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What’s the right marketing mix for you?

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.

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