Episode 14:

Susan Baier began her career as a brand manager for companies like Dial and Conoco-Philips. She also worked agency side and within client companies in their research departments, honing her skills as a research professional.

Recognizing that primary research was often too expensive for small to mid-sized agencies, she launched Audience Audit, where she conducts quantitative attitudinal audience segmented research. She helps her agency clients develop marketing strategy for their clients based on customer insights. They find it much easier to develop messaging, strategic plans, and business development plans with real data that helps them understand how customers who look (demographically) the same behave in very different ways and what motives those choices and behaviors.

Over the past few years, AMI and Audience Audit have partnered together for studies on how business owners find agencies, their attitudes towards working with agencies, and more.



What you’ll learn about in this episode:

  • How the research that Audience Audit does differs from a lot of the research that’s out there
  • How your agency can leverage research inside your agency-client relationships
  • The ways agencies can better sell the value of research to existing and prospective clients
  • Why agencies can’t build their business around “shiny toys”
  • The ways research has changed and why agencies shouldn’t be afraid to bring it to clients that they haven’t done research with in the past
  • How bringing research to clients can give them a sense of relief and make it easier for your agency to retain their business
  • A specific example of how this kind of targeted research helped a client in a big way
  • The mistakes agencies make when trying bring research into their shop
  • Why niche really matters when it comes to research
  • Baby steps agencies can take to start incorporating research


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“What we do should be about the problems we're trying to solve.” – @susanbaier Click To Tweet

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Speaker 1 (00:00):

Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here. Before we jump into the episode you are about to listen to, I wanted to make sure that you knew that we are doing open mic webinars and they are available to anyone in the world, just head over to the Agency Management Institute.com/ask Drew, and you will see the dates and times for this month and next month. And we’ll talk about anything you want to talk about – agency operations, COVID, whatever it is that is on your mind. I’m happy to answer your questions and everyone else on the call shares as well as asks questions. So it’s really a round-robin of learning for everybody. All right. I’d love to have you there. All you have to do is register. You can attend live, or just get the replay after we record it. Okay. Now here’s that music that you know and love.

Speaker 2 (00:51):

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build A Better Agency podcast presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Speaker 1 (01:24):

Hey, everybody Drew McLellan here. Welcome to another episode of Build A Better Agency where we talk with folks who can help your agency get stronger, more profitable, be better for your employees and your clients. And most of all, be better for you. I am really excited today, a topic that I have a lot of passion around the whole idea of being smarter and taking smart data and insights to your clients, as you put together proposals for them and the work that you do for them. And today we’re going to spend some time with my good friend, Susan Baier. Susan began her career as a brand manager for companies. So she worked for companies like Dial and ConocoPhillips, and then switched over to the agency side, came over to the dark side, and worked with agencies leading in their strategic marketing initiatives and in their market research. As you might imagine, a few years ago, she launched Audience Audit where she conducts custom quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research, say that 12 times fast, which she will explain to us what that’s all about.

Speaker 1 (02:18):

And she also helps her agency clients develop a marketing strategy based on customer insights, message development, strategic planning, and business development consulting all around, being smarter and knowing more because you’re looking at real data. So Susan, welcome to the podcast.

Speaker 3:

Hey Drew, thank you so much for having me. It’s awesome to be on your podcast.

Speaker 1:

So probably in full disclosure, we should also tell the listeners that for the last couple of years, Audience Audit and AMI have partnered together to go out into the field and do some research. We have done two studies so far where we have talked to folks who hire agencies, CMOs, business owners, that sort of thing, around how they feel about agencies, how they find agencies, the whole new business process, their attitudes about working with agencies, what they want and don’t want from agencies. And, so, Susan and I will probably be peppering some of that data into our conversation. And I will also in the show notes, give you a spot where you can go download the reports that we are doing around those so you can have access to that as well. So again, great to have you here, anything in your introduction that I left out or that listeners need to know about you?

Speaker 3 (03:29):

No, I don’t think so. well, I mean the only thing I would add is that yes, we do this particular sort of weird niche of market research, which we’re going to talk about a little bit, but we do it specifically for small to midsize agencies and that was an intentional choice in building this business just because of some of the challenges that I think that particular group faces and my personal interest in trying to help them out.

Speaker 1 (03:56):

So, let’s help the listeners understand how your research is different than maybe some other research that they have bumped into.

Speaker 3 (04:03):

Research is now more for agencies than it used to be with everybody on the internet and online survey software. But a lot of the research that’s used to support say audience personas and marketing recommendations, is demographic. So it’s age, income or it’s syndicated research where they’ve sort of devised these 31 demographic lifestyle buckets across the country. And they’re going to tell you how many people you have in each bucket. And while that information can be helpful in some circumstances, in a lot of ways, it isn’t very helpful for marketers. We see a lot of research that we’re doing with clients in which the demographics of the audiences you’re talking to aren’t different. They’re all about the same range of ages. They’re all about the same gender splits or household income levels but they feel really differently about the category that we’re asking about. They’re making their purchase decisions very differently. And to me, that sort of is at the crux of what we need to know as marketers. Why are people doing something and how can we respond to that in a relevant way?

