A medical approach to marketing management – diagnosis then therapy

If you have a health problem you go to a doctor to undertake a diagnosis and then prescribe the treatment. Some times the diagnostic process takes time and requires further investigation. In the meantime the doctor may prescribe treatment to alleviate the symptoms, but before a doctor prescribes treatment they ensure they have a definitive diagnosis and an understanding of the severity so that they are able to recommend and implement the best treatment.

Working at the Royal Children’s Hospital Pathology Department for six years before I took the leap into advertising I was part of the diagnostic process and was often involved in the follow up monitoring of the impact of the treatment.

The reason for bringing this up is that I recently had a discussion with a client who was saying that while they really valued our help and advice (we had worked with them on a number of projects over a period of six or seven years) they were always caught out because when we had completed the project there was always more to do and they had not allowed for the additional budget.

I thought about this and realised than many marketers (and perhaps even some in procurement) think of us like an agency. In that they provide a brief and then expect a quote to deliver the desired outcome.

The problem with this model is that we are more like going to the doctor than going to their agency. With the agency they have a long term engagement, where they work together to deliver a scope of work. Our clients engage us on a project basis to address a specific issue. And although they may have a specific requirement, it is often a symptom of an underlying problem.

Here are a few examples.

We need to review our creative agencies…

A call from a marketer said they had a feeling they had too many creative agencies. In our early discussion it was clear that there were not only too many creative agencies, but also too many digital agencies and too many of almost all of their non-media agencies (which they only had one). But how many agencies was ideal? This was the question.

We undertook a strategic alignment process to  diagnose the strategic requirements and identify the ideal supplier type and quality needed to deliver. The examination process took six weeks to deliver the recommended supplier structure.

Causes_Often_Not_VisibleThe diagnosis was that while they had too many agencies, in most cases it was not a matter of finding new agencies, but simply rationalising the existing agencies, rather than surgically remove the existing strategic knowledge within the roster.

Beyond the initial diagnostic strategic alignment process, we had no definitive idea what therapy would be required to implement the final recommendation. It was therefore impossible to quote the whole project up front.

If we had quoted and operated on a  ‘worst case scenario’ the danger was this would set an expectation. As it was, the whole process was achieved with a minimum of disruption to the marketing team, their agencies and at a minimum of cost.

Can you tell me if I am paying my agency too much…

A fairly simple request to benchmark the current agency remuneration by a financial services client ended up exposing more than anyone was prepared to hear. Sure the examination of the current remuneration on the surface revealed that in fact the advertiser was paying a significantly higher fee than the industry benchmark.

Understand_Underlying_PathologyDelving further into the underlying cause found a long practice of inefficient practices by the marketing team and their agencies. These practices were exacerbated by the remuneration model which paid the agency for the resources used and therefore the less efficient the process the more income paid to the agency.

While the initial diagnosis process quickly indicated that the agency was overpaid compared to the benchmark the additional examination revealed that simply changing the level of agency remuneration would not deliver the cure required. Instead it required a change to the remuneration model and a longer term therapeutic approach to the marketing campaign process to deliver the improved efficiency required.

Again, none of this was evident on the surface or in the symptoms reported by the marketing team. It was only following the examination and diagnosis of the current situation that we were able to provide the correct approach.

I need a new digital agency…

The requirement for a new or additional digital agency, where there are already suitable agencies on the roster, is like a patient taking more or alternative medicine because they perceive the existing pharmaceuticals are not working. This was the situation we found when a consumer goods marketer asked us to help find a new digital agency.

Look_Beyond_The SurfaceIn discussions with the marketer, it was clear that the three incumbent digital agencies were not delivering to the marketer’s expectation, but there was no clear view as to why. Further examination of the digital agencies found that while they were all capable to various extent, each agency had been given a very narrow scope of work.

The diagnostic process was implemented to clearly define the digital requirements of the marketing team, as well as corporate affairs, sales and customer support. We also engaged the IT team to clearly articulate what was provided within the global IT remit and what was required from an external supplier.

Once the extensive scope of work was clearly defined, it was much easier to review the capabilities of the existing suppliers against this. While there were strengths and weaknesses in each, none of the existing agencies could provide all of the requirements. To be honest, it was unlikely that one agency could have all the capabilities required. Instead we were able to provide a number of options to deliver their requirements.

Symptoms, examination, diagnosis and then therapy

In solving the problems and issues faced by marketers with their agencies, it is not simply a provision on services. Like addressing health issues there is a protocol that includes:

  1. Understanding the symptoms
  2. Examining and testing the situation
  3. Making a diagnosis based on the results
  4. Recommending and implementing the appropriate therapy

Each step is undertaken before you can move to the next stage. To implement a therapy before making a diagnosis is reckless. Just as treating the symptoms and not the underlying cause.

This is why in dealing with our clients we will make sure we undertake the examination and diagnosis before recommending the ideal treatment. It is simple common sense.

Don’t you agree?