Let Us Not Talk Falsely Now, The Hour Is Getting Late

Decoding a brand’s messaging is like breaking enemy code sometimes. That’s how dense and inarticulate the language can be, especially in certain business-to-business cases.

Examples abound. Here’s one from the Boring Company:

When we come upon these misshapen brand identities it is our nature and our desire to make them right, and we have a successful history doing just that.

Our results are positive and consistent.

In each case, the company’s “look and feel” was improved and their focus on serving customers narrowed.

Clear Messaging Doesn’t Flow Naturally like Water from a Spring

Process matters.

Too many marketers are obsessed with what they want to say, instead of focusing on what their audience needs to hear. Many are also looking to close, instead of looking to serve.

This is the pressure of quarterly numbers at work and a reality that isn’t going away. Nevertheless, our role as a strategic advisor is to help brand teams earn their customers’ attention and trust, and this means overcoming all obstacles, including short-term thinking in the C-Suite and beyond.

Are You Ready to Lace Up Your Walking Shoes?

The pathway to better work does NOT start with neat ideas about what could be. Better work is not about coming up with clever headlines or flashy graphics—it’s about understanding how to relate to people in the audience, and to do that we need to push back from our screens and take a brisk walk in the customer’s shoes.

Getting on the customer’s page isn’t easy but it is necessary to open minds, doors and wallets. When you’re ready, we will help you walk this walk and think about things from your buyer’s perspective—she may, in fact, have a genuine interest in your product but no time to weigh its benefits. In a case like this, the “no time” barrier is the first communications problem in need of a solution because you can’t sell your wares to a distracted person. Instead of making more ads, we might recommend that you intentionally make “focus time” for your buyer, where you can make her feel cared for and give her access to tools and events that make her work life better.

When you adhere to the process that delivers actionable insights, you end up carving waste from your marketing budget. Take the scenario above. A branded event may have never entered the realm of discussion, much less possibility. That’s the danger of moving too fast and putting projects ahead of the discovery and strategy sessions that are necessary to align your brand communications with the true marketplace opportunity.

Replace Request for Proposals with Discovery and Strategy Sessions

The ad business has been disrupted, but one thing that has not changed is the RFP process. Marketers still rely on this arcane process to locate their new agency team, and the results speak for themselves. CMO churn is legendary and “agencies of record” are no more.

Bonehook does not respond to RFPs. We don’t have the resources to dedicate to free work and we don’t believe that speculative thinking, no matter how brilliant on the surface, is how real life communications problems are solved. RFPs amount to a grown up’s “Show and Tell,” when it needs to be a rigorous business process that produces desired results.

Instead of guessing and wheel spinning, Bonehook replaces the RFP with discovery and strategy sessions that result in a strategy document to support your new product push or your annual plan. We also include brand guidelines that specifically address brand voice.

This initial engagement gives everyone a chance to work together on a trial basis, before committing to any long-term services-based agreements. What do you say?

    • Are you ready to drop the RFP and get to work?
    • Are you prepared to get on your customer’s page and stay there?
    • Are you excited to tighten up your brand messaging and appeal to customers with clear and compelling offers that are easy to act on?

If doing things the way they’ve always been done works for you and your company, thanks for reading this. If you need to go in a new direction, we’re here to guide the expedition into customer-friendly waters.

Are Clients Trying to Put Agencies Out of Business?

Disruption has swept over the ad industry like a rogue wave. The changes washed a lot of people out to sea and they continue to threaten the livelihoods of agency workers, in particular.

Did you know that nearly 80 percent of Association of National Advertisers (ANA) members have some form of in-house agency? This is compared to just 58 percent of marketers who took some form of advertising in-house in 2013, and 42 percent in 2008.

That’s a lot of change on both sides of the client-agency table within the past five to ten years.

“The work being done by in-house agencies is no longer confined to ‘low-hanging fruit’ such as collateral/promotional materials and internal videos,” said ANA CEO Bob Liodice.

While marketers are turning increasingly inward — respondents said more than half of the total amount of work (58 percent) is done in-house — the survey also showed that 90 percent still work with external agencies.

The Root of the Problem: Lack of Trust

Bill Duggan, group executive vice president of ANA said the findings “weren’t a huge surprise,” pointing to major client/agency trust issues as the key driver for this increase.

“The reasons for in-housing historically have been cheaper and faster, and nothing has changed,” he said. “Two recent trends that have accelerated in-house agency: transparency/trust and data.

“I believe trust between clients and agencies is at the lowest it’s ever been throughout my career.”

The Rigorous Path Back to the Mountaintop

Duggan and Liodice are on the client’s side. Marla Kaplowitz, president and CEO of the 4A’s has another agency-friendly point of view.

Agencies need to, quite frankly, step it up and talk about the positive impact they make and the positive business solutions they deliver. I think there’s tremendous value in what agencies bring because of the complexities that exist today.

Agencies are more important and needed than ever to help guide and give that perspective of what’s next and what’s coming. We don’t celebrate enough of those stories.

