Add Real Value to a Relationship with Inspiration and Leadership

pshirleyBy Philip Shirley

Last summer our board of directors and executive committee put aside the urgencies of current projects and clients’ marketing challenges for a day to hold an off-site planning meeting. The idea was to look down the road and see what we must accomplish to be successful tomorrow.

How can we deliver value to clients in an industry where some services are treated as commodities? What do new, growing companies need? Are we keeping up with new digital marketing tech? How can we focus on client outcomes so we never become irrelevant?

After considering what our team had discussed, I found it interesting to assess our lines of business, our services, our training and implementation of technology, and the various client relationships. And then this question hit me: How do we deliver the highest and best value to our clients—those folks who keep us in business by trusting us to deliver marketing that drives sales, builds brand loyalty and fosters success?

What I found is that we deliver a continuum of work. We complete assigned production tasks, execute routine media purchases and sometimes just provide arms and legs to manage an event. Even in a fancy house, someone has to paint the porch and water the grass. But when the stars align and we are at our best, the work hits the other end of the spectrum where thought leadership and fresh ideas converge. As we strive to spend more time on the ideas end of the spectrum instead of the tasks end, our value increases exponentially.

Below is the continuum chart of how I define what we, or any company or organization, could deliver. Most of these concepts are interpreted from the perspective of what a marketing firm does, but should be relevant to almost any organization. Note how the value increases as the work moves to the right.

ChartLet’s take one of these ideas to discuss how the continuum of services works best: Monitor > React > Anticipate. Our clients rely on us to help them “monitor” what is happening in the marketplace. What are competitors doing? Are prices changing?

But we must also help them “react” when we see changes, such as a new competitor who introduces a better distribution system to make purchases easier for customers. Our ability to quickly react to trends with marketing solutions has great value, but the most value we can deliver is to anticipate market opportunities or create products for needs that don’t yet exist so our clients are first to market.

Do we see demographic changes in a geographic market, such as an influx of a certain audience demographic, that would benefit from our product? When we help clients “anticipate” change, we become an integral part of their team and the value of our time and effort significantly rises.

The company that manufactures a product can do well, and the team that engineers the factory does better, but the person who invents the next product to meet an unmet need is richly rewarded.

Obviously, products still require manufacturing, and services are delivered only through tedious detail. The tasks in each column above must be part of the cycle of taking a product from concept to market. We must not be above pitching in as needed on any job. As an integrated marketing firm, we should handle the customer’s needs for everything in all columns—just as a grocery store provides a full range of foods and beverages from fresh to packaged and from lower-cost generic to high-end branded product options. But when possible, let’s find ways to focus attention on delivering those benefits that live in the third column.

We all know how cumbersome and useless used pizza boxes are. They don’t fit easily into any garbage can smaller than a dumpster. And the waste! Now, someone has created a pizza box top that breaks quickly into four plates—and the bottom folds into a smaller storage container. The box manufacturer has moved from a left-column commodity into the right column where value is added.

What can you do to move your company from just selling time, executing projects or simply manufacturing a product to the right end of this continuum so that you provide leadership, vision, ideas and inspired products that solve your customers’ problems? Personally, I want to work with people whose inclination is always to move to the right to create better products and services while navigating this sea of added value and innovation.