Tabula: On the Road to Discovery
When it comes to the process of discovery for new clients, Tabula principal Mark Gisi leaves no stone unturned. He believes in taking a meticulous hands-on approach in order to get a firm grasp on clients' unique marketing needs. In fact, Mark can routinely be found going on sales calls with clients, visiting project sites and sitting down to chat with their stakeholders or customers in order to get a true feel for their company cultures, personalities and processes. Immersing himself in their businesses, he says, often leads to real insight about marketing nuances and needs that may not be clear to the client.
Just returning from a trip to panoramic Lexington, Kentucky, Mark describes the discovery process he undertook with Tabula's new client, The Pyramid Society, a membership organization for breeders of Egyptian Arabian Horses. - LP
LP: Tell us about your discovery philosophy.
MG: A friend who is a criminal defense attorney once said to me, "You can't ever trust clients to tell you the truth." There's a good lesson in this statement. While we share a great deal of trust with our clients, we know what consumers say that they want and what they actually need are two very different things. Through direct observation, qualitative research and repetition of some common questions, we always have been able to provide summary findings of our discovery process that help create consensus in the brand positioning of our clients. In the end, we want to make sure the client is on the same page with our recommendations.
LP: What were you looking to uncover on this trip? Learn anything surprising?
MG: This trip was a really unique opportunity to attend a gathering of about 2,000 people (and hundreds of horses) from around the world that represent the various interests of the client: board, staff, vendors, members, novice and professional trainers, breeders, researchers and more. Our visit included one-on-one interviews with a valuable cross section of the attendees, a private tour of the horse park, a museum dedicated to the breed and even their signature fundraising events. We were immersed in the community and able to gain a deep understanding of the subject and followers of this unique breed of horses.
What we learned was surprising in some ways, but not surprising in others, based on our experience. In the end, we realized there are many different perspectives and interests that we can attend to that would never be unearthed sitting around a conference table alone.
LP: How will your findings integrate into this client's marketing campaign?
MG: In this instance, we're starting by creating a new website for the organization which is slated to be launched later this year. We saw firsthand how they interact and do business, so we'll be able to help them improve those interactions directly through the functionality of the site, from membership renewals and event registrations to facebook updates and the sale of advertising on the site. We have a holistic understanding of the company and marketplace now, and each deliverable will reflect a clarified vision of that understanding. In the end, the goals will be to deepen their engagement with current audiences and improve their reach to new ones.
Q: For new clients such as this, how do you decide what is the best approach for learning about them?
MG: This is one part of the process that we don't put any specific framework on. Each client is unique, and each solution we provide is tailored to that client. I have never conducted the same process through a "template," and we formulate the questions we ask on assessments and in interviews on an individual basis for every single project we do.
Q: Have you ever used a discovery method that was especially unique?
MG: We just completed the presentation of preliminary content strategy recommendations for the Academy of Natural Sciences. I can't give away too many details, but we used the same process of scientific classification used in a collections-based research organization to serve as the framework for presenting the taxonomy of their web content. It really helped to appeal to the sensibilities of the science-savvy to explain the dynamic presentation of information in a new site.
Q: How does Tabula's approach differ from that of other marketing firms – and how does it pay off for you?
MG: We don't believe in canned brands or making our clients conform to our process. Everything we do combines a real understanding of marketing a business on an individual basis and an appreciation for good design and how it can be most effective in this context. Some firms understand one or the other, but we think it's rare to find an approachable firm that can consistently make both of these happen together. We invest a lot of time in our client relationships, and it pays off.