Having worked in the agency scene for some time now, I have been behind the curtain at big box agencies and websites and know exactly what they are good at and exactly what they are bad at. Here is a rundown of what they have that puts them at an advantage.
I have heard of them, I haven’t heard of you.
My measure for brand equity is simple: if my granny has heard of it, it has brand equity. If she hasn’t then they have no brand equity. Obviously this is an oversimplification, but asking a person in their twilight years for feedback is a highly valuable tool.
Millions of pounds of ad revenue
Budgets are likely to be higher but with bigger ability comes a bigger appetite, which I will show you how to exploit.
Enterprise level software
This is one of the major things I used to miss from working in a massive agency - having lots of enterprise tools like Hitwise and Gorkana and TGI to help scale your efforts. Now that our agency is able to afford these tools, I find I actually shy away from most of them apart from a few core essentials like Pitchbox for outreach.
An army of people to make things and create content
Sounds like a massive benefit. Who wouldn’t want an army of people to make your content and a have a bunch of expensive agencies to ideate over creative direction? On the surface, this sounds great. However, if you take an objective look at what is going on behind the scenes, you’ll see the following:
Two humans (the creative director & strategy director) make a plan and come up with some ideas that they think are subjectively good.
The ideas are then sent to a delivery team who map out the overall strategy and boil down the content ideas to the three best ones.
They then go see the client and pitch those ideas. The client team which is typically made up of a marketing manager (whose primary role is taking care of the company's balance sheet), a procurement manager (in charge of actually buying the end “thing”) and the wider marketing team (who, more often than not, are T shaped project managers - deep knowledge on managing agencies and resources, broad knowledge on the marketing disciplines themselves). Ultimately, no ‘creatives’ make the final decision. It’s just a random person's subjective opinion.
Together they make another subjective decision on what to do and the agency then executes against this.
The problem with this is it exposes the company to:
High flop risk: the ideas may or may not work, there is no contingency if it's a flop
Personal bias: ideas are often pitched with the client in mind, not the client’s customers
What they have that you don’t want
Layers of bureaucracy
When you operate at scale a lot of blue chip e-commerce sites have ‘channel managers’. These are people in charge of particular areas of the site. So if you want to implement an SEO change sitewide, you need sign off from all channel managers. Ouch.
Dolly Partons - working 9 till 5
Walk into your big competitor’s offices at 6pm any day of the week and it will look like the opening scene from Vanilla Sky - deserted. Why? Because there is no real incentive to work hard for the business and make a difference. I learned this the hard way when I up-sold new services to clients at my old job.
The company makes more money, I get an increased workload, and over time a renewed sense of apathy. Great deal, right?
An army of people
For the overstretched CMO trying to take care of brand communications, PR, social, SEO and PPC whilst going to speaking events meet ups and trying to fit in some time for a social life - a team of dedicated people to pick up some of this work seems like a dream come true. However, when we look at the makeup of that army of people, we can see that they are overwhelmingly junior resource.
Why? Because one of the undeniable facts about digital marketing (especially SEO) is that 50% of the activity is hard grinding work. Writing meta data, analysing screeds of crawl data, and manually reaching out to hundreds of people are all time consuming, challenging activities. When it comes to creative for marketing purposes, ask yourself: are there any 40-year-old creatives out there doing backflips at the chance of creating another branded infographic or Facebook ad? My guess is no.
My little anecdote is also backed by real data. Below is the search demand for marketing internships over the last 5 years.
Millions of pounds to spend on ads
Why is this a bad thing? The cash to spend is not a bad thing at all. But the way in which it is spent is the problem.
If you have a million to spend on your ads, you’re going to make a TV ad. You’re not going to spend that on smaller creative executions. Mostly because that’s been the tried and true method for the last 50 years. Sadly, it isn’t 1960 any more and TV as a marketing medium is taking a kicking from digital channels.
A cigar chomping CEO (who probably has an enlarged prostate and some early signs of male pattern baldness) who gets a kick out of seeing things on TV
The final decisions in major companies are usually made at the c-suite level, set for the quarter and then fed down through the subordinates. Unless you have a very modern and connected CEO, the disconnect from the front line of what's happening in your company can be very dangerous.
What do you have?
Speed and agility
If you wanted to change the hero image on your homepage to a picture of a velociraptor wearing a fashionable hat, like the amazing Easter egg on the Vogue UK site, you could do it in 60 seconds. But more practically, if you see something trending on social or notice that the Google doodle is something related to your business you can produce content and ride the wave of traffic and conversation around that topic.
By EU law there are a maximum number of hours that you are allowed to legally work in someone else’s business. However, you can work every hour in conditions that make a Foxconn factory worker shiver. And that right there gives you a competitive advantage.
Skin in the game
If you worked out your hourly rate based on the actual hours you work vs. your pay, Bob Geldof and Bono would probably try and hold a concert for you. Having personal cash or shares in a business makes you highly motivated to work to get the most favourable outcome. And when every positive action you take has a direct impact on your life, this is very motivating.
The way we run creative campaigns at Ideas Made is the opposite of the way they’re run by traditional creative agencies. We do the research upfront and create multiple campaign executions. We then test them all at the same time. The one that works get more attention and testing. We then rinse and repeat this process until we have a highly optimised campaign that has zero flop risk.
As a small business owner, you can test multiple brand messages, creative executions and content pieces and make decisions based on how your customers react to it..
Good looks and a debonair attitude
If you were one of Peter Pan’s lost boys, you would be Nibs.
What do you have?
Drive. What are you waiting for? Go forth and beat the giants. Or, if that feels a little bit too much like hard work, feel free to email us email@example.com and we will be happy to help.