By: Ryan Haynes, lead consultant, Haynes Marcoms
When you know you need marketing support, the worst thing you can do is go to an agency without a clear idea of what it is you want them to do. The biggest challenge agencies experience is the lack of clarity for what businesses want to achieve and why.
Lack of clarity and focus ultimately lead to delayed decision-making, unclear expectations, loss of opportunity and can cause friction in the working relationships. Both parties will be wanting to enter a project excited about the opportunities of achieving and exceeding the expected outcomes.
Results are central to any investment, and when you’re clear with what you want to achieve marketing agencies can better provide creative communications solutions to help you get there.
If you’re not careful, agencies can also take you down paths you don’t need to go down – either because they misinterpret the brief, or they take a cookie cutter approach that may not work for your business. You should be able to turn to your agency for expert counsel, where they advise the best approach to ensure you reach those important goals.
It starts with the value proposition
A value proposition is arguably the most important aspect of your overarching company message, and potentially the most critical element of your marketing strategy.
Value propositions are most notable for b2b companies, especially within technology and software systems. Too often companies will talk about being ‘feature-rich’ and lead with product functionality without telling the buyer how the product helps them do their job, outperform in their role, or achieve key strategic milestones.
The value proposition will feed the core messages to be communicated across each marketing channel to the target buyer audiences. The clearer the value proposition, the easier it is to develop content and PR strategies that reinforce your position in the market and highlights the opportunities you offer customers and the industry.
Being anchored to a defined value proposition that incorporates your business’ mission, vision and values will enable your marketing plans to be focused and have purpose – really helping to differentiate your delivery.
What is a value proposition?
A value proposition stands as a promise you are making to your customers and market segment, explaining why a buyer should choose you. Your business offers a solution – therefore it’s essential to be clear what problem it solves. This is a message you need to use consistently across all communications and buyer touchpoints. You need to get to the point quickly – think of it as an elevator pitch:
- Have a clear headline
- Explanatory short, two to three sentence paragraphs (with or without a short bullet point list)
- Be selective of words, terminology and tone of voice to best resonate
It’s also important to commit to your value proposition and not continually pivot or adapt. That’s not saying it needs to be broad, in fact if you’re too broad you’ll struggle to communicate your offering, while if you’re too niche you can lose opportunities.
Creating your value proposition
There are three key questions that are built around the value proposition, which any marketing communications professional should be asking from the offset. It’s not what does your product do, but:
Which customers are you going to serve?
This is really important, knowing your buyer personas and those involved in the decision-making. The more you understand your target audience the easier it is to relate, while not being distracted by irrelevant audiences and markets.
Whether it’s social media advertising, email campaigns or sponsored events, a defined audience will ensure your marketing spend is directed to only the most relevant buyers. Marketing agencies will use these buyer profiles to identify and select the right channels to build visibility among a captive audience.
Which needs are you going to meet?
Having a good grasp of your buyers’ pain points – those aspects of their business, their role, or their targets that they’re struggling to achieve – will help marketing agencies understand the solutions you provide.
Agencies can identify the topics and themes for the business to best to engage in to attract the most interest that is timely and relevant. They can develop full campaigns to best measure how your solutions resonate with the market.
What is your market position?
Really understand where you sit in the market and where you add value to business. Many companies will focus on the features and functionality that define them from competition, just a list of product specifications – not really that attractive to anyone – especially when you’re trying to hook and reel in new prospects.
Instead, it’s about communicating the benefits, how your solution is an enabler to other things. Marketing and PR agencies should be able to provide you with the support to develop messaging that helps you stand out in the crowd.
Defining your marketing RFP
An RFP (request for proposal) is a typical approach when engaging marketing and PR agencies. The detail of the RFP will all depend on the internal procurement processes and the criteria and requirements for working with external agencies. Nonetheless, having a brief will help you identify the right agency for the task in hand, and to help you compare services and offerings if you speak to more than one agency.
Even when working with an incumbent agency it’s important to be clear with briefs, otherwise you risk the project and the agency failing. It’s essential to create SMART objectives that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound:
Goals – What do you want to achieve, what result do you want to see? What makes the project a success? This is key as it will impact the direction of the brief, scope and budget. Some metrics maybe
- Increased engagement
- More database/newsletter subscribers
- Higher value SQLs
- Increase traffic
- Conversion uplift
- Backlinks or company mentions
- Building a library of content
- Improved industry reputation/awareness
Scope – What will it involve? What needs to be covered? What are your expectations of the agency you will work with? What do they need to be able to do? It’s important you cover the key aspects you want to see in the project, these can include:
- The extent of your responsibilities and your agencies
- What tasks you expect them to include without additional charges
- What the agency needs to factor in as part of the project
- Does the agency need any specialism or expertise?
Timeline – When does this need to be delivered? Having a clear idea of when you need to make these achievements will help for more informed resource planning. You need to be realistic and consider feedback and potential delays due to holidays, sickness or be aware of other potential barriers, especially if you need to consider any internal approval processes. You also need to consider the timeliness of a campaign:
- When do you need to start to see the results vs when you need to reach the goal?
- Have you factored in preparation, is there setup that needs to be done first?
- Do you have other deadlines you need to factor in?
- Have you considered how other suppliers/ third-parties may need to be part of the project?
- If working with customers or partners, could there be delays?
Budget – How much can you invest? Consider resources for both production and paid-marketing initiatives like advertising, and be prepared to ask questions on costs. Always a difficult question, but how can you get a quality proposal that answers your brief without the agency knowing your investment? You need to understand what part is service and deliverables and which are external costs, items you may need to consider are:
- Additional services or expertise to complete the project
- Urgency/duration of the project
- Complexity of the requirement
- Advertising or sponsorship costs
- Materials or software required to fulfil the scope.
Take the time to have conversations with marketing agencies and consultants to get to know them and how they deliver their services, what the pricing includes, and what support they can provide to your budgets and in meeting your timelines.
Remember – an agency is an outsourced team, so you need to feel you can go to them and talk openly about the work they are doing for you. Also remember that agencies don’t have unlimited resources, you are paying them for their expertise and knowledge, there may be limits to their delivery so you may need a social media agency, a PR agency, a fully integrated agency or a company that focuses on direct mail.