The Story of Your Agency BrandBy Tim Williams
Ignition Consulting Group
Agencies often cite “brand storytelling” as a core strength. So consider your positioning strategy as a story — the story of how and why your firm came to be, what it loves to do, what it cares about, and how it thrives against competitors.
Of course the problem most brands have — including most professional service firms — is that they don’t really have a differentiating brand story. So they rely on some form of marketing — the website, the company brochure — to make one up anyway. These invented stories are almost universally weak and uninteresting because they’re not based on any kind of unique value proposition. Strong brands have a strong narrative — an interesting answer to the question, “Tell me about your firm.”
As novelists know, good stories almost always include an element of conflict — an antagonist of some kind. This is why your brand story must articulate not just what you’re for, but what you’re against. Not just who you are, but who you are not. Not just what you do, but what you don’t do, and why.
Unleveling the playing field
Simply mirroring what other firms do is not only a strategic but a tactical mistake. Rather than investing time and energy making their firms “incomparable,” most agencies offer up the same standard list of services and capabilities, making it easy for both clients and search consultants to compare one firm against another. Your job as a professional services firm is to unlevel the playing field; to make it difficult to compare your firm with others. In new business situations, most firms attempt to answer this challenge by saying that their work is better than other firms’, and that’s what makes them different. But simply being better isn’t different. Only different is different.
A general market appeal is no appeal at all
Most agency professionals make the mistaken assumption that their firms will grow faster by targeting the “general market.” But the most successful brands are squarely focused on a particular segment of the market. They know that depth is a much more effective strategy than breadth. This is particularly true for professional service firms, whose product is their intellectual capital.
Imagine a sculptor not willing to risk chipping away enough of the marble to reveal the fine detail of what makes a beautiful human form. This is similar to the behavior of professional firms not willing to risk a clearly defined strategy. They’re afraid to chip away at the generalities of their business strategy until they get to something concrete and specific. This is because they perceive “general” to be less risky than “specific.” In actuality, a “general market” appeal is no appeal at all.
A call to arms
Remember, service is a commodity. Smart thinking is not. Clients can get good service anywhere, but proactive thought leadership is in short supply. In fact, many surveys that seek to diagnose why clients switch firms produce the same answer: “Because our firm never gave us anything we didn’t ask for.”
You can only provide marketing leadership if you are focused on doing something well (instead of attempting to do everything.) Marketing firms are capable of creating tremendous value for their clients. It’s time for agencies to not just to work on behalf of brands, but to invest the intellectual and financial capital required to build strong brands of their own.
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