I love my job, you have a day planned out for you, meetings, documents to write, a full ‘to do’ list and then....you read something that makes you swallow hard and question what you were about to do.
Today is one of those days! And that’s a good thing!
This is a brilliant piece of insight, which actually made me stop and think, and think hard.
It’s a comment on a piece in The Drum by ‘johnmgleason’
Although the piece is about Public Sector, the comment widens the debate, adding to its relevance.
It’s not often we get a view from the client side, let alone such an honest and open one, so when we do, we really should take notice. Now I’m the first to say that we shouldn’t leap to conclusions based on a sample size of one, however on this occasion we should at least listen.
Scroll down for the comment, you can read it at your leisure, but I’ll summarise to give some context and to help explain why I found it so illuminating. (I’ve pasted it in full, to avoid any accusation that I may be bending the truth or misquoting. I’ve even left in the typos!)
We are all well used to hearing the agency side of things, especially when it comes to pitching and procurement processes. You know the one, when agencies all come across a bit Kevin the teenager, ‘it’s so unfair, bigger boys, Mrs Paterson etc’.
But here’s a response from the client side, and what a response it is. Rather than allowing agencies to hide behind the ‘RFP/Procurement is stacked against us’ argument, it proffers that agencies have in fact made it so, by offering such a homogenous proposition that clients can’t differentiate other than on those factual and physical measure that annoy agencies so much.
He contends that by claiming to be different, everyone has ended up actually being the same!
‘Somehow, every agency can do everything. They all "over-deliver". They all mysteriously have the best people. They all have extraordinarily long client relationships. They all have proprietary processes. They all work with the most prestigious brands and clients. They were all founded on the basis that they wanted to be and do something different than their prior employers. They all have incredibly deep expertise in their clients' categories and industries. They all work globally. They have all won prestigious awards (or talk about how awards programs are not truly reflective of real creativity). They all are brilliant collaborators with clients and other agencies. And they all offer exceptional client experiences which can only be experienced and not explained - 'so give us a try'."
Does it sound like the spiel every agency that contacts you trots out? Take a cursory look at the top 10, 20, 30, however many you like agencies on the Drum’s Top 100 if you don’t believe me!
I won’t pick on anyone individually, but ‘we’re different’ is in there pretty much across the board. It’s dressed up as many things, but the received wisdom that clients want something ‘different’ has led the majority of agencies to slavishly claim that’s exactly what they are. Remember the 'alternative' kids at school who all wanted to express their individuality - by looking the same!
We understand that it works both ways too, as is pointed out in the article, that sometimes clients over promise on their ability to deliver on 'partnership'. This can, however, often not be about the individual, but about the organisation, its structure and culture and its view of agencies. And what has helped form that view..................you've got it, the agencies themselves!
Isn’t the mark of a good agency that they are willing to say ‘no’, to challenge you, to not accept the status quo and help you make a difference?
Indeed it is, but isn’t the mark of a great agency one that does all that, understands your business, helps it grow and achieves it with you in a way that you can all actually enjoy?
So how do we do that?
Well, as we would tell our clients, we should listen to our audience insight.
And our audience spells it out for us quite neatly :
- Don’t ignore price, it's agencies lack of differentiation that has made it a driver in decision making
- Stand for something, and focus on it
- Don’t claim to be different, display your point of difference by your actions and interactions
- Above all - be relevant!
One of my favourite expressions is ‘don’t keep telling me you’re funny, make me laugh’ – not everyone can be naturally funny, but hopefully you get the point.
When was the last time your agency made you laugh? And not just at one of their invoices!!!
Maybe it’s time to talk to someone different? Dare I say someone relevant?
"Public Sector selection processes absolutely focus much more on the "measurable" and "tangible" - and money (rates, fees, costs, discounts, etc.) are often the primary "measurable" on which these organizations focus. But this emphasis on procurement and costs/rates/fees are not only isolated to Public Sector reviews.
But, rather than pointing the finger of guilt and blame toward the "client" selection processes and procurement procedures which are certainly becoming more prevalent... (in my opinion and experience), I contend that the agencies and the broader agency community are more to blame than client review processes.
I see the title of this article more like: 'is it the incredible sameness and homogeneity of almost all marketing services agencies killing their own margins?' I am sure that I will stir up a great deal of commotion from all sides of the industry... let's talk about it.
