I wrote this post for agencies, but felt that the perspective might be helpful to you if are potentially considering an inbound marketing agency to support your business.
In our first annual Mirren-RSW/US Definitive Guide to Agency New Business Tools, we surveyed over 300 agency executives, asking questions about their usage of, and perceived effectiveness of, various new business platforms and the tools offered within those platforms.
We presented 12 different platforms, from SEO Tools, to Presentation Software, to Research and List services.
One of the platforms included is relatively new and is used by some agencies for prospecting support for their own business. Some agencies have so fully adopted the model that this is now all they do for clients.
In this post, we’ll focus primarily on agencies who have fully embraced Inbound as the scope of their offering. They have drunk the kool-aid, they have built solid businesses, and they are true believers in the approach to help their clients.
I recently interviewed Paul Roetzer from PR20/20 (an inbound marketing agency). In the interview he called agencies like his “agencies of the future” and went on to say that “agencies of the future will be the agencies winning accounts – not the traditional agencies of today.”
I personally think it’s great that these Inbound agencies that help clients generate more leads and importantly more business, are meeting with solid success.
I think the challenge long-term for these firms
will be one of positioning
Take a look at the websites of a few inbound marketing agencies. I know I have a hard time seeing big differences. I think in time, their prospects will too.
It’s not unlike the case with digital media analytic shops back in 2009-2010. They were hot properties. They didn’t have to do anything to differentiate themselves from one another because what they offered was different from what was on the market. Digital firms weren’t offering much in the way of analytics and traditional firms were nowhere close. Not unlike Inbound Marketing services, the service of digital media analytics could stand alone and win the day.
We represented one of these firms on the back end of this bubble. At the point they engaged us (in 2011), digital firms were deep in the analytics, so selling this agency as something a marketer should hire separate from his digital or full service shop was nearly impossible.
I’ll never forget the agency’s CEO telling me:
“I don’t even know how to uniquely talk about our value”
Funny thing…there’s no one left on the leadership section of their site.
I see the same thing happening here with Inbound Marketing Agencies. You have a lot of sameness and the first thing these agencies are going to need to do is figure out what makes one Hubspot partner different from another. I know Hubspot doesn’t offer market exclusivity, so agencies are going to have to figure out what separates them apart. Stealing a page out of Tim Williams playbook, they need to ask themselves, “What is our WHO, WHAT, AND WHERE?”
WHAT – some competency like a specialization in digital, shopper marketing or social media
WHO – an audience like seniors, or working moms, or blue collar males
HOW – processes or approaches, like Chiat Day’s “disruption”, or Saatchi’s “Lovemarks”.
Just like traditional and digital agencies need to do today, these inbound agencies are going to be forced to think differently – it will become a matter of survival.
The other challenge inbound firms will face is like the one faced by agencies like the digital analytics firm mentioned above. It’s not hard for a full service firm to bring the inbound offering in house and make it part of their repertoire. Inbound Marketing agencies are going to have to figure out how they set themselves apart from firms that are broader based in their offerings.
In one of our more recent surveys, marketers told us they do not think digital-only firms can survive long-term unless they broaden their offerings. Unfortunately, the same could hold true here as well unless something is done now!
History is there to teach us lessons
The lesson has been taught.
Now is the time for Inbound Marketing Agencies to act.
So What Does this Mean for You, the Marketer?
It means you need to be discriminating. With so many inbound agencies in the market today, find the one that best meets your needs. Just like any other agency, ask yourself: “Do they understand my category or business?” “Do they seem smart and strategic?” “Do they have all the proper tools and access to technologies to keep me ahead of the game?”.