Positioning is the first thing on our list. In Hubspot’s 2018 Agency Growth Report, 24% of respondents cited lack of differentiation as the main thing preventing their agency from growing as quickly as they’d like. Even well-established agencies have trouble nailing their positioning correctly. It tends to be something people don’t think applies to their agency because (they believe) their positioning is quite clever. They aren’t looking at it from the perspective of someone who doesn’t already know them who is searching for services and comparing them to other agencies. It’s a sort of blindness that happens when you are too close to something to see it the way others do.
There is a reason positioning and differentiation continue to come up as top areas of concern for agency new business. It’s not just "the other agencies"— chances are good it could apply to your agency too. Here are a few examples of the type of descriptors that don’t differentiate an agency as much as agency executives might think:
- Award-winning agency
- Full-service agency
- All-in-one agency
- B2B agency
- Outside-the-box agency
- Creative agency
If I’m on your website and I don’t see any real difference between your agency and other agencies, that’s a problem. If I’m on your website and I’m confused about what you do, how you help, whether you can help someone like me, that’s a problem. Your agency’s positioning should be specific and clear.
One of the first things I do with agency clients is get them to consider this series of questions from a prospect’s perspective:
- Has your agency worked in my industry?
- What problems have you solved?
- What solutions have you provided?
- Finally, are the answers to these questions clear and easy to find?
Everything comes back to these core questions when we are evaluating how an agency will present to their prospects because ultimately that is what the prospect cares about most of all. If these aren’t clearly answered, how are you going to generate enough interest to have a conversation? Why should they care?
Ability to Attract and Retain Talent
This is shaping up to be one of the biggest challenges for agencies now and in the future. The advertising industry has faced criticism for focusing on fun but “fluffy” office perks (like bean bag chairs) rather than more meaningful changes, such as career development, opportunities for advancement, and more competitive salary and benefits. Agencies typically require more work for lower pay than someone would have on the brand side.
Workplace culture, particularly for women and people of diverse backgrounds, has also been a challenge for agency employee recruitment and retention. All of this adds up to an average annual agency turnover rate of 30 percent (ANA). And with consultancies and more brands growing in-house marketing teams, it’s only getting harder for agencies on this front.
When your agency can’t attract and retain the right talent, work quality suffers, your agency’s reputation suffers, employee morale is low, and your agency doesn’t project the image that its thriving. In other words, it may be a pit stop on the way to shutting your agency’s doors permanently.
Offering the Wrong Services
Surveys have indicated marketers are looking for depth and breadth when it comes to services (Forrester). Either full-service or the specialist route. So if you are a smaller agency, that likely means you have one focused area of competency and you own it. For a larger agency, it probably means you have a greater breadth of services, and with the same level of expertise in everything you do. If you are a smaller agency claiming to have great expertise in a wide range of services, it raises questions. If you have a team of 15-20 people and your website lists 15 services that you are “expert” in, that doesn’t instill confidence.
Also, the specific services your agency offers and the way you offer them matters. Marketers are looking for the following elements in agency service offerings, above others:
- Area expertise in data and tech, not just competency
- Anything that supports CX, so a lot more technical and technology-based services
- Data expertise and tying data and analytics to everything; no stand-alone creative
- Stellar creative—this is where agencies can continue to stand out
- Trust and transparency
- Demonstrated business results (this is the outcome of pairing that stellar creative with the data and analytics capabilities)
By Mark Duval is the Founder and President of the Duval Partnership, a full-service sales organization working exclusively with agencies. The Duval Partnership helps agencies acquire new business through the creation and implementation of customized, strategic sales solutions.