Speaker 1 (05:06):

Well, and I think that’s one of the places where agencies can add great value because a lot of clients can tell you demographically, based on their customer base, what their customer looks like. But I think what you’re talking about is helping our clients understand what their customers are thinking and believing and wanting that they can’t see by looking at them.

Speaker 3 (05:27):

Yeah. I mean, it makes the whole thing so much easier if you sort of know what is motivating someone, why they’re looking, the other kinds of data that we often have on people lose what they’re clicking on or how long they’re on our site or which page they came from and which page they left at. And again, that can be helpful in certain circumstances, but you still don’t know why people are doing those things. And I think that’s why the whole sort of, let’s develop our audiences process, is so frustrating, so difficult for our clients. It’s sort of hard for us. And we kind of feel a lot of the time, like we’re sort of winging it or having to make these big assumptions based on demographic data as to sort of why the people that look like that are doing what they’re doing.

Speaker 1 (06:13):

But the research you do, it’s not like a focus group, right?

Speaker 3 (06:16):

No, it isn’t a focus group. Ours is online quantitative survey research. Focus groups are great, like any other research for what they’re great for. They’re a great opportunity to actually talk to people about a particular category and have some more in-depth conversations. You can elicit things from them that they can sort of go on and give you more detail at. And sometimes they surrender things to you that you wouldn’t have thought to ask about. So, focus groups have their place. The problem with them is that it’s like eight people. So, unfortunately, you get some data bias going on. You have a very small sample size, the loudest talker usually sort of tends to overtake the group and it’s hard to think of that as being a reliable basis on which to sort of steer your ship of state as an organization or make recommendations as their agency. So, I like quantitative statistically reliable research and we have an approach that allows you to get to these sort of attitudinal questions and understand sort of what’s going on with people, but doing in a way that you’ve got a large sample of respondents who are the kind of people that you want to be hearing from. So that you’ve got good, reliable data to use when you start developing strategies.

Speaker 1 (07:40):

So, once an agency has this and I know, we certainly have done this with our studies too, what is the advantage that having this insight and how do agencies leverage this? And I know you work with lots of different agencies, how do they leverage this inside the client relationship?

Speaker 3 (07:58):

Well, there are a few ways. One of the things quite honestly, that it helps with is convincing clients that your recommendations are something they should be paying attention to. For whatever reason, clients like to see things backed by data. And if you have data that says, look, you’ve got these two audiences, they’re both really viable for you, but they feel really differently about this so you can’t be sending them the same email. We need to split this into two initiatives and get them on different lists. And if you’ve got data to support that, your client is much more likely to think that you actually know what you’re talking about and aren’t just trying to sell them another email setup or whatever. So, it’s great having data in hand to validate the recommendations that you’re making with clients. The other thing that I know a lot of the agencies we work with find helpful is that at the same time that you’re identifying audiences that are perfect for your client, in terms of the kinds of things that are important to them and the problems they’re trying to solve and all of that, you also often find audiences that aren’t really perfect.

Speaker 3 (09:07):

And so being able to, as an agency, come forward and say, look, we have this research for you. There are a couple of audience groups in here that we think are a perfect fit for you. And we’re going to talk about those, but we also found one that probably isn’t a perfect fit. And we don’t think you should be wasting your money trying to get more of those kinds of people because you know, whatever, they’re switchers or they’re not gonna spend very much, or actually, there’s a competitor who’s much better suited for them than you are. So I think that builds trust between agencies and clients too, to say, look, we’re not just trying to spend all the money you have. We want to spend your money smart.

Speaker 1 (09:44):

Well, and I think the other thing it does is it helps clients understand that just like we talk with agencies about every dollar is not a good dollar, we’re really much better off chasing after our sweet spot customers, the ones that we can absolutely delight. And I think sometimes what your research shows is, yes, I see there are three or four audience segments, but I’d have a hard time making audience number three happy because they want stuff that, while we sort of do it, or we can do it, it’s not really what we tee up every day for clients. And so you get to make more informed decisions about who your sweet spot customers are and how you can tailor your messages right at them.

Speaker 3 (10:23):

Absolutely. And that’s so important. And I think, especially in our role as agencies and advisors to our clients, we have a responsibility to help them understand those kinds of things. Sometimes clients are very anxious to go after anybody they can get, but that’s not necessarily the right move for them. And, they look to us for expertise. And I think having data that can support those kinds of recommendations as to where they should go and where they shouldn’t is what our job is quite frankly.

Speaker 1 (10:52):

So I know for a lot of agencies and maybe this was the recession that did this, but for a lot of agencies, they have trouble selling the idea of research to clients, that it feels that a lot of clients are willing to go look. So let’s just make some assumptions and I’m willing to concede these assumptions. How do agencies better sell the idea and the value of research into either a prospect or an existing client?

