April 20, 2008

Selling Uncertainty Hiring a law firm isn't much different than hiring an ad agency or a marketing firm except for the fact that most clients think they can do advertising and marketing as well as their vendors. Yet lawyers not only leverage their positioning as licensed specialists they invoke the language and the customs of their guild to enhance the pitch process. Both sets of professionals are retained to address uncertainties in business, usually high stakes uncertainties with many variables where some combination of skill, insight, experience and luck determine the outcome or the consequences which can be dire. Both trade on knowledge clients don't perceive themselves to have to affect future events and both offer fresh fruit and cookies in the early engagement meetings. Having witnessed several law firms in pitch mode this week, here are the lessons they offer marketers. 1. Establish Credentials Upfront. Send preliminary materials and brochures ahead. Emphasize the practice areas most relevant to the prospective client. Be understated not over-the-top about who you are and what you can do since they are in the room because they believed the credentials you sent earlier. Don't belabor the point. Don't parade every partner or department head. Don't talk about yourself because they only care what you can do for them. 2. Connect the Dots Early and Often. Link your expertise with the prospects problem in the first 2 minutes. "You're being indicted; we're the best criminal defense guys in town." Cut to the chase early and often and zero in on the prospect's anxiety. "We got Exxon out of the same mess because we've got specialists in that area of the law and because we lobbied the regulators." Or remind them that you've done exactly what they need done zillions of times. "We were in front of the FCC just last week. We filed a motion identical to yours. In fact our partner Sally went to law school with the Chairman and our associate Bob is sleeping with him." 3. Punctuate Forecasts with Bold Statements. Outline the dependencies and contingencies that could impact events. But rather than say "if this happens" or "on one hand" which makes you appear to be unsure punctuate the prophecy with bold statements on several issues (the more insignificant the better) that eliminate the perception that things are uncertain or risky. As you lay out all the likely and unlikely things that could or might happen pause dramatically and say "but no court will issue a declaratory judgment on this issue!" By signaling firm beliefs you take the edge off the murky, hazy and nasty view emerging from the crystal ball and reinforce your standing as an organization that can weather a storm. 4. Give them the Odds. Clients buy outcomes and want success. The perception of do-ability directly influences their perception of value and often determines who gets the deal. Nobody wants to hear that whatever they want can't be done. So even in situations where things look bleak, offer hope by citing odds. Say things like " based on what we know now and on our experience in dealing with these matters, there's a 60 percent chance we can get this done in 6 to 9 months, assuming the Treasury Department doesn't do X." Or try "there's only a 1% chance you'll be led way in handcuffs." And even though prospects know to immediately discount the quoted odds by as much as half, they take great comfort in your willingness to risk a forecast. And if you can, for good measure, throw in some guild argot or a Latin word or phrase to reinforce your expertise and general willingness to stare down the abyss. Instead of saying " there's a tiny chance" boldly assert "the risk is diminimus!" 5. Ballpark the Numbers. Tell them flat out, with as many caveats as you like, how long it will take and how much it will cost. Everybody is a price buyer on some level and prospects hate the conceit that you have to carefully scope this all out or that you are wishy-washy about money. They know that long before the meeting, you've figured out, at least provisionally, who is going to do the work, what it will entail and roughly how much you need to charge to make your margin. They also know you have several different ways of calculating costs and several pricing models. So tell them right then and there. You can always hem, haw, stammer, back track, discount and...
Haagen-Dass & The Honey Bees: Ruminations on Cause-Related Marketing The mysterious disappearance of honey bee colonies threatens our food supply and is possibly both a consequence and an allegory for our systematic disregard for or destruction of carefully balanced natural ecosystems. This phenomenon caught my attention almost a year ago, and yet somehow the adoption of the beleaguered bees by Haagen-Daas' gives me a funny buzzing sensation in my head. Honey bees pollinate almost one-third of our food supply. The rapid and unexplained disappearance of vast numbers of colonies reported in 35 US states, like the disappearance of native American colonies in the Southwest, leave behind empty shells of civilizations with scant clues to the causes for their disappearance. Its CSI meets the Nature Channel with potentially serious consequences for our food chain and the planet. This is a fascinating story, reported on extensively by Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker of 6 August 2007 and covered broadly in both the popular and the science press. At last glance, the leading theory dubbed the "colony collapse disorder" is thought to be some kind of epidemic, though the evidence and the research into the details, the causes, the consequences or the cure are not conclusive. Enter Haagen-Daas, a General Mills brand licensed and marketed in North America by Nestle. The brand has aligned itself with the preservation of honey bees by creating a logo bearing a slogan ( HD Heart (graphic) HB in yellow and black bumble bee stripes), introducing a limited edition Vanilla Honey Bee Ice Cream, doling out $250,000 for bee research at Penn State and UC Davis, creating a consciousness raising website and running a three page ad in the May edition of National Geographic. Looking through the ad you can almost hear the brand team thinking ... ecology, earth day, leverage natural ingredients, connect with an unclaimed and unassailable good guy cause, use fruits and berries images plus the organic connection between the bees and our products to leverage the franchise and target the premium taste tree-huggers in eco-friendly magazines. For the cost of a single TV spot we can bankroll legitimizing research which can extend the brand message, focus attention on flavor advantages, and connect the brand to the hearts and minds of our customer base using PR and viral tactics. Call me cynical or call me a practiced marketer. But I've been in a thousand of these meetings where this kind of cause-related thinking makes perfect sense and builds its own internal momentum and constituency. I could write the presentation deck in my sleep. A huge MNC-owned brand goes back to its quirky roots to put it self on the side of the angels (or the bees), shape a brand message as eco-friendly advocacy and reach out to the public to raise the alarm and move more product by teaching consumers "how you can help." Although it gets a bit funky when one of the helpful suggestions is " Enjoy a pint of Haagen-Daas ice cream's bee dependent flavors and you'll help fund research with the goal of bringing the honey bees back." Maybe I'm getting cranky in my old age, but this feels funny to me. I don't believe that buying and eating more super premium ice cream will save the bees. I'm creeped out by the transparency of the marketing thrust and yet I understand where its coming from. And yet I appreciate the targeting and the integration of brand advertising with bee-related content. Maybe this is a classic example of brand-ad-content synthesis; the holy grail of integrated marketing. Or maybe its just way over the top for my tastes.

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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