As a former "relationship owner" of external design-, innovation-, creative-, and marketing-services for a very large, global, and savvy brand-centric corporation, I found the above to be true. It was astonishing how 200-300 agencies (per year) could be so incredibly similar in their messaging and communications - and yet CLAIM to be so unique and differentiated.
I often say... 'clients have been trained to be disappointed', because they are over-sold and over-promised... and under-delived. Candidly, the same is true of client's over-promising "partnership", the desire to change the game, and their real commitment to their agencies... but this is a different article and discussion.
Somehow, every agency can do everything. They all "over-deliver". They all mysteriously have the best people. They all have extraordinarily long client relationships. They all have proprietary processes. They all work with the most prestigious brands and clients. They were all founded on the basis that they wanted to be and do something different than their prior employers. They all have incredibly deep expertise in their clients' categories and industries. They all work globally. They have all won prestigious awards (or talk about how awards programs are not truly reflective of real creativity). They all are brilliant collaborators with clients and other agencies. And they all offer exceptional client experiences which can only be experienced and not explained - "so give us a try".
Based on my experiences, this reality of an over-supplied and under-differentiated marketplace is the key driving catalyst for the commoditization that has emerged through client review, selection, and procurement processes.
So, blame the clients if you wish. Blame the procurement teams, if you wish. But agencies should REALLY look in a mirror to ensure that they are not contributing to the deafening noise and sameness of virtually every other agency. Because (whether procurement is involved or not), PRICE is the differentiator in a commoditized market. And since there is so much apparent sameness... pricing, rates, fees, and costs will a significant driver of choice.
Having interacted with more than 800 agencies, I have found only 30 or 40 to have truly set themselves apart from the crowd. They stand for SOMETHING, not everything. They are focused experts in narrow areas.
Two last things regarding "differentiation"... 1) every agency CLAIMS to be different - and usually cites several reason why that are different... but if you have to specifically cite these differences, than it is not compelling or obvious. And 2) more important than being different, agencies should strive to be RELEVANT.
Thanks for letting me offer a different point-of-view... and go off-topic from the original focus of the article - Public Sector. I am happy to talk about my POV... and to learn with and from others'. Cheers."
Amongst the (seemingly) daily stats and figures relating to media usage and consumption we are bombarded with, this stands out by a country mile.
Sir Martin Sorrell recently wrote that American consumers spend less than 10 per cent of their time on newspapers and magazines, but more than 20 per cent of marketing budgets are spent on these traditional media.
And these consumers apparently spend a third of their time on the internet and mobile while only 20 percent of budgets are spent on those media.
As ever he is bang on the money (literally in his case!) and I would imagine the stats are comparable over here.
So it’s time we paid attention to what is going on around us.
I’ve said it many times before, but things are changing, and they won’t be going back to how they were.
How our audiences are exposed to, and choose to be exposed to our messages has never been more complex, and will only ever continue to become so.
If we accept that a large chunk of McLuhan’s dystopian take on the future is now our reality and throw in ‘the internet of things’, big data, augmented and virtual realities, google glass and whatever is lurking around the corner, it would seem that connecting with our audience has never been harder.
Or has it?
Whilst the medium may be the massage, the brand is the truth.
As new products and services explode into our field of vision it’s the emotional connection that differentiates. And that cuts both ways don’t forget – bad experiences are just as easily shared as good ones.
As the proliferation of media and product choice destroys margin the value is in your values – your brand. This is truer today than it has ever been, ignore that at your peril.
If you are not clear on the values your brand stands for, the space it inhabits and the brand experience doesn’t live up to the promise then it doesn’t matter how much you spend and what channels you use. A bad experience is a bad experience no matter what.
So where are we? Is this Brand 2.0 or 4.1? I’ve lost track, but what is important that we understand that the balance has shifted, the consumer now has the power to tell the world about their experience and like no time ever before the world is listening.
‘Torris caveat’ may well be the watchword of the future. Well if anyone still actually studied or used Latin it would be.
Yet more awesome content over at TED.
Dan Pallotta inspires with his position that ‘how we think about charity is wrong’.
and in my (never humble) opinion he’s dead right!