Speaker 3 (11:17):

I think one of the things that a lot of agencies, especially small to midsize agencies struggle with is they don’t have a level of confidence themselves on the right kind of research to do, how it should be done. A lot of them aren’t doing it in-house anymore, so it’s kind of a weak spot for them and inevitably when you get into a discussion with the client about, well, what can we cut? What can we adjust? Something you’re not super competent about is going to be the first thing to go. So, I think if you’re an agency that really wants to develop a reputation for building recommendations on data, you’ve got to get comfortable with the right approaches. That doesn’t mean you need to necessarily do that research yourself, but you have to feel really good about what you’re recommending and why it’s instrumental in what you’re trying to do for a client.

Speaker 3 (12:09):

So that’s step one – you’re not going to be able to sell anything you don’t feel good about yourself, you don’t feel comfortable with. The other thing is, I think clients can see if you’re just slapping stuff in there that you don’t have a place for in your process. You know what I mean? I think that agencies that do a lot of work based on data have a process that anyone can see. They go to the website, they talk about it, they have case studies or whatever that show, not only do they know how to sell research, but they actually know how to use research and integrate it into the kinds of things that they’re doing for clients, strategies and tactics alike. So that’s really important. You can put lipstick on a pig, but in the end, if you don’t understand research and you aren’t really committed to driving your strategies off of research, it’s going to show.

Speaker 1 (13:03):

And I think sort of a tangental to that are the agencies that sell it as a thing, as opposed to weaving it through everything they do from that point forward.

Speaker 3 (13:13):

Yeah. And that whole selling it as a thing is one of the things I think a lot of agencies struggle with. We have lots of shiny toys to play with in the agency business. A lot of times you’re saying, you’re a shiny toy, shiny toy, but a lot of clients will come to us and say, Hey, we need to be on Facebook. We need this shiny toy, or we need retargeting. We need that shiny toy, programmatic media buying, or whatever it is. I’ve heard about this thing and that’s something I want. I need that. I really believe that we, as advisors to our clients have to resist the temptation to pull out the shiny toys and say, Oh, this is a chance to use this because quite honestly what we do, shouldn’t be about the way we do it.

Speaker 3 (14:01):

It should be about the problems we’re trying to solve for our clients, customers, and how does that sort of make that connection between our clients and the people that they’re trying to serve. And quite honestly, that sort of runs antithetically to an approach from an agency standpoint that says, okay, what’s our social media program? How are we going to budget against our web program? What’s our media program? I really believe that agencies should be flipping that assessment and saying, okay, what are we going to be doing for this audience? What is the most efficient, best spend, most effective approach to connect with that audience for our client? And maybe some of those audiences need social. Maybe some of them don’t. Maybe retargeting is right for some of them, maybe it isn’t, but I think we should be building strategies that our audience up instead of shiny toy down. Does that make sense?

Speaker 1 (14:52):

Yeah. Well, and I think the other thing that does is, today’s shiny toy is tomorrow’s discarded toy and I worry about and I talk a lot with agency owners about don’t build your whole model around whatever it is, the HubSpot of the world. And there’s nothing against HubSpot. It’s a great tool, but it may not be the tool five years from now. And so when you build your agency around tools or platforms or channels, I think that you’re dating yourself very quickly, especially with the rapid rate of change that we’re experiencing in the industry today. But one of the things that’s never going to go away is our customers need to sell stuff to somebody and that somebody is their audience. And being able to understand the audience and sort of how they behave and what matters to them and where they hang out and all of that, that’s never going to go out of fashion.

Speaker 3 (15:44):

No, you’re exactly right. And I think the agencies that are out there that say, look, what we specialize in is understanding the people that you are trying to sell to, have a real advantage against the sea of agencies that are saying, Hey, you know, we’re specialists in this shiny toy.

Speaker 1 (16:04):

So in terms of sort of building this into the process, is this something that you see agencies able to use or sell better with prospects? Or are they more successful going back to clients that they’ve had for a while and saying, well, actually let me back up. So let’s say I’ve had a client for five years and I’ve never talked to them about research and all of a sudden I have the bug and I want to do that. How do I have that conversation with them without it looking like, Hey, what the heck? Why haven’t we been doing this for five years?

Speaker 3 (16:38):

That’s a great point and a lot of agencies are in that situation but the reality is, five years ago, this was a lot harder to do. This was a lot harder to get 10 years ago. This kind of work was $200,000 and took nine months. And it’s simply out of reach, not just for agencies, but their clients, in many cases, unless you were one of the very, very sort of large massive agencies. But things have changed and the reality is it is much more economical now to get to the people that you want to hear from. It’s a lot easier for them to engage with you in research than it used to be and as a result, it’s more affordable. It doesn’t take as long and it doesn’t cost as much. So I think going back to clients and saying, look, we now have this tool that you may never have heard of because it’s kind of unique and it’s fairly recent, but it’s something we want to work on with you, I think is the right way. And it’s true.

