The New Pitch: Selling Clients Experience Over Promises

Technology Allows Agencies to Work in Beta to Deliver More Than Just Ideas

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Conor Brady
Conor Brady
For years, "Promises, Promises" wasn't just a song by the long forgotten band Naked Eyes, it was a core agency practice used to sell ideas to clients. Whether the team could actually deliver on these grand ideas took a back seat to creating excitement and receiving the green light to bring the idea to life. Does this sound familiar? I am finding now that clients are looking for something more to help them with their decision-making.

The good news is that the practice of selling promises has taken a back seat to a new core philosophy based on the idea of delivering experiences. This shift was sparked by smarter clients who are asking for something different and the fact that our toolbox to deliver on that just got bigger. Unlike in 2000, technology today is a creative enabler and the limitations have shifted to a client's ability to understand what we can do for them and, in some instances, our own ability to think bigger. In the end, what we've discovered is the new truth -- "use your imagination" -- just isn't good enough. How can it be when a lot of what we learn is in the making?

A core part of our agency belief system is that instead of locking ourselves in a room with wall-to-wall white boards and gearing up for the big unveiling to the client, we try and get a representation of the finished product as early as possible. After all, what we do now has a bigger association to product design than it does to "web design" so rather than trying to create one-dimensional impressions of an entire site, we aim to create a "slice" of the experience, a complete path for a specific customer with a specific task in mind. This first entails implementing a new set of rules and then making sure the team is comfortable with them. For example:

  • The agency must be comfortable with not delivering the "full" design system and only solving part of the UX problem, all while knowing that the feedback we get in testing will be folded into our design process.
  • The technology team has to be comfortable with "we won't have a complete feature set yet," knowing that from the start we are in Beta. Think iPhone -- we all knew the first time we bought one that it wasn't perfect. There were things that we would change on it, yet we still loved it. We knew the next one would be better, and what we thought about it would impact that next generation.

With guidelines in place, we bring the customer into the discussion right from the start and make them a key part of this design process. This includes putting a prototype into their hands and conducting conversations with them where we make observations and glean insights into their specific interests, as well as overall trends from their peer group. We also do the same exercise with the client, where we show them our designs as early as possible, so we are having conversations about what the consumer will see, and not spending long periods of time on internal deliverables.

Case in point, we recently pitched an idea that was something a lot bigger than the client would have expected. The key to getting buy-in was that we brought them a prototyped experience that illustrated our thinking and was supported by feedback from real members of their target audience. The process behind the project was a pretty intense six weeks where we essentially left the conference room and started creating, all of us. Each team member worked in a very different way, basically we started discovering and learning through doing.

At the end of the six weeks we walked into a pitch meeting with something very different. The team had created an interactive film that allowed users to proactively mold the storyline. We redefined how the client should capture their product and then showed how lifestyle content and community content could extend the perception of their brand and sales process. We also created a global information architecture that gave them the ability to better manage and represent every part of their business, and a platform that could be evolved -- this was not throw-away. More importantly, we weren't going into the room with a series of JPEGs and talking about what we wanted to do. This was what we wanted to do -- just not all of it -- and we had already tried it out on some customers and received feedback to give to the client.

How did the client receive it? Would you believe me if I told you it was met with a round of applause? Better yet, we didn't stop there. We continued to capture customer feedback after which we moved into the next phase with some very objective design decisions to address. This allowed us to get out of the personal subjective feedback loop based on client's individual tastes. We weren't designing for ourselves or the client -- our efforts were focused on what was right for the business and the customer.

For CMOs, it comes down to this: while we all do our best to stay current, the reality is that it's an uphill battle and we are learning something new every week. As we accumulate this new knowledge, we need a better way to communicate our thinking. By making the "sell the experience" model a part of your agency philosophy, you can deliver thorough proofs of concept that include quantitative data to back it up. We don't have to rely on gut anymore.

Conor Brady is chief creative officer at Organic, an Omnicom agency.
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