What every marketing agency should know about their own brand.
I love the proverb about the shoemaker and his children, who was so busy making everyone else happy with new shoes that one day he left his shop and found his children playing in the streets without shoes. Like so many service based companies most marketing agencies are guilty of neglecting their own business.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked with an agency owner and as we are looking over their website to strategize about how to increase bookings on their site they give me a disclaimer before the site loads.
“It’s been a while since they’ve last updated”, or “they had to put this together quickly so it isn’t a reflection of the work they do”. I’m sure there will always be a layer of insecurity underneath when presenting your own work but when you know that you have neglected it for too long, it’s nearly impossible to hide the feeling of embarrassment when you know you can do better.
You’re not alone in this. In fact, most marketing agencies that I’ve met and talked to don’t even use their own marketing strategies to get new clients. They rely on relationships and word of mouth to grow their company. Don’t you find that a little curious? Shouldn’t a marketer be getting at least half of their leads from the actual strategies they use with their clients?
It’s alright. The reality is that working as an agency requires a ton of work and like the shoemaker, it is easy to leave your own work unpolished. But at Periodic, we believe that your business is your number one customer and that you should have a brand and a plan that reflects who you are.
By way of introduction, my name is Torlando Hakes. I direct the marketing and business development efforts at Periodic, including the development of our Periodic Agency Partner Program. I am a published author, experienced business owner, and host of The CTA Podcast. In this article, I am going to provide you with the 3 paradigm shifting ideas about branding that will dramatically change the way you frame marketing for your own business and ultimately for the businesses of your clients.
Paradigm Shift #1: Brand and marketing are about culture.
Seth Godin defined brand as the expectation that people have when you walk into the room or when they hold your product in their hands. He defined marketing as anything that pushes the culture forward.
This is somewhat of a departure from what most people would think of as marketing which has really become more of a euphemism of the somehow pejoratively spoken word “advertising”. That is to say that when most people say they are marketing, what they are really doing is advertising or even just trying to make a pitch.
In my upcoming book, Invite. Enlighten. Create., I write:
“Marketing is the umbrella of how your company behaves itself in the free market of our economy and by that very nature it becomes a square of fabric on the large quilt of our culture. Our culture is made up of both its visible parts and invisible parts. Marketing across any organization, people or even family unit is what comes out when you do or decidedly don’t do anything. Every statement or non-statement gives someone an impression about what to think about you and therefor what to do with you.”
As a purveyor of Just Marketing, which promotes diversity and inclusion through marketing, I firmly believe that we make our strongest impact on the good of society when we are intentional about creating a brand that moves the culture forward in a positive and meaningful way.
This means that we are no longer thinking of brand or marketing purely as trying to grab someone’s attention long enough to get them to buy but instead we are looking at our marketing efforts as feeding the soul of society and our brand as a social leader guiding people to a better future.
Before you think this is too romantic of an idea, think for a moment, of the biggest brands and their impact on our culture and how much we look to them for an example and what to expect our future to be like. Being an Apple user is not just a status symbol, it represents a certain type of person. We look to CEOs like Gary Vaynerchuk, Mark Cuban, Warren Buffet, Elon Musk, & Tim Cook for inspiration and direction on what to do as if they are the oracles that can predict the future (in part because they might be creating it). We look for leadership in big brands. We look for inspiration. But you don’t have to be a big company to have significant impact.
Your brand has to focus on finding the smallest viable audience to influence. A viable audience is one that is just big enough to ensure that you can make money by marketing to them. It doesn’t need to be a million followers necessarily. I think of a local wings restaurant called Buffa-Louie’s and the owner in our fair city of Bloomington. Here is a man that can light up any room he is in. His big voice and east coast accent is a big departure from our subdued mid-western mannerisms. When he choses to contribute to the group, yes he’s loud, but it isn’t a disruption, it’s an addition to the vibe that is already there. He never fails to make people laugh. He knows when to be sincere and heartfelt. He gives to the community every chance he gets. And he enjoys a community that supports his wings to the fullest. He is a leader in the community and his one restaurant services as many as it can handle. He stayed alive throughout the pandemic in large part because of the love people have for him and the Buffa-Louie’s brand.
One thing I’ve learned about this small town restaurant is that a very large percentage of regular patrons are visiting alumni from the local school Indiana University. This includes former basketball players and current players in the NBA. It includes people who have gone on to build successful businesses. Returning guests even include IU alum Mark Cuban.
Why do they come back and b-line for Buffa-Louie’s? Because that restaurant is a part of the culture of this town. The Bloomington experience wouldn’t be complete without going there. I’m sure there is a restaurant in your college town or home town that’s the same way for you.
Thinking about your own brand in this context you should start to think about what do you want to be to this community? Whether your community is local or across the country or even global, you are building a community of connections. Either you are disrupting them with your content or you are adding to their lives with it. Don’t you dare jump in unless you are going to entertain, inspire, or serve. Because those are the things that make being a part of a culture worth it.
Paradigm Shift #2 — Brand drives all attribution channels
One of the big challenges that marketing agencies and in-house teams face is tracking channel attribution. What our clients want and what we want is to know what piece of marketing content and which landing page and which button lead to the final sale. We should, as much as possible, try to figure that out for a vague sense of what is actually working. In future articles, I’ll even outline how we do that using Periodic Booking Campaigns. However, you do have to take the results with a little bit of a grain of salt because branding influences attribution channels before a prospective client even gets in the funnel.