Speaker 1 (17:42):

Well, and I think, especially as we are, in the research that you and I have done together, one of the things that we’re seeing over and over is that clients are feeling incredible pressure to be results-driven. And one of the things that gives them comfort around choosing an agency and keeping an agency is that the agency is leveraging data because let’s face it, they have to sell inside their organization their allegiance to their agency, and the more data, and the more proof points you can give that client contact to walk into the C suite and say, look at what the agency gave us and look at this insight. And here’s why we’re doing what we’re doing with real numbers and stories about these audience segments and all of that, it has great sticking power in terms of keeping or getting a client.

Speaker 3 (18:33):

It does. And  I think the whole explosion in the conversation around “big data” really sort of helps in that regard, right? Because there are lots of organizations feeling the pressure to be utilizing “big data”. You know, they don’t feel like they’re on the ball if they’re not using it, but the reality of big data is often very different. We have clients who wish they were using data, but aren’t like, know they should be, right, for the first time and feeling that pressure. And then we have clients who are really struggling under a mountain of analytics or data they’re capturing in their own databases about people and really having a tough time figuring out how it can help them. Because it’s just so overwhelming. And coming in with some ideas about how to use data, but to use data in a smart way, use data that’s actually helpful. A lot of times I see a look of relief from clients when they realize that yes, they can work with data and know it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and they’re still making decisions based on something that’s real and not a guess.

Speaker 1 (19:42):

Yeah. So can you give the listeners an example of a client? I know you have some of your agency clients who have given you permission to talk about the work that you do with them. Give them an example of how the research informed the client and the agency about the audience. And then some of the marketing decisions that the agency was able to push forward with their client because of the data.

Speaker 3 (20:10):

Perfect. Idea Agency is one of our client agencies. They’re out in Massachusetts. They’re a small agency and they’ve been using this type of research for quite some time with all types of clients. And one of their clients is Tufts University in Boston. Tufts was interested in putting on an event to engage alumni, with the university. They had sort of differing levels of engagement for various types of folks, and they’re really trying to sort of solidify a connection with alumni. So, we did some research with Idea Agency and Tufts into why alumni were engaging with the university. And we found a whole host of reasons, but really some substantially different groups of people who had all gone to Tufts. Six, very similar demographically, but had really different rationale for engaging with the university. Some of them were just Tufts lovers and wish they were still back there and wear their sweatshirts on the weekends and go to football games and stuff like that. But then there are other folks who either, really appreciate the alumni network that they’ve got going with Tufts and sort of want to utilize that in their own career or have a lot of expertise and really want to contribute that back to Tufts to help it be successful.

Speaker 1 (21:22):

Okay. So stop. I just want to clarify. So you go out and you do the research and you’re looking at people who demographically look exactly the same, but what you found is that they fell into three distinct buckets. One, which is I bleed Tufts, whatever the color is. Right? So I’m all about Tufts. I have the ornaments on my tree and I still can sing the fight song. And then you have a second group that it’s really a matter of, they want to advance their career by connecting with the other influential Tufts alumni. And for them, it was all about networking and connecting. And then the third group is the group that was all about sort of giving back to Tufts and believing that they could give them good counsel.

Speaker 3:


Speaker 1:

Okay. I just want to make sure that the listeners are tracking that those are three distinct groups.

Speaker 3 (22:14):

They’re all really different groups, and they’re all engaged with Tufts, but they’re engaged for really different reasons. So sort of in seeing this overview of the audience that they have to work with, the folks at the agency and Tufts decided to build an event specifically for that third group. Specifically for those folks who believe they have sort of a lifetime of experience behind them that they really want to give back to Tufts and help Tufts be successful. So the agency proposed an event called the Leadership Summit. It was the first time that they’d done it. And it was a weekend event where people paid to come. It was $150 or $200 or something like that. And there’s a whole host of activities and stuff like that. But rather than throwing a whole bunch of different kinds of activities at these folks because they understood what they were interested in, in their engagement with Tufts and what they were looking for,

Speaker 3 (23:10):

they built that event specifically for those folks. So for example, the keynote at the event was a preview of the Tufts five-year strategic plan that was getting ready to be published. And it was followed by opportunities for the attendees to engage with Tufts’ senior leadership and talk to them about the plan and give them feedback and make suggestions and sort of have that engagement. So this event was built specifically for one part of the audience, that they’re working towards, a large alumni group. This event was built specifically for that one segment and it was incredibly successful. As I said, it was the first time they did it. They had at least twice as many signups as they had hoped for and at the end, they asked folks if they should indeed, as planned, have this once every couple of years, and the attendees asked them to have it at least twice a year, if not more often.

Speaker 3 (24:10):

So great engagement from those folks and great sort of continued engagement by Tufts after the event with these people, because they connected with them in a way that responded to something that was very important to these folks, right? They don’t want to sit at a football game with a bunch of students and watch the game. That’s not what their engagement with Tufts is about, but the opportunity to hear where Tufts is going and to engage with senior leadership about their thoughts, with regard to that, and offer their expertise was exactly what these folks wanted. And it went off without a hitch. So the agency did a great job in helping the client understand the power of focusing on a particular group because you can imagine an event that was trying to reach all these different people.

