Couch & Associates Inc. (C&A) was there at the beginning of the evolution of marketing automation, as changing patterns of buying behaviour became increasingly user-driven and online. As a digital marketing agency, C&A works with professionals and businesses to realize the most out of their technology investments, and plan online campaigns optimized for a digital world. The firm continues to endure at the forefront of marketing and strategic planning, as it navigates both the unprecedented possibilities and limitations of emerging technologies.
C&A was originally founded by the father of current CEO Mike Couch, who revived C&A from an environmentally focused company into a marketing consultancy that specializes in marketing automation. “Managing new technologies and social media with the changing marketing industry is now at the very core of our consulting practice,” says Ryan Abreo, vice president of strategy. C&A also introduced a “partner ecosystem” to help its clients work with their marketing automation products. “As a result, we were able to become the ‘go-to’ consultants in this space,” Abreo adds.
Starting about 10 years ago, there was a clear and ongoing trend of buyer behaviour shifting online for early awareness and education on product or services they are considering. In the early days, companies’ website content and documentation were the primary source of information, accessible easily through online search and with the message controlled by the companies themselves—essentially online billboards.
“Now, with the proliferation of digital devises, blogs, and social-media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter, just over the last three years alone, corporations are losing that tight grip of control over their own messaging,” Abreo says. “In lock step with an increasingly complex world of digital behaviour, we’ve seen the emergence of a dizzying array of tools designed to help marketers design, deploy, automate, track, score, promote, and generally engage with these online prospects. This has only been accelerated through software-as-a-service offerings made available in the cloud.”
The net effect on marketers is to cause confusion. Most didn’t get into marketing because they were technologists, and it can be a real challenge to understand how to channel the “noise” of marketing automation and big data to drive meaningful marketing campaigns and ongoing strategy.
“It’s a case of ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,’” Abreo says. “For business-to-business marketers, there is greater potential than ever before to have real, quantifiable impact on the sales funnel by getting prospects the right message at the right time. For business-to-consumer marketers, there is the potential to provide customers with the bespoke online experiences they are coming to expect and, with the right approach, defy the old guard belief that the biggest budget gets the biggest reach.”
A great example of this is the Twitter ad that Oreo ran during this year’s Super Bowl game, essentially referencing the blackout with its “You can still dunk in the dark” message. It was relevant, responsive, and critically real-time, which means that one of the least expensive ads of the Super Bowl challenged the big-ticket commercial spots for how much attention it received—all possible by visionary leadership and willingness to be present in the room to pull the trigger for the right opportunity.
Abreo believes the foundation of endurance for C&A rests in the firm’s people, because in a consulting company, the value of what you bring to any engagement is knowledge-based. “People hire us to be the experts and proactively drive best practices versus just being additional gears in the wheel,” he says. “We’ve had an ongoing, long-term focus on not only hiring the brightest people but hiring people who are a good cultural fit. If you wouldn’t want to have a beer with someone, you’re probably not going to get along with them in the context of a project where chemistry is key.”
“There needs to be a data-driven framework mechanism that constantly monitors what’s working and what isn’t, in order to drive our strategy and help make decisions.”
Abreo says that C&A continues to endure in the long term through the practice of honest self-reflection or corporate introspection. “It’s a willingness to really ask ourselves the tough questions,” he says, adding that C&A’s principle of corporate introspection has been effective where it allows its people the ability to sit down with the leadership to speak honestly and openly without being threatening to each other or dismissive. “It also allows us to evaluate where we are at any particular point in time, and be open about the solutions that can get us to where we want to be.”
This philosophy has likely helped to propel C&A’s steady market growth and expansion—to the extent that it was recently ranked 25th on the Profit 200. “Another part of what allowed us to get here was that we were involved in the niche market of marketing automation from an early stage—and in proportion to how that overall market was adopted and grew, we were also able to grow our company,” Abreo notes. “Because we were there from the start, we’ve been able to grow this ‘ecosystem’ of really talented and intelligent people who are best in class where marketing intersects with technology.”
C&A’s future goal fits perfectly with the theme of endurance—it’s the concept of brand resilience. The idea has to do with the fact that the overall marketing landscape is truly dynamic. “It’s a question of how to prioritize and focus the availability of all these [technological] tools and this information into something that’s meaningful strategically,” says Abreo. He adds that knowing that people’s online behaviour is in a constant state of flux means that C&A cannot have a static model for measuring its marketing effectiveness or actual delivery of marketing content. “There needs to be a data-driven framework mechanism that constantly monitors what’s working and what isn’t, in order to drive our strategy and help make decisions.”
One challenge that C&A has just endured is something that many companies would be more than happy to deal with—expanding from three million dollars in annual revenue to nearly double that. Abreo says that as a result of this, key fundamental changes needed to happen within the firm that weren’t just gradual shifts. “Incremental changes over time are more digestible for an organization but usually not realistic in a high growth environment,” he says. “Because of where we’ve come from, and where we want to go, it necessitates an aptitude for agility in processing larger scale change and learning from it and doing it again.” By making the idea of change part of C&A’s culture, company growth is able to be facilitated. “If you’re in a constant state of change, management and people are always aware of that, so change is not a disruptive force as much as it is a transformative force,” he concludes.