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  Cityscape of downtown New York on a foggy day.

Last month, I attended the annual Mirren conference in New York City to get a barometer on what the marketing and advertising industry is saying and doing. It had been five years since I was at the last conference, and it was quite a shift in emphasis of the discussion. Here’s what I mean.

From Marketing Technology to Marketing Strategy

The previous conference in 2011 had been all about technology; social media was a new wave, business was good, and everyone was scrambling to learn about big data and how to master the latest and greatest technology for their clients.  2016 was about business strategy. The conference hosts, Mirren, are all about helping the marketing and advertising agencies find ways to grow and improve their businesses, and discussions focused on basic marketing strategy elements such as pricing strategy, selling strategies, target marketing, uncovering new ideas for services, and developing organic growth plans.

  • Market Research – Oddly, research was presented as a tool to help an agency win a bid (and “speak the clients KPI language”) but not to make decisions.  i.e. If you do some research before you make your pitch, you can make the client feel you better understand how to help their business. In my view, this is all good, but this “bit” of research before an engagement is just the tip of the iceberg. The real research is part of the engagement; i.e. the meat is something a good client will invest in, so that everyone knows the marketing strategy is heading in the right direction. Oddly, I met no marketing/advertising agencies that offered market research as a core part of their services, but many said they did marketing strategy. In our view at Tenato, market research is the essential first step to developing a marketing strategy! Strategy shouldn’t happen without the research first.
  • Pricing – I was surprised to see ongoing presentations about how to get agencies off hourly rates and onto something more creative. Tenato hasn’t used hourly rates since 1997, but this seems to be the norm in the U.S. They brought out an excellent keynote presenter, Ron Baker, to talk about pricing for the industry, and he said all the same things we always tell our professional services clients; however, he wasn’t a marketing consultant himself, but a former accountant. It was very evident that none of the marketing/advertising consultants in the room did any consulting on pricing for their clients. It made me feel good that we were far ahead of the curve on this point, and that strategic consulting regarding pricing was already a part of our offering.
  • Services – There were ongoing discussions about how to “organically” grow accounts by offering more diverse services. As our services are already very diverse, we were already well developed in this area, but I appreciated the creative approach some of the presenters took. Laurie Coots was particularly innovative in getting the room to use real client examples and think of ways we could enhance our current offerings to them. These same techniques are something we can apply to helping our clients develop services – things like getting the clients to develop a substitute for an existing product, combining offerings, or modifying/eliminating an attribute to an existing service. I’ll be blogging more about these in the future. But helping our clients to develop innovations to existing services is already a part of what we do at Tenato, so it wasn’t just an exercise we can do for ourselves, but something we can apply to others. Very useful, Laurie!
  • Target Marketing – I was not surprised to see the presenters recommend that agencies specialize in a few key industries. As a marketing strategy firm, though, Tenato has always had an unwritten policy not to take on accounts that compete with our existing accounts. In fact, we don’t even like to reveal who our existing accounts are, in order to protect them from competitors making inquiries about our work for them. So, imagine if we specialized in a narrow industry… how would it be possible build enough business without taking on more than one competitor in that area? We have given this some serious thought however, and will likely be giving more broad-bucket business type descriptions (e.g. industrial, professional services, retail) rather than specific, narrow industry definition. Yes, it may affect our ability to beat out an industry specialist, but we would still rather be loyal to a single competing account than take on more than one; it’s like working against ourselves, and it’s bad faith for the clients.

In summary, it looks like the US marketing/agency sector is beginning to come around (at least somewhat) to Tenato’s way of thinking. Kind of feels good to know we’re a couple steps further down this road!

The best thing about attending a conference like this is that even if a concept isn’t exactly right for you, you can still find a way to apply it in your own way… I must have gotten a couple hundred great little ideas I can use to help our clients, and ourselves over the next year or so. (Which is great timing, as we ARE working on our NEW website as we speak!)


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About the Author - Jacqueline Drew
Jacqueline M. Drew, BComm, MBA is founder and CEO of Tenato Strategy Inc., a marketing research and strategy firm with bases in Calgary, Vancouver and Toronto. With over 25 years' experience in all facets of marketing strategy, she is a business consultant, trainer and speaker who loves to use her superpowers "to help the good guys win."