Speaker 1 (24:56):

Well, I imagine it would have been we would have a football game and we would have shown you the new dorm rooms because they are very different from where you used to stay or the new media center because it’s really different from when you went to school and they might’ve had smatterings of things. It would have appealed to this person, but I bet at least a third, two-thirds of it would have been off-target.

Speaker 3 (25:13):

Well, sure. And so if you’re looking at attending an event and you see that two-thirds of the stuff that’s going on, isn’t something you’re interested in, are you going to go? I don’t think you are and are you going to pay to go on a weekend? But if you look at an event and say, wow, I want to go. If you had that experience where you’re at a conference or some sort of industry event and you go, geez, I wish I could go to all of these sessions, it’s really hard to pick what to do. That’s what you want to get to. And so, that’s the experience. These folks had everything about this event built specifically for them understanding what they wanted to do. And, as a result, they loved the event and they asked for more, which by any yardstick, I think is a terrific measure of engagement with a target audience.

Speaker 1 (26:00):

Well, and again, I think this is a great example of when you knock it out of the park like that for a client, that’s a client who comes back and says, what else can we do? Right.

Speaker 3 (26:07):

Can we do yes, absolutely music to every agency’s ears. Absolutely. And you know, the funny thing about it is this, other than getting the research done itself, right? What the agency did wasn’t any more expensive or crazy or highfalutin than a normal approach to making a recommendation for an event. It’s all the same elements, right? We need to design and print out brochures. We need to send out email invitations. We needed to do this or do that. But the addition of some real insight into the audience that they were trying to serve, made the whole thing more successful.

Speaker 1 (26:43):

Well, and I think one of the appealing things of this kind of research is it’s all about eliminating waste, right? So it’s about, even if you spend the exact same number of dollars, if we know every dollar is pinpoint targeted at what matters to this subset group of people so that there’s very little waste, that’s a much more efficient spend, which is part of how you sell it into the client because now the client goes, Oh, I get it. We’re going to spend the same $20,000, $50,000, $100K. But I’m not guessing that three of the five of these things are going to work.

Speaker 3 (27:18):

Or the people are going to drop out after the first day because it just wasn’t interesting enough or whatever. Right. It gets you on both fronts. You’re focusing your efforts and the audience you are trying to reach, sees you doing that for them and responds in kind.

Speaker 1 (27:34):

I have so many more questions that I want to ask you, but before we get into those, let’s take a quick pause and we’ll come right back. If you’ve been enjoying the podcast and you find that you’re nodding your head and taking some notes and maybe even taking some action based on some of the things we talk about, you might be interested in doing a deeper dive. One of the options you have is the AMI remote coaching. So that’s a monthly phone call with homework in between. We start off by setting some goals and prioritizing those goals and we just work together to get through them. It’s a little bit of coaching. It’s a little bit of best practice teaching and sharing. It’s a little bit of cheerleading. Sometimes on occasion, you’re going to feel our boot on your rear end. Whatever it takes to help you make sure that you hit the goals that you set. If you would like more information about that,

Speaker 1 (28:24):

check out agencymanagementinstitute.com/coaching. Okay. Let’s get back to the show. So as agencies think about sort of, uh, wrapping research into their process or all of that, or really re-engaging, because I think a lot of agencies, especially for those folks who are a little more gray-haired probably earlier in their career, research was a bigger deal. And then we sort of went through this phase where, to your point, it got so expensive that coupled with some economic bumps in the road, I think a lot of people sort of got out of the habit of even thinking about research. And now I’m hoping that it’s coming sort of back in vogue and that, especially with all of the discussion around data and data being different than insights, I think one of the things that’s critical about good research is that it can’t just give you numbers and data, but it has to help you understand what those numbers mean and what to do about it. Right?

Speaker 3 (29:18):

Yeah. And I actually think that the drop in research usage by agencies has a more nefarious background. I actually think that a lot of the people who are making decisions in those agencies and in fact on the client side aren’t using research because they’ve had a terrible experience with it. I mean, I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked to who say, okay, let’s talk about research, and there go the eye rolls. And I know what they’re thinking. They’re thinking of reams of three-hole punched pages set into a binder, gathering dust on a shelf someplace. We spent all this money. We don’t know how to interpret it. It never gets used. And so they don’t use it. And I don’t blame them. You know? I mean, there’s nothing worse than spending your client’s money on something that they can’t use.

Speaker 3 (30:07):

It’s a recipe for disaster. So I think that’s one of the problems. And one of the things we try to do is provide agencies with information that’s actually helpful that they and their clients can actually understand and they don’t need a three-ring binder and a weekend to read through it. It’s just, a lot of researchers aren’t marketers and a lot of marketers aren’t researchers and sometimes things get lost in translation. And so like you said, you end up with a bunch of numbers, but how those numbers translate to something you should be doing as a marketer is a lot harder.

