When you can't 'out Nike, Nike', how do you throw the stone that beats Goliath?
The continued economic crisis has seen small advertising agencies competing against their larger counterparts for big client business as the number of SME-client organisations dwindle. The result of this increased competition is that larger agencies are pitching for smaller accounts in order to help maintain the volume and revenue they require. Speed karaoke on ice?
David and Goliath business folklore is certainly nothing new. But if you're a small, local agency, how do you load up the slingshot to effectively compete against agencies 20 times your size, with more people, more money and more services? Author of Killing Giants, Stephen Denny, discussed this at the recent Worldwide Partners World Meeting in Toronto. Denny advice is to weave together the three principals of 'thin ice', 'seize the mic' and 'speed' to create a powerful advantage. Dare to skate on thin ice
The 'thin ice' principle is best understood in agency parlance as 'you can't out Nike, Nike', 'you can't out Coke, Coke' and 'you can't out WPP, WPP'. So why try? Or, for that matter, why even worry about it? Resource-rich companies such as Nike, Coke and WPP have powerful, far-reaching brand images and equity. You're only playing their game, not yours, if you try to suggest that you're on similar footing.
Besides, consumers know that's not the case, and clients certainly know that not to be true. So quit trying to fake it, and stop moaning about the fact that you keep bumping into the 'conglomerates'. It's time to win your own way and compete on ground that your competitors would find shaky, if not treacherous.
Small, local agencies have a distinct, inherent advantage versus larger, publically traded agencies, especially today as the global village retreats back into local hamlets. Knowledge of local economies, regulations, customs and consumers is becoming increasingly important to marketers as they try to leverage global pockets of opportunity. Small agency owner or operators know their markets, their businesses, their consumers, their employees and take a personal, vested interest in the success of each client as compared to the manager du jour of a holding company agency that is more concerned about shareholder value, profit centers, and company politics. For these reasons among others, large client organisations are increasingly hiring small agencies to handle various aspects of their marketing and advertising. They know that they'll have access to senior people that care about their business and that know the local market, for global success is now achieved by stringing together a host of local successes rather than the global autopilot mode of four years ago.
So as a small agency, make your competitors skate on thin ice in order to compete with you, rather than trying to pretend to be something you're not. Seize the mic
Once you've staked out the ground that makes larger agencies feel uneasy on which to tread, 'seize the mic'. Tout your advantage as loud and strongly as you can. Dominate the conversation. Be innovative. Be provocative. And most of all, stress the inherent, relevant benefits that like-minded clients are looking for. Nearly 40 years ago, The Martin Agency in Richmond, Virginia, developed a creative award show for small, independent agencies because they felt that small agencies, while doing great work, were getting shut out of the national and international creative competitions. So they strung together the ‘Thin Ice' and ‘Seize the Mic' principles to be the spokespeople for small agencies doing great work. Now, thanks in part to changing the conversation and shouting it from the rooftop, The Martin Agency has become one of the Goliaths.Feel the need for speed
To complete the trifecta against larger agencies, the single biggest benefit small agencies have is ‘speed'. Not speed for speed's sake, but quick, decisive, insightful action that only small, owner/operated shops can make happen. Small agencies don't suffer from layers of internal politics and decision makers that do little to initiate nor improve ideas, but only to slow them down. Marketers operate in a real-time world and require real-time ideas and actions that satisfy short-term goals while simultaneously building toward and creating sustainable, long-term success. Small agencies are more agile and nimble and thus can quickly recognise and connect the seen and unforeseen dots that add value to a client and that also help them better compete against larger, more resource-rich competitors. Also, small agencies are freer to create innovative processes and approaches to working that can help reduce clients' costs while also improving the quality of the work or product.
Will making larger competitors skate on thin ice, trumpeting your advantage and being quick on your feet ensure you win every pitch and keep every client? Of course not. For one thing, this all falls apart if you don't have smart, hard-working, passionate people and if you're not open to, nor have the energy, to constantly survey the landscape and adjust the skating rink as you go. But chances are, you'll attract highly talented people and you'll stay one step ahead of the giants if you do indeed start to apply these three small but effective Goliath-killing principles. Dos and don'tsDon't
pretend you're a big companyDon't
forget about talentDo
stand out from a large company by connecting the seen and unforeseen dots that add value to a clientDo
use your knowledge of local economies, regulations, customs and consumersDo
be quick, decisive and insightfulAl Moffatt is the President and CEO of Worldwide Partners