Why on earth should charities scrimp and save in ‘how’ they do business?
In order to do the best for their cause, they should be the best at what they do – and surely that includes getting the best people you possibly can to head and run the charity.
His brilliant example of why it’s easier and more cost effective for a Stanford grad to donate to charity rather than work in the non profit sector is stunning in its simplicity.
But why should we effectively deny the not for profit sector the opportunity to attract the best talent because there’s a notion that to pay commercial rate is ‘wrong’? Or that we’re not comfortable that causes are spending donations on the CEO’s salary or the marketing budget?
Maybe this is why charitable giving has stayed at 2% of US GDP for the last 40 years.
To me it’s simple economics, if we don’t spend any more on fundraising then we won’t grow the money available for the cause, eventually it will wither and die.
I’m not advocating a ‘spray and pray’ approach for charities, but then I wouldn’t advocate that for any business. – that would be irresponsible. It’s about time we though more commercially about how charities operate, so why does that automatically seem to mean that’s a ‘bad’ thing? Commercial organisations have to answer to boards, to shareholders, to stakeholders, it’s not as if they are burning money – why can’t the not for profit sector be considered as socially responsible commercial entities, rather than having these artificial and out of date constraints placed upon them?
It’s not about keeping the overhead low, it’s about keeping the overhead relative to the scale of their ambition. Don’t invest, don’t grow – it’s simple.
To prohibit failure is to kill innovation, to kill innovation is to inhibit revenue generation and growth.
And don’t be scared of failure, as long as it’s controlled and you learn from it.
Since the days when local grocer Mr. Sainsbury started promoting his store to tackle the encroaching competition, brands have spent many years talking at their customers. But only in recent years have we seen the channels of communication open up and become real conversations.
In today’s marketing discourse the relationship between brands and customers is often described as ‘dialectical’ or even ‘multidimensional’ for those who view culture as an influencing factor. In the business world it is a well explored concept with consumer brands investing significant amounts of time and money in engaging with their audiences.
But when looking at this relationship should we not strive for more and start to distinguish between communication and education? While the growth of social media has seen an increased focus on real time response and keeping conversations going, should we not be asking ourselves whether brands are really getting all they can from the conversations they are having (on- and off-line) and those they aren’t?
If we were to look at it differently, under what circumstance could customers actually educate brand?
In a previous post we discussed the merits of ‘encouraging a more open relationship with our customers’ within business-to-business; ‘seeking real insight into what they want’ and allowing that insight to inform strategy.
But beyond that, beyond their own needs, what can your customers tell you about the wider market in which they and you operate? What are the driving factors that influence their behaviour and your decision-making as a business? How can gaining a wider understanding of the playing field help you achieve your business or brand objectives? And, how can we facilitate the circumstance required to gain this knowledge?
How we engage with customers may depend on the industry but what doesn’t is the outcome; in understanding and tackling the issues facing you and your customers you create the opportunity for a more collaborative and open relationship that will break down barriers, build relationships and ultimately open the door for competitive advantage.
Last week Liverpool John Moores University hosted Daniel H Pink as he launched his new book ‘To Sell is Human’.
We joined a mixed audience of academics, students and sales and marketing practitioners in the lecture theatre – not quite sure what to expect but interested to see how Dan sells a book about selling.
As you might expect the former Al Gore speechwriter, author, analyst and TedTalker (his TedTalk is the all-time most viewed videos on Ted.com) is an engaging, articulate presenter and he delivered a rather delightful master-class in the proper use of PPT.
He spoke for over an hour, but I’d be surprised if there were more than 10 slides in his presentation. Headline subjects were treated to a slide as was any statistical evidence – shown as charts or diagrams. It was simple, clear and to-the-point.
The presentation was delivered with ‘clarity and confidence’ – you’d expect no less – enough content to pique your interest but not enough that you no longer felt the need to engage further or to buy the book – after all that’s the point.
The result; people listened, took notes, they were not distracted by ‘reading ahead’ on slides so full of information they had to strain their eyes to see, instead they concentrated.
The lesson; no amount of information on a slide makes up for the presenter knowing their stuff, making it accessible to a wide audience and delivering it well…
…now, whether there are any revelations in the art of selling… you’ll have to wait until I’ve read the book!