Speaker 1 (30:45):

I know one of the parts of the research that we’ve done together, that I think the agencies find most valuable is we will talk to them about what we learned in terms of the data and the segments. But then we sort of say, okay, so if this segment is the group of folks that you want to talk to, these are the kind of clients you want to have, here’s some things you need to think about. And you know, I think about some of the research around how important the relationship is versus how important your niche expertise is. And, what we just talked about with Tufts is the same thing for agency owners, which is we can’t be everything to everybody either. And we need to look at the agency that we’ve built and figure out which clients we can make really happy. And then how do we fashion ourselves? How do we talk about ourselves and what kind of content do we create to attract that sort of client to us. And so I think for most agencies, part of the research that we’ve done together in the report where we sort of say, if this is the target you want, here are four or five things you need to do and you need to spotlight that you do that because that will attract them to you.

Speaker 3 (31:49):

Yeah and that’s what I love about it. That ability to focus. It’s so funny because as you can see in the research that we’ve done together, right, there’s no right answer. It’s not like every agency is going to look at the segments that we’ve found among buyers of agency services and all land on the same one as being perfect for them. Because it’s a dance between what’s really important to them. What do they really value? What do they really require in an agency relationship? And what does your agency do? What are you good at? What have you decided to focus on? So it’s not that you sort of go through this analysis and then everybody says, Oh, that’s the winner and you’re up against every other agency in the country. It’s finding the segment that’s right for you and for whom you are right.

Speaker 1 (32:38):

Yeah. It’s about chemistry and it’s about the match and it’s about who can I absolutely delight every day, as opposed to who is going to be a grind to make happy.

Speaker 3 (32:40):

Yeah. The reality is if you’re a small agency if you’re five or 10 people, regional agency, and you’re trying to go after clients who really only want prestigious national brand agencies with 30 people on their account team, you’re going to have a problem. It’s not going to go very well. You’re going to waste a lot of your time and money trying to get them, and you’re not going to get anywhere with it. So every agency is different. Every client is different, but understanding the types of clients that are a good fit for your agency, given who you are and what you do, and what you want to do is so important. We are, you and I are both small business owners and none of us have time to waste going after the wrong clients. We need to focus on the ones that are going to love us and that we’re going to be able to do our best work for.

Speaker 1 (33:43):

Yeah, absolutely. So, what kind of mistakes, this was where I was 10 minutes ago and then we went down the rabbit hole, but if agencies are thinking about, um, starting to bring research back into their shop or to their shop, if they’ve never had it, what are some things they need to avoid? What are some mistakes you’ve seen agencies make as they try and wrap their arms around the research on behalf of clients?

Speaker 3 (34:12):

So one of the big ones, and unfortunately I have seen it a fair amount with clients who will send something to me that says, Oh, our old agency did this for us and it’s not good research. It’s not done well. I mean, research like anything else, like creative, like buying media, there is a skill and an art to it. And so I think that sometimes agencies sort of try to throw something together and say, Oh, this is what we need. But again, they’re not really understanding the pros and cons of various approaches to research and they’re not necessarily skilled at doing it. And so they’re kind of winging it and I’ve seen that kind of thing come around to bite folks. So, I would encourage agencies who really want to incorporate research into what they’re doing to get some expertise, either in-house or outside, or partner with somebody, but do it well, if you’re going to do it.

Speaker 1 (35:12):

Other mistakes that they make?

Speaker 3 (35:14):

Other mistakes, um, let’s see. So, I think going in without data these days is a mistake just across the board. You know what I mean? Cause here’s the thing. Clients have access to the same kinds of analytics that we have now. So if you throw something out there in the old days, you could say, Oh, it’s advertising, doesn’t get measured that way. Everything’s fine. Well, it’s all about brand awareness, right? Clients can see the numbers now and they can see them just as quickly as we can see them. And if you’ve got a campaign out there and it’s not performing, they’re going to see it. So you can’t hide anymore if your recommendations aren’t working. So I think it is very risky to sort of sit around a conference table and say, okay, I bet these people will like this. And let’s, you know, spend $20,000 of our client’s money to find out. You’re walking the razor’s edge and if it doesn’t go well, they’re going to come back to you and say, you know, this didn’t work. So I think that anything you can do to get some real insight into what is driving their perspective, customers, you need to try to get it because you’re really hanging yourself out there if you don’t.

Speaker 1 (36:29):

I also think it gives you justification for the choices you make, whether it’s wording in messaging or its colors, all the subjective things we do that really aren’t subjective but our clients think they’re subjective, but it’s difficult to argue. Well, I’ve been doing this for 20 years, so I know this is the right color or I know whatever. But when you have data around, these are sort of words that trigger good emotions with this segment or whatever it is you can say, well, you know what, here’s what we heard. And the research is that they think of us as being very warm and welcoming and they want to partner with somebody who is this, this or this. So here’s how we chose the language that we did or here’s why we use that visual because it depicts what they told us they want.

