The Future of the Marketing Agency/Client Relationship
There was a time when marketing agencies were called advertising agencies. And during that time, the relationship between agencies and clients and their respective roles were clear. Agencies had a little black box of knowledge and capabilities that their clients did not typically possess – or even want to. But technology changed all that, as it has changed many organizational models. First came desktop publishing. Then came the Internet and with it access to all kinds of free or low cost services – including even ways to create one's own website. Many organizations created in-house marketing departments that took on a variety of tasks previously performed by agencies.
While I could speak to the relative pros and cons of this situation, I fear that discussion would come off as self-serving. And that is not the intent of this article.
Rather, I'd like to address what I perceive to be the appropriate role of today's agency. Our collective value proposition, if you will.
Our creative director once said agencies help clients by holding a mirror for them in which they can see a realistic picture of themselves. I like that metaphor. Can any of us really see ourselves objectively? We all have various filters we apply to self-assessments based on natural biases, wishful thinking, etc. I believe all of us would be more effective in our marketing efforts if we could eliminate those filters and honestly assess our own organizations.
So I would submit that the objectivity of an outsider, complemented by expertise and experience in the field of marketing, represents the cornerstone of an agency's value proposition. The fundamentals of this perspective are implemented in a number of ways.
Defining and articulating a company's brand. Do all of your people understand your brand? Can they represent it to the people they meet in a clear and consistent way?
Differentiation – the "why" of what you do. In a previous article, I talked about Simon Sinek's wonderful TED Talk during which he said, most organizations know what they do; some know how they do it; but few can say why they do it. This is no easy task but it is key to presenting the point of differentiation that will separate you from your competitors.
Creativity. I'm not just talking about the creative executions of an ad or website. I am addressing any form of innovation in communicating the essence of your product or service and/ or the delivery of same to your customers.
The new world order of marketing as it relates to your customers. It's not enough to cite chapter and verse about demographic or psychographic profiles of current and potential customers. In today's marketing environment, customers need to be addressed in ways that are customizable and delivered in real time. Customers move in the moment, but marketing planning is usually a longer-term proposition. How can this discrepancy be addressed? And when it is, the methodology must be tailored to the specific needs of each customer in ways that create personal connections and deliver relevant, actionable information.
The client/ agency relationship is changing. Because every relationship is different, regular discussion should be an on-going part of the collaborative agenda so that the net result is a real and positive impact on your marketing success. I believe unequivocally that the client and agency are substantially stronger as a team than as individual players.
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