Should We Consult An Agency? Why Outside Marketing Firms Are Valuable

Can you see yourself and your business as others see you?

Many businesses and brands are no longer consulting outside agencies, preferring to hire teams to manage their marketing strategy, public relations, social media, advertising buys and marketing collateral creation. Many think the cost of retaining counsel from a marketing firm is too high, or that they can “do it themselves.”  Giselle Abramovich for Digiday examines a few of the reasons marketing firms and ad agencies are loosing clients.

I shared this article with a few of my colleagues who provided a very insightful perspective regarding the value and need for outside counsel.

I do think that technology will play a huge role in reshaping agencies, but it would be preemptive to think it will eliminate them.  I have always said that the biggest benefit a business owner gains from an outside firm is perspective and courage. Most corporations and businesses are too conservative and too slow to be truly creative.  I have termed this “vampire marketing” in that most companies can’t see themselves for who they really are.

I see businesses every day with copies of InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop who have no understanding about how to create messaging that is attractive to their customers or how to truly differentiate themselves. The problem is that inward focused perspective leads to bland, conservative and mostly ineffective advertising.

I do believe that day-to-day social media has a place in-house as it it conversational in nature and most consumers want to talk directly to the company, but even with this, the strategy and how it should be structured can be best planned in consultation with an outside specialist with a 360 degree perspective.

Bottom line, technology has changed everything, and I can find videos on how to fix my car, crack open my iPhone, work on my computer, or even repair the foundation on my house, but that doesn’t mean that I should do it. We all know that experience can be a lousy teacher.

Engaging an outside agency can be helpful at the start of your business, or when you have been in the market for a long time or when you perceive that you are losing your customers’ attention.

How can your business best make use of the global perspective an outside marketing firm brings to the table?

Being prepared to work with a marketing firm does require a bit of reflection on your part. Your chosen marketing firm will need some information from you. Help them out by being ready to provide this information.

  1. Know your business and be able to list what true issues your company solves for your customer.
  2. Be able to name the benefits your products provide to your customer and what features make them distinct from your competitors’ offerings.
  3. Understand your customer’s needs and how your product or service fits those needs. This is very different from a typical sales message. For example, if you’re selling pre-packaged organic school lunches, the obvious need of your customer may be to know that his child has both a nutritious lunch and that he can get the lunch ready with very little trouble. However, thinking more deeply, the driving need is to assure himself that he is a perfect parent.
  4. Understand how your customer approaches their purchasing decisions. Your sales staff or marketing research can help you understand if your customers need to look first, touch, try on or try out before they buy and whether they shop weeks, months, years ahead to stay informed of what’s available. If you need marketing research, your outside marketing counsel can help you find it. In some instances your national association may have research to inform you.
  5. Bring all your insights to the marketing firm and allow them to provide you with messaging and collateral designed to fit.

When you provide this knowledge to an outside firm, they can use their perspective and create marketing messaging, strategy and collateral that yields results.

Are you confusing marketing with promotions?


Confused about the difference between marketing and promotions?

While talking with a prospective customer, I learned that he struggles in a difficult marketing ecosphere. He works for a small family-owned company. What is his struggle? He must implement marketing for the firm’s services however, there is no clear agreement between the owners on marketing strategy and priorities.

As he told the story to me, on an almost weekly basis, he gets a new directive from one of the owners that countermands the previous week’s orders from the other owner. Many of us have worked with companies like this. The problem is (besides owners who don’t agree on marketing priorities) is the expectation that marketing will “pay off” tomorrow.

Many people are confused. They don’t know the difference between marketing and promotions.

A company’s marketing is a strategic approach that directs all their activities based on a set of priorities that have been built around explicit goals. Promotions are short term campaigns that fit within marketing plans and help reach goals.

Marketing plans help focus a series of activities or tactics. Promotions are a tactic.

As an example, I’m a homebuilding company whose homes are small entry-level, bungalows designed to appeal to first-time home-buyers. So, my marketing is then based on a series of strategic decisions to build a product that is appealing to these buyers. My homes incorporate all the features that my buyers desire, and I place advertising or achieve earned media in outlets where that buyer directs their attention. My strategies may include monthly promotions designed to call attention to the features of my houses or catch the attention of my prospective customers.

Marketing is based on a positioning statement and is supported by a plan that by months, or quarters, works to achieve the interest of the buyer or customer.

When you change directions weekly, you confuse the customer, you upset your marketing strategies and fail to achieve your goals.

You should tweak your marketing’s direction and focus to get even higher performance, but avoid disrupting it on a regular basis with an entirely new strategy.

photo credit: flickr user db photographs