Hello and welcome to the Newfangled Marketing podcast. This is a bi-weekly podcast that focuses on digital marketing topics that are of interest to marketing agencies specifically. We are Newfangled and we’re all about working with agencies across North America and Europe to help them get the most out of their own digital marketing efforts to generate leads for their firms. I’m Mark O’Brien, I’m the CEO of Newfangled.
I’m Chris Butler, I’m the COO of Newfangled.
Today we’re talking about a topic that is a lot of fun for us. The theme is that you should be somebody’s client. This is speaking to you, the agency. You’re always working with clients, right? You’re always serving your clients and it’s rare that you get to put yourself in the position of being the client, but there’s a quite strict paradox in the industry that really necessitates this idea of you being somebody’s client. That paradox is this: it’s seemingly impossible for marketing agencies to market themselves.
Yeah, which is ironic because you’re offering that service to your clients, so you get how to do it, but there is a block that happens when you try and do it for yourself. Mark and I were batting this around and I recalled this video that I saw, probably 15 years ago, called The Reel Truth. It’s a short video that I think made some waves in advertising at the time because it’s a satire of how advertising is made. It’s behind the scenes at the shoot of a commercial. They’ve recruited this kid right out of film school to make this commercial, he’s the director, but everybody’s telling him what to do. The gimmick of the video is that everyone is saying the truth. They’re saying things that would never be said.
Onto the set walks the producer with a guy in a suit with her and she introduces him as Bob, the brand manager. She says, “This is Bob, he’s here to make your life … What did you say Bob? A living hell?” He acknowledges this and he walks up to the camera and says, “Could I take a look through the camera,” to this director. The director says, “Sure.” He takes a look through the camera, and then he backs off and he sort of hums and haws a bit, and he says, “You know, I think we should go in tighter on this shot. I don’t know why, or even really what I’m talking about at all, but this is my one creative act of the year, other than choosing the color of my minivan.”
Which is hilarious of course, but the point is is that everybody, their creative impulses, their ego gets in the way. We’re all Bob the brand manager at some point in our lives and our careers, where we have this misplaced creativity. The whole purpose of hiring this director was to get an outside point of view on the advertising that need to be made. The whole point of this video is to show how often agencies get in the way of their better decision making.
Yeah, when firms and businesses of all shapes and sizes need help marketing themselves, well they hire a marketing agency. They hire you, right? The logic inside of the agency is, “We do this, so we should be able to do this for ourselves,” but the truth is we can’t do it for ourselves, there’s something that’s necessarily in the way. David Baker from ReCourses has a great analogy he uses for this, which is that you’re inside the milk bottle. You as the agency, you’re inside of your own milk bottle and you can’t read the label, it’s physically impossible.
We see this again and again. It is a very real truth. It’s also referred to as the cobbler’s children have no shoes, that thing which we hear way too many times. But it’s there because it is actually the truth. What we do is we work with agencies to really help them outside of that bottle, to give them the objective perspective, to shine a light on things. It’s fun, rewarding work to do because we get to work with these brilliant marketers and allow them to focus their own brain power and energy on their own work, which otherwise it seems like it’s…seemingly impossible.
What’s sort of a fundamental truth of all of the consulting that we offer for our clients, regardless of the subject of that consulting, is that it’s not that the agencies that we’re collaborating with don’t have the intelligence to go about answering these questions and solving these problems, it’s that they don’t have the structure to get to those answers. If they’re guided through that structure they can get to them, but that’s what we do, we provide the path, we show them the next step, we show them what questions need to be asked and we help them get the answers. That is everything from on the design side, information architecture and design, as well as content strategy and marketing automation and CRM, all those things are basically the same basic template. Can we create a structure that elicits the best decision making from our clients?
There are, as we just mentioned, so many different disciplines that fall into play, but the one we want to talk about today is that website portion, what goes on with the information architecture and design stage when an agency is trying to figure out how their own site should be structured. What goes on with the visual design stage, when the agencies, they’re trying to figure out how their site should be designed. When I go to speak to different agency networks I always do a survey of all the agencies ahead of time. One of the questions I ask all the people who will be in the room is, “Does your homepage very clearly state a differentiated positioning statement that clearly sets you apart from everybody else?” About 70% of the time the agency says, “Yes,” and then of course I do a review of each and every home page and the truth is that at best 5% of those agencies in the room actually are clearly differentiated.
