THE MEDIA YEARBOOK: Freshly Ground Insights (FGI) was commissioned to conduct research for The Media Yearbook to find out marketers’ perceptions and preferences relating to their service providers. FGI managing director Brad Aigner reveals the findings.
Marketers expect more from their service providers than the standard “vanilla” offering and “innovative ideas and solutions”. This is a taste of the insights gathered from 58 marketers working in multiple product and service categories about their perceptions and preferences relating to the service they receive from suppliers of media research, public relations, advertising, brand consulting, recruitment, procurement and eventing services.
The survey found that, in general, marketers rank similar service criteria as most important, irrespective of the service being provided. “Innovative ideas/solutions” was the service criterion most often mentioned as the most important deliverable expected from suppliers.
Across multiple service disciplines, marketers said they were looking for new ideas, innovative approaches and creative thinking from their suppliers to assist their brands in attaining a competitive advantage.
One marketer commented, “Suppliers need to bring ideas to the table, and not just rely on the client to drive.” Another said, “Suppliers should beat their clients at creativity.”
The research noted the marketers’ underlying criticism that suppliers often rely on their marketer clients to drive innovative thinking, whereas they believe both parties should take this responsibility. While many respondents considered new, innovative thinking to be crucial, they frequently stressed that this thinking needed to be strategically relevant and aligned to the brand.
A common criticism was that suppliers are sometimes “side-tracked” by their own ideas and overlook the purpose of the idea as a means to an end. “Sometimes agencies are more focused on the ideas of their campaign strategy rather than what the client’s strategic direction is,” a respondent explained. Another marketer commented, “They must come up with concepts that work, not gimmicks.”
On a related note, respondents frequently mentioned the importance of suppliers “understanding my business” as a service criterion. It was reasoned that the best strategic input and innovative ideas were most often received from suppliers who had the best understanding of their clients’ businesses. Significantly, the scope of “understand my business” criterion extended beyond its narrow meaning.
A common suppliers’ weakness frequently mentioned was the lack of understanding of the client’s business. “For those who do not perform well, it is their lack of understanding of our business needs that lets them down,” one marketer said. Another added, “Suppliers do not always understand our business well enough to supply relevant, meaningful, impactful strategies.” The lack of understanding contributes to suppliers missing opportunities, said one respondent. “They are too slow so they are missing opportunities to take the unique selling points to market – missing the moment,” he said.
A marketer shared a related criticism that suppliers are not keeping up with the rate of change within their clients’ businesses, saying, “Suppliers are still working in the same way they did in the 1970s. They haven’t evolved to be more nimble and responsive to change in our business. I know that the work is only as good as the brief, but this must be one of the only supplier industries that is not under pressure to get things right for the customer first time.”
One marketer suggested that suppliers need to adapt, saying, “Change your client model from being linear and time-consuming to one that is more flexible and responsive. The rate of change has increased significantly in the business and customer world, so structure yourself to help us meet this demand. The concept of 360-degree integration in agencies has not worked. Move on and do what you do best in your area of expertise.”
The majority of marketers said they believed the most important service criterion was their suppliers’ ability to deliver services efficiently and on deadline. One commented, “Honour deadlines! Every marketer’s stress is agencies that don’t honour deadlines!” There is little doubt that many marketers are experiencing severe time pressure with more responsibilities and greater workloads.
Some indicated that the speed of service delivery from their suppliers has largely met or exceeded their expectations, while others said that suppliers exacerbated – rather than alleviated – their time pressure through late delivery.
A common theme was the perceived importance of “honesty” from suppliers. It is evident that in the tough and highly competitive South African economy, the finding and retaining of business is critical for the survival of many suppliers, so much so that some have over-promised and under-delivered. The irony is that this often results in the loss of clients. One marketer commented, “Suppliers should stop wanting to do everything for more cash, but stick to their area of expertise.” Another marketer summed it up with, “If the service provider cannot do something, don’t oversell. They must admit where they have shortcomings, and direct the client elsewhere, otherwise lose them forever.”
The connection is obvious between this sentiment and the fact that most marketers included “clear communication” and “relationships” in their list of most important service criteria.
From the numerous customer service surveys conducted by FGI in the past, it is evident that these criteria are common ‘must haves’ across multiple industries in South Africa. Relationships remain an important aspect of business in South Africa. The importance of relationships and communication is explained in a number of areas in this research.
– “More than just a transaction – to paraphrase Andrew Lloyd Webber in Evita: ‘(more) than a frantic tumble and a shy goodbye’.”
– “Either we make magic together or we don’t.”
– “Friendly, ready to go the extra mile, has your back, talks with respect.”
– “Working together as equals, neither team undermining the other.”
– “Good communication is crucial in building a well-functioning working relationship and trust.”
– “Knowing that the work is being done when the telephone has been put down.
– “Ensuring we are always aligned.”
– “Simple, plain, communication. Don’t give me riddles.”
The last two service criteria that comprise the seven most important ones that marketers expect from their suppliers are “pricing/value” and “budget management”. From a price/value perspective, marketers expect ‘bang for their bucks’. More than one marketer cautioned that this doesn’t mean that they are looking for the least expensive rates. “There is no such thing as too expensive. If the product is worth it and the service matches the level of expectation of quality, then the price is irrelevant – value is an experience, not a price.”
The importance of effective budget management struck a nerve with a number of marketers who suggested some of their suppliers were not delivering effectively.
– “For some reason agencies are always eager to double the hours and insist on more money at the drop of a hat.”
– “Respect them. They exist.”
