Rick Hart, of MacLaren McCann Vancouver, has been in the marketing and advertising game for more than 20 years. A senior vice-president and director of client strategy, Hart crafts and delivers powerful messages on clients’ behalf.
MacLaren McCann Vancouver, a full-service agency, has 25 employees in Vancouver and the resources of more than 300 offices across the globe to draw on. From its Vancouver offices, MacLaren McCann handles highly diverse accounts, from international giants like GM and Cathay Pacific, to regional wineries like Andrew Peller, to small businesses like M & R Environmental.
In this interview with Make It Business, Hart helps us navigate an increasingly complex marketing landscape – and offers insights into the marketing business.
Before spending a dime on marketing, what should every business have in order?
Understanding what makes you different. Regardless of how you tell people about your business, and what medium you use – you’ve got to know what makes you different. That’s number one.
A good example is Sandhill Vineyards, which is all about single-vineyard wines. As wine buyers become more interested in what they are drinking, and where it comes from, they want more knowledge about a wine. Sandhill has a single vineyard-program for their wines, as opposed to taking grapes from all over the place.
So, with more than 180 wineries in the Okanagan, that becomes a point of differentiation – and that’s a tangible point of difference that makes Sandhill outstanding.
We often try and encourage our clients to think about the intangibles that they can use to differentiate themselves. A good example is First Calgary Financial, which is Calgary’s biggest credit union. We’ve helped them to find a position, which is about being Calgary’s banking alternative.
Calgary is a little bit more of a traditional market than Vancouver, and credit unions aren’t as well known. But everyone likes the fact that there is some alternative to the big banks out there. So, we have taken that concept and helped First Calgary Financial in developing products, naming, campaigns, brand identity – everything, from end to end. And we’ve infused it with the differentiating position.
Is there anything else that a business owner should have in order before marketing?
Another thing that every entrepreneur should have worked out is: What is the first impression you want the marketplace to have of your company? What does your identity look like? Does it match what your company does? And does it match the vision of how you want your customers to perceive you?
There seems to be a new online marketing channel coming out every week: MySpace, Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Pinterest, Etsy. How do you filter the strategies that get a solid return on investment from those that are just trends?
The best comparison I could give would be like investing: don’t gamble what you can’t afford to lose. But you should definitely be experimenting – and that’s true if you’re a small business or a large one.
As far as proving ROI, I think with many of these new media the jury is still out. There are more tools coming out to help determine those returns, but getting solid metrics is still elusive for most people – unless you’re selling directly on Facebook or something like that.
People have to be in the new media to learn, to develop community, and all those other things. But to tie it back to proven ROI? That’s a bit tough at this point.
In terms of how we filter out the platforms that work from the ones that don’t, we try to experiment on smaller scales. We’ve done Facebook contests for brands; we’ve developed apps so that people can do different things. But, again, the goal is to stay up to date on these media, to make sure we’re in them and learning – but let’s not tie all of our hopes to them.
Who knows how people will look back all this on five years? It sounds like heresy when we say that, but I remember there was a company in town that spent all its marketing budget on Second Life (a 3-D virtual world). Big mistake. You can gamble, but if you’re gambling and you can’t afford to lose, you can end up in situations like that.
Do you have any examples of instances where you have made tangible gains for clients through social media?
We’ve been able to show that we’ve grown followers and “likes” on Facebook. The tough part is, from followers and likes, how do we prove that this action has resulted in increased revenue? I think people are starting to talk a lot more about that now.
It’s similar to five or 10 years ago, when the conversations first started with online advertising and search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM). Now, those conversion analytics are quite well defined.
There have never been more channels through which to advertise – how do you make choices for your clients, and what does that process look like?
Most agencies would say that they try to be agnostic with their approach. So, it starts with the audience. Who are we trying to reach, and what do we know about them? On the more traditional side, those tools are very well known: PMD, BBM, Adbank (industry research tools that define demographics and psychographics for various media).
All these things where you can do a lot, like comScore (which measures the digital world) for websites and all that stuff – that part is very well defined. When you move into social media, that’s where you really have to do a lot more exploration.
When we’re in social media, we have to start to do a more qualitative assessment and more digging. We’re trying to find out what people’s online habits are, what kind of content has currency for them. And, what are the things they care about, and then the places they try to find that intersect with what they care about.
