Have you ever walked around Times Square? I was in New York City last week, and if you’ve ever been here before, you know it’s crazy. With all the lights, the billboards, the chaos, the signage, and the people dancing and handing out flyers – it’s just sensory overload.
The eight blocks or so radius that makes up Times Square is a study in advertising and in messaging, sort of both from an old school and new school perspective.
It made me think about one of the realities in both life in general but certainly in our life in the marketing and agency business, and that is that there is no such thing as a constant. Even the most constant of constants, like out-of-home advertising, keep changing and evolving over time. The truth of the matter is, for all of us, no matter what channel we display our message on, no matter where we are talking about the work we do and the kind of clients we serve, the channel is changing.
So if you’ve got a robust Facebook page for your agency, that’s awesome, but you know that in five years, it’s going to be something different. If you are writing incredible blog content, or you’re producing a podcast, whatever it may be, there may be remnants of what we’re doing today around in five years, but the odds are that it’s going to look different, just like these outdoor boards here on Broadway look very different than they did back in the ’40s and the ’50s.
The other thing I noticed was I was watching the messaging for the plays and the restaurants and the souvenir shops, all of them, they all look and sound the same. We all face that problem too. I think one of the biggest challenges for agencies is how do you not look like everybody else? How do you differentiate yourself? We’re great at doing this for clients, but when it comes to doing it for ourselves, we really, really struggle.
This was actually a big part of the conversation that we had in the Creating Content That Creates Revenue Workshop back in January. We started day one by talking about how the reality for all of us is that the channels keep changing and so our presence in a channel isn’t enough to differentiate us. We have to have something that makes us stand out.
We talked a lot about having a unique point of view and about really understanding what your agency was all about. Where do you plant that flag? How do you plant that flag in firm ground so that, no matter what changes, that belief is rock solid? It needs to be so firmly anchored in the ground that you know it’s not going to be blown away by whatever fad or change is coming down the pike.
And that’s what we’re going to talk about today. For agencies, we all have to be able to define that for our prospects and clients. Why us? Why us over somebody else?
What you’ll learn about in this episode:
- Staying on top of the ever-changing channels for distributing our messages
- The struggle agencies face in differentiating themselves
- Planting the flag of your unique POV so firmly that you don’t feel tempted to change away from what’s important to you when a new fad comes around
- Why you can’t afford to compete on price or proximity
- Your unique POV: what you know to be true that you talk to clients about all the time
- Figuring out what your best, most profitable clients have in common, even if it’s not an industry (and it often isn’t!)
- Why you should have three different niches
- How your unique POV combined with your niche industry knowledge makes you look and sound different from your competitors
- Building your website to show off your POV
- Infusing your POV into every piece of content you create
- A litmus test for figuring out if you’ve defined your POV
- How your POV attracts the right prospects and repels the wrong ones
Drew McLellan is the CEO at Agency Management Institute. He has also owned and operated his own agency since 1995 and is still actively running the agency today. Drew’s unique vantage point as being both an agency owner and working with 250+ small- to mid-size agencies throughout the year gives him a unique perspective on running an agency today.
AMI works with agency owners by:
- Leading agency owner peer groups
- Offering workshops for owners and their leadership teams
- Offering AE bootcamps
- Conducting individual agency owner coaching
- Doing on-site consulting
- Offering online courses in agency new business and account service
Because he works with those 250+ agencies every year — Drew has the unique opportunity to see the patterns and the habits (both good and bad) that happen over and over again. He has also written two books and been featured in The New York Times, Forbes, Entrepreneur Magazine, and Fortune Small Business. The Wall Street Journal called his blog “One of 10 blogs every entrepreneur should read.”
