02/09/10

By Mark Jacks, Director, Halo Media

It’s easy to think that big brands with big marketing budgets can afford to be brave because they may not be as vulnerable as smaller businesses, which have fewer assets and a lot at stake. Many SMEs don’t want to feel they’re risking the marketing budget they’ve nipped and tucked for on a risky campaign but it is boldness that will set you apart from your competitors.

Be brave, be bold, get noticed! It doesn’t take a huge budget, but it does need creativity!

There are very many reasons why smaller businesses avoid risky marketing campaigns, preferring to keep their brand traditional, professional; safe. However, if your business is any different from its competitors’ then the brand needs to not just reflect that differentiation, but radiate that message from every image, every letter of text and every word of the website. If you’re branding your business safely, then it’s unlikely to stand out from the crowd.

Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room. Whether you sell handbags, are chartered accountants or administer the local authority’s dental programme you want to be the first port of call for customers seeking your services. Of course what ‘bold’ means is very different for the handbag retailer to the NHS. To create controversy for controversy’s sake is half baked and whilst it might create a bit of ‘buzz’, it won’t translate into a boost in business and better long term relationships with new and existing customers.

Embarking upon a creative campaign will require a full understanding of the business before identifying the brand’s tone, feel and key messages. A clear view of the business’s culture, its goals and its measures of success are central to which of the company’s strengths are best communicated to new and existing customers respectively. Don’t let a marketing agency steam in, all guns blazing giving it the 'I'm a designer, I know best'. At best it’s rude, and at worst a waste of money. Besides, our mothers taught us better manners than that.

Any ad man or designer can only achieve the best work when clients share the same passion, vision and desire to make an impact. As a client you are a vital part of the creative team and should feel ‘sold’ by the campaign strategy. If you don’t, potential customers won’t.

So how do you identify which campaigns are steps towards a brave new world; a bold new way of working that will translate into more business activity and which are harebrained schemes designed to raise the profile of the agency rather than engage customers? Check out the agency. Are they brave, does their attitude to business align with your own? Do they understand your business, have they done their homework?

Start with a chemistry meeting and use your gut instincts. From my experience of running my own agency I’ve relied on this to get a feel for what we can offer prospective clients. Our company policy of not working for clients who don't believe in creativity and don’t want original ideas means that we’ve lost new business pitches. Not because we are anti-corporate but because I know our strength is a drive to create beautiful, effective work and that takes client vision to make that happen. What is your strength?

A good chemistry meeting is an opportunity to see if you can speak freely with the agency, and to see if they are right for you. You’ll be going on gut instinct, but the right people will understand you and your organisation enough to pitch to you one idea. And it will be the right one.