creative aspects may be the best course.
"It's often extremely effective to engage the agency more in strategic level rather than on an execution level," said Chris Caputo, Vice President, Digital Media and Strategy, Optiem LLC.
Barbara Reaman, President of Marketing Services Inc., said sharing the responsibility for execution between an internal marketing department and one or more marketing agencies works best when each department or agency is given turnkey responsibility for its respective piece of the project. When you're collaborating on creative projects, "amazing things are possible as long as nobody cares who gets the credit," Reaman added.
When an internal marketing department is working with more than one agency, it's important that all the messages and deliverables have the same look and message.
"If the internal group has a lot of cohesive communication and training on what the brand stands for, most everything you see from any agency [that they're working with] should represent the brand very well," said Scott Gardner, Chief Executive Officer and President of Liquid Agency Inc.
In addition, without proper communication, people working on specific aspects of a campaign may pioneer new paths because they don't like what exists or they're unclear about the correct approach, Gardner noted.
"That's where you get a company that, if you line up all their communications, it looks like they're 10 different companies," which can amount to spending money only to damage the brand rather than support it, he said.
Caputo pointed out that getting a marketing agency "to help you to define who you are, to build that brand guide," can empower the internal agency as well. "I think the agency can be used even as a sounding board in those situations, too, where an internal marketer is going to handle the e-mail but the agency is going to handle the Web site," Caputo said. "The internal marketer could do those designs and bring it back to the agency."
What a company chooses to keep in-house will be largely dictated by the company's own expertise and manpower. Peggy Bekavac Olson, founder of Strategic Marketing, said, "Marketing agencies or firms can complement what existing marketing teams are doing, or they can operate as a primary marketing resource with a company that doesn't have any - without adding on overhead expenses, employees."
The Green Sheet received diverse responses from marketing agency executives about the types of functions that are best to outsource. The one thing they all agreed on was leaving strategy to the agency. A company might also consider outsourcing its public relations to tap a larger list of contacts with whom the outside agency has well-established relationships, according to Cara Mormino, Vice President of Rocket Creative.
While in-house marketers are busy working on daily deliverables and keeping an eye on industry trends, they may not have the time to be fully informed about the latest marketing methods or trends. This brings it back to strategy and design as the things that may add the most value.
On the other hand, day-to-day responsibilities that do not require much creative ability but do necessitate significant man-hours might be more easily accomplished in-house where the content originates.
Who's the right fit?
Once a company has decided to outsource, the task of choosing the right agency for its needs is the next challenge. The most important consideration is getting referrals and checking references.
"Most agencies, when you go to them and ask them if they can do something, will always say yes," Caputo said. "It's so common it's unbelievable." He added that agencies sometimes sell types of services they have never delivered before and then figure out how to do them on the fly.
He suggested asking for three examples from prospective agency partners of how they successfully delivered a particular tactic. He also stressed the importance of passion for your products or services. In the payments industry, this would mean engaging an agency whose people deal with payments daily and care about secure, noncash methods for purchasing goods and services.
Gardner said the main factors to consider when shopping for a prospective marketing agency are relevant experience, skill sets of the agents assigned to work with the company and budget. He also said that despite all the ways people can connect globally, geographic location is still important to some companies.
He suggested choosing a company that is at least in the same time zone and "close enough so that every once in a while they can get together without having to fly teams in."
Jason Matthew Murphy, Manager of Business Development for Optiem, suggested also making sure the agency is transparent and easy to reach.
What should agencies know?
Most of the marketers The Green Sheet spoke with said extensive knowledge of the payments industry is not crucial to successfully marketing a company in this sphere. However, they all agreed it was the marketer's job to research the company and its industry before the first meeting.
"I really consider that my responsibility is to get up to speed and be able to make meaningful contributions quickly," Reaman said. She added that the agency must know where the company fits in the supply chain so that its input demonstrates knowledge of the context in which the company operates.
Xavier Ayala, Vice President, Director of National Sales and Marketing for Moneris Solutions Inc., said Moneris does not outsource a substantial amount of its marketing because of the time it takes to educate other firms adequately on the industry. He said educating the agencies about Moneris' audience - what does and doesn't appeal to them and even what turns them off - takes time he doesn't have.
Murray said the company representative evaluating prospective agencies needs to be clear about the company's needs, strengths and weaknesses, and provide an overview of what the company does. He added that if this is done, the marketing firm should be able to deliver, even without having a comprehensive understanding of the industry.
In its searches for marketing agencies over the years, GETI found that most were not interested in getting involved in or learning about the industry. He said they were interested in understanding only enough to do the job.
What makes a good interview?
Regardless of whom a company chooses to involve in the selection process, giving the people who will be working together face time will help in the decision process, especially if some of the functions will be handled in-house.
Caputo suggested interjecting some social time into the process. "Take them out for drinks, take them to lunch, do something where you can watch the interaction," he said. "Are they casual with each other, do they joke, do they laugh? Are they able to communicate easily? Are they working well when they're just talking?"
With large agencies, you may speak initially with a business development person, not the people who actually do the marketing work. Reaman said including the people who will be assigned to your company from the beginning can make all the difference. "When we earn new business, it is very often because the former agency" handed the company's project off to an employee who was not in the initial meeting, Reaman said.
"Those responsible for the day-to-day management of the marketing work never recovered the insights and information that were lost from the original discussions - great note-taking notwithstanding. And because [the account maintenance people] were not there at the beginning, they never developed a deep commitment to the customer's business success."
A payment company will, of course, be keeping an eye on its budget and the ROI for a given proposal. The two most common pricing methods seem to be project-based billing or a retainer.
Reaman said she dislikes both. "First of all, retainer is a big, bad, dirty word today because it brings to mind lawyers and other types of professionals that we don't always like to pay and think are over-priced." Marketing Services' model is more organic and can be adjusted if a company experiences a setback, she said.
"Agencies come in all shapes and sizes and cost structures depending on what they have to pay their employees and the level of employee they hire," Gardner said.
Whose job is it?
Murray believes it is the responsibility of the processor, value-added reseller, vendor or equipment manufacturer to provide marketing materials to resellers. He added that ISOs and MLSs and other sales agents should lean on those companies to provide effective marketing materials.
Whether you decide to do your marketing in-house or outsource it, marketing is not a line item on the budget that can be easily dismissed. Payment companies are still popping up left and right, even in this economy, and there will always be someone trying to woo your customers and prospects away from you.
Now may be a good time to re-evaluate your marketing efforts to help your company hold and even improve its position in the marketplace.
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