The Golden Nugget:“If you can't show me how you're different or better, at the end of the day, I'm going to decide by convenience or price. Neither of those are the competitive landscapes where most agencies want to compete.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “You have to know who and what you are, and you have to understand how to express that point of view, that uniqueness that genuinely makes your agency different than all the others.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “One of the most dangerous things an agency can do is believe that they can serve everyone equally well. I don't care if you're 400 people or you're four people, that's just not the case.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “When you combine your industry-specific with your singular point of view of how business should be done, you look and sound dramatically different from most of your competitors.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet “If you're writing content and you could swap another agency's logo for yours and it still makes perfect sense -- you have not defined your point of view. You are just creating more noise in an already noisy room.” - Drew McLellan Click To Tweet “When you get very clear about your point of view and get brave enough to declare it to the world and build everything off of that cornerstone belief, including your content, now all of a sudden, you have a point of difference.” - @DrewMcLellan Click To Tweet
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Ways to contact Drew McLellan:
- Email: [email protected]
We’re proud to announce that Hubspot is now the presenting sponsor of the Build A Better Agency podcast! Many thanks to them for their support!
|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 consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.
|Hey, everybody, Drew McLellan here with another episode of Build A Better Agency. This week’s episode is a solo cast. So just you and me chatting about something that I want to make sure you are thinking about as you go through your day and as you wrap up another month. And so I’m actually in New York City today, and I was walking around on the street down by Times Square. And if you’ve ever been here before, you know it’s crazy, and the lights and the billboards and the chaos and the signage and the people dancing and handing out flyers, It is in a four or five or eight block radius it is a study in advertising and in messaging and in sort of both the old school and the new school. And as I was walking around, I was sort of marveling at all of the outdoor boards and all of the signage and thinking, “This may be one of the few places in the world where you are just inundated with one of the staples of our business from when we all started in the business.”
|And at the same time I was noticing that these outdoor billboards or these out-of-home boards are not the out-of-home boards that were around when I was starting in my career. Certainly not poster boards and all of that. They have some of that here, but most of it is either three dimensional or it’s electronic and it’s beautiful video and the footage and the distance at which you can see it is spectacular. And it made me think about the fact that one of the realities, I think of life in general, but certainly of our life in the marketing and the agency business is that there is no such thing as a constant. And even the most constant of constants, like out-of-home advertising keeps changing and evolving over time. And the truth of the matter is for all of us that no matter what channel we display our message. No matter where we are talking about the work we do and the kind of clients we serve, the channel is changing.
|So if you’ve got a robust Facebook page for your agency, that’s awesome. But you know that in five years it’s going to be something different. If you are writing incredible blog content or you’re producing a podcast, whatever it may be, there may be remnants of what we’re doing today around in five years. But odds are it’s going to look different, just like these outdoor boards here on Broadway look very different then they did probably back in the ’40s and the ’50s. And you know, the other thing I noticed was I was watching the messaging and I was watching how many of the plays and the restaurants and the souvenir shops, all of them, how they all look and sound the same. And I think one of the biggest challenges for agencies is, how do you not look like everybody else? How do you differentiate yourself?
|And you know, what I think is funny about it is we’re great at doing this for clients, but when it comes to doing it for ourselves, we really, really struggle. And this was actually a big part of the conversation that we had in the Creating Content that Creates Revenue workshop back in January. We started the day, started day one really, we started the day talking about how the reality for all of us is the channels keep changing and will keep changing. And so our presence in a channel isn’t enough to differentiate us. But we have to have something that makes us stand out.
|And so we talked a lot about having a unique point of view and about really understanding what your agency was all about, and where do you plant that flag? How do you plant that flag in firm ground, so that no matter what the channel of the day is, no matter who you’re talking to, that flag, that belief is rock solid and it is just anchored in the ground so that you know that it’s something you can rely on, that it’s not going to be blown away by whatever fad or change is coming along the pike.
|And that sort of led us to the discussion about that today for agencies, we all have to be able to define for our prospects and clients. Why us? Why us over somebody else? Because here’s the other thing I noticed as I was walking around today, if a souvenir shop selling I Heart New York T-shirts or a restaurant or whatever it is, if they couldn’t very quickly distinguish themselves and tell me as a passerby what made them different, the reality is, I was going to make my decision based on two things, proximity to where I was at that moment and to the hotel I’m staying at, and price.
|And you know what, for most of us, we certainly do not want to compete on price. And for many of us, we don’t want to compete on proximity. We don’t want to be landlocked into a geography of a couple hour drive around our shop. Now for some of you, you may very well want to be the local expert, and there’s nothing wrong with that, we’ll talk about that in a little bit. But if you want to extend your reach in geography beyond say a two hour drive around your general location, then you’ve got to be different, because here’s the deal. If you’re just a generalist and you serve the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, and you live in Toledo and I live in Cleveland, why would I, the client, the prospect or the client, hire a Toledo agency when there’s an agency in Cleveland that also serves butchers, bakers, and candlestick makers?
