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Splitting Hairs on Marketing ROI

Numerous times in the past I have been asked to weigh in on marketing’s impact on business development. And, while instances certainly do occur whereby clients specifically cite reading a blog post or seeing a name in the newspaper, for the most part, it is fairly difficult to generate meaningful ROI metrics for marketing and PR. Rather, these functions generally serve to complement and amplify a professional services company’s core business functions.

In the past, we have worked with companies that have been truly excellent at their core business but put virtually no effort into sharing their message. In these situations, marketing and PR has helped increase product awareness and open doors. Today, there are any number of tech startups making really interesting and potentially useful products that virtually no one knows about due to ineffective communication and marketing strategies. Similarly, there are numerous professional services companies – law firms, accounting firms, architectural firms – whose brand awareness is limited.

On the other end of the spectrum, stories abound of companies with outstanding marketing and PR masking a crumbling financial or operational structure.

The above dynamic places the purchaser or decision-maker in a bind: some companies are constantly promoting themselves – but are little more than puffery or good packaging – and others are truly excellent – but virtually underground, as their brands are so poorly developed.

When carefully considered, and setting aside preconceived notions or visceral reactions, professional services companies are in the “sales” business as much as any consumer products company. “Products” become “services” and “customers” become “clients.” But, in the end, it’s all semantics.

Accepting the above dichotomy, what lessons can we take from a direct-order, Internet-based consumer products company challenging its competitors on both price and quality? Here is my personal story.

The company’s claims are: a) our razor blades cost much less than our competition; and b) our blades are crafted to a similarly exacting precision to uber brands X and Y. If A and B are true, I as a consumer, have uncovered a real bargain and the industry is likely in for major upheaval.

Seemingly just as susceptible, if not more so, to marketing pitches than any non-marketer, this startup company’s razor blade pitch checked a lot of boxes for me, offering: cost savings; appealing design aesthetics; and a well-covered compelling backstory. They also advertised on a podcast I enjoy listening to from time-to-time. They gave me a promo code, and I bit.

“Unpacking” the razor set I was genuinely excited to lather up and shave. But, when it came time to actually evaluate the quality of the product, no amount of marketing (which I still find clever) can overcome my personal verdict: the shave is appreciably worse than with brands X and Y.

I took a few lessons from this experiment:

  1. Clever and engaging marketing and well-executed PR may make an initial sale, but quality is how a long-time customer or client is born
  2. There is a whole range when it comes to this issue, but price alone does not drive consumer decisions. (Having to re-shave a patchy beard negated my lower blade cost.)
  3. While industry disruption can be a good thing for the consumer, established brands need to ensure they continually look for new ways to connect with customers and clients (on the platforms where they live and the channels they watch) and always look for opportunities to share their stories and forge long-term relationships.

In the long run, any company – consumer-facing or B2B – is ultimately judged based on quality. However, marketing and PR are vital components of a holistic client retention and acquisition strategy that every business should have in place.

Michael Bond

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