Speaker 3 (37:16):

Absolutely. Well, and one of the other things that I see agencies do that I don’t think helps them is go to sort of standardized packaged research about their client’s industry and use that as a basis to say, okay, this is what’s going on out there. And this is what we need to do. The reality is for most of our clients, they are not competing against the top five players in an industry. You know what I mean? They’re regional, they’re underdog, they’ve got a specific niche, whatever it is. And those sorts of pre-packaged research reports really aren’t providing any insight that would be helpful to my clients, particular clients, right in the market that they play in, in what they do. So, custom research can cost a little bit more sometimes than some of those other things, but it is so worth it to be able to go to a client and say, look, we are building this for you, which means not only can we assess whether the things you now believe about your audiences are true, right?

Speaker 3 (38:23):

We can confirm or deny, but we can also settle those debates that you’ve been having internally about, do they think this, or do they think that? Would they prioritize this over that? And answer questions that you have always wanted to ask, which is one of the great things about customer research. You’re talking to these folks. You can ask questions that you’ve always wondered about that can really help you deliver from a product standpoint, from a messaging standpoint, from a marketing standpoint, et cetera. So, I think sometimes it’s easy to say, Oh, we’ll just send an intern over to Google to buy the first $500 research report that we find. It’s a little harder to say let’s build something specifically for this client, but in my experience, it is so much more valuable and so much easier to sell to a client because it’s built specifically for them.

Speaker 1 (39:14):

Well, I think the other danger of using sort of third party research data is all your competitors and all of your client’s competitors are using the same research. It’s why everybody sounds the same.

Speaker 3 (39:25):

Yeah, that’s exactly right. Yep. Yep. There’s a better way to go for sure.

Speaker 1 (39:30):

So if folks are thinking, boy, I want to do this. I’m committed to, I get it. I know that I want better insights. I want to start weaving research into the work that we do. Can you think of an example or two of agencies that you’ve worked with that have figured out how to sort of make this part of their DNA?

Speaker 3 (39:52):

Yes, absolutely. So, you know, we work with a lot of small to midsize agencies all around the country and some of them just have an opportunity for a particular client and get some research as part of a web redesign or something like that. And it’s sort of a standalone kind of thing. We have other clients though, that after doing this once or twice have realized that this is how they want to develop all of their strategies. So they have started to actually build this into their process. So Idea Agency out in Massachusetts is one of these organizations. And if you go to their website, you will see they’re very transparent about how they go about their process, which they call the purple process for their clients. And one of the first steps in that process is doing this type of research for clients. So from their perspective, if a client doesn’t want research, then that’s a conversation they have. So instead of talking about, Hey, you need to do this. The conversation is assumed that you need to do this and if you have a problem with doing it, let’s talk to you about what that is, but it gets built into the bulk of their client relationships because that’s how they base everything that they do.

Speaker 1 (41:08):

So what you’re saying is, rather than putting it on the table, the client has to say, they want to take it off the table.

Speaker 3 (41:14):

That’s exactly right. And then there’s an opportunity to have that conversation. Showcase studies have them talk to other clients who have had the benefit of that research in developing their marketing and really sort of have that conversation. But yes, it’s assumed to be on the table from the get-go and it’s substantiated, right? I mean, any prospective client can go to their site and see that it’s in there and hear the agency talk about why it’s in there and how fundamental it is to what they do and see case studies of that. And that is truly embracing a research-based strategy approach.

Speaker 1 (41:53):

I think it’s also the difference between it being optional, as opposed to this look, this is a best practice and we’re a best practices firm. So this is how we conduct ourselves, but it gets back to the, you know, every dollar is not a good dollar discussion, which, I often have with the podcast guests. If a client is not willing to do that, and you believe that research is a critical part of how you build strategy that is unique and targeted and without very little waste, then maybe that client is not a great client for you.

Speaker 3 (42:25):

Yeah, that’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. And, I think it’s more than just saying we do it. Because how many articles have you read that are like, okay, step one, figure out your target audience. Okay. Step two. Now that you know your target audience and people are like, what? How have I …?

Speaker 1 (42:41):

Right. How did I figure that out?

Speaker 3 (42:43):

They’re supposed to do that. And I see a lot of agency websites that are like, we’re going to understand your audience. And then we’re going to move right on into all of these shiny toys that we have to play with to execute against them. But you know, just saying, you understand their audience is very different than saying how you understand their audience. And I appreciate the agencies who are out there saying, look, this is not just an assumption that you know who your audience is or that we do. This is a step. This is an important step in the process to clarify, to validate, to explore, before we start making recommendations.

Speaker 1 (43:21):

Yeah. So true. So there are listeners out there who either have walked away from research, or they’ve never done a lot of research in their side of their shop and, and you and I have been so compelling that they now are thinking, yep, this makes sense to me. I can see how I can differentiate myself in the marketplace. I can really knock it out of the park in new business pitches, et cetera, et cetera. What are some baby steps that an agency owner can take? So they don’t have a client yet that’s going to buy this. They’re not ready to jump all the way into the deep end, but what are some baby steps that they can take to begin to be more research centric and to learn more about it, and to start thinking about how to weave it into their agency’s culture?

