Effective marketing is a complex business. It not only requires knowing what is working now, this instant, as well as tomorrow, but also a willingness to change course when what was working no longer works. That means that you need a partner that is willing to leave their ego at the door and embrace a constant path of learning. While that might sound obvious, we still encounter seasoned marketers within ad agency firms that profess to know all there is to know and never seek to gain more knowledge. For some reason, some advertising firms purport that their experience alone is what counts rather than staying on top of emerging trends, evolving technologies and new opportunities.
With that said, the goal of this blog is not to paint anyone in a negative light, because there are good marketers and great agencies out there. However, the role that ad agencies often play has become less relevant than in the past. Sure there are times when a great campaign idea is needed or new creative is in order, and in those cases, a savvy ad agency can be your best friend. However, in today’s environment a larger, more strategic partner is needed.
As the owner of a consultancy firm, my business is often mistaken as an ad agency. I admit that I don’t love it when this happens because clients often have had a less than stellar experience or know of someone else’s experience where they were “taken” by a bad ad agency. What can I say? It happens. However, the confusion is there for good reason because it can be difficult to identify the differences.
The biggest difference is in the business model. Ad agencies want to secure the business, grow the account by taking on other services/needs, and hold on to the business for as long as possible. There is nothing wrong with that approach, but we believe nimbleness is a necessity and the goal should be to teach the existing team what is needed to thrive in the changing digital marketing environment. The point being that ad agencies tend to use their own people versus working with the existing marketing team to execute the needed strategies and tactics for success. That means that they’re in the unenviable role of constantly looking for new ways to grow their business with your brand. That’s also why they ask questions like “who is doing your media buying?” or “who handles your branding?” because they would love nothing more than for you to allocate more of your budget to their services. The business model is geared and designed for the long-term because that keeps a steady stream of income coming to their many employees.
Consultancy firms on the other hand, look at the relationship in terms of what can be gained in the shortest period of time. That doesn’t mean that we don’t want to have a long-term business relationship with your brand. Rather, the hope is that your brand won’t need to commit indefinite budget resources to our firm because we focused your attention and resources such that you can achieve your brand objectives and you can go it alone at some point in the future. We also don’t seek out other services to take over because we work with your internal team. Of course, there are times when we need to bring in our team of people and resources, but this is viewed as an immediate fix to a challenge that will be resolved in the future.
The other notable difference is that consultancy firms focus on achieving your goals and objectives. Consultancy firms aren’t hired to pitch the next big idea or campaign. We examine the business holistically and determine what’s working and what’s not. Then we elevate what is working and eliminate what is not. We develop the plan based on your specific needs and offer a customized approach. For instance, if you are having difficulty converting customers. We identify areas of confusion for the customers, seek out new opportunities and/or tactics and make your brand’s uniqueness crystal clear. That means that the focus is on improving customer acquisition and retention efforts all while watching the bottom-line.
Consultancy firms aren’t seeking to acquire more business from your brand, but rather, we aim to create more business for you by developing strategies and plans to meet your goals. We stay on top of the latest technological advances and what is working by platform to create an integrated approach which includes everything from content marketing, brand strategies and affiliate marketing to how to truly make your customers feel and appreciate.
The focus is on creating or identifying a strategy, and executing that strategy flawlessly. This requires that we work collaboratively with your internal team and help them implement. It isn’t a competitive environment where it is the ad agency versus the individual employee or employees. Instead, it is viewed through the lens of helping your team achieve the objectives that we collectively agreed are fundamental to the success of your business. This creates an entirely different environment where the consultant is viewed as a coach rather than as an intruder or someone who could possibly take your job.
This is why I consistently go out of my way to explain that we are a consultancy firm, not an ad agency. I like offering clients what they need when they need it. It’s not about adding another client to our portfolio but rather creating more success for the brands and people that we work with. Which brings me back to my original point: the relevancy of ad agencies (or lack thereof). If you have a large brand with a lot of SKU’s and your team is overwhelmed, then bringing an excellent ad agency onboard makes sense. If your brand just needs some clarity and fresh guidance on how to reach your goals, hire a consultant.