|So if you can’t show me how you’re different, how you’re better, then at the end of the day I’m going to decide by proximity, because that’s convenience for me, or I’m going to decide on price. And neither of those are the competitive landscapes where most of us want to compete. So here’s the deal for us. The reality is, we’ve got to know who and what we are, and we have to understand how to express that point of view, that uniqueness that makes our agency different than all the others. And we’re going to do it in a plethora of ways, but certainly one of the ways we’re going to do that is in our own content, on our own webpage, on our Facebook page and our Twitter feed, wherever that may be. But you’re going to be communicating what it is, what is your point of view?
|So here’s what I believe about an agency point of view. Every agency, this is for my brand. My agency started as a brand shop way back in the day, and we still do a lot of brand work. And what I love about brand work is that good brand shops don’t make something up and apply it to a client. It’s really about peeling back layers and layers of the client’s sort of own BS to find out of what actually is true about them that makes them unique.
|And I think that that’s one of the reasons why it’s hard for us to do it to ourselves is that it’s difficult to peel away our own layers, our own sort of jargon and spin to find out what’s true about us. So here’s how I want you to start thinking about point of view. First of all, I believe that every agency must have a strong point of view, a belief that you hold as absolute truth in the work you do with clients. And that should become a focal point how you talk about your agency, how you differentiate your agency, how you wrap your agency’s process up, how you talk about the way you work with clients.
|You’ve got to have a flag that you believe in very strongly that you can infuse through the agency. And then you want to plant that flag into solid ground. So how do you figure that out? Well, one of the ways you figure that out is you start thinking about the way you actually do business today. You think about, “Okay, what are the truths that I know in my heart and in my gut and why every time I go into a client meeting, these are things that we talk about.” These are truths that I have learned over time that influenced the work we do for clients. Are there recommendations that you always make? Are there questions that you always ask? Are there stories that you always tell? Is there something unique in the way you serve a client? What is that core belief?
|So I’ll give you an example. So my agency, we believe that clients, marketing people, spend their money incorrectly. We believe that marketing dollars should first be spent on your existing customer base before you go chasing after prospects. So our spin on that, our tagline on that is that we help our clients create love affairs with their customers. And the reason we do that is because when someone is in love and that sort of that giddy stage of love, you know what it is, you have a friend who started dating somebody or is getting married soon, or you have a kid that has their first big love at 14 or 15 or 16. And for the love of Pete, the only thing they can talk about is that other person. When we are in that giddy stage of love, when we feel like we’ve been wooed and been chased, and we are being delighted around every corner, we cannot help but talk about the person that we love.
|And so take that from a marketing perspective. My agency’s point of view is that when you create that kind of love affair with your customers, they fall all over themselves to talk about you and they bring you more customers. So that’s our unique point of view is we believe that. And so we bake that into everything we do for our clients. Now, your point of view might be around a methodology. It might be around an audience. It might be around a way of somewhat where in the sales cycle it makes the most sense to talk to someone. But I promise you, you do have some unique points of view in the way that you work with your clients. You just have taken them for granted because they are so ingrained in who you are and how you communicate with everybody and how you bake that into the work you do with your clients, that it doesn’t occur to you how unique it is.
|And with that, it seems like a really great time to take a brief pause. And then we will get right back back to the show. If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, odds are you’ve heard me mention the AMI peer networks or the agency owner network. And what that is really is, it’s like a Vistage group or an EO group only, everybody around the table owns an agency in a non-competitive market. So they, as a membership model they come together twice a year for two days, two days in the spring and two days in the fall. And they work together to share best practices. They show each other their full financials, so there’s a lot of accountability. We bring speakers in and we spend a lot of time problem solving around the issues that agency owners are facing. If you’d like to learn more about it, go to agencymanagementinstitute.com/network. Okay, let’s get back to the show.
|So the reality is you need to start thinking about that. So what is the truth that you have learned that influences you work? What recommendations do you always make? How do you uniquely serve your clients? So for example, you might be an agency that says, you know what? We always embed an employee into our client’s office. That would be a very unique point of view that an agency has to have someone onsite to be able to react in this 24/7 world. And so part of our deal with our clients is you spend over X dollars and we will put a dedicated person in your office. That’s the kind of thing I’m talking about. So it might be about the marketplace. It might be about the audience. It might be about where in the buying cycle you have the most influence. It might be physically, literally, how do you serve the client differently?
