By Joe Kuchta
When digital agencies burst on the scene some 20 years ago (dot-coms, anyone?), they were an exciting and fresh alternative to the stale marketing agencies of yesteryear. It was a new frontier, and the technological expertise these agencies brought to data-driven promotion caused everyone to pay attention.
People focused on these shiny new toys and lost track of the foundational elements of marketing: strategy, compelling content, and the power of a multifaceted campaign. The marketing world put a lot of effort into exploring this uncharted territory, and agencies who specialized in this digital space were in high demand.
But the novelty of “digital” has started to wear off. Now that everyone has a website, an app, and a digital presence, the focus has shifted back to the concepts and creativity behind the content. Are they new and compelling? Do they coax people into action? What’s the message behind the words?
Simply put, content is once again king.
Digital agencies focused so much on technology and platforms that they were left out of the agency of record brand assignments and strategic partnerships. It was their unique digital distinction that kept them out of the conversation, and these agencies now face the difficult task of convincing clients they have evolved beyond digital.
The Business of Service
Every company is in the service business — that goes double for agencies. When an organization is focused too heavily on mastering technology or perfecting expertise in a certain area, the quality of client service and level of personal attention often takes a hit. It’s as if the agency’s thing is more important that its service.
As business management expert David Maister so eloquently said, “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Digital agencies got so caught up in their quest to prove how much they knew about the digital world that they ultimately dug holes with no means of escape. When a relationship is solely about metrics, analytics, and technology, the person and problem get pushed aside — the entire process becomes impersonal.
This isn’t to say no one else is at fault. Clients have been equally guilty of placing too much emphasis on platforms and channels, forcing agencies to respond accordingly. That said, the choice to focus on one avenue was still up to the agency.
Making the Climb
If your agency is stuck at the bottom of a digital hole, it’s not too late to begin working your way back out. Here are four steps to get you pointed in the right direction:
- Ditch the digital label. Our entire world is digital. After all, digital ad spending is expected to hit $77 billion in 2017. If you’re a marketing agency, the digital is already implied. Singling it out as your expertise only isolates your business. Integrate your digital prowess into your various services to keep pace with competitors.
- Regain your focus. Don’t try to cram a square peg into a round hole by trying to be something you aren’t. Remember why you’re in business in the first place. You’re an agency with clients who need help solving problems. Fix any issues your clients bring you, which may or may not require digital solutions.
- Target the problem. When apps were shiny and new, the answer to every challenge was to build a smartphone app. But growth in this marketis slowing. Instead of this knee-jerk reaction, think strategically about the real issue at hand and use all of your organization’s tools. Just because you have a great digital hammer doesn’t mean you should turn every problem into a nail that needs pounding. If you approach problems more strategically, you’ll gain more respect in the long run.
- Provide value every chance you get. If you’re part of the team and have a seat at the table, then earn that right. Bring value, offer solutions, and invest time and energy in a client’s business to form a mutual partnership. In fact, 37 percent of client-agency relationshipsend because the agency adds no value. If you convey that the meter runs with every interaction and meeting, you’ll only be used when necessary. Be the solution rather than part of the problem.
Specializing in one area of marketing or advertising can help you carve out a niche — just like any other industry. But this narrow focus means you’re at the mercy of the ebb and flow of those trends. If that ebb keeps ebbing, you might find your prospects dwindling. It’s much better to focus on your clients and do everything you can to solve their various problems with appropriate solutions.
Joe Kuchta is chief client officer with Sandbox, an independent marketing agency with seven offices throughout North America. He previously served as CEO of GA Communication Group, one of four founding members of Sandbox. Follow Sandbox on Twitter.