For some reason, owners and directors of digital agencies consider themselves so very different from the rest. “We are at the cutting edge…”, “the technology, like the client’s needs, is a constantly moving target…”, “Our people are supreme with an absolutely unique skillset: part-geek, part-marketing, part-design.”
I know that agencies think and feel that they are a special case but are they really?
Digitals do share the same attributes as any other service firm or agency: the product/service is perishable (ie it is not storable), it is consumed at the point of delivery, clients often only know what results they want but don’t understand how it may be delivered, your reputation is everything.
On the other hand, I do recognise that there is a uniqueness in the world of agencies: they are very young-minded organisations, living in a fast-moving and highly challenging environment where results are visible for all to track, see and measure. Meanwhile, I suspect that marketing people will have said the same thing since Year Dot along with product designers, PR agents, and even tax accountants!
What cannot be denied is that the whole digital world is still relatively new. New compare with, say, accountancy, and new in terms of having building credibility as an industry with clear guidelines and governing bodies. That makes it a bit like being a CGI studio or an eBay store. But that doesn’t make the digital agency truly unique.
I suspect that, in reality, digital agencies are not so very different. Along with many other businesses their set of circumstances (clients, services, technology, options, transparency, visibility) are unique in their industry. However, like most service firms, I believe that they have more in common with other service firms than they believe at first.
I would argue that competence in the specifics of understanding and knowing the nuts and bolts of the particular subset of the digital agency (SEO, SEM, email, content, blogging, advertising, lead generation, web firms and hybrids) is assumed. Beyond that, it is remarkably similar to any other service firm, struggling with the triad of strategy, marketing and people.
Digitals still need to ask themselves a basic set of fundamental questions:
• Strategy: Where are we going and how are going to get there? What does success look like? How should we use our unique attributes to differentiate ourselves and to which segments?
• Marketing: Why should people bother to buy from us? What makes us different from the rest? How can we stand out from the crowd? What is our message and our voice?
• Teams: How can we work better together? How can we capitalise on our relationships to be better than the rest?
These are the questions that every service firm and agency struggles with. This is before we talk about detail like: defining USPs, elevator pitches and quantifiable customer propositions, writing winning proposals, negotiation tactics, pricing, commoditising and productising, joint ventures, and so forth.
While the above lists may seems a little mind-numbingly dull and almost predictable can I just say that digital agencies must cover off all the ‘business stuff’ unless they are content to be an also-ran. The exceptional agencies are not just exceptional at their work; they are exceptional at having put the work into the business side of things, what many consider to be all the boring stuff.
So there’s the choice. Do what the exceptional agencies do: focus on strategy, marketing and teams…. or just focus on working IN the business, blissfully unaware of how, with a little forethought and refection, you could be so much better with the digital skills and knowledge that you already have.
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