Speaker 3 (44:04):

Well, I think that sort of exploration phase is really, really important. As I said, you just don’t want to slap it in there. You really sort of need to understand what you could offer and how it could help. I think the best way to do that is to talk to researchers. You know, there are lots of folks out there. You can Google folks if you want somebody local to your agency or people who specialize in a particular type of research or a particular approach, and you get on the phone with them and let them tell you how it could help you accomplish what you’re trying to help with clients and sort of build an acumen within your agency. Not necessarily about how to do the research, but how to choose the kind of research to do, right, because it’s a big wide world out there.

Speaker 3 (44:48):

And there’s everything from one-on-one interviews and sort of phone polling to focus groups and other sorts of qualitative message. There’s online survey research on a variety of different kinds. And any quality researcher would be happy to talk to you about why they do what they do and whether they think it can help you. And, you know, I’ll tell you, I know a lot of researchers and all of us, any ethical researcher will tell you what their research is good for and what it isn’t. Right? So the folks who are out there moderating focus groups are very good at saying, this is what a focus group is great for. This is sort of some of our limitations and for your problem, we’re either a great solution or you need to go look elsewhere and I can give you some names. But I would start talking to researchers and develop sort of an acumen about the different types of research that are out there and an opinion as to the kinds of things that you think would help you accomplish better work for your clients.

Speaker 1 (45:51):

Okay. Any other next steps?

Speaker 3 (45:55):

Well, after you sort of have identified what you kind of do, then it seems to me you have two choices. If you want to incorporate this into your agency, either you build the acumen internally, right? So you hire folks who are good at research, or know how to do a particular type of research or bring it in house, or you find partners to work with that can help you develop a process and incorporate what they do into your process. Help you talk to clients about this type of work and its benefits. What you don’t want to be doing is getting yourself in a situation where you’re the one having to justify the statistical backbone behind a particular research approach. If that’s not your thing that never works well. So if you’re not going to have that acumen in house, you need to find somebody that you can work with. Who’s willing to do that with your clients and answer questions and sort of get everybody on the same page.

Speaker 1 (46:50):

Uh, okay. We’re running long, which I knew he would because I knew we’d have a lot to talk about, but, anything else that you think that we should make sure the listeners know that we didn’t cover?

Speaker 3 (47:01):

So the only thing I would say, as you mentioned, we’ve done two of these studies now about organizations buying agency services and in both of them, the one we did last year and the one we just finished and are getting ready to present, the importance of recommendations based on data and research are in the top few things that organizations across the board are looking for. It is very important. They want substantiated recommendations. So I think if they are agencies out there that think there is a segment that won’t require that, or doesn’t want that, I think they’re mistaken. I think one way or another agencies have to be prepared to level up in terms of substantiating their recommendations with some kind of background research or analytics or data or something that tells the client that they’re making the right decision.

Speaker 1 (47:55):

Well, and I think it’s a way for an agency, a small to midsize agency to really differentiate themselves in terms of, I’m not just going to give you a Google analytics spreadsheet, but I’m going to give you data we can actually take action on and be confident about, and that’s going to help you grow your business. And while I think everyone is sort of enamored with big data, which by the way, I don’t think most people can even define, I think what they really want is they just want to be smarter at their job and hit their goals and metrics so they don’t get fired.

Speaker 3 (48:28):

Yeah. And they look to agencies for that kind of expertise. Anybody can churn out a report, right? Anybody can copy and paste from Google analytics into a spreadsheet. That’s not what clients are looking for. They don’t need reporting. They already have reporting. What they want is understanding. And they want an agency that shows that they not only know how to get data but know how to work with it, know how to interpret it and understand it. And I think that’s an acumen that any agency hoping to make it in the next 10 or 15 years has to develop one way or another.

Speaker 1 (49:04):

Absolutely. So if folks want to track you down, if they want to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to do that?

Speaker 3 (49:11):

So the website is AudienceAudit.com. You can always reach me at [email protected], or on Twitter @SusanBaier.

Speaker 1 (49:23):

All right. Thank you very much. I know you’re crazy busy and I know that you’ve been traveling all over the globe. So, I appreciate we had to reschedule this several times to work around our schedules. So I appreciate your flexibility in doing that. As always, I am grateful for your willingness to share so freely with all that you know, and your commitment to helping agencies get better. So thank you very much.

Speaker 3 (49:46):

Thank you so much. It’s always a great pleasure to spend time with you, Drew

Speaker 2 (49:48):

That’s all for this episode of Build A Better Agency, brought to you by HubSpot. Be sure to visit AgencyManagementInstitute.com to learn more about our workshops, online courses, and other ways we serve small to midsize agencies. Don’t miss an episode as we help you build the agency you’ve always dreamed of owning.