As a marketing consultant with more than 35 years of experience, I often work with extremely opinionated clients who apparently have missed their true calling in life, that of a marketing professional. While their credentials may be impressive (doctors, lawyers, executives), they usually have nothing to do with marketing. Yet, they approach the marketing task as one for which they hold all the answers. Even I, after 35 years, do not purport to be so fortunate. After all, marketing is much like investing. One can never know truly what will happen. There are many variables and markets can be fickle, if not downright unpredictable. Strategies which worked for one product or service may not work for others. In my experience, diversification is one of the safest strategies of all. Don’t put your all your eggs in one basket.
Perhaps that may seem cowardly, coming from a seasoned marketing expert. Where is my conviction? Where is my resolve? Well, when the economy submerged, I left them both on the back burner where they are simmering until the bulls return. Until then, I advise all clients, humble and obstinate alike, that prudence is a virtue, regardless of how “certain” the strategy.
So, is it also cowardly to allow a client to “bully” me into implementing his marketing strategy, often using his own unproven marketing concept, or worse yet, that of his offspring? To that I have a few possible answers:
• 1. He is the client and it is his money we are spending.
• 2. I have advised him of my opinion and he has chosen to dismiss it.
• 3. If the effort fails, he can’t blame me.
• 4. The customer is always right.
Let’s take these points a little further. What kind of marketing expert allows a client to waste his hard-earned money on something which may not work? Is such a business practice ethical, or even moral? First of all, neither of us knows for sure whether his strategy and/or concept are worthless as a marketing effort. In fact, I am aware of plenty of homemade marketing efforts which have been quite successful, regardless of how amateurish they may first seem to professionals like myself. Plus, marketing often relies on creativity, resorting to ideas which are fresh, new and unprecedented. And, in an industry which runs rampant with obnoxious, supercilious marketing “gurus,” I happen to consider myself unique in that I rarely insist that my way is the only way. In all modesty, I do not believe that and never insist on anything.
Rather, I believe that he as successful business client and I as successful marketing consultant are approaching his marketing goal as equally competent, intelligent human beings – actually, business owners – with common results as our objective. We both want to emerge from this experience with a positive outcome, a profit, hopefully, with winning teamwork to thank for the effort.
But, I am not naive. While that may be my take on the situation, with some clients the truth is quite different. Why such clients seek my services in the first place often eludes me. What I usually decide is that they need an accomplice to do the visual “dirty work” while they do the directing. In my experience, the “dirty work” usually consists of the graphic design or marketing “package” which to many a client is utterly worthless, possibly because they have no expertise in performing this function. Ironically, to me, this is the most important piece of the puzzle. Without a professional and appealing presentation, the entire effort should have just stayed on the shelf.
It is funny (peculiar) that clients like this usually don’t seem to have any ability to discern an excellent presentation from one that is flawed, so they rarely object to the part of the job I take most pride in. This is lucky for me, because even if their concept or strategy may be less than ideal in my opinion, packaged with my strong, winning presentation, it stands a pretty good chance of success.
However, as I’ve intimated previously, this type of client is often one who enjoys dominance over others with whom he is working, which keeps him blind to the benefits of collaboration. Since I am not possessive about the work that I do, it matters very little to me whether this client values my input. The bottom line is that I am running a business where clients of all kinds are given respect for their opinions, goals and ideas of implementation. I work very hard to guide them toward a successful experience regardless of the obstacles. While I prefer a client who respects my experience and advice, and luxuriate in those who give me free rein to handle the job without their input, I still am willing to work with any client despite the possibility of personal humiliation or insult. What matters is that the clients feel successful working with my company and compensate me accordingly. In business, that is the true gauge of value.
Reiterating the question of the day: Who is better qualified to decide marketing strategy, marketing expert or client? From an experience point of view, it would seem that the expert is more qualified. But, in light of the changes in the economy which has thrown precedents out the window, perhaps the client has just as much validity being the marketing strategist, if he can accept that the expert has talents and insights which bring more value to the table than the client does as a singular player. The best answer is both. The client knows intimately his own business and the behavior of his customer while the marketing expert knows marketing (which is his business) and the behavior of the markets. Together, client and marketing expert create quite the formidable team. It is how well they play together that will determine their success.