Advertising, design and digital agencies are vital to the life of a brand. They add metaphor and visual appeal to even mundane products and connect companies to buyers. What you can’t see, however, may be even more important – the advertising research that drives the strategy upon which your agency’s work is based.
Large, full-service agencies may have strategy, research and planning departments, with the expertise to bring consumer insights to the creative table. Smaller agencies may have excellent strategists as partners, with their pulse on your industry.
But it’s ultimately up to you, the client, to make sure your agency has sound strategic insights to make its work smart and effective. Your agency’s brand planning approach, will be more effective if its consumer perspectives are based on research.
1. Agree on the ground rules before beginning a client-agency relationship.
As the client, you must communicate and agree upon these rules of engagement. Clear information and insights about your product, your brand and your buyers will help the creative team know where to start. By exploring the edges of the creative brief, their work will actually be more inspired, not less. Use your advertising agency’s in-house researchers, or do your own upfront strategic work, in-house or with a strategic researcher.
2. Decide what you want to say.
Advertising, design and digital outreach should be based on a clearly defined brand strategy. Put a brand positioning statement on paper, with your category, differentiating value, and proof points. All further messages from your business, even in this age of social media and informal two-way conversations, should be based on it.
Don’t make your agency rely on conversations with friends and family, quick secondary research or experience with your competition. While these sources can be helpful, advertising research with actual prospects and buyers is needed for communications strategy. So include it in the budget. This voice of your buyer helps to ground the client-agency relationship in true, key insights.
3. Find out more about your buyer.
If I were to talk to my kids the same way I speak to a client, they would stop listening. The same goes for advertising, design and digital – we have to really understand those we are talking to and know their vocabulary – spoken and visual.
Conversations with buyers might be informal, especially in small businesses. Social media lets us hear consumers’ voices, as do in-person events. If you rely on these methods, realize they may represent the most engaged of your buyers, who likely differ from the rest.
If your needs extend further, qualitative marketing research, where researchers have face-to-face (often technology enabled) conversations with a randomly selected number of your buyers, will bring you their emotions, word choices, lifestyles and decision-making approach.
4. Set goals for agency output.
Some campaigns are designed to introduce a new brand or product, others to drive sales or to educate. Clearly defined objectives will help everyone to go in the right direction. Setting goals for the output of an agency, and then measuring results, will help you to analyze the return on your agency investment.
5. Test your agency’s work with advertising research, either before or after launch.
If you are working with an agency on a substantial investment in a new website, new product launch, or new communications campaign, you should consider creative testing. There are simple ways of getting quick feedback, such as GutCheck or a few questions on Google Consumer Surveys.
Or you may need to consider custom research to understand how your buyers accept your agency’s new direction. This could involve survey research to get numbers around your market’s response, or qualitative research used as an iterative part of the design process.
6. Make sure you and your agency communicate clearly.
Use your agency’s time, and your budget, efficiently by communicating clearly. The more you know about your own goals and consumers, the better and more efficient, their work will be.
7. Know the basics before paying for creative.
- Brand Positioning Statement
- Target Market and Market Segments
- Goals of Communications
- Budget and ROI Needs
- How your Market Responds to the Work
Advertising research can make agencies’ work smarter and more successful, by providing the constraints that any truly creative process needs. If you choose your own research partner, find one that has experience collaborating with agencies, and facilitate conversations between researchers, agencies and any other marketing partners so that they can work together to make your brand successful.
Jennifer Cooper brings consumer insights to food, culture and clothing brands to refine product strategy, user experience and communications.