Fail Image The marketing services industry is broken.

There are of thousands of marketing firms trying to position their firm as unique and better, but the results they produce for clients are rarely better or unique.

Companies are lost trying to figure out whether to start with a Web designer, SEO company, PR firm or branding expert. These different flavors of firms are competing for the same shrinking budget dollars, instead of cooperating to ensure client success.

During a time when the Internet and software have made it easier and easier for marketing to impact sales and revenue growth, agencies are failing to predict and deliver a measurable ROI .

Even now as the traditional ways of marketing and advertising are dying a rapid death, marketing and ad agencies are still trying to adapt the old methods, terminology and approaches to a much more promising and more natural inbound marketing world; a world where buyers naturally find sellers and sellers simply make it easier for buyers to find them and buy from them.

It's time for a rebirth of this industry. There will be firms that lead us in this renaissance. There will be agencies who lead us in this revolution. We believe that these will be the truths they hold self-evident:

Digital natives are empowered.

An agency can learn the "digital world," but chances are they've just adapted their old offerings to the web. If your agency hasn't hired smart, young people and paired them with open minded senior "people" people, you're not going to really transform your agency as fast as the market is. They should be digital natives . Even most of my friends who are in their mid-thirties are not really young enough to be called digital natives. Don't try to be a wolf in sheep's clothing.

New approaches are practiced before preached.

If your agency suffers from the cobbler's children's shoes scenario (where your website hasn't been updated in 3 years, you don't have an active blog and your Twitter account has 3 updates), drop everything. You should take the cash flow hit, work on your own business for awhile, and upgrade your experience and skills. You should be ashamed of yourself for experimenting primarily on your clients' dimes. Prove that this stuff works or partner with someone who knows how to make it work and follow their advice. Then, get back to selling and servicing. 

Continuous learning and experimentation is required.

I received a call from a gentleman the other day whose first words were, "I received a Website Grader report from my client that you sent him and instead of reading your site for an hour to try to figure it out, I figured I'd just call and talk to a human. Can you tell me what you do?" He also told me he was an SEO consultant, so I suggested he just go to Website Grader to read the report. He then insisted on me telling him what we did. So, I explained how our software helped people attract more traffic, convert more traffic into leads and leads into sales, and then measure and analyze each step of the process to enable continuous improvement.  After I asked him a few questions about what software he used, which turned out to be nothing besides some SEO tools, I told him how our software helped agencies more efficiently deliver value by providing an integrated suite of tools that talked to each other. Then, at his prompting, I explained what the different tools did. He cut me off in the middle of that and said, "I guess I'm just going to have to read your site. I'm sick of all of you companies making me read your sites to figure out what you do." 

It was fairly obvious to me after this conversation, that this guy was mad that a) his client was questioning whether he was doing a good enough job, b) that other companies have different (and possibly better) ways of doing things and c) that he had to learn something new. 

What are you doing to prevent your agency from getting this far behind? Do you require that your employees continuously learn and experiment?  Are you pulling your clients into the state of the art of marketing -- or are they pushing you to do basic research? 

Analytical skills are celebrated.

Analytical skills are critical. If your people can't read graphs and make conclusions, send them back to school for basic math skills. If half of your team can't create a pivot table or a graph in excel, you need to start hiring rapidly for these skills. 

Digital reach is paramount.

If your Outlook contact or (gasp!) paper rolodex has more contacts than your Twitter account, you need to get yourself current with 2010.

Content creation is core.

We've been saying that " content is king " for a decade now, haven't we? If you're still telling people to redo their branding instead of starting a blog, you need to take a long look in the mirror and ask yourself, "Am I really doing the right thing for my client?" If you want your clients to be successful online, you need to create content every day and forever. If your agency isn't leading with this as your core offering, you're leading with the wrong stuff. Figure out your branding later. Link flow doesn't matter on your client's 100-page site. Work out their messaging on their blog until they get it right. Ask them to start their blog yesterday.

Being generalists first and specialists second is encouraged.

Advertising, PR, marketing, digital, SEO, Web design, Web development, PPC, social media -- these are all methods. A good agency focuses on their clients' growth in traffic, leads, and sales and brings the right methods to bear. The best agencies have some specialist skills in house. However, most stay lean, excel at project management and outsource work to specialists. From writing to design to development, companies with all of this in-house have to chase business to keep people busy, instead of choosing to help the businesses that they can help the most. Agencies of the future act as advisors engaging the right resources at the right time.

Is your firm ready to lead this revolution? Are you? Do you practice these approaches? Are you embracing the opportunity? Or are you still fighting the inevitable march of inbound marketing?

Photo by Hans Gerwitz

 

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Originally published Feb 16, 2010 10:14:00 AM, updated March 21 2013