Episode 14

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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

 

The Golden Nugget:

“What we do should be about the problems we're trying to solve.” – @susanbaier Share on X

Click to tweet: Susan Baier shares the inside knowledge needed to run an agency on Build a Better Agency!

 

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We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!

Speaker 1:

If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Build a Better Agency where we 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 expertise as both an agency owner and agency consultant to you, please welcome your host Drew McClellan.

Drew McClellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McClellan 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 conduct custom quantitative attitudinal audience segmentation research, say that 12 times fast, which she will explain to us what that’s all about. And she also helps her agency clients develop 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. Susan, welcome to the podcast.

Susan Baier:

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

Drew McClellan:

So probably in full disclosure we should also tell the listeners that for the last couple years Audience Audit and MI 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 that our listeners need to know about you?

Susan Baier:

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 mid-size 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.

Drew McClellan:

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

Susan Baier:

Research is now 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 they’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?

Drew McClellan:

Well, and I think that’s one of the places where agencies could 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.

Susan Baier:

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 is 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 audience’s process is so frustrating. It’s so difficult for our clients. It’s sort of hard for us. So we kind of feel a lot of the time we’re sort of wing 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.

Drew McClellan:

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

Susan Baier:

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 on. 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. And 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 it 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 know you’ve got good reliable data to use when you start developing strategies.

Drew McClellan:

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?

Susan Baier:

Well, there’s a few ways. I mean, 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 and 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 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 set up 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.

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 just 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 whatever, they’re switchers, or they’re not going to 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.

Drew McClellan:

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 and 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 boy 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 out who your sweet spot customers are and how you can tailor your messages right at them.

Susan Baier:

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.

Drew McClellan:

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?

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Well, 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 a 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. So that’s Step 1. 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. So that’s really important. I mean, 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

Drew McClellan:

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

Susan Baier:

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.

Drew McClellan:

Are you saying you’re a shiny toy?

Susan Baier:

Yes. I’m sort of a shiny toy and 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 and 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.

It should be about the problems we’re trying to solve for our clients, customers, and how to 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, what’s our social media program, right? 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 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 are audience up instead of shiny toy down. Does that make sense?

Drew McClellan:

Yeah. Well, I think the other thing that does is today’s shiny toy is tomorrow’s discarded toy. And that’s I worry about and I talk a lot with agency owners about, you know what, 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.

Susan Baier:

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, we’re specialists in this shiny toy, right?

Drew McClellan:

Right. So in terms of sort of building this into the process, is this something that you see clients or not clients, but 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 will want to do that. How do I have that conversation with them without it looking like, hey, what the heck? We’ve been doing this for five years?

Susan Baier:

Yeah. Well, I mean, 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 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 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.

Drew McClellan:

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 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, that has a great sticking power in terms of keeping or getting a client.

Susan Baier:

It does. And I think the whole explosion in the conversation around big data really sort of helps in that regard because there are lots of organizations feeling the pressure to be utilizing “big data.” 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. And so we have clients who wish they were using data, but aren’t. Know they should be right for the first time and feeling that pressure.

And then we have clients who are really struggling under mountain of analytics data 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 use data in a smart way, use data that’s actually helpful. A lot of times I see sort of a look of relief on clients when they realize that, yes, they can work with data and no, it doesn’t have to be overwhelming and they’re still making decisions based on something that’s real and not a guess.

Drew McClellan:

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.

Susan Baier:

Perfect. So Idea Agency is one of our client agencies. They’re out in Massachusetts, our 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 from 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, looks 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.

Drew McClellan:

Okay. So stop. I just want to clarify. No, but 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. 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, right?

Susan Baier:

Right.

Drew McClellan:

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, right?

Susan Baier:

Right. Correct.

Drew McClellan:

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

Susan Baier:

They’re 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 at 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 was a whole host of activities and stuff like that. But rather than sort of throwing a whole bunch of different kinds of activities at these folks, because they understood what they were interested in their engagement with Tufts and what they were looking for, 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 this 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. 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 sort of 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 sort of offer their expertise was exactly what these folks wanted and it went