Client-Agency Relationships

Part 2: Emergent’s 2016 Marcom Myth Busters

December 28th, 2015 Posted by Growth, Insight, Retail brand building, Transformation, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Part 2: Emergent’s 2016 Marcom Myth Busters”

3 Steps to Marketing Greatness – Mapping the Milestones to Transformation.

Over the course of my career there have been moments when lightning struck – when ideas well-executed helped usher in transformational change for a client.

Looking back, I’ve noticed some common threads through these experiences – where guidance emerges around the right conditions that elevate the level of work, the outcomes and business benefits.

Some of this will seem intuitive, but it’s one thing to say it and another to do it.

Emergent’s goal as a business is to initiate more and more of these transformational experiences. It comprises the high point of our work and inspires us to keep improving and growing. We want clients to have optimum success – and so do they!

Through our work, the common threads which have served as the foundation of transformational growth, and set the stage for the most collaborative agency/client relationships, have included:

1. Immersion and Partnership

There are two kinds of agency/client relationships. Those where clients buy tactical communications tools from us. And those where a true business partnership emerges. I can tell you the partnership looks and operates quite distinctively from the more transactional agenda of just executing branded content, earned or social media.

When Sargento Foods® Inc. first hired us, their President Bob Clouston – a remarkable man who in addition to helping build a major CPG business was also an award-winning novel author – took me aside to explain how things would go. He said the words an agency executive longs to hear:

“We want your best ideas, we want your guidance and your advice in every aspect of how we build business. We want you to be honest and candid; to tell us when you don’t agree and provide your best counsel when you think we’re making a mistake. We know that in order for this to work we have to bring you all the way in. We will share our business and marketing plans and invite you into our internal meetings as we look at how our business is evolving or being challenged.”

He meant it. And it happened.

We became immersed in their business. They shared everything. Thus, we knew a great deal about how they went to market, where their strengths and weaknesses were. They were open; they asked questions; and respected our advice and looked for leadership from us. It led to some remarkable assignments that helped us help them reframe what business they were in. This strategic collaboration paved the way for a new approach to the dairy aisle cheese business. We helped them create it, launch it, build it – it was worth hundreds of millions.

The conditions for big ideas were there because the client wanted it – helped us fully understand their business paradigm and came to the table with an open mind. Immersion and partnership were key ingredients to making this work.

2. Excitement, passion and inspiration

I’ve been told any number of times by clients after a presentation that I’m passionate about the things I believe are important to their growth. When a client is excited, committed and passionate about their brand and its possibilities, and wants you to share in that experience, it’s infectious.

When we inspire clients and when they inspire us the combination can create rocket fuel. More often than not, this comes when executives understand the role and value of the Higher Purpose around their business. While sales growth and shareholder returns are important, they pale in comparison to how people resonate to a belief system that’s about how the company works to improve people’s lives.

Early in 2012 I sat down with James White, then-CEO and Chairman of the Jamba Juice Company to take him through a download on the challenges he faced in retooling a brand that had “healthy” loosely attached to its pedigree, while in reality the product mix was out of sync with where the consumer world was headed. He shared with me his desire to redirect Jamba from smoothie shop to healthy lifestyle brand. That day we began a strategic partnership to help design the building blocks and bring the mission to life.

His beliefs helped fuel our work. We were of the same mind about the goal and higher purpose for Jamba. The passion he brought to the executive team was palpable. That was vital because culture change would be required. We were energized and so was he. The alignment gave us permission to stretch and move new strategic thinking into the organization. It impacted product development, marketing, operations and brand positioning.

3. Fear and its companion, risk

No great thing can be accomplished without risk-taking. The unknown can make people uncomfortable. Stepping off the edge into uncharted territory can be unsettling. Leaving the comfort zone of tradition and the perceived safety of familiarity can be a hard pill to take.

Yet, we’ve seen this over and over. The disruption of conventional behaviors in a category can be powerful to jump-start transformation – breaking with the past to help people rethink what a brand and business is about.

The result: bringing organizations to a new and ultimately healthier place.

When a client asks for game-changing ideas with the serious intent of pursuing a new path, the energy that brings to thinking and creativity can be significant. Pushing the envelope of differentiation requires stepping out of the familiar. The rewards can be significant if you’re ready and willing to take the leap. But there will be detractors, non-believers, nay-sayers and resistance. So, some resilience and determination is required.

Earlier in my career we went to work for a home safety products company, First Alert® – the market share leader and category inventor of smoke alarms and similar residential safety solutions. The company had landed on a new threat otherwise undetected in households: carbon monoxide poisoning – an invisible, odorless and highly toxic gas present in every combustion appliance or fireplace in the home. No one knew it was the biggest source of accidental poisoning fatalities in America.

Our client (and later on my former business partner) Richard Timmons had helped the company create a new technology solution. We came on board to help launch a product to address a completely invisible hazard – no small challenge. We did consumer insight research. We tested messaging and discovered if respected authorities validated the threat and if that was paired with real-people stories of families impacted by it, we could secure belief and motivation to buy.

Rich was determined. There were detractors and non-believers saying it would ever fly internally. He was resolute, stalwart in his belief. We felt we could save lives. We designed a campaign around a theme, The Silent Killer, and launched nationally. He put all of his assets into our efforts – within 18 months we had broken the $100 million mark in sales. Lives were saved. A new category was born. The company eventually doubled in size.

The risk taking here was significant. The push for strategic excellence was non-stop. The outcome was transformational.

In each of the client examples I’ve cited above, the three elements helping forge transformational growth played an important role in the company’s success. When partnership, immersion, passion and fearlessness work in concert, the opportunity for leaps and outsized gains exist. Great work informs great outcomes.

This is the path.

Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent Healthy Living. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact [email protected] and follow on Twitter@BobWheatley.

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