It’s almost like a pyramid. We ask: What’s the business objective? What kind of content do we have? And what’s the best platform for that content?
For example, if you’re a car company, you might have all kinds of content: videos of products being test-driven, great photography of new products, owners interested in what we do. A auto company has this content; they have this objective. Now, let’s see if print makes the most sense, or a YouTube channel. You can really start to define what works best. This is true for small businesses, as well. What is that you are trying to achieve? What content do you have? And what’s the best platform to get that content out? I think anyone can use that kind of approach.
What’s the biggest mistake you see businesses make in terms of marketing?
Proceeding without strategy. Setting out without an understanding of where they want to go. Some studies indicate that society is becoming more reactive and short-term-focused. Because we’ve got such a short-term view nowadays, there is a big rush to get into things before we can really figure out what we want. Is this is the right path? And how are we going to determine if it’s the right path?
When it comes to smaller business, there is a tendency to know what it is the business wants to say, but not to know what customers actually want to hear. It’s bit of a dichotomy. A business might know what its objective is, and want to tell the customer that – as opposed to how a potential customer would actually want to hear the message.
In the car business after the economic crash, the most important factor in buying a new car during was its resale value. But in good times, when it comes to resale value, who cares about that? Then people say, “I want performance again.” So, it’s not only knowing that what it is the customer wants to hear, but making sure you track how what they want to hear changes over time.
What are the key components of a marketing strategy?
You want to keep it as simple as possible. Asking the: Who? What? When? Where? And, why?
Most companies know what they do. Most of them know how they do it. But how many of them know why? The good companies are the ones that have thought about and defined their “Why?” Companies like Apple and Starbucks.
Is there a market strategy that has overlooked?
When you think of marketing strategy at the high levels, there are a few different models. Are you the low-cost provider? Are you about the customer intimacy? If you think of buckets that the traditional marketing consultant would look at, the one that’s probably the most overlooked would probably be innovation.
In any category, there can be only one low-cost provider, like Wal-Mart. With customer intimacy – that is, who knows their customers the best? – there are lots of companies using that strategy. But the innovation category is the one that’s very hard to crack. Because of that, there is opportunity in that category. When you see something as a customer that is different, it’s memorable.
With M & R Environmental, for example, you have trucks that pick up all this used oil from Jiffy Lube. M & R recycles that and turns it into clean oil. They also pick up filters and coolants from a wide variety of sources – car dealerships, independent oil change companies, and others. That’s cool, and people get it. That kind of innovation in many industries is a space that is not typically owned.
I guess at the end of the day, your job in this industry is to tell stories. Is that the essence of marketing: to tell your story?
MacLaren’s motto from the turn of the century is, Truth Well Told. That’s even more relevant today than it was more than 100 years ago.
It’s about what the consumers’ truth is, in terms of what they are looking for; what the brand’s truth is, in terms of what we provide. It’s about how we take that truth and turn it into something that’s simple and memorable for people to understand.
Is there some kind of marketing activity that any business can take today to get more customers through the door?
For small businesses, because they need action and probably don’t have a big budget to work with, I would say to focus on Twitter. Through Twitter you can do so many things that are quite simple to drive traffic to a physical location.
We use Twitter for the HP store. The question is: how do you get people to come into the store? I know that some of the float-plane companies use Twitter quite effectively.
For example, they’re going to be flying to Bowen Island; they’re going to leave whether the plane is full or not. So, if they can announce a seat for $30 on Twitter and get bookings, it’s better than the seat going empty. As far as accessibility, low cost and ability to actually drive action, I think Twitter is probably the easiest place for a lot of businesses to start.
It’s really a super exciting time for small business. Not only do you have all these incredible new social media tools to connect with your customers, but there are the analytics, like Google Analytics, that are essentially free. I would also mention socialmention.com and technorati.com, as these are free and great social listening tools, so small businesses can see what is being said about them and their competitors. The ability to market and measure is available at such a low cost that it is unprecedented.
You don’t have to be a Fortune 500 company to take advantage of that. In fact, large companies don’t really have an advantage over smaller ones. The playing field has been leveled.