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Butler/Till puts media first to find audiences

Rochester Business Journal
March 14, 2014

Butler/Till Media Services Inc. expects 14 percent revenue growth this year due in part to a hyperlocal targeting approach, which addresses a community audience, and a media-first, brand-second focus.

The 16-year-old firm employs nearly 80 people in Rochester and expects to invest close to $124 million on behalf of its clients this year.

The company has added 14 employees since 2010 and expects to add eight people this year. The company’s clients are 20 percent local and 80 percent non-local.

“Oftentimes in our business, clients and agencies will focus on the brand first or the message first, and as a company that started really in media, we were always focusing on the target audience,” Butler/Till president Peter Infante said. “We’ve come at this from the opposite end of actually taking insights about the consumer and insights about how you connect with them to drive strategy.”

The company focuses on five main tactics to earn a consumer’s attention. These include putting media first instead of the brand, meaning the company collects the data on the consumer from media channels and then determines how the brand can best relate to the consumer.

“If people know your name and they don’t know you for anything other than the category in which you compete, you’re just a placeholder, you’re not even a brand,” said Robert Passikoff, founder and president of Brand Keys Inc. in New York City.

Another approach as part of Butler/Till’s strategy is hyperlocal targeted marketing, such as using a reusable grocery bag as a direct mail piece for a community focused on the environment.

Collaboration with agency partners in marketing is a tactic Butler/Till hopes to improve upon, along with the education of its partners about new digital opportunities.

The company also is pushing this year using data to help customers take action, such as creating a playbook about how competitors organize a grand opening or store layout.

“It was an evolution of our services over a number of years,” said Susan Butler, CEO of Butler/Till. “I think it’s been accelerated or become even more critical because of the changing dynamics of our industry: the complexity of channels and communications, how consumers receive messages, the control they have over being approached by a marketer or responding to a marketer.”

The media landscape has leveled the playing field for marketers to some extent, experts say.

“For the past 50 years, people have understood that awareness is the longest route to profitability a brand can take,” Passikoff said. “I believe that the mediascape has changed to the degree where the consumer has become the uber-gatekeeper and has the power to find firms, find brands that they are looking for. Digital and mobile and such become the great equalizer in terms of just plain outreach.”

In the past, consumers were force-fed brands and brand messaging, Butler/Till officials said.

“Now (consumers) have so much more control over what content they get and how they get it, and they’re content creators themselves,” Infante said. “In essence, you have to earn that relationship.

Today consumers decide what brands they engage with, which can create a difficult situation for marketers. Connecting to consumers’ values and getting to know them on deeper levels through strong use of data application, social listening and other methods are ways that marketers can earn the attention of consumers, experts say.

“Ultimately, the brand is the star,” Infante said. “Our role is typically focusing on finding or homing in on the target as efficiently as possible and then forging a connection between them and the brand; that’s why we start there. Once that’s covered, it’s really about the brand itself.”

Affinity for a brand and engagement on an emotional level with consumers is the crucial piece of today’s marketing strategy, despite changing media, Passikoff says.

“There was a time in this country when (with) differentiation of products and services, you could draw a line. You could say why something was different from something else,” Passikoff said. “But all the companies went through process re-engineering; they went through quality controls. And so most of the time companies turn out stuff that’s OK.

“So if you don’t want to be a commodity and you understand that what I’ve got is pretty much the same as someone else, the emotional engagement with the brand becomes a surrogate for added value, and that’s why there’s never a sale at Tiffany’s.”

Rochester’s collective media understanding is strong, Butler said.

“I think our Rochester clients are probably sometimes even ahead of the curve,” she said. “I think we have a progressive area, a highly educated area, and I think that most of those companies really understand how rapidly things are changing and appreciate and value what we bring to them in order to help them grow their business in this new marketing environment.”

The evolution of marketing strategies will help the company stay relevant within the industry, officials say.

“We’ve drawn people in, we’ve pulled from the universities, and really we have not sat on our hands, either, as leaders in this organization,” Butler said. “Rochester may be very high up at the top of the map, but I feel that we (Butler/Till) pretty much have our pulse on the entire U.S., and not everybody in this market could tell you that.”

3/14/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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