Bonehook and 99 percent of the agencies in this country do not belong to the 4A’s. We don’t have a spokesperson at an official organization to lobby on our behalf. We must do it ourselves.

Insert Bonehook Case Study (In Miniature)

It’s story time, friends…

Once upon a time, in a western desert not too far from here, Bonehook helped a healthcare and human services company assess a painful operations problem in need of a robust communications solution.

We worked with Danville Services Corporation in Salt Lake City for several years on a “Recruit and Retain” communications plan and the phased rollout of this plan. Danville, like all companies serving people with disabilities, found it hard to find qualified candidates and tough to keep them for more than a year, once hired.

We brought several inter-related solutions forward, including the creation of new collateral materials and a pop-up booth for use at career events. We also automated Danville’s Job Postings made to the company website.

I highlight this relatively simple solution because it showcases how we work. We help the internal marketing and/or creative teams, and we work with people in sales, IT, product development and HR. For Danville, which has multiple offices across four western states, the communications solution had to be shared with and activated by more than half a dozen stakeholders.

There’s no ivory tower anywhere near this, us or the customers we are honored to work closely with on important challenges to their current and future profitability.

Take a Right on Respect Street

I’ve also been seated at the table with clients who lacked trust in our ability to move the needle for them. It can be hard at times to not take their slights personally, although it’s our job to keep the focus on the communications problem(s) before us.

I’ve also worked with plenty of clients who prefer to rewrite and redesign the project at the table, instead of providing legitimate feedback based on the creative brief and letting the talent work it out. It can be maddening, but again, it’s our job to educate and to do that we must be patient and compassionate.

If you’ve ever worked with me, you know how much I care about your business and my own. You also know I am in the room to question, to challenge and to get everyone to think. That’s why my time is valuable and why we command a premium price. It’s also why we get fired, sometimes, and why we choose to walk away at other times.

Be Curious, Adventurous and Prosperous

From our end, critical assessments of a company’s marketing opportunities are always well-intentioned, but the insights and recommendations we bring can cause sparks to fly. It’s human nature to get stuck in one place. We all do it, but in business, stasis is a problem. That’s why we must continually find new ways to break through old patterns (and the people who can help to push us across the finish line).

As the agency, we are professionally obligated to enter the room curious. We know how much there is to learn and we love to learn. We never assume interest. Like respect and trust, we seek to earn it from our own customers and our customers’ customers. Many of our peers spend a lot of time trying to impress prospective customers with how much they know. This is what we know…our customers have unique marketing challenges that our standardized offerings can solve.

It’s not easy to clarify your company’s product or service offering and move people to care, but there are steps we can take. To discuss our Brand Messaging Assessment, Brand Messaging Live Workshops, and/or our Discovery and Strategy Sessions in greater detail, send a note to david@bonehook.com and we’ll find a good time to talk.

Brands Don’t Want Better Creative, They Want A Money Making Machine

I was talking to a tax lawyer the other day about the impacts of moving Bonehook from Oregon to Texas. He said something that might alert many small business owners, particularly small agency owners. He said the company was virtually worthless from an assets perspective.

Thankfully, I understood what he meant. He meant that a service-based business like Bonehook has all its value wrapped up in the partners (and our ability to win business, manage the business and produce the work). In other words, we have no taxable assets.

While I don’t take offense to this strict portrayal of the company, it’s not something I’m okay with, not by a long shot. We may wish to sell Bonehook someday, and this clearly means there has to be something here worth buying. And that means developing the kind of systems that future owners can use to reproduce the kind of financial results that attracted them to our company in the first place.

It Helps To Know What Business You’re In

I’ve been working in the agency business since 1997, first as a copywriter, then as a creative director, before launching Bonehook in 2009 and becoming a business owner and wearer of many hats. Thus, I feel confident when I say that creative people don’t care much for systems or the idea of reproducible results. Because we all do custom work!

Do you know who does like systems and reproducible results? The customer!

My friend Charlie Quirk, a brand strategist at Google, says, “The best creatives of any flavor realize it’s not about them, but service to the client’s biz.” He’s a problem solver working in communications. That’s what we aspire to be.

Better Creative Is the Means to An Important End

The good news for Bonehook’s customers is the work we provide is an efficient and affordable means to their desired ends—more customers, more voters, more members and/or more advocates.

When you get hung up on making custom work, an efficient and affordable means to a customer’s desired ends doesn’t make much sense. We want to believe that great work that helps to define brands and makes the register ring takes lots of time and money to make. That’s the old rap and one based on the billable hour. Thus, how can working with a top creative team now be efficient and affordable?

Here’s another truth that people in marketing seek to hide from: there are only so many communications challenges and a finite number of solutions to them, as well. The better we are at assessing a customer’s communications problems and offering practical solutions, the faster we can move into the making phase. And the better we are at managing the account and the entire production process, the more money we make.

It’s critical that our customers know how we make money and why we’re in business. We can’t keep our distance and serve our customers’ needs properly. What we do is highly specialized, but it’s no big mystery. A company like ours needs systems that are capable of churning out reproducible results.

We didn’t know this in the beginning. Now, we do.