In fact, that person who ultimately becomes a client will probably already have an idea that they are ready to purchase from you because they have seen previous top of funnel brand awareness and organic content and they just happened to see the latest ad that reminded them to look at your offer. But the credit goes to the conversion ad when the brand awareness ads and organic content is what did the heavy lifting.
Branding is like greasing the wheels to every attribution channel you have, even account-based marketing, relationship driven sales, and word of mouth. In the book Never Eat Along, Keith Ferrazzi quotes, “The killjoy says: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your company. I don’t know what your company stands for. I don’t know your company’s products. I don’t know your company’s reputation. Now — What was it you wanted to sell me?”
“The killjoy says: I don’t know who you are. I don’t know your company. I don’t know what your company stands for. I don’t know your company’s products. I don’t know your company’s reputation. Now — What was it you wanted to sell me?”
So often we just want to go for the kill in everything we do. In our marketing, in our sales, we just want to pitch because we have so much urgency wrapped up in making the next sale and trying to drive revenue. But when you move too fast it’s like trying to reach the top step of a staircase from the bottom. You have to take one step at a time and branding is that first step.
LinkedIn recommends spending 60% of your efforts on branding efforts and 40% on demand generation. This is a big shift for many companies who insist on going for the kill everytime. But here’s why it might work out in your favor. The truth is, no matter how hard we try to target, we just don’t know how far along in the marketing funnel an individual is when they see a piece of content or an ad. They could be seeing your content for the first time but have high buying intent, or they could have been a long time viewer of your content but they aren’t any closer to buying than they were on day one. You just can’t make that prediction with the tools we have available today.
But when your branding content is high value in and of itself, the cost of delivering brand awareness or low intent consideration ads is much cheaper than if you ran a focused conversion ad on the same platform. This creates engaged viewers for a lower cost. While this may change tomorrow, it is true today. This means that while people may be seeing a consistent presence of your brand content, when they decide they are ready to buy (and no sooner) they will find a way to track down your actual acquisition channel, whether that be your website or a click through from a google ad to your website. Again, in this instance, Search or Direct Refer gets the credit but brand is what did the heavy lifting.
This paradigm shift is huge but your CEO or your clients will fight against it. They want to know where their money is going and that it is being effective. The truth is that while all of the social ad platforms and others have the capability to track acquisition channel results, that doesn’t mean that the proper channel is getting the attribution. So be careful! Recognize that all of your marketing efforts work in concert together and make sure to put the emphasis on the right KPIs. Ultimately, the KPIs that matter most are bookings and revenue, even as an agency.
Paradigm Shift #3 — Brand will never be a commodity
The third paradigm shift is that brand will never be a commodity. One of the leading problems that marketing agencies face when finding new clients is being able to differentiate themselves from the competition. Today it seems like everyone can design a website, everyone has a formula, and everyone offers everything.
The agency world is heavily subcontracted and many agencies have their core service offerings that they handle as a staff and then they use freelancers to contract the rest of the job. These full-service agencies leave themselves vulnerable in this way because they are going up against other agencies who operate the same way and offer the exact same things. On the other hand, some agencies have become hip and find that if they niche down and serve a specific category or industry that they can become the domain expert for their category. Both of these options are ways to get the customer to say yes. Both of these options have their pros and cons. Personally, I air towards niching down because expertise is extremely powerful.
When you compete as a full-service agency you are commoditizing your services against all of the other full-service agencies and you’re offering no differentiation between you and an agency that specializes. So one way to combat that is to also be an agency that specializes. Otherwise, the only alternative is brand.
The only reason they are getting more quotes is because they don’t trust that you can give them significantly better results than someone who is a little bit cheaper.
When you are the top brand for a select audience you erase competition from the conversation. People don’t want to spend all their time getting different quotes. The only reason they are getting more quotes is because they don’t trust that you can give them significantly better results than someone who is a little bit cheaper. That’s the only reason. So they look for other bids just to compare. But brand affinity doesn’t care about what others can do. That’s what makes Apple so powerful. People who love Apple don’t care how much more powerful and cheaper you can make a PC if you build it from component parts because they want the Apple brand. It says something about who they are. Component parts have no brand other than the fact that it makes the person who assembled it a “real” gamer, which also says something about who they are.
That’s brand. It’s taking the seal of a company and burning it on your chest and saying “I’m that kind of person.”
Now go work on your brand
You have been neglecting your brand for too long. Focusing on your own brand first matters more than most marketers give credit.
Remember this: The poor shoemaker’s kids have no shoes but the rich shoemaker’s kids have the best shoes. He knows that if his kids have the best shoes, all the other kids are going to beg their parents to take them to the rich shoemaker.
Go work on your brand. Press pause on client work and don’t stop until your brand is the freshest out of all of your clients.
Torlando Hakes, is the author of the book Sprint and host of such podcasts as The CTA Podcast, The PaintED Show, and No Trade Secrets. Torlando is open to meeting new friends and building a community of like-minded peers. You can jump on his calendar for a 1–1 anytime for advice, to share networks, for podcast interviews, and for help getting more bookings.
This article is syndicated from the Periodic Knowledge Base, which is a repository of articles and videos created for Marketing Agencies who are certified Periodic Agency Partners. As Agency Partners, they have a license to sell the Periodic white label booking platform to their clients helping them increase conversions through their website. Advanced features such as complex booking, dynamic forms, and automated email/text messages add to their agency tech stack and help them set themselves apart from other agencies and get better results for their clients.
Check out the Periodic Agency Partner Program at Periodic.is to set yourself apart from the competition, book more appointments for your clients, and retain them for longer.