|But all of you do have a point of view. So having a point of view is awesome, or if you’ve heard me talk at all, if you’ve ever seen me at a conference, if you are part of an AMI peer network, you know that I am a firm believer that agencies, it’s not possible for an agency to serve everyone equally well. That every agency has niches, whether it’s by industry, whether it’s by audience, whether it’s by geography, there’s something about the best customers for you. There’s something about the clients that you can knock it out of the park every time. There’s commonality among the clients that you love serving and who love you and want to stay and want to give you more money year over year over year. There’s something about them that is the same.
|And we naturally sort of go to the niche of industry. Oh, I work with pharma, for women over 40, right? Whatever it may be. That’s the thing we go to first is industry, but recognize that your niche may not be an industry. It may be this point in time that a buyer’s at it. Maybe that you help businesses whose core audience are millennials or are of Latin descent, or are of a certain age group, socioeconomic condition. Whatever it is, but you need to know who can you help better, faster, smarter, more consistently than everyone else? One of the most dangerous things I think an agency can do is to believe in their head in their heart that they can serve everyone equally well. Because I don’t care if you’re 400 people or you’re four people. That’s not the case. There are industries, or there are other niches like I just defined for you where you have a knowledge base, where you have a comfort level, where you understand the inside baseball jargon, and in a way that gives you a huge advantage over other agencies.
|And you need to leverage that advantage, right? So now what happens is, imagine I’ve got my niche here, and remember, Drew is a big fan of three legged stools, because I’ve seen too many agencies get right to the brink because they only had one niche, right? So if you only have one niche and all of a sudden that industry gets slammed by a recession or a recall, or a disaster of some kind, all of a sudden you, because that all slides back to you, your agency is in trouble. So I am a firm believer in an agency having three niches, or three legs of my stool. So I want you to have about 33% of your business in the three legs. Now, for most of you, that’s aspirational. Most of you actually at best have a four legged stool. And the fourth leg of the stool is what I call the kitchen drawer, right?
|So those are legacy clients that don’t fit your niches. That’s you serve on a board, and so you have to do something there. So most agencies have that, and I’m not saying you can’t or shouldn’t. I’m just saying it shouldn’t be more than 20 or 25% of your business. And the other 75% should be equally distributed ideally, between the other three legs. So now I’ve got the legs of my stool, right? And that makes me very unique against most of the generalist agencies. But no matter what your niches are, no matter what the legs of your stool are, there are still other agencies who do what you do in that industry. So for example, let’s say that you are an agency that works with funeral homes. Family owned funeral homes, and you work with them all over the country. You are not the only agency that does that.
|But when you layer your point of view over the niches. So I’ve got my funeral home leg of my stool here. And now I layer over that my belief that in MMG’s case, that you should spend the bulk of your money communicating with and marketing to people that you have already served rather than going after cold new customers, right? So now all of a sudden that makes much more unique in the space, right? So not only do I have a deep knowledge of the industry, but I have this unique point of view that says, “Here’s how, Mr. Funeral home director, here’s how I believe your chain of funeral homes should talk about your budget, your audience, the marketing tactics you have. And here’s the rationale. Here’s the data, here’s the research, whatever it is that brought me to this point of view, to this strong opinion.” Now all of a sudden, that’s a pretty interesting combination, right?
|So that’s how you begin to really carve out a niche that is more unique than just saying, “We work in the construction industry, or we work in with local rural hospitals or whatever it is that you have.” Now all of a sudden I’ve got this sort of … I’ve got this horizontal, I have the vertical leg. And then I have the horizontal sort of the cap on the leg. That is my combination of my niche knowledge. my industry-specific knowledge, my audience-specific knowledge, whatever that is. But on top of that I have layered this point of view of how business should be done. Now I look and sound dramatically different from most of my competitors. So the key to this is you have to be willing then to start talking about this. So here’s, figuring it out is hard enough. But then if I go to most of your websites, your websites are frighteningly generic, your websites don’t boldly say, “This is what I believe.” Or they don’t boldly say, “These are the people we serve.”
|And for some of you, you’ve got landi