But this is a big problem, because these agencies weren’t willfully lying, they’re just diluted. Again because they’re inside the milk bottle, they think the fact that they’re saying that they’re more creative, that they work harder, that they deal with complex problems, and all these things actually differentiate them. They believe that. They truly believe that, but the truth is it’s not. Also what’s going on is all agencies want to be different. They want to be unique, they’re creative firms, they need to show how unique they are. They employ all sorts of different tactics and tools on their website to show how unique they are. But what is sort of funny is that through employing all these tactics to become unique, they’re all different in the exact same way.
It’s just hard. It’s hard, and when I bring up all these things to make fun of agencies, don’t worry agencies, we love helping them. But because this is the only work we do we get to see these patterns and unearth these patterns. It’s the same thing, once you see that you’re doing this, that’s the first step to get out of doing it, to get on the right track.
Yeah, the drive to be different, to be interesting is a predictable one. As Mark said, usually the outcome is predictable too. But it is ironic because the methodology that needs to be employed for an agency to best articulate their expertise and to win business, the site actually needs to be standardized, it doesn’t need to be differentiated for the sake of being different. It would be like if you were a doctor and you thought, “You know, when I talk to my patients I should speak in Klingon because that would different.” But then no one would understand what you have to say. The format needs to be the same.
One example of this that I stumbled on recently, or kind of recently, was I was working with an agency, I was on the phone. We were talking about the creative that they were putting together. The creative director was showing me their concept for the home page of their site. This after several conversations we’ve had, so they had a lot of information to take in and to apply. They were showing me through this homepage and they were really excited about it, really proud also that they had nailed every bit of prioritization and information that I had recommended that they have on their home page. They really had.
We were scrolling through it and I was just taken aback by how beautiful it was and was really excited about it. Then at the end after they’ve explained every bit of information on the page, they said, “What do you think?” I said, “Look, could you scroll back up to the top of the page?” They said, “Yeah,” and so they scrolled up there. I said, “I know this is a sketch but what were you thinking you’d do for the navigation bar?” They said, “You know, since each row of the home page is covering one of the major sections of the site, we didn’t really feel like it was necessary. We felt like that was the best way to get them in and it would be more interesting that way.”
I was saying, “So wait, you’re saying that there’s no nav bar at all here.” They said, “Yeah, we just thought it would be a more interesting experience to get into the site.” Of course that’s completely wrong, so to try and make the point to them I said, “Look, imagine if you were building a house, designing a house and I was your architect and you showed up one day to the work site and you walk up to the house and you see that there’s no front door there. You say, ‘Chris, where’s the front door? I can’t get in the house,’ and I said, ‘Look, there’s a window for every room. I just thought it would be more interesting if you climbed through those. You’d still get in the house.'”
They get the idea, and that’s the point, agencies get what needs to be done. They get the right idea but it’s temporary, they get it temporarily. Every single time when they get into the creative process they start to forget and lose sight of the strategic objectives. There’s no system that holds them accountable.
Right. That’s our role. Any agency who’s listening to this will recognize this pattern. It’s the exact same thing you do with and for your clients. It’s the exact same thing. It’s not as if your clients are stupid, it’s not as if you’re stupid. It’s just the fact that you need to be somebody’s client. You need help from outside, objective expert help. It’s an interesting thing to think of, but the main issue here is that agencies assume they can market themselves but they can’t. What ends up happening is they end up feeling really guilty about not doing it, and it never really goes anywhere, and then they feel guilty, so something happens.
They decide to take it seriously and put together some marketing strategy for themselves and they implement it about 30% of the way and it manifests on the website as a band-aid and then the same things happens 9 months after that, and then you get band-aid after band-aid after band-aid, and each band-aid made sense in its own unique direction but you have this marketing scheme and marketing platform that’s this assembly of band-aids and from the outside looking in it makes no sense. It’s really fun for us to be able to be the medics that come into that situation and clean it up.
So much of it comes down almost every single time to positioning, in the sense that when I was talking with that agency that I just referenced and they said, “We think it would be more interesting if we did it this way,” I said something off the cuff that I ended up writing down because I wanted to remember to say that to most agencies. If your business is interesting, then you don’t need to make the page experience and figuring the information interesting. That needs to be straightforward. You need to put the emphasis in the right place.
As a case in point with these guys, they are a pretty generalist firm and they’re working on identifying and positioning, and they desire that. But for the time being they’re pretty generalized, and that means that it’s harder and harder for them to make the value proposition and the point of their business, to make an interesting value proposition clear. That’s always at the root of all of these decisions.
