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What does the ideal marketing partner look like?

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Go Inspire explains the eight key questions that can lead businesses to the right suppliers

There’s a lot we don’t know about the ‘new normal’ post-pandemic. But there’s also a lot we do know.

We know the world has changed. We know the old financial services health warning ‘past performance is no guide to future results’ now applies to everything. And we know that marketing budgets are under pressure and under scrutiny.

We also know it’s more important than ever for businesses to find the ‘right’ marketing partner. But what does ’right’ mean in 2021?

Eight key questions

To explore this further, Go Inspire aggregated intelligence and opinion from businesses across multiple sectors. We discussed the new demands on them, their new asks from their marketing services suppliers, and the wider marketing landscape in 2021.

Firstly, this analysis told us that many businesses want to reduce complexity. To ease pressure on internal resources, they want to work with fewer agencies and better agencies. Secondly, by encapsulating the capabilities that UK businesses are seeking for 2021 and beyond, the analysis enabled us to formulate eight key questions for businesses to ask existing or potential providers.

For providers and clients alike, these are hard questions to answer and assess. But even in the new normal, some old truths – for example, third-party proof points, client endorsements on specific questions or awards – remain as useful as ever.

1. Are they ‘on it’ in terms of emerging behavioral segments?

New consumer behaviors have emerged since lockdown, and people still don't know which ones will become permanent. A marketing partner worth their salt must be able to help clients understand and engage with the new segments, including across their existing, lapsed and new customers, as these may also continue to swap segments. This is essential for steering promotional spend.

2. Can they offer 360-degree insights?

As we all know, vast numbers of transactions have migrated online in 2020 and 2021. The ideal marketing provider should therefore offer a 360-degree customer view that links both offline and online behavior and profile.

Without this 360-degree view, businesses are at risk of dislocated marketing activity, wasting and misdirecting their promotional spending in both the virtual and physical worlds.

3. Are they media-neutral?

Or do they prioritize a certain channel? If they tend towards the latter, they may not be set up to understand the new normal, where the shifts between physical and digital are so fluid.

Providers that offer expertise and services in all communications channels can offer more objective and informed advice and analysis, and engineer the best mix of channels.

4. Do they balance capacity and service?

Given that optimal campaigns and strategies are likely to involve a mix of digital and physical media, it’s useful to work with a partner whose production capacity is on a scale to deliver optimal pricing. At the same time, there’s lots to like about the high-touch account management services and tailored processes of the boutique providers.

The ‘match-made-in-heaven’ provider of 2021 will offer both – industrial capacity and high-touch service.

5. Will they share risk with gainshare arrangements?

Much has changed in the world of marketing services but one aspect definitely hasn’t: how do businesses assess whether marketing services providers will deliver on their avowed strengths?

One very effective test of their confidence in their service and results is to ask for some form of risk-sharing. It’s worth asking providers whether they have used results-based arrangements previously and how that has worked for them.

6. How will they handle the transition?

Changing supplier can impact businesses’ operations considerably – at the least, causing disruption; at the worst, causing commercial loss. A good partner will offer a structured approach to transition, with a tried-and-tested methodology that reduces risk. Seek out what this is in detail in advance of any new engagement.

7. What do they offer in terms of technology access and innovation?

This element is increasingly cropping up in tenders. Leading marketing services providers often have partnerships with technology suppliers giving them access to the latest technology tools and best-in-class, future-proofed marketing capabilities.

Rather than just seek technology for technology’s sake, however, a practical approach is simply for businesses to seek a contractual commitment from suppliers to deliver ongoing innovation and performance improvement. And don’t forget the human element. Tech is impotent unless the users know what they are doing both at your end and on the agency side.

8. Can they offer economy without loss of quality?

With budgets and ROI under scrutiny, businesses are increasingly asking their marketing services providers to identify short-term cost reductions and longer-term strategic optimization. Suppliers must be able to show how this can be done without undermining communications quality, customer relationships or future revenues.

Beth Tait is managing director at Go Inspire.