Agency Business Agency Culture

Struggling to get through? Here’s how to change you client’s mind

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By Sam Bradley | Senior Reporter

April 26, 2022 | 11 min read

Each week, we ask agency experts from across the world and the ad business for their take on a tough question facing the industry, from topical concerns to perennial pain points.

The customer’s always right (except, as anyone who’s worked in retail will recall, when they’re not). So, what happens when you have a client with their heart set on a inefficient strategy or process, or one that refuses to update their conception of their target audience?

Well, last week AdColony’s Sheeva Banton argued that advertisers should look again at Android smartphone users, given the size of that market and the large opportunity cost incurred by leaving them out of marketing plans. With that in mind, we asked agency experts from across the industry how they’d go about persuading a client to target a new audience category (for example, Android users).

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How can agencies help to change the direction of their clients' thinking?

Agencies might have better data available than clients and getting your audience focus right can be the difference between success and failure, but those conversations might not be easy.

How do you solve a problem like... changing your client's mind?

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Jennifer Brotman, senior vice-president and group account director, Saatchi & Saatchi NY

It’s not really about changing their mind, but opening their mind to see it from the consumer’s perspective. All too often we forget to be human in how we are evaluating a strategy or idea and need to be reminded that consumers haven’t been on the same in-depth journey we have. Often, it’s as simple as taking a step back together and seeing how a consumer would actually perceive this, and then moving forward with that same understanding.

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Kirk Johnsen, global group brand director, 72andSunny

In marketing and in life, someone’s point of view on a topic isn’t typically black or white – it’s a point on a spectrum. And often, the way we think about changing someone’s mind assumes binary choices and permanence, when really it’s about creating an on-ramp for shifting perspectives along that spectrum. Luckily, we’re living in an era where the tools and data that give us more nuanced decision making options are expanding every day.

For something as testable and measurable as a new audience segment, it’s less about changing minds and more about architecting a ‘try and learn’ approach that allows for incremental understanding. So at most, I’m trying to convince a client to place a small bet in a potential high-growth space where we can collectively learn and adjust. I’ve yet to meet a marketer worth their salt not leaping at that opportunity.

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Lindsey Allison, senior vice-president and head of strategy, Engine Agency

I often encounter audiences that aren’t necessarily wrong, but that are too wide to be impactful. Clients sometimes have a hard time cutting the size of their audience. To get over this hurdle, I try to help them understand that targeting isn’t about exclusion but about the value of focus. Targeting enables you to double down on a sub-segment of a wider audience with the highest propensity to engage with your brand – and more likely to work on behalf of your brand. When clients are able to see the impact of focusing on a smaller audience, they usually come around.

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Ciaran Bonass, executive creative director AMEA, Virtue Worldwide

Too often, advertising becomes about the brand and not the message. I always try to encourage brands to look for a more valued and visible role inside culture rather than simply applying their parameters en masse in an effort to be seen. In moments of trying to matter, they need to matter less and the focus needs to be about what matters to the audience. Conventional branding approaches and guidelines create closed brackets and even the most iconic of brands need the flexibility to work within shifting cultural and socio-political movements. Putting it in that context often helps encourage a client to loosen the reins.

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Paul Kasamias, managing partner, Performics @ Starcom

We tend to take more of a proactive approach that applies longer-term thinking, particularly when an advertiser’s existing user base reaches saturation point or, alternatively, when user intent signals indicate changes in customer expectations.

Agencies are in a prime position to support advertisers with these decisions through data modelling/forecasting to assess future demand and the need for opportunity audiences. Insight from social listening, intent data or broader research studies also provide meaningful steps towards a broader strategic audience approach.

Bringing campaign, media and research insights further upstream has been pivotal to some brands answering strategic questions and, as a by-product, targeting new-to-brand cohorts. Some of this includes how brand familiarity can be built and measured – what drives broader brand resonance and preference.