– “Unfortunately budget constraints are a reality of business and therefore require management from both client and agency.”
So while the study identified seven service criteria, there are additional ones specific to individual suppliers categories.
The seven commonly mentioned criteria are:
Give me strategic creative thinking and insight
Meet my deadlines (every time)
Understand my business
Be clear and honest in your communication
Build a relationship with me
Give me real value
Manage my budgets (like they are your own)
How are suppliers measuring up?
Marketers were asked to rate (on a scale of one to 10) the level of service they receive from their respective suppliers. From the responses, it is evident that suppliers are delivering a fairly good service.
Supplier average rating score
Brand consultants 7.94
Advertising agencies 7.76
Media agencies 7.63
Events companies 7.58
Primary research house 7.61
PR agencies 7.31
Recruitment agencies 6.33
Procurement agencies 6.25
While advertising agencies were considered to be delivering a good service in general, the most common criticisms levelled at them related to slow turnaround time and lack of consideration of clients’ strategic intent, or not following the brief.
One marketer said, “I don’t want to wait 10 days for a single print ad to be finalised. Get it done in three!” Another said, “Sometimes agencies are more focused on the ideas of their campaign strategy rather than on what the client’s strategic direction is.”
A common criticism was that while there are many companies competing, there are usually a select few able to deliver the expected standard of service. A marketer mentioned, “(There are) too few good suppliers out there, especially PR agencies.”
The primary criticism levelled at recruitment and procurement agencies is their apparent lack of depth of understanding of their clients’ businesses. A marketer commented, “For those who do not perform well (recruitment agents) it is their lack of understanding of our business needs that lets them down.”
A common concern was the apparent reluctance by some suppliers to collaborate with others. A marketer explained, “They try to compete with our other specialist agencies instead of working together co-operatively towards a common goal for the brand.” Despite this, another marketer reasoned that it is the responsibility of the brand owner to bring its suppliers together. “We drive proactive collaboration with other agencies that are part of our agency partner roster. So all work is aligned and encourages synergy.”
What are the biggest challenges facing marketers?
A predominant theme was that many marketers are under severe pressure, exasperated by declining budgets. One marketer commented, “Tight marketing conditions lead to erosion of margins and consequently pressure to retain marketing budgets. Unfortunately when results are poor, the usual (and often short-sighted) response is to cut marketing budget and bank the cash to prop up the results.”
In addition to budget cuts, many marketers mentioned the challenge of being able to measure the return on investment delivered to the business from their efforts. There is little doubt that companies have been holding their marketing executives significantly more accountable. Marketing has traditionally posed a challenge in terms of its measurability, but it seems evident that businesses are no longer accepting the “fuzziness” of this function. This has intensified the dynamic tension between marketers and their suppliers.
And it has also intensified the dynamic tension between marketers and other functional areas within their own businesses, especially where decisions are made. “Marketing practitioners are seen as auxiliary services and not taken seriously in the boardroom,” was a point made to express this common sentiment. It is evident that some marketers feel that their skills and contribution are being undermined: They refer to:
– “Directors/stakeholders who feel they know how to be marketers.”
– “The marketing profession has been largely demoted from the boardroom.”
– “The threat of do-it-yourself practitioners and the undermining of professionalism and quality provided by dedicated marketing services.”
Another dominant theme was the complexity of markets due to factors such as the growth of digital, the fragmentation of consumer segments, and the sheer weight of brands and brand communication in the marketplace.
Clearly, marketers are faced not only with having to familiarise themselves with new media opportunities, but also to find ways of breaking through the clutter. The digital landscape was cited as a daunting challenge. One marketer commented, “The digital landscape – marketers still need to gain ground on understanding this dynamic aspect of business. As one comes to grips with a social media platform, a new one is launched that seems to grab individuals’ attention.”
Another said, “Digital media expertise is almost non-existent because digital people seldom have classic marketing skills.”
Compounding this situation was the view that there is a glut of data, but too little insight. Many mentioned the vast investments made on collecting market and consumer intelligence, which more often than not is presented back as a “data dump” rather than deep and relevant insights from which informed strategic marketing and business decisions can be made.
Not unlike many functional units within businesses in South Africa, the issue of skills and particularly the lack of experience in marketing were these often cited themes:
– “The industry is flooded with juniors who don’t know what they are doing.”
– “(There is a) lack of practical marketing experience and skill from graduates.”
– “Young and inexperienced people are entrusted with valuable and valued brands. Unfortunately far-reaching strategic marketing decisions are often made without substance, maturity, or consequence and appropriate accountability.”
– “They’re inexperienced and therefore don’t know how to get the most out of their agencies. Marketers can’t speak business.”
And in addition to all these challenges facing marketers today, they believe that consumers are just “not playing ball”. The trend of consumer fragmentation continues as the marketplace becomes more complex and cluttered. To many, consumers have never before had so much power. A marketer commented, “Consumers have the power, not the brand. There are way too many different brands out there. Consumers decide what they need and want.”
This post was first published in The Media Yearbook. A digital version of the full magazine can be downloaded here.
Note: The FGI marketers study was conducted from 6–20 November 2014. Marketers were sourced and solicited through The Brewer’s Marketing Database and the Freshly Ground Insights database. Data was collected by convenience through multiple methods including the internet, telephone and face-to-face interviews.
A total of 58 marketers participated in the study. The sample included representation from multiple sectors, namely media, alcohol, fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG), retail, entertainment, clothing, food, manufacturing, insurance, real estate, cosmetics, banking, financial services, pharmaceuticals and telecommunications.
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