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Evolving What It Means to be An Agency

So, I have been thinking about change…a lot.

As I look back over the last 11 years (since The Buddy Group’s inception) it has been our team’s ability to evolve and force change that has provided some of our greatest fuel for growth.

This week I will be speaking to a group of business leaders and fellow CEOs about a point of view we (at The Buddy Group) have had for a while.

The premise of the topic is simple for entrepreneurs to grasp as most entrepreneurs are by their very nature mavericks and risk-takers, looking to disrupt static industries or blaze trails to create categories fertile for monetization. Despite the inherent understanding of the importance of change, for most change is often difficult to define and implement.

Why?

Because change can be very scary! I am attracted to and invest in business leaders, inventors and creators who face the fear head-on and embrace change.

Change is a stance that’s ingrained into our own business and company culture at The Buddy Group, so much so that it anchors our own mission statement.

The Buddy Group is evolving what it means to be an Agency.

The agency model is broken, retainers are rarely mutually beneficial and client perception of agency value is at best, strained. At the same time, today’s consumer (user) behavior changes, often overnight. We are seeking to disrupt the agency model, build long-term relationships powered by success and in-turn, change the way clients perceive working with an agency. Evolving an agency requires several things, most importantly being bold and helping others to do the same.

Being bold in business today means understanding your audience’s needs and behaviors in real-time. It means creating a culture at your company where informed change- leveraging data and evolving customer expectations- forces frequent change.

So how exactly should a brand BE bold?  It starts with being true to who you are. We have all been at those parties where someone in the room is trying too hard to be something that they are not. Sure there are a few people in the room who fall for it, but generally speaking people can sniff out the bull-shit.


#1  Be authentic
Bold is forward thinking, bold is imaginative, and bold is brave.  That is…until it’s not.  Marketers must be careful, because bold can very easily lose its courage and daring.

How?  By losing its authenticity.  There is a fine line between authentic (connecting with the audience) and being inauthentic (being self-centered and turning them off).  

Be authentic by being aware of your audience.  Develop the storyline of your brand according to your audience and always have their needs in mind.  Consumers expect this more than ever.


#2  Have change happen because of you, rather than to you
Change is happening in your business right now. Are you calling it out and embracing it? More so, what may work now may not work six months from now, simply because technology and consumer behavior change faster than ever before.

As business leaders, we must feed off that change, adapt accordingly, and evolve just as quickly, in order to create something that has a lasting impact and stays relevant. This does not mean implementing change just for the sake of changing.

Make change happen because of you.  When you make an emotional connection with your audience, it then leads to a change of behavior.  Base change on information garnered by data.


#3  Know what to do with (big) data
Big data is a large volume of information that can be analyzed to reveal trends and patterns in how consumers interact and behave.  

The people of today’s world (both consumers and marketers alike) are in a new era where data simply floods them.  With desktop computers and personal mobile devices at their fingertips, consumers are able to access more information than ever before, and at a faster rate than ever before.

Marketers meanwhile, are able to see how consumers interact with this information.  With this influx of data volume, it is easy to assume that marketers have everything they need to pinpoint exactly what consumers are looking for.

Not true.

The volume or amount of data in itself is not useful.  Big data, no matter how vast in volume, will be just a useless pile of information sitting on a hard drive if you do not correctly leverage it.

The real worth of big data is knowing what to do with that data when it arrives on your desk.  You must know how to extract the information and then turn that into solid strategy and decisive planning.  Big data simply informs us, but it is what you do with that information that is the true key to success.

So what do we do with that data exactly?  We use it to focus on the personalization of the brand.


#4  Place importance in the personalization of brand messaging
No matter if you are building a B2B brand working with channel partners or a consumer focused consumer packaged goods company, we must understand that brands are not one-size-fits-all. There are many levels of personalization, and brands need to understand their specific truth to know where they fall in that spectrum.

With brand personalization, it is important to note that there is a fine line between normal personalization and creepy personalization.  Creepy is characterized by personalization that feels forced, inauthentic, and too...well...creepy. Despite the ability, Starbucks doesn’t give you mobile alerts telling you that you have a full day of meetings ahead and suggesting you to grab a shot of espresso. Starbucks would rather make the process of ordering more efficient and create a great customer experience than leverage creepy means of marketing to their valued customers.

The creepy side of personalization has spawned huge backlash in digital advertising with ad blockers, yet another reason why the agency model has to change...dramatically.

Personalization of brand needs to be welcomed by the user and of value to them.  This can be done by having created a connection between the consumer and the brand, rather than using impersonal marketing techniques.  Build your business on relationships and focus your brand’s messaging AND your product around the features and benefits that speak to each segment.  As we have learned from our client, Mozilla - always respect the consumer. In return, they will be loyal to you as a result.


#5  Form a mutual story with your audience
In the 80s a movie debuted that would end up becoming a childhood classic.  It told the story of a schoolboy, who becomes engaged in a story and he begins to see himself in the story as it unfolds .  That book was called The Never-Ending Story. Some people loved that weird looking flying dog and others thought it was freaky and gave them the heebie-jeebies.

What is important is that his feelings about the journey and the characters start manifesting in the book.  His desires, his dislikes, his fears, and his insecurities affect the outcome of the story.  That book’s story becomes part of his story.

Think about that: As businesses begin to get data back from interactions at retail, sales calls or website engagement, the brand begins to provide value and personalize the story and evolve chapter over chapter. Through our individual experience with the brand, each of us develops our own unique journey.  And the brand’s story begins to evolve according to that interaction.

We all have those brands that have already done this for us.  These are brands that have become such a part of our everyday lives that they seem baked into our DNA.  For some people, Apple has done this.  And for others, Tesla has.  Loyalists of Apple and Tesla will cheer for the success of its products and wholly defend these brands because they feel that the product, brand, and experience was crafted with them in mind. They feel that these brands truly  respect their time and appreciate their business models.


#6  Prioritize the experience of the customer
There is a distinct difference between customer experience and the experience of the customer.  Customer experience is atmospheric and generalized (one size fits all).  Meanwhile, the experience of the customer is more related to how well a brand personalizes experiences for their audience, authentically leveraging technology in a more 1 to 1 manner.
 
For example: Potential clients who are looking for business-to-business partnerships are doing their research on personal devices, on personal time.  They are using mobile phones at home on the weekends to research potential business partners. Afterall, businesses are still run by people, and decisions are still made by people.

Catering to mobile devices over desktop devices personalizes that experience for that customer. A prospect is welcoming you into their home, on to their sofa to engage in a conversation around a potential deal; you better respect them and give them an experience that gives them exactly what they are looking for as quickly as possible without much looking.

In the past, marketers may have only had to worry about developing a brand for one customer persona.  But in this day and age, there may be five or more different customer personas per product or service.  And for each of those personas, their behaviors could and will change.

In that case, marketers must create a framework to understand those behaviors, the tools they use, and the platforms they are on, then adjust with how rapidly all those factors change.  Marketers must ask themselves, “What are the personas that matter most, and what is the ideal customer journey based on that?”


#7  Stay bold- Continue to evolve
So what happens when you nail it? Others are going to follow and begin to look and sound very familiar to you. Another great reason to embrace change and continue to evolve. 

pete-deutschman
by Pete Deutschman
Meet Pete

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