Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Understanding our space; what is a marketing agency?

There is a lot of confusion in the local, small, and regional business arena as to what a Marketing Agency actually does. This is mainly because of the exploitation of several "buzz words" by companies that seem to claim to do the same things that an actual agency does. For example, your local signage store than tells you they can help brand your company or the place where you order your promotional items, like pens and mousepads with your logo on them, saying that they are a branding specialist. It's also the newspaper that tells you they can design your ad for free or for a little charge when you buy space in their paper or the t-shirt printer that tells you that ordering your shirts printed from them includes doing the art work. It's the guy that bought a video camera from Best Buy telling you that he can shoot a web video for you by himself for cheap or a sales rep from a print shop telling you that they also do collateral materials such as brochures, folders, and point-of-service materials and design is just a $100 more. These buzz words are being used to help these companies obtain business in a difficult economy, I get it. But they are also misleading business owners as to what true marketing, branding, and advertising really is. Unintentionally, maybe, but it's happening and business owners are confused and misled by it.

A marketing agency, aka a marketing firm, is a company the specializes in bring your product or service to market using the most efficient and effective means possible. They do not sell products or tools for getting your product or service to market, though they will definitely use several to do the job. Their function is primarily to counsel their clients in the best ways to bring their product/service to market and creating the strategies and tools to do it. Their expertise is what their clients pay for.

Reformation Productions is a marketing agency like BBDO, McCann-Erickson, Ogilvy & Mather, Shelton Communications, JWT, etc. We happen to focus on small and regional business and are much younger than these which is why we are the least expensive marketing agency in our area. But we are a full service marketing firm just the same. You've seen the movies "Like Father, Like Son" and "What Women Want"... that's what we do. We obsess over the best, most efficient, and effective ways to market your product/service. Most people have no idea the detail, research, and thought that goes into bringing products/services to market... nor do most cognitively appreciate the brilliance that is behind things like the subliminal, forward pointing arrow that's hidden within the red, white, and blue Federal Express logo. But that is what marketing agencies do. And, yes, we get offended by others that claim to play in the same sandbox we do but don't put the same care, detail, and thinking into what they are doing but rather try to "make a quick buck". When confronted, most will admit they they don't and can't do what a marketing agency does but that hasn't stopped them from misleading and confusing companies. This is how companies can be in business for 15 years and still think their brand is their logo or their slogan. They've trusted someone who told them something that simply wasn't true. And, yes, that offends marketing agencies also. How dare you abuse the trust that companies put in professionals that claim to do marketing simply because you never "really said" that you did real marketing. It's what my grandfather used to call "talking the talk but not walking the walk."

Marketing Firms get into the origins and personality of a company then dive into the mind and heart of the company's consumers only to resurface with a smart, comprehensive strategy for bringing those two entities together in a mutually beneficial relationship that will last. We determine the best most applicable tools and methods to reach your customers then we build the creative elements necessary, based on what we've learned your customers will respond to, to carry out those strategies through the tools..whatever they may be. It's not about 'do we build websites' or 'manage social media' or 'conduct consumer research' or 'design ads and brochures' or 'buy media to place your ad in'... it's about the thinking behind those things and ensuring that everything falls in line perfectly and proactively according to the thinking that was uncovered.

So yes, we do web design, social media, radio spots, web videos, tv commercials, business consulting, branding, consumer research, print ad design, campaign development, billboards, vehicle wraps, direct mail, etc...all of us do. That's where the full service part comes in.... but it's not what marketing is all about. It's only a small piece of it. And if you are considering working with a company that does some of, part of, or things in addition to these elements... beware, you may not be working with a marketing agency at all... but someone who dabbles in certain pieces of it.

All marketing agencies use print shops (because we aren't printers); newspapers, radio stations, and tv networks (because we aren't media); signage companies (because we don't manufacture signage), etc. It's not these these companies are bad people. But they are...what they are... at their core, what do they do? Would you use a pediatrician to conduct ovarian surgery? Both are in the medical field and both have to do with children? No? Why? Because it's not their core function. We are here, in the small & regional business arena, to help growing companies reach professional marketing; to use all the thoughts, principals, theories, and schoolings of the marketing firm arena; for businesses that may not be able to afford to larger, older corporate agencies. But yes, we are more expensive than the print shop that says they will layout your brochure for you, but then again, they don't do what we do... if you call up BBDO, you'll find we are MUCH more inexpensive :) And besides, you've worked your life into your company, isn't it worth more than "who's cheapest"? Try this, the next time one of these vendors or media reps ask for to design your ad in their paper, ask them who you are. Ask them who your customers are. Ask them how your customers think? Ask them why someone would want to do business with you or buy from you. Ask them if they can match consistency across all your marketing materials. Then compare the level of work. Smart and effective or just getting by?

We, the marketing agencies, are also not a design firm. I know several colleagues who get upset when their clients tell them how to design their ad, brochure, etc. You see, marketing agencies are their to serve your company's brand and to do what is best for it... not to design something according to how a client personally likes it. Their job is to tell their clients what they should and should not do when it comes to creative and strategy. "Don't I get some input?" of course you do! Heavens yes! It's your company! But there is a level of trust and respect that must be there between and true marketing firm and their clients for the partnership to truly work. Using a marketing firm as a design house is simply wasting your money. Then again, so is hiring them to consult you on what's best then you going out and trying to find somewhere to create what they've built because you think it's less expensive (it's also offensive to the marketing agency)....because it won't be right, most of the time, and they'll have to rebuild it anyway or tell your other guy how. Remember, you pay them to know what to do to best serve your brand...and cutting corners won't be part of it. Efficient spending and wise decisions, yes. That's the goal of marketing... to find the most cost effective way to bring your product to market in a way that is reflective of your brand and that will work (connect with your consumers). Your marketing agency wants you to be successful because if you are successful, they are successful. Their work and your work are the same. You are partners and success is mutually beneficial.