It doesn’t matter if I’m wearing my agency owner hat or my AMI hat, branding is one of the topics that I always love to talk about. It’s one of the few things in our world that has stayed consistent. It’s very difficult today to survive and thrive if you are indistinguishable from your competitors. I know many of you spend a lot of time and energy developing brands for your clients but struggle when it comes to articulating your own brand in a way that is easy to grasp and actually is distinct.
When I think about brand, Derrick Daye, one of the preeminent thought leaders in branding for the last ten years or more comes to mind. You may be familiar with Derrick; in 2006 he launched a website called Branding Strategy Insider. Back in the day it was a blog about branding, and today, it still functions that way, but for many people, it’s a branding bible of sorts. Derrick and his team use real examples and case studies to teach the art and science of brand.
It was also the launching pad for Derrick and his company, The Blake Project. It’s where they launch research around branding, and dissect the best brands and what they’re doing. It’s a great resource for agencies and client side professionals to learn about cutting-edge thinking when it comes to branding.
My conversation with Derrick was all about what he’s learned about defining and building brands like the White House Press Corps, Coca-Cola, and the National Parks of New York Harbor, when they were trying to re-think the Statue of Liberty and how it could continue to be an icon for tourists and for all Americans in NYC and throughout the country.
We got into methodologies, branding clients, getting back into the C-Suite and much more. I think you’re going to find yourself taking notes.
Before Derrick launched The Blake Project, he spent about 20 years in advertising. He worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and several other agencies and then decided that he wanted to change his career a little bit and he wanted to go on the consulting side of the business.
Since then, Derrick has been working in many countries across the world, working with national brands. He has worked with everyone from He’s done some really interesting work.
Today he spends a lot of time helping agencies to figure out how to articulate their own brand and how they can work with clients to put together the strategy behind a client’s brand.
What you’ll learn about in this episode:
- Derrick’s work helping brands figure out their unique value in their own marketplaces
- How brand consultancies (like The Blake Project) do strategic work that define the brand and then hand it off to brand agencies who take that strategic work and bring it to life
- Why you’ll never be able to differentiate your agency with creative, people, process, methodology, global network
- How to rely on your relationship skills to develop new business
- Why your agency’s brand is all about your distinct POV and why you need to focus on the customers that love that POV, not the customers that are the easiest sale
- The three things brands need to lead today
- Why consultancies have better access to CEOs than agencies do and how agencies can get into the C-Suite conversation
- Turning prospects into clients by showcasing creative that had a great ROI rather than touting awards
- Figuring out what a brand is fighting against and making sure that fight aligns with their goals
- Derrick’s Un-Conference which is built on the idea that people learn better in small groups and groups marketers up in teams for “competitive learning”
The Golden Nuggets:“Every agency that’s worth anything has good creative. Everyone has great people. They all have a methodology. Those things aren’t going to create differentiation for your agency. ” - @DerrickDaye Click To Tweet “To build a strong brand, it takes the discipline to say no to everything that doesn’t align with that brand. That’s really hard.” - @DerrickDaye Click To Tweet “How does an agency change their perceived value to the C-Suite? Look for ways to be strategic. You’ve got to find a way to flex your strategic knowhow in the conversation.” - @DerrickDaye Click To Tweet “If agencies want to stay relevant, now is the time to look within and start thinking about their own brand.” - @DerrickDaye Click To Tweet “Who is your enemy? Who are you fighting? Is it the fight your customer wants to see you fighting? That’s where the real secret is.” - @DerrickDaye Click To Tweet
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Ways to contact Derrick Daye:
- Website: www.brandingstrategyinsider.com
- Website: www.theblakeproject.com
- Twitter: @DerrickDaye
- LinkedIn: www.linkedin.com/in/theblakeproject
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If you’re going to take the risk of running an agency, shouldn’t you get the benefits too? Welcome to Agency Management Institute’s Build a Better Agency podcast, presented by HubSpot. We’ll show you how to build an agency that can scale and grow with better clients, invested employees, and best of all, more money to the bottom line. Bringing his 25-plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultants, please welcome your host Drew McLellan.
Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build a Better Agency. Today we are going to talk about brand. Branding is one of the topics that I always love to talk about, both with my agency owner hat on and also with my AMI hat on. I think it is critical, I think it’s always been critical thing, it’s one of the few things in our world that has stayed consistent, and I think it’s very difficult today to survive and thrive if you do not develop a strong brand for your agency. And for many of you, I know that you spend a lot of time and energy developing strong brands for your clients as well.
So when I think about brand, one of the people that I think about is sort of one of the preeminent thought leaders in branding, and that’s a guy named Derrick Daye. You may be familiar with Derrick, in ’06, he launched a website called Branding Strategy Insider, which back then, back in the day, it was a blog, and still serves as a blog, but it’s also sort of the launching pad for Derrick and his company, The Blake Project. It’s where they launch research around branding, where they talk about sort of the best brands and what they’re doing. So it’s a great resource for agencies and client-side folks to really learn about sort of cutting edge thinking when it comes to branding.
So Derrick, if you’re not familiar with him, Derrick, before he launched The Blake Project, which is his company, he spent about 20 years in advertising. Worked for Saatchi & Saatchi and several other agencies, and then decided that he wanted to change his career a little bit, and he wanted to go on the consulting side of the business. So since then, Derrick has been working in many countries across the world working with national brands, he has worked with everyone from the White House press corps, to Coca Cola, to the national parks of New York Harbor, when they were sort of trying to re-think the Statue of Liberty and how it could continue to be an icon for tourists and for Americans, both when they’re traveling to New York, and also when they are back at home. So he’s done some really interesting work. But he spends a lot of time helping agencies figure out how to articulate their own brand, and how they can work with clients to sort of put together the strategy behind a client’s brand.
I’m guessing that Derrick and I are going to bounce all over the topic of branding, but what I do know for a fact is that Derrick is going to talk about brand in a different way than you’re used to hearing about and he’s going to get you to think a little differently about your agency’s brand and also the clients that you serve. And with that, I would really like to welcome Derrick Daye from The Blake Project to the podcast. Derrick, welcome to the show. Thanks for joining us.
Thank you, Drew. It’s great to be here.
So Derrick, I feel like we should confess to the listeners that you and I have known each other for over a decade. So back in the day when blogging was cool and there was only like 100 of us doing it, you and I were some of the first bloggers who were talking about marketing and branding, and I remember learning about you and reading your stuff and sharing your stuff, and as we were saying offline before we hit the record button, that was a time of great camaraderie and learning from each other. So I’m grateful that I’ve gotten to learn from you for over a decade, so it’s fun to have this conversation with you.
Well, likewise, Drew. And yeah, I mean, that taught us all a lot of things about how we could work together, learn from each other and that this was really a time of kind of open source thinking where we could really lean on each other and be better for it. So that’s really what that kind of blogging movement did for me. And creating that mental profit that we talked about earlier, because that’s really what you were going for them, because you may get a question from people, “Well, how much revenue does this generate?” And you really wouldn’t have that answer, unless you thought about mental profit and what you had learned from others. So that spirit has kind of carried on with me as I’ve shaped my own business, and it’s helped me and I think it’s a worldview that can work for anyone.
I agree. So tell us a little bit about The Blake Project and your background and history and how you came to be such an expert on the whole idea of brand?
Sure. So The Blake Project is a brand consultancy, and just the real high-level elevator speech here, our four key areas of expertise are brand research, brand strategy, brand licensing, and brand education. We serve organizations in all stages of development, from startups to emerging brands to regional, national and global brands in those four key areas. My own background, I actually started out as a broadcast journalist a long time ago, and spent a number of years on the air, off the air, even getting into the advertising aspects of it. Then I transitioned to work with a few mid-sized agencies until being recruited to Saatchi & Saatchi where I was in the management tier there, I worked on strategy, but I also played a big part in new business development.
