Felber & Felber Marketing Innovates to Grow with Help from BGC Case Studies
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Kuan-tzu, a Chinese philosopher, became famous for an observation that probably isn’t taught in many business schools: Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for a lifetime. In our capitalist system, a third option seems preferable: sell the fish, keep the guy hungry, and wait for him to come back and buy more. How else can the economic cycle keep spinning?
But what happens if the fisherman has to compete against other, bigger outfits, ones with brand-new boats and huge nets that catch a hundred fish at a time? Rob and Bruce Felber, brothers and business partners in their own marketing firm, had a lot of business, but they were having a hard time winning clients away from major advertising agencies. “We weren’t getting the big accounts we wanted,” said Rob Felber. “We weren’t a big firm, but we had full-service capabilities. It just seemed that too many of our customers didn’t want that.”
Rob and Bruce Felber had been successfully navigating the currents of advertising, marketing, and public relations since they founded Traymore Marketing in 1993, but like a lot of small businesses, they were drifting somewhat randomly through an ocean of opportunity. Having started out in packaging and promotions, the brothers expanded into what they felt was a full-service advertising agency. “We had a lot of business, a lot of clients,” said Rob Felber, “but we weren’t growing as fast as we wanted.” Specifically, the firm wasn’t getting the big, deep accounts that sustain large agencies.
What Traymore was getting was a national reputation for innovative marketing. The Felbers developed a strategy called “three-dimensional marketing” which involves the creation of unusual packages with height and depth to cut through the clutter of flat mail pieces. “We develop the concepts through completion,” said Rob Felber, “primarily targeting the business-to-business or business-to-media markets.” Compared to the typical one percent response rate for traditional direct mailings, dimensional packages can achieve rates as high as 10-20 percent. One of the firm’s most successful campaigns was for a national fiber-optic Internet provider, Cogent Communications, which wanted to promote the speed of its new service. The Felbers developed a remote-control racecar, complete with batteries—but no remote control. “People had to go to the Cogent Web site or a call a representative to receive the remote control to make their car to work,” said Rob Felber, “and the company got a tremendous response.”
However, since each package was so unique, the firm didn’t enjoy the streams of revenue of a traditional advertising agency. Although the Felbers had many repeat customers, Bruce Felber noted that they “were usually one-time projects” because of the high level of customization. “Every time a client came back,” Bruce said, “they wanted something new.” These one-time projects, although highly creative, were not leading to enough full-service clients.
As the brothers added services, branching into advertising and public relations while “tweaking” their philosophy, they fell into the habit of trying to be all things to all people. “We had little clients, packaging clients, PR clients, clients who called us intermittently,” said Rob Felber. But the company lacked an effective process for finding the “right” clients—ones who would help the firm become more profitable and grow. “Too many clients weren’t purchasing full services,” said Rob Felber, “and we were running in a lot of different directions.”
THE BGC SOLUTION:
Rob Felber had known Andy for several years, having booked him to give seminars and speeches to various groups, but it wasn’t until their firms began serving a mutual client, The Garland Floor Company, that he considered how Birol Growth Consulting could help him. As Rob recalled, once he and Bruce began to see “up close … what Andy does for his clients,” they decided to put themselves on the hook.
The three high-energy businessmen worked well together, and Andy’s analysis revealed some key areas of opportunity and improvement for the firm. He suggested a four-part plan to boost the company’s visibility and profitability:
- Time: When Andy looked over the Felber’s financials, his assessment was characteristically blunt. “He told us we were selling gum to people,” laughed Rob. The brothers now use the gum metaphor as a kind of rallying cry. “We knew we were too caught up in doing ‘little’ things,” said Rob, “but Andy really put it into perspective.” Andy encouraged the Felbers to take more responsibility for the financial side of the business. “He helped us see what we should and shouldn’t do,” said Rob Felber, “and how important it is to be more diligent with our time.”
- Money: Rather than serving every gum-chewer in the area, the Felbers needed to concentrate on clients who were willing and able to pay prices that would sustain the firm. “Yeah, it’s basic,” admitted Rob Felber, “but hey, it’s hard to say no.” Andy advised them to develop a pricing structure and a definition of what the firm will and will not do, and be resolute on both accounts. Clients who balk at the new rules are no longer a good fit for the firm.
- Branding: Andy pointed out that the name Traymore was more of a distraction than a brand. People buy from people, so clients were much more likely to remember the Felber brothers than the mysterious “Traymore” (taken originally from the name of a street). To brand their business, the Felbers needed a name that would stick.
- Focus: Rather than following the example of larger firms, Andy urged the Felbers to pursue their own Best and Highest Use, which wasn’t limited to dimensional marketing. “These guys are natural teachers,” said Andy, “and no one else in their field is doing the teaching. Every other agency wants their clients to buy a new fish every day.”
Although it required a major transformation of the firm, Andy’s recommendation was built on a simple concept: by refining their BHU, the Felbers could capture an underserved market, price themselves into high levels of growth, and love the work they were doing. “Andy showed us how we can separate from big firms,” said Bruce Felber, “instead of trying to compete on their turf. He got us to define what we really want to be.”
Since working with Andy, the Felbers haven’t had a down month, and they don’t think it’s coincidence. “The change in our attitude—it’s just tremendous,” said Rob Felber. “We’re excited about the business again.” The prospect of combining traditional marketing practices with a teaching component has reignited the brothers’ passion for their business, and they are in the midst of a major reorganization. As Bruce Felber noted, “Andy made us realize the things we’re good at that we weren’t giving ourselves credit for.” By early next year, Traymore Marketing will no longer exist; instead, the firm will have a new name, a new focus, and a new Web site. “What stays the same is us,” added Rob Felber, laughing, “but now we know what direction to take.”
With a fresh emphasis on the teaching aspect, Felber & Felber Marketing will be a unique communications shop. “Once we are in the client’s door,” said Rob Felber, “we can give them a choice. We come in and analyze resources, develop models, and execute models to tweak performance. At that point, we can continue to execute, or give the model back to the client.” Bruce Felber observed that “a lot of companies don’t want the hassle, so we can still direct projects for them. But if they want us to show them how to do it themselves, we can do that, too, and it’s a whole new opportunity. No other agency is doing that.”
With a new name and a new business model, the firm also needed to define a new target prospect. “Andy helped us realize that the kind of person who wants to hire us probably won’t want to hire a big ad agency,” said Rob Felber. In order to spend time and money to the greatest effect, the Felbers now choose prospects on the basis of who is qualified to be their clients. They have defined their prospects in four categories:
- Business owners in over their heads, including companies that are losing opportunities or market share because of poor communication with prospects and customers, or that are moving from a regional market to a national one.
- Business owners or managers whose expertise doesn’t match marketing needs. A technical person running a software company, for example, may have little knowledge, skill, or resources for marketing.
- Business owners who have too much to do and too little time to worry about marketing strategies.
- New marketing directors who need to be brought up to speed in a new field or product line.
What the Felbers can offer these clients goes beyond “advertising” and “advising”—it also involves confidence and versatility. “We’ve run a lot of successful campaigns,” said Rob Felber, “and we have huge resources, including language translators, graphic artists, copywriters, and more.” Looking back, Felber believes the firm’s problem was one of perception. “We weren’t giving people a clear picture of who we were,” he said, “because we weren’t clear about who we wanted to be.” Bruce Felber concurs. “Andy helped us focus on where we’ve been and where we should be going,” he stated. “He’s given us a sense of place—a niche and position in the marketplace—and clarity about the future.” To watch the rapid progress, visit www.felberandfelber.com.
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