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Ashley Cooksley, managing director North America, The Social Element

Social agencies can often access insights around their client’s audience that can be unexpected, or even a total surprise to the brand itself – purely because the agency is on the front line of social conversations. This means not just scouring through mentions, but also using social listening to find where and why people are talking about them and their competitors across all platforms. We get to understand consumers’ digital behaviors, interests, attitudes and micro-communities, while our clients’ perceptions of this audience are often vastly different from those that are actually there.

When exposing this truth to them, it’s critical that you have the data and examples to support this gap in perception because many clients genuinely believe they are doing the right thing. But in my experience, it’s a conversation they are willing to have because when marketing budgets are tight, they’re always keen to make their money go further and be better placed.

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Dominique Bergantino, co-president and managing director, Havas CX Helia

One of my favorite quotes from a client about to appoint us was: “I have enough agencies with opinions. I want an agency that comes armed with facts.“

Despite common misconceptions, it’s not difficult to change a client’s mind. You just have to make it impossible – with hard evidence – for them not to. It’s not about a ‘better sell-in’. It’s about knowing what influences them. Ultimately, that should be the commercials – highlight the revenue, profit and customer value, underpinned with their own and third-party data, and build the business case around that. This makes their lives – and their decisions – easier, helping them to tangibly size the prize and place their bets in the right places.

Ultimately, if you can’t change their mind, you probably haven’t got a strong enough reason why they should.

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Ben Sillence, director of strategy, Lewis Moberly

In a word: provocation. Quite often, changing a clients mind is less about proving your point and more about getting them to see the challenge differently. That’s why we’re always looking to weave into our work observations and insights from radically different categories – new products, behaviors or design trends that may not directly correlate with the challenge at hand but have learnings that provoke the client to think broader. Ultimately, our goal is create new perspectives on the challenge, to use consumer and cultural research that makes a client think ’what if...’ rather than ’we can’t...’

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Marc Wilson, executive vice-president and executive director of strategic inclusion, FCB

Breaking away from the confines of demographic constructs is perhaps the first step in targeting a new audience category. People are no longer accepting the notion that they are just one thing – more and more, we are owning the many facets of our identities.

Marketers need to follow suit and adopt new ways of designating who is and isn’t their target audience. We can help with this by shifting our clients’ focus to the shared values that people align with or aspire toward. Of course, certain audience categories have unique attitudes/behaviors/preferences from other groups, but identifying their shared values (the overlap between groups) is key to making a transition to a new audience.

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Melissa Cabral, head of strategy, The Many

The first step is to meet clients where they are and understand why they think the current audience is the right one. What is holding them back from being open to a new audience in the first place? Different answers beget different approaches. ’If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ is a very different dynamic from ’we want to, but we don’t have the resources to make that shift right now’. Regardless, a data-driven argument has to be made for why targeting a new audience would make good business sense. At the end of the day, it’s all about ROI.

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Rosie Pugh, managing partner for insight and strategy, Passion Digital

It can be hard to persuade clients to deviate from the familiar, especially when they’ve signed off a specific six or 12 month strategy. I find that earmarking some of the budget as a ’test pot’ at the planning stage sets an expectation for trialing new ideas and angles, which – if successful – can be incorporated into the broader strategy. It pushes the account team to continuously innovate and encourages the client to think outside the box while still protecting their core activity. It’s important to set this precedent from the outset.

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Grace Francis, global chief creative and design officer, WongDoody

When it comes to targeting a new audience category, we need to lead with psychographic and demographic evidence. The numbers alone won’t cut it. Having digital anthropologists on hand is incredible – they’re objective but emotionally invested and are incredible storytellers who can tease out how a new audience will authentically connect with a brand.

If we want to convince our clients to take leaps of faith on any subject, we need to present the solution, be honest about the risk and reward on the way, and show that the results can benefit the client during their tenure.

Want to join future debates? Email me at sam.bradley@thedrum.com.

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