So that helped shape my path to think about strategy. So when I started this company in 2003, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, which is really kind of look under the hood of brands and think about how they could represent unique value in their own marketplaces. That was a great move for me, and I haven’t looked back. Because that’s an area where continuous… There’s a lot of change. I mean, every year you’re working with different types of clients, you’re working in different industries, and yeah, there’s just a lot of opportunity to learn.
So for you, how do you differentiate between a brand consultancy and a brand agency? What do or don’t you do that a traditional, or a typical brand agency might do?
Yeah, so as a brand consultancy, we really believe… I mean, we’re all trying to help our clients get to the same goals as agencies, as agencies do, and consultancies do. But consultants really focus on studying the mind of the customer first, and then focusing on those key things that can help that customers separate in the marketplace, that’s differentiating their brand, perhaps helping them think through complex marketing challenges where maybe their growth is stunted or something is not working in the process. And we bring our insight from the many different brands that we’ve worked with, where when you’re talking differentiation, most of the best ideas come from out of your space, we bring that to help them develop a strategy that moves them away.
An agency is great at taking that strategic work and bringing that to life. And that is the domain of agencies, that’s where having come from Saatchi & Saatchi, I know, that that’s where they did their best work. And there’s a real skill, as we know, behind that, taking some words on a paper and painting this picture for the target customer. And that’s why, rightfully so, ad agencies get all of the credit for amazing campaigns that are in our world today. They have the shiny object that they can put up there. So agencies create that value there. So I see a difference between the two in strategy and creative strategy.
So for you, that’s where the handoff comes with a client, is you would in essence, at a certain point, take the strategy and hand it off to an agency to basically breathe life into that strategy, yes?
Yes, Drew. I have to confess that over the years, we’ve had several clients that have asked us to go all the way and at times we have. We also have had about 20 agencies white label our strategic services because they understood that things like brand architecture is not something that they specialize in, and [crosstalk 00:10:03] bring us in for those kinds of things. But I think the key is in having worked as a consultant and someone in the management tier of a large agency, I think really knowing what lane you need to stay in is really good. Because what we all want to do is do our best work, and when we spill into places where we don’t belong, then the client is not going to get our best. That’s just the facts. So that’s kind of my… The way I see things.
The power of brands lies in focus, and that doesn’t exempt agencies from thinking that way. They need to focus on what they’re great at, and not just be good at a couple things or so-so at things that just helps land a client.
Well, as you know, lots of agencies really struggle with… Even if they’re a brand shop, and they are good at developing brands further for their clients, lots of agencies struggle with how to differentiate their agency from all the other agencies. And I know that you have some thought around how to do that, or how to think about that in a different way. So I think it would be hugely valuable for you to talk about that for a minute in terms of how agencies can approach that task, perhaps differently than they have?
Sure, Drew. I’ll give you as much as I can, because this is one of the biggest questions to answer in this age of disruption, right? I mean, it’s the question that every agency has on their mind. I think the way you have to begin in answering that is to first understand what are the table stakes, because you can’t differentiate with what’s already expected. So it’s not about the work, because that’s just the picture war. That’s who came up with the best picture. And every agency that is worth anything, they have good creative, and they show it. So creative is not going to separate you, even though there’s an idea that my creative got more awards than your creative. But I think that position is weakening, the whole getting an award thing is not what it once was.
Well, and I think other agencies will hang their hat on a campaign, right? So I mean, I think we can think of some Wieden & Kennedy campaigns.
It’s like that, right? But you can’t live on an old campaign forever, either. So I don’t care how creative you were three years ago, somebody else is creative today. And so you’re right, I think most agencies would acknowledge to a certain extent that’s a commodity.
Yeah, I hope so. The other thing, it’s not about the people. You can have-
That’s what every agency says, “Oh, we have the best people.” And my response to them is, “So every other agency has hired morons and boobs?” That’s what you’re saying.
