What agencies can do is leverage and expand their area of expertise-creativity and communication-into areas beyond traditional marketing communication. They can take the leadership in clients' efforts to retain and "grow" customers and build stronger relationships with key stakeholders: employees, channel members, shareholders and suppliers. This is how brands are built. Brand equity is the net sum of the quantity and quality of stakeholder relationships.
Price points, distribution outlets, product performance and customer service have communication dimensions that have an impact on brand image and decision making.
Take customer service: Companies know that selling to current customers (i.e., retention) is far more cost-efficient than selling to first-time prospects. Yet customer-service operations continue to send negative brand messages.
In annual surveys (done in our integrated marketing communications graduate program), we have found only half of customer-service responses are rated "good." Imagine producing a product with 50% defects! But that is the quality level of the most important brand messages companies produce-those that go to current customers (the ones most likely to contact customer service).
Imagine the fun and quality of customer-service responses if ad agencies were able to co-manage these with clients.
Another area crying for communication help is internal marketing. As the service component of business increases, more and more employees have direct customer contact.
Yet most employees don't have a clue as to the brand positioning or marketing objectives. One management-consulting firm (note: not an advertising agency) is now advising companies to consider their whole employee payroll as part of their marketing budgets.
As we teach in the IMC/MBA program at the University of Denver's Daniels College of Business, a company cannot be integrated externally (i.e., have one voice, one look), until it is integrated internally. This means things like having cross-functional organization, zero-based planning and relationship metrics to measure the impact of brand messages.
A critical element of the IMC/MBA curriculum is showing how IMC is an ongoing process rather than a series of linear campaigns (another aspect of IMC that most agencies and clients don't understand).
It's amazing how out of touch agencies are when it comes to integration. As an American Marketing Association/Ad Age survey found ("Integration still a pipe dream for many," AA, March 10), 74% of agencies thought they managed integration while 94% of the clients said they managed it. If agencies are to reposition themselves, the first step is a reality check and to learn how to do real IMC.
The deliverable for managing all brand communications at all customer touch points is increased brand equity. Those in client top management are finally recognizing the value of brands and brand equity. The problem is that they don't know how to integrate and manage all of their brand messages in a way that will increase brand equity.
Agencies that are willing to retrain their people and reposition themselves can take the leadership in helping clients build brand equity rather than just brand awareness.
Agency executives need to sit down with IMC academics and representatives from those few clients who are practicing the more advanced form of IMC. Together, they can develop an agency re-positioning strategy and plan and get this under way.
Director, IMC/MBA Program
Daniels College of Business
University of Denver
Ad failed reader's `reality check' test
Had he seen it, Rance Crain could have included in his column "No mystery if the ad flops; `reality check' was missing" (Viewpoint, AA, April 7) the ad [for Crain's Business Regionals] on Page 12 of the same issue of Advertising Age. This ad is a primary candi- date for the "reality check" that he wrote about.
I finally got it: "When it Crain's, it pours." This is an amateurish play on an old slogan (100 years old?) by Morton Salt.
Along with the unappealing layout, this ad does little to reflect the quality of Crain's Regionals or tell any kind of story.
I suspect that top management rarely gets to critique a house ad before it runs. Had Rance & Co. reviewed this ad in advance, he would have asked the same ques-tion I did: "So what?"
Business advertising could go through a reality check just as consumer advertising does-occasionally, according to Mr. Crain.
Ira Brichta Marketing Communications Corp.
North Palm Beach, Fla.
Practical advice for these times
After many years in business and consulting, I think it might be worthwhile to share with fellow Advertising Age readers some of the "good advice" that I hear going around these days.
Before you cut staff, cut nonsense process, paperwork and procedures.
Encourage your best people to be terrific and your OK people to be even better. Better people performance equals better business-period.
Focus better! Ask again, "What is the business of the business?"
Go outside and look in.
Pretend you are a client/customer or prospect. Call your own office. Fly your own airline. Make a reservation. Shop in your own store. Get the customer pers-pective.
Howard Sloan Koller Group