Yeah. We implement a system called the entrepreneurial operating system, that’s also referred to as traction. We have traction meetings every week and every quarter off site. One of the things we did as a group recently was we read a book that Chris has suggested, which is Deep Work. The main point of that book was that we’re now in a knowledge economy. Knowledge is the primary thing that’s being purchased and the primary way in which firms are being evaluated. Agencies historically have been used to get evaluated not through knowledge but through creativity, which of course stems from knowledge but the manifestation that they think is the evaluation set is the creative.
That’s not the case anymore. The creative needs to be strong, but the truth is clients don’t know the difference between really great creative and just great creative. You’re not going to win on creativity, you’re going to win on knowledge. And that comes down to positioning, what do you know? The whole purpose of all this marketing is simply to hold a mirror to expose the mind share inside of the firm, to expose the expertise and to make all that great expertise that fuels the creativity, but it’s the source of the creativity, to make that accessible to all of your prospects and you current clients for the purpose of keeping them on and deepening those relationships.
Yeah, it’s all about positioning, it’s all about making things as easy as possible. You were mentioning earlier Chris, before we started recording this, the idea that when a prospect gets to your site, they want to do the right thing, they want to go through the right steps. It’s just that so many of us put so many barriers on our site, often times in the name of being different or being creative or trying to stand out, that actually impede the progress and they take off. They’re like fish, they want to get to the right spot but if there’s a big rock in the water they’re just going to swim around it. They’re going to go elsewhere.
Right, everyone wants to be informed, otherwise you’re not going to spend any time on any website. The question is, is that possible? Has the person who’s designed that site made the right decisions to make that possible? Actually in our next episode we’re going to talk about a couple of specific ways that that can happen. One thing that I wanted to piggyback on that Mark said about capabilities, when an agency feels like they need to prove their creativity through the site, that’s always such a sad concept to me because it’s like, “What about all the work that you’ve done for your clients, isn’t that the proof? Isn’t that the manifestation of your expertise and intelligence?”
The site needs to create the context for explaining your expertise and share that expertise and really guide somebody through the concepts that you think are necessary to doing your work. But then the work should stand for itself, and if your site is your best piece of work then that’s the wrong priority and the wrong place. Again another anecdote, I had a conversation with another agency and this a big agency that does incredible work. We were looking at a design that they were putting together for a case study template and it was really ornate, really complicated, pretty difficult to scan and understand, a lot getting stuffed into it and a lot of it running contrary to some recommendations we’d made on the IA (information architecture) side.
After a long conversation about this, the creative director said, “Look, you don’t understand, this site has to be well designed, it has to show that we get design.” I said, “I do understand that, but this page shows you don’t get design. In fact what it shows is that, it’s kind of like you saying, ‘Look, in order to prove to someone that I can drive I have to drive a Ferrari.'” It’s like, “No, you need to learn how to drive and show that you can drive. It has nothing to do with the car.” It’s a common thing, it’s totally understandable. I think one thing that makes us interested in doing this kind of work and being decent at it, is that we have direct experience, having made these mistakes and we have empathy for where they come from. We really have a desire to guide people to solutions, as opposed to just beat them over the head, telling them they’re wrong.
Yeah, and we talk about positioning all the time, and there are great consultants in the field like David Baker and Blair Enns and Tim Williams who really help at helping agencies figure out what their positioning ought to be, but one of the main reasons you want to be positioned is because you want to be a focused expert. You become a focused expert by looking at the same problems again and again and again and again, and doing pattern matching. You see these issues and you see the themes, and we see it all the time, whenever we’re dealing with an agency they think that their problems are so personally unique, but they’re not.
Pretty much all agencies suffer from all the exact same things for the exact same reasons. It’s not that you failed in some unique way at all, your experience is very, very common and there are really clear ways out of those trouble spots. It’s fun for us to help agencies through that, but in summary the idea is you need to be somebody’s client, even though you are brilliant marketing minds, it’s just really difficult for agencies to give themselves the proper attention and focus, especially over time and not let client work distract you from that. Then when it comes to your site specifically, making it easy – making it really, really easy on the prospect. Let the prospect do what they want to do, which is to learn about you and discover as much as they can about you without any creative road blocks.
In the next episode we’re going to talk as I mentioned about a couple specific ways of doing that, but that’s it for this time. One thing we’ve realized is that we’re discovering the structure of this whole experience and we don’t really ever point people to where they can learn more about this stuff, learn more about stuff. You can find information about all of these topics and more at newfangled.com. We’ve got blogs and white papers and webinars. You should subscribe to all of those immediately and take it all in. Mark can people find you specifically?