Well, I’m also saying that even if you have the most talented team, it’s not enough to differentiate yourself. Because that’s rarefied air, and a lot of people at that level, if I just kind of take a name out of the air, like Seth Godin, he doesn’t consult, his business is speaking and selling books. So that’s a different business. So what I’m saying, Drew, is it’s table stakes to have great people, that’s already expected. And that goes for consultants, too. I’m here too, I raise my hand on it here. I mean, it’s not just about having great people. It’s also not about the process or your methodology. Everyone has a process. Everyone has a methodology, and they really try to push that theirs is somehow superior. And you’re expected to have a process and a methodology. So that’s not-
Yeah, it’s not that it’s unnecessary, it’s just that again, it’s a given, not something that makes you special.
Right. Another place that I would say and this will only apply to a few of your listeners, but it’s not about the global network. It’s not about how big you are. And a little story here is I’m kind of going down the path of trying to help everyone answer their own differentiation question. When I started The Blake Project in 2003, I thought to myself, I said, “Okay, you were at Saatchi & Saatchi, that’s a global agency, 8,500 people behind you and a big history. How are you going to get business from global brands like you did there?” Which was my target customer. And my first call was with Bausch & Lomb, and I had worked with this client there at Saatchi 7 Saatchi. And we talked and she said, “This is really about a relationship for me, not about how big your organization is.” And my point on that is relationships win every time.
So I’m of the belief that how good you are at people skills and understanding people is going to directly coincide with any closure rate you have, any long-term relationship you have. It’s about people, and you’ve got to keep coming back to that. So you ask, Drew, you ask about, well, okay, so maybe there’s a lot of nice people at agencies, and everyone has nice people that are people people. But I think that could be true, but there’s a lot of agencies that aren’t putting that out in front. Instead, they’re putting out in front, “Look at the award I won for the campaign.”
Right. Or, “Here’s our magic process,” or whatever.
Yeah, yeah. So it comes back to the people. And I’ll drill a little deeper on brand differentiation. But while we’re just talking about an agency business, or consulting business, sometimes the answer is the obvious. And sometimes people discount the obvious. So they think that, “Oh, it’s a people answer, well, that’s obvious.” Well, then how come no one is, in your space, having stronger relationships, having that…” And the thing is, the best brands across the board are built from the inside out, and they already have a culture that connects with their target customer. And that’s what agencies have to do, right? It has to come from within. And we know there are agencies that are just all about the money, and they just… They’re not people people, and those are the agencies that I expect to have high turnover within and high turnover with their clients. So that’s just maybe a longer answer than what you wanted. But I also have some other thoughts that I can bring to just differentiation in general.
So it’s not the process, it’s not the work, it’s not the people, in terms of their strategy or their smarts. And if it’s all about the relationships, then that doesn’t feel very differentiating, because everybody can invest in relationships. So I want you to peel that back a little further for us and say, “Okay, so then how does an agency truly differentiate for themselves? And how do they talk about it?” But first, I want to take a quick break.
I get this, sometimes you just can’t get on a plane and spend a couple days in a live workshop. And so hopefully, our online courses are a solution to that. Lots of video, hours and hours of video, a very dense, detailed participants guide, and all kinds of help along the way to make sure that you get the learning that you need and apply it immediately to your agency. Right now we’ve got two courses that are available. We have the Agency New Business Blueprint, and we have the AE Bootcamp. So feel free to check those out at agencymanagementinstitute.com/ondemandcourses. Okay, let’s get back to the show.
All right. Welcome back. I’m here with Derrick Daye from The Blake Project and we were talking about how agencies could differentiate themselves. So Derrick had just talked to us about all the ways kind of that agencies tend to lean towards when they start working on their own differentiation and sort of was pointing out that all of those things are table stakes. So at the break, what I said to him was, okay, well if all of that’s table stakes, and if it really is relationship based, then how do we, inside that space, how do we differentiate ourselves? And with that, I was mean and took a break and so now we’re back and I want to hear what Derrick has to say about that.
