Don’t Be An Irrelevant Expert: Branding Your Creative Agency

With all deference to other industries, positioning professional services especially creative services is no easy task. Ironically, agencies tasked with doing this very thing for their clients are incredibly challenged to make their own businesses stand out. My work with ad agencies, branding firms, and design shops has revealed that when they try to do it to themselves they perform an unsuccessful self-surgery.

This is because most follow a very familiar approach. They go through a linear and pedantic exercise of identifying strengths and weaknesses, talk about past work, float a tagline (e.g., The Most Creative Creative Agency), highlight and compare the this “brand new” positioning to competitors more or less after the fact.

Don’t Be An Irrelevant Expert: Branding Your Creative Agency image google break room 300x200Don’t Be An Irrelevant Expert: Branding Your Creative AgencyThen they identify a target market they hope will be interested. This leads to tactical communications covering the website, e-newsletter, a breakfast seminar series that ends after two attempts, and other generally accepted means of marketing. These agencies then we sit back and wait for the phone to ring. But it doesn’t.

Why? Because they made it all about them. They forgot that clients buy for their reasons not yours.

Many have taken this approach to illogical extremes. Ninety-nine out of one hundred creative agency websites will have ‘About Us’ and ‘Who We Are’ as their navigation and content. Brochures will be the same. White papers are devoid of real content with half of them talking “about us”. They are just thinly veiled sales pitches.

So creative agencies end up being positioned as the “Irrelevant Expert”. Instead of ‘about us’ it should be ‘about you’. Clients are buying solutions that will improve their business. We think they are buying us. It is a subtle but important point and that is why positioning creative services is so difficult.

There are three things to remember when branding your agency. The first is that one unique differentiator is elusive. Everyone tries struggles to get that beautiful positioning, that succinct statement, the cocktail party explanation of what they do. But what makes anything unique is actually a mix of attributes, talents, and accomplishments. So while it is great to be clear and concise, I never recommend oversimplifying or dumbing down the complexity and value of what you provide.

The second point to note is about drive and direction. Many of my clients start off conversations with tactical queries. Should I be on Facebook? Are print brochures still relevant? Or they want to pen the most elaborate and expensive marketing program untethered from the business strategy. Those who actually win at marketing demonstrate a constancy of purpose that allows flexibility in strategy and tactics. I borrowed that phrase from Benjamin Disraeli who said, “The secret of success is constancy of purpose.”

I have seen this expressed another way by Andrew Rolfe of the quick service food shop Pret A Manger. He said, “We’re not concerned about having consistency of brand so much as about a constancy of purpose that flows throughout the whole organization. It doesn’t actually matter what we write on the napkins or say through advertising, all that matters is that when you go into a Pret shop you get that set of experiences that Don’t Be An Irrelevant Expert: Branding Your Creative Agency image it wouldnt be googly if it didnt have a space for employees to unwind 300x200Don’t Be An Irrelevant Expert: Branding Your Creative Agencydescribes Pret.”

The third point is nothing is static. Brands are never fully built. Marketing is an ongoing experiment meant to anticipate and satisfy the goals and objectives of our clients. So how you position and market your agency is the truest demonstration of your abilities (no pressure!). Your positioning and marketing needs to express relevance, establish credibility, and highlight differentiators.

In determining this remember again that it is not about you – it is about your clients. It is all about the problems you can solve for them. Professional and creative services took a wrong turn in the 1970’s when management consultants became rock stars, creative directors became divas, designers became brands, and lawyers became celebrities. Focus on the client became subservient to the idea that they needed us more than we needed them and that has never been the case.

To stand out ask yourself these questions:

  • What problem are you trying to solve? (difference & relevance)
  • Who wants or needs our solution? (desired clients)
  • How do they like to be engaged? (communication & engagement plan)

This is ‘simply hard’ stuff. Each question produces a bunch more but this is where it starts. Visit my website to download a full paper on this topic. Remember your brand is not static and it is never fully built. Enjoy the ride, have fun with it, and experiment with confidence.

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