There are tens of thousands of advertising agencies selling the same products and services. Almost as many claim to be unique, different or better while using essentially the same descriptors as the others. From a marketer’s perspective, the person who is trying to buy your services, how can she or he tell the difference?
We all know the few who have found a way to stand out and be remembered. They have established a reputation for extraordinary creative, wild attention-getting ideas, bleeding-edge technology, category dominance or some other unique factor that no other agency can or has claimed. This is their agency’s unique value proposition. It is what separates them from you and what persuades your prospect to sign with them, not you. Yet agency differentiation can be many other things, too.
I’ve heard it so often. I can’t be like them. I don’t have the resources, people, intellectual capital, experience, etc. All I’ve got are nice people, excellent client relationships, spectacular client successes, smart thinkers, conscientious doers, senior leadership attention, and on and on. Defining a unique value proposition among a sea of sameness is a big challenge, but it's the first critical step to a high-performance business development program. If you can’t articulate why a prospect should work with you in terms that are appealing to them, how will they?
Define the difference
What does your agency do that a marketer will see value in? I like to use a market-service matrix to align experience, service offerings, market sectors, consumer segments, and marketer needs to help focus and prioritize differentiation. Here is an oversimplified example of how to differentiate your agency from 1 of 50,000 to 1 of 1.
- If you provide advertising services and are nice people, have a proprietary process and achieve award-winning results, you compete with as many as 30,000 - 50,000 agencies, depending on which industry data you believe.
- If you specialize in advertising services for restaurants, you compete with maybe 5,000 other agencies.
- If you specialize in restaurants marketing to millennials, you compete with about 500 or so others.
- If you specialize in restaurant marketing to millennials in the Atlanta area, you compete with 5 agencies.
- If you specialize in restaurants marketing to millennials in the Atlanta area and you wrote the book on millennial foodies, you may be the only one.
Look at your agency through the eyes of the marketer. Of course, they expect to work with nice people, get the attention of top management, and be confident their work will be executed flawlessly. But those are nothing more than basic requirements for any relationship. If a marketer plans to open a new restaurant in a very competitive market like Atlanta, they want an agency resource they are certain will succeed – someone who wrote the book on restaurant millennial success, not someone with nice people and a circular process.
Can a generalist specialize?
The conversation always comes around to fear of specialization. As a generalist, an agency hopes to be considered for any assignment in any category because they deliver outstanding general agency services. They intentionally cast the widest net for fear of missing out on any opportunity. A logical argument but think about it this way. Referring to my example, if you are known as a generalist, you naturally are grouped that way by the market. When a marketer goes on the hunt, it is rare and getting more so that she or he is looking for a generalist. In fact, statistics prove that category expertise is one of the top priorities for marketers. The opportunity as a generalist may appear to be far and wide when in fact, it is getting shorter and narrower.
Look at it another way. You have a couple of good examples of success with restaurants. The same is true for financial services and healthcare. Voilà! You are a specialist in Restaurants, Financial Services, and Healthcare. These sectors are growing and spending and looking for agencies with specific experience to help. And for an agency, it doesn’t have to be an either-or proposition. Marketers who are looking for a generalist will not dismiss you because you have deep expertise in a few industries. They don’t care about industry experience if they are looking for general agency services. You can confidently have it both ways, pursue business as a specialist and continue what you are doing as a generalist. Long term, you would be better off spending time and resources strengthening and growing your specialties like writing that book.
My example is just one obvious way to specialize. The possibilities are almost limitless. You can specialize by service offering, customer segment, geography, industry, type of client organization, channel, gender, ethnicity and so many more. Some specialties will narrow your opportunity but increase your profit potential. Using a process like a market-service matrix (or just Google it. There are 5.7 million entries about processes to define value proposition) will put your agency and your opportunity into a strategic framework. Seeing the possibilities will help you make the best decisions about how to differentiate and grow.
Finally, a shameless plug for me.
Differentiating your agency is such a common yet elusive thing. It has gotten even harder as the industry changes. Most marketers believe the industry has changed more in the last two years than in the past 50. Evaluating your agency from an objective viewpoint is hard too. Hiring an outsider to do so makes a big difference. Finding the time to go through the process on your own is a big commitment. Hiring an outsider to do so makes it much more manageable and faster. If you would like to talk about what I can do and how your agency will benefit, I welcome the conversation.
If you liked this post and want more new business advice delivered to your inbox sign up for the newsletter. #LetsGrow!