Well, I think that one of the obvious things is to just kind of look within and say, “Okay, we’re in the business of ideas. So what is the most powerful idea for us? What is that idea that we can own, that makes us unique and compelling?” A big problem with agencies is they often don’t take the time, or nearly enough to think about themselves. They’re spending a lot of time on their clients, and-
The old Cobbler’s children have no shoes.
Yeah, and we know it, we all know it. And that really takes our business in a direction that it’s almost setting us up for failure, right? We’re not practicing what we preach, and that’s what we need to be doing, we need to put a stake in the ground that says, “Okay, this is what our brand essence is. And that’s going to be our North Star. And this is what our brand promises, and everything that we do, every decision we make, marketing or otherwise, we’re going to use this as a filter for these decisions.” It’s funny that as marketers, we can go out and make other people great brands, but we have trouble doing it for ourselves. And I blame a lot of that on not slowing down, stepping back and saying, “Wait a second, I need to think about myself now.” Especially in an age of disruption, where agencies are now seeing management consultancies deciding that they’re going to be the agency of the future.
So the landscape’s changing, and a favorite Peter Drucker quote of mine, which just nails it here is, “If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.” And that’s what we all have to be doing to get permission to have a future. So if we’re going to earn a future, we’re going to have to do something different. So yeah, other thoughts? How can you change your world? What can you do? One idea that speaks to some human needs in a very simple way is what is it about your touchpoints, or your process that could be boring for your customers? Find a way to kill dull and to kill boring. That’s something, I mean, again, it speaks to human needs. What is it about your process that maybe makes people feel that this is just a transaction, and remove those barriers? And that’s where you can really, really get to a place where you can have meaningful relationship with your target customer.
Part of what I’m hearing you say is that an agency’s brand is really about having sort of a strong point of view about the work or the way you work, but it is coming from a point of view, which is, we believe this to be true, whatever that may be, that is intrinsically the truth about the people at the agency. So is that what you’re saying?
Yeah, it starts with an honest self assessment, what are the things that we’re really best at, let’s be honest? And then focus on those customers that would appreciate that value. It’s not about what is selling the most today, and how can we bend ourselves into some configuration that helps us close those deals? It’s really about the other ways, what is it that that makes us great? And then bring that out to the world. That’s really the key today. And again, if we’re really financially minded, then we’ll start missing the human element here that’s required to make these relationships. If I’m just focused on the numbers, I’m going to miss the opportunities to build emotional connections. That’s the way that I see it, and I’ve seen it and I’ve been around. There’s lots of opportunity for agencies today but it’s amazing, there’s not enough agency owners that are willing to be different, and to break away. And you need that too, I mean, you can have a great differentiating idea, but then you have to have the courage to execute it. And that’s a leader-
And that’s not just agencies, right? So I’m assuming in your work with brands that you run into this same reluctance of… Because when you declare that you are about something or you believe something, it by default says, “And by the way, all this stuff that isn’t that, not for me.” So it really is about saying, “Instead of eating the whole pie, I’m going to carve out this one piece of pie, and this is my pie. And every time this is my pie, and I’m going to ignore the rest of the pie, because hat’s not for me.” Right?
Right. Yeah, that’s the other thing. I mean, to get a strong brand, it requires the discipline to say no, and say it a lot. That’s hard.
So how do you guys help your clients get there? Whether it’s an agency owner, or a business owner, or a board of directors, how do you help people get to the point where they have the confidence in where they’ve landed on their brand, and the courage to say no to all the things that don’t align with their brand? Because when I put on my agency owner hat, and we’re talking to clients about brand, what I say to them is, “This is where the rubber meets the road, when you’re sitting in a conference room sorting all of this out, that’s one thing. But when you have to say no to a prospect, or you have to say goodbye to an employee who no longer embodies the brand, now the brand gets real. Now you have to make sacrifice.” So how do you help clients, and translate this to how can agency owners help themselves and their teams be willing to be both confident and courageous enough to actually have a strong brand?
Yeah, two really good questions. I think we agree, Drew, that the first thing you have to do is have a common ground, and that usually star