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Despite What Marketers Market, Marketing is Hard Work

Another agency in our neck of the woods went under this month. It had all the characteristics of a great agency – talented leadership, a world-class team of dedicated employees, a beautiful downtown location, and impeccable branding online with a premiere publication. They had proven internal processes that would target and attain traffic and drive that traffic to their clients. But it still went under.

I launched my agency 7 years ago. I joke (despite it not being that funny), that this is my 7-year startup. I’ve let the agency happily consume my life. We’ve had dramatic ups and downs in that time. The highest highs were jet-setting throughout the globe investigating marketing technology companies for investors. The lowest lows were laying off staff, not taking a salary, and still owing taxes.

We’re still around today but I can’t pinpoint why one agency with so much talent would be gone and we’re still going strong. Perhaps much of it is that failure is simply not an option. Another is that we have never gotten complacent in developing a process and selling it to the masses. We’re an agile shop that follows a framework (below), but always builds out custom solutions based on the gaps and opportunities our clients have.

Marketing Maturity Model

The irony is that everything you read online is how easy it is. The lists, the infographics, the ebooks, the platforms… everyone wants to tell you how easy it is to market and sell your products online. It’s not easy and it never has been. And the pace at which technology is assisting our decisions is barely keeping pace with the array of channels, mediums, and customer demands.

Marketers can only really market themselves on two things – results or price. Results require time and resources, but clients often come to us with neither. They want a magic bullet. Too many agencies are happy to sign them up and set expectations that they are the magic bullet, only to be fired by the client down the road for missed expectations. I see some agencies with incredible outbound sales teams that recognize this, don’t care, and just go sell one client after another.

But This Agency is Different

A few years ago, I had a colleague that was a business partner call me up and tell me about the amazing agency he just hired to assist in his inbound marketing. They were far more expensive than my agency, but they had worked in his industry for a decade and had a unique program that would deliver exceptional results. I scratched my head and told him I was disappointed he didn’t ask for our help. He looked at me and said, “You don’t understand, this agency is different.”

He was right, he fired them as soon as the contract was up. Not only that, the agency owned many of the resources so he walked out of the relationship with nothing.

It’s frustrating because that revolving door often leaves the disappointed client at our doorstep – with the budget wasted, and no time to rebound. No doubt that those clients hit this agency’s doorstep as well. One of the issues one of the founders brought to the surface was the lack of customer loyalty. We’ve seen a very similar issue – you work hard to move a customer forward and they leave you for a silver bullet (that never hits its target) or cheaper service.

When it really stings, we keep an eye on the client after they leave. For instance, this was a customer that we increased organic traffic and subscriptions that resulted in millions of dollars of revenue. It appears they’re right back to when we started helping them… so not only is the revenue gone, but so is the investment they made in our agency.


So What’s My Point?

I’m not going to pretend I know why some of these amazing agencies fail, but I have a feeling much of it is to do with hubris. It’s thinking that you’re different when you really aren’t. It’s thinking that you have a magic bullet when you really don’t. It’s thinking that you can help everyone when you really can’t. That’s not a criticism of the leaders and employees that poured their souls into their daily work, it’s just an observation.

We try to do a much better job in setting expectations for our clients that they’re buying our experience and our effort. Because those two things are exceptional amongst our peers, we are optimistic that we can move the needle for most companies. But both require very hard work. We have to absolutely lean on our experience to steer our clients away from mistakes and towards proven methodologies. And we have to apply all of our resources – across channels, across mediums and adapt quickly to changing demands.

If you’re not buying hard work, you shouldn’t expect superior results.

Douglas Karr

Douglas Karr is the founder of the Martech Zone and a recognized expert on digital transformation. Douglas has helped start several successful MarTech startups, has assisted in the due diligence of over $5 bil in Martech acquisitions and investments, and continues to launch his own platforms and services. He's a co-founder of Highbridge, a digital transformation consulting firm. Douglas is also a published author of a Dummie's guide and a business leadership book.

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