Do You Feel Compelled To Buy Your Clients’ Products?

August 21, 2013

On a recent Saturday after a weekly grocery run, I set everything out on the kitchen counter and began putting items away. At one point, I realized I had hauled home a lot of Coca-Cola products. I mean a lot!

A case of Dasani, fridge packs of Coke Zero, some Smart Water, a dozen Fruit Waters (you have to try this stuff – awesome). I had even grabbed a two-liter bottle of all-new Caffeine Free Coke Zero. And that was just part of my haul.

I placed it all in the refrigerator, next to my stash of Newcastle Brown Ale, and it occurred to me — I really do bring my work home. Coke is a longtime Fast Horse client, and we recently earned business with Newcastle.

Coke Products

My stash of Coca-Cola products

This has always been my thought process: If you work for Ford, you’re not going to drive a Chrysler. If you work for Lifetime Fitness, you’d better not work out at Bally’s. It seems pretty obvious. But I’ve always wondered if that kind of loyalty extends to those of us on the agency side.

I’ve been an agency guy for 13 of my 15 professionally employed years, and luckily I’ve had a really great list of clients from day one. Over the years, my client roster has driven my purchase decisions on many things: Cell phone plans, DIY store selection and even pork products.

From the beginning, I’ve always felt a drive to actively support the clients I represented. In fact, I never really thought about not putting my money where my mouth was. So clearly I feel some level of loyalty to my clients, but I’ve often wondered whether my mindset is the rule or an exception.

photo

My refrigerator. Some lettuce and a forest of Newcastle Brown Ale

After all these years, I finally decided to get some answers. I asked 20 people for their thoughts on the matter, collecting responses from friends who currently work at ad agencies, design shops, PR firms…even some former flacks who have turned to the corporate side. (Note: no Ponies were part of this query – I wanted the perspective of people outside my immediate work circle.)

The people I surveyed either serve or formerly served a wide variety of clients in many different industries: Retail, consumer tech, food/ beverage, financial services, tourism, insurance, shipping services, paper products, medical tech, consumer packaged goods, automotive, education services and more.

Right off the bat, I loved the fact that several of these people told me they’ve wondered the same thing over the years. And it didn’t take long to figure out that a lot of my fellow agency brethren are, in a lot of ways, a lot like me. Here are a few things I found:

  • Nine of 10 claim to be mostly or totally loyal to the companies, brands and products they represent professionally.
  • Eight of 10 say they purchase or use their clients’ products and services frequently.
  • While many considered themselves loyal, one in five claim to purchase their clients’ products exclusively. Now, exclusive is a pretty strong word…most say they have purchased a competitor’s product, but nearly all of them said they do it rarely and for a range of reasons. Cost, family preference and “research” were all cited as reasons for “cheating.”

When asked why these people feel loyalty toward their clients, I again got a variety of responses:

  • Quality products/I know how the product is made
  • “Relationship with/belief in the brand.”
  • “…passionate about the brand.”
  • “Feels like cheating otherwise.”
  • “I felt like part of the team.”
  • “I felt guilty if I opted NOT to purchase my client’s product.”
  • And the answer that came up most often: “I want(ed) the client to succeed”

It’s apparent that overall, loyalty to clients is quite strong. But it isn’t absolute. A few people said they never felt compelled to support clients through their purchase decisions. Like zero. Those responses kind of took me aback — makes me wonder how you can spend such a significant part of your life promoting, advocating for and ultimately helping to sell your clients’ goods and services, but not buy or use them in your personal life.

So a baseline was established. From this admittedly unscientific survey, I learned that many agency people feel loyal to their clients. And in most cases, that loyalty manifests in purchasing their clients’ products or using their services more often than not. If I’m a client, these are all answers I want to see from my agency.

brand-loyaltyBut I wanted to go farther. To find out the limits of loyalty. So I asked where it all ends: Do agency folk stay true after they stop working with a client? And the responses got more interesting.

Asked if they would continue to buy a former client’s products after leaving their job – or their client leaving them – feelings were mixed, but still very passionate. About half claimed ongoing allegiance. Their responses told the story of people who really were dedicated to the brands they helped build, even long after a relationship ended. In fact, one said, “Even several years later, when faced with a purchase decision that involves a former client, I still tend to feel that obligation to the brand…”

The rest had other thoughts:

  • “It all depends on the reason for the end of the relationship.”
  • “I’m more loyal to the people I worked with than the companies and brands.”
  • One person said after a particularly unpleasant break-up, he refuses to buy a former client’s products.

Of course there are caveats built in to my little survey. My questions were geared toward people who work(ed) with companies that manufacture consumer goods or provide everyday services. Therefore:

  • It all depends on the client. One personʼs client list consisted primarily of ag products… not very conducive to an urban dweller. Likewise, people serving B2B clients couldn’t offer a lot of perspective, though one mentioned if he ever ran the kind of business that used his client’s products, he would be inclined to become a customer.
  • Some consumer products are a much bigger investment, making loyalty a little more difficult. Or at least more infrequent. Think automotive clients, in particular. It’s easy to show daily support for, say, a retail client on a daily basis. But few of us are out buying new cars every other week. That said, I worked with Polaris for many years, but haven’t since 2006. As a testament to my personal loyalty, to this day, if I were to go out and buy an ATV or snowmobile, my first stop would absolutely be at a Polaris dealership.

Overall, I really liked what I learned.

First, most agency people seem to be like I perceive our corporate counterparts to be: loyal supporters of the companies, brands and products we represent. And that’s the way it should be.

Second, loyalty doesn’t die easily for many people, showing that a lot of us not only bring our work home, it becomes a pretty permanent fixture in our lives.

Third, a good agency isn’t just a hired gun. A client should always work to find agency partners who value and are passionate about their brands and their products. It’s one of the things that truly makes them partners rather than vendors.