Luckie And Co. – Marketing Transformation

John Gardner, in May 2014, was named the president of Birmingham-based Luckie & Co., one of Alabama’s oldest and largest advertising agencies. He took the helm two years after Luckie’s acquisition of Atlanta-based Integrative Logic, the company Gardner founded in 2001. That acquisition bought Luckie a significant asset in the emerging enterprise of data analytics and has led to a rebranding and repositioning of Luckie & Co. that Gardner says will be launched next month. 

“We are completely rebranding Luckie, ” says Gardner. “Luckie will remain the name, but we will be introducing to the market a new positioning and focus.”

The rebranding incorporates digital/data-based marketing and a new vision of advertising as catering to the more comprehensive human experience of its customers.  There is a banner line that describes the new Luckie & Co. as a “human experience agency.”

We started our interview by asking Gardner how that line is not just a new bit of advertising jargon. 

If we look at the idea that consumers want the brand to know them, to speak to them with relevance, want a voice in the relationship, want to tell others about it: Those are the most basic of human connections. We sit around a campfire and we share. We want those who are around us to tell us stories that are relevant or interesting to us, and that is the human experience. We want to be able to help our clients treat their customers as human beings first and not as an impression.

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It used to be in advertising we could focus on the four Ps of marketing: product, place, promotion and price. We send up an advertising message and we create demand. But with the pivot of where we are in today’s society — with the way consumers have changed and the way I want Luckie to be seen — we’ve coined the idea of the new four Ps of marketing: predictive modeling, personalization, peer-to-peer marketing and participation. No longer can it be one size fits all: predictive modeling and personalization. Then there is social media and the democratization of marketing: peer-to-peer marketing. And consumers now demand to participate in the way a brand is represented or how brands relate to their lives.

We want to help our client own the entire customer journey with the brand. Old advertising might have focused on driving a customer to be aware of a brand or a product or a service. Where we want to assist our client partners is to help them own the relationship with the consumer from awareness to their first purchase, to repeat business and, ultimately, to loyalty and advocacy. We want to invite them to the table, get them to come back and to tell others about it.

IL (Integrative Logic) distinguished itself in the emerging marketing space of digital marketing or what is now being called Big Data. We were very sophisticated in the capture, conversion, understanding and application of data. In particular, utilizing the digital channels, which would include mobile, social, eCRM (electronic customer relationship management) and web. When we merged with Luckie in 2011, the acceptance and demand for analytic-driven decision-making was in its early adoption phase. Now it is demanded.

It’s a revolution and an evolution. Luckie has been around since 1953 and, according to Ad Age, is the most respected ad agency and the flagship advertising agency in the state of Alabama. Over the past 24 months, we have successfully repositioned Luckie to meet the challenges not only of the companies within the state of Alabama but the 11-state Southeastern footprint, and we’ve even taken some of our success to Europe.

At the time we merged, we were 15 employees in Atlanta and 160 in Birmingham, and now that has grown to about 50 in Atlanta and we’ve maintained the Birmingham office and now have a small office in London. There have been no layoffs as a result of the IL/Luckie merger. In fact, we have been able to grow the company.

The people at Luckie have absolutely learned new tricks, and the folks who came in who had 100 percent digital acumen have also had to learn new tricks. We like to say we are now channel agnostic. One of our goals was to more evenly balance our traditional and digital, and now we have gotten it to about 50-50 in terms of contribution. 

Luckie is actively pursuing incremental companies that we can acquire that meet our business objectives. When I took over in 2014, it was the first time we did a five-year plan that took into account where we wanted to be as an organization, that had as its boundaries where we thought the market was going. And as a result, it helped us identify some holes we think might be good for us to acquire, either a firm or a book of business.

Put in terms of a trajectory perspective, we anticipate doubling the size of the company within five years. It’s going to require a continuation of our 10- to 20-percent growth year over year. 

Some of our greatest successes at both IL and Luckie have emerged from the state of Alabama. Early-on, IL worked heavily with the Saks department store group, before they were broken up, and we’ve had great success with Express Oil and Tire Change. Those are two really good examples of Alabama companies — a Fortune 1000 company and a growing company — that applied this emerging use of data and technology to drive their marketing message forward.

At Express Oil, we partnered with them to develop their customer support and loyalty program, using email and mobile. We’ve got a mobile app and an email program that use insights to help drive repeat business to the oil side of the business and also help grow the mechanical and tire side of the business. From the start, there was a positive return on the marketing investment that was not only required but demanded by our client, by Josh Henderson, the chief marketing officer with Express Oil. We measure it in terms of sales, certainly, but also in terms of consumer metrics. Are we driving our customers in at a more frequent basis, every three to five thousand miles? Are we moving them from oil to mechanical services? Are we getting an increase in penetration in tires and mechanical from our oil services? Everything we’re doing comes down to a return on customer investment or a return on marketing investment.

Chris McFadyen is the editorial director of Business Alabama.

Interview by Chris McFadyen

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