It’s OK to be different. When it comes to your agency’s new business program, differentiated positioning is the foundation.
Given the near-demise of the Agency of Record concept, differentiation has never been more critical. Today, clients work with a network of agencies they can draw on, assigning work on a project-by-project basis that plays to strengths. Singular relationships (and the retainers agencies long enjoyed) are practically extinct.
One of the first things I’m usually asked when I first speak with prospects is, “What makes you different from my current agencies?”
If you can’t articulate concisely and clearly what you do, for whom you do it and how, your agency new business program is dead in the water.
Standing Out in the Crowd
Today, you really need to stand out. According to Ibis World, there are more than 66,000 advertising agencies in the United States. Most of these agencies look and sound the same. Their pitches also look and sound the same:
- Full service
- Wide range of experience
- Committed to our clients
- Customize our services
- Results driven
- Our clients are our partners
If you see phrases like “wide range” or “full service” in a brand statement, it’s usually a sign the agency has been unable or unwilling to name what it stands for.
Economists would call the market for agencies “perfectly competitive,” with low barriers to entry and products and services that are all too easy to copy.
Too many agencies are fearful that a narrow focus feels small. Consequently, they are unwilling to plant a stake in the ground that says: “This is what we stand for” because they fear missing out on business.
Firms compensate by saying their work is better than that at other firms, and that that’s what makes them different.But simply being better isn’t different. Only different is different.
Positioning Creates Value for Potential Clients
Your firm exists to create value for clients. Positioning is how you articulate that value to clients. Brands sell themselves based on the perceived value, not the costs. But the ever-popular refrain, “We’re creative” is not a credible statement for value-creation.
Positioning is the way to approach prospecting strategy. That means focusing your firm not on a wide approach but on specific markets where you can create uncontested value. Think of this space as the “blue ocean” where no one else is sailing. With today’s multi-agency model, clients want best-of-breed agencies. Think of it this way. If your child was experiencing an irregular heartbeat, would you feel better taking them to a general practitioner or would you seek out a cardiac specialist?
Today’s most interesting and powerful brands are at the edges because they’re doing different things and doing them differently. It may feel like common sense to play in the middle, but it’s actually the least desirable place to be. Safe doesn’t cut it.
Placing the Value Proposition
Your value proposition for agency new business should sit at the crossroads of relevance and differentiation.
Your work needs to be highly relevant to your dream client to meet a need, whether it’s a certain audience, a platform, a style, a technology, or an approach. You can then establish your position within that nuanced space and show how your agency is different than all the others.
For your agency to be profitable, you need to position yourself not just for where the profits are, but for where the profits will be. Your value proposition will produce the most profit when you select a place on the value chain where the offerings are still scarce and underdeveloped.
For an agency used to being a generalist, this isn’t always easy. Positioning means deciding not only what business you’re in, but what business you’re not in.
If you’re still skeptical about the value of positioning, consider the impact it makes in three critical areas:
- Sales Advantage. By choosing when and where to compete, you gain a real advantage in those sectors. You’ll win more often.
- Price Premium. Positioned as a true expert in certain spaces means you can charge more for the privilege of working with you.
- Control. Positioning gives the agency more ability to guide the engagement. Clients are buying the expertise as much as if not more than the service.
Finding the Position
What differentiates an agency from the competition?
Not personality. Not process. Not price.
It is expertise and expertise alone that will set an agency apart in a meaningful way. Expertise allows the agency to interact with clients and prospects from a position of power and knowledge.
How do you determine that expertise? Begin by asking yourself these questions. The answers to these questions will help create a position statement that should concisely articulate the following:
What do we do?
- What are we selling?
- Where are we excellent?
- What are our outcomes?
- Where are we best in class?
Who do we it for?
- Audience types
- Who is our ideal client?
How do we do it?
- Philosophies or point of view
Why do we it?
- Purpose (Ask if your purpose transcends money.)
- What motivates us
It’s important at this stage to focus on substance first and style later. Don’t fall into the trap of worrying about “how to say it.”
Services that can command the absolute highest prices are those that the client could never duplicate, no matter how much time and money is thrown at the issue. That’s where differentiation is powerful.
With a clear strategy that makes it obvious that you stand for something, not everything, you’ll stop chasing business and start having business chase you.
You’ll find staff more energized with a more resonant articulation of what makes the agency unique. Their pitches and presentations will be more compelling, delivered with more confidence and conviction.
By playing to these strengths, you’ll see a stronger win ratio. This differentiation will also help align your sales and marketing in a unified approach to themes, messaging and consistency.
Where to Start
Before you begin taking the steps outlined here, it is wise to take step back … way back … and take a good hard look at your current positioning. Ask yourself the following:
- Does your value proposition feel authentic?
- Does it make your agency innately and intensely appealing?
- Does it have strong barriers to entry?
- Is it hard to find an exact substitute?
- Does it result in fewer competitors?
- Can you charge higher prices?
- Does it make your sales cycle shorter and less expensive?
- Have you created a new category?
If you answer yes to all those questions, congratulations. My bet is the answer to most is no. That’s the litmus test that a new approach to positioning that emphasizes differentiation is the right path to take. That differentiation will make all the difference. And it’s okay.