The Guarantee No One Wanted (Part 2 of 3)
Last time I wrote about how measuring data in marketing can revolutionize a business.
After 11 years, I had learned a tremendous amount regarding direct response testing (and professional development) as Creative Director at CareerTrack, a successful seminar company, but decided to leave at its peak to start my own marketing agency.
It was the hardest thing I ever did.
I had forfeited some “golden handcuff” incentives by leaving CareerTrack, and just got my last paycheck on March 31. I was 35 years old, with a wife and three children: one, three and five years old. We had no savings. And since I worked up until the last day, I didn’t have the time to develop my new company, or work on finding business prospects. What was I thinking?
Yet, I was armed with some valuable marketing knowledge, and a clear idea on the kind of company I wanted. I decided to call the top seven creative and marketing people I knew—artists, writers, marketing and sales people—and asked if they wanted to form a “super group” of the best creative talent in Colorado. I figured I could land the new business with a team like this behind me—so we met and I explained the concept. They all agreed to join up. It was a miracle if there ever was one.
We called the company The Creative Alliance.
Now what? I had a very strict non-compete with CareerTrack that said I couldn’t do any work in the training industry for two years—as their attorney reminded me two or three times. That was all I knew for 11 years and it didn’t seem fair. But starting a new business isn’t about fair, as I soon would learn. It’s about perseverance.
Jay Moore designed our brand identity, Quang Ho painted wonderful images, Tim Benko took awesome black and white photos, and Jan Simon and I wrote our first company brochure. It was very creative stuff. But brand identities and brochures don’t bring on new business and clients. And we had bills to pay.
Then my new business manager, Pardis Fouritan came up with an idea. She said, “T, you told us the story of how your creative department at CareerTrack beat some of the best agency work in America in measured results. Why don’t we offer work that will create higher measured results for our business prospects—or they don’t pay us!”
It was a bold idea, and a very compelling offer—maybe one that the right businesses couldn’t resist. I had known from the past that if a company used direct response marketing, they would typically have a “control” piece, which was the material currently used as it garnered the best numbers, or results. We could beat their controls—and they would risk nothing!
But what would we risk, and was it something we really could do? So we decided to make this bold claim and offer—but with a caveat: “If we don’t beat your control piece, you don’t pay us anything—but if we do beat it, you pay us our fee, plus 50%.”
That made sense, since having a better performing marketing piece in direct response was worth much more than our fee, plus 50%—so we decided to try it.
Two of the first three companies we met with decided to take us up on our offer. It was working! So we jumped into action, did our due diligence, and started the creative work in
re-writing and re-designing our new promotional material to be tested against their controls.
Then something happened we never expected. The President of the first company called me and said, “I just saw what you are proposing to be tested against our control. I love it.
We’ll just pay you your regular fee. Is that okay?” Hmmm. We needed the money, and the business, so I said yes. Then a week later, we had the same conversation with the other business owner. She saw the work and asked if they could just pay our regular fee. We were stunned—but pretty happy to be working and getting paid for it!
We ended up using the guarantee again for the first year or so, but no one EVER took us up on the guarantee to beat their control. Our confidence grew as we felt we knew what worked and what didn’t, had great people, and were pretty creative to boot. That’s a winning combination in this business.
And it still is 19 years later.
“There is no substitute for guts.”
—Paul “Bear” Bryant