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Marketing Agency Exposed Podcast

May 6, 2020


Today’s episode is Part 8 of our COVID-19 / Corona series, where we’re uncovering the good in the current situation. We’ve had some amazing guests over the weeks and have some amazing ones coming in the next episodes. Today, we sit down to do a 2 month check-in check-in, focusing on questions like: What are we seeing, feeling, and observing in our clients and in our own businesses? What are our takeaways so far? How has it changed people? How has it changed business and marketing? How long will it last? What does the NEW normal look like?


Owning an agency or service business can be a roller coaster of changes and pivots, and now more than ever the value that you can provide is at the forefront. For all businesses, and your clients - every dollar counts. But is that a bad thing? Is there more competition or less because “match” is more important now than ever. 


We talk about moving your business away from commoditization and instead focusing on the value of your experience and expertise. How can you provide concrete evidence of that value to clients? And how can you come alongside them as a coach to lean into this period of growth? 


Resources Mentioned: 


Top 3 Curtain Pulls in this episode:

  1. Ultimately, none of us know for sure what the next couple of years will look like. Nothing will be the same, we will never go “back to normal”, we will move forward into a New Normal. Embrace it. It may actually be better.
  2. Things have shaken out and that is to the benefit of businesses that are genuine experts. Don’t build your agency around services that are considered commodities (or could become commodities). Build your brand around you UNIQUE value.
  3. In creating value for your brand, concrete proof is more valuable now than ever. Create solid case studies that showcase your services and different forms of ROI- clients will appreciate and trust your knowledge and skillset much more quickly. 


For more tips, discussion, and behind the scenes:

About The Guys: 

Bob Hutchins: Founder of BuzzPlant, a digital agency that he ran from from 2000 -2017. He is also the author of 3 books. More on Bob: 

Brad Ayres: Founder of Anthem Republic, an award-winning ad agency. Brad’s knowledge has led some of the biggest brands in the world. Originally from Detroit, Brad is an OG in the ad agency world and has the wisdom and scars to prove it. Currently that knowledge is being applied to his boutique agency. More on Brad:

Ken Ott: Co-Founder and Chief Growth Rebel of Metacake, an Ecommerce Growth Team for some of the world’s most influential brands with a mission to Grow Brands That Matter. Ken is also an author, speaker, and was nominated for an Emmy for his acting on the Metacake Youtube Channel (not really). More on Ken: 


Show Notes:

[2:00] Bob introduces the episode with a wrap-up of our Covid episodes so far- we’ve covered how to survive, thrive, diversify. He asks what Brad and Ken think the world will look like, business-wise, after this pandemic. What are we seeing, feeling, observing in our clients and in our own businesses? What are our takeaways? How has it changed people? What is the landscape going to look like and what do we need to consider.

[3:20] Ken speaks on the “reset” that is happening amongst his colleagues and within his own business. Having done business through the recession of 2008 and experiencing this as well, the cyclical nature of the economy is very apparent. Two months ago a reset was hard to imagine, with nothing but blue skies on the horizon. 

  • Things were moving so quickly, in some ways it felt harder to do business. Very noisy, competitive, overly commoditized, egos were big on both sides that was creating a type of inflation in itself. 

[5:16] Ken: “As painful as a reset is, I think that pullback brings us back to the fundamentals of what is really important, brings us back to human beings, humbles us all- including the marketplace in a way that is advantageous to people that are genuine and businesses who are in it for the right reasons… if you have those qualities it’s easier to connect with people who really need what you have to offer.”

[6:03] Brad asks Ken for a picture of what the future looks like as far as engaging in new business/ onboarding. 

[6:35] Ken: “Agencies tend to fall into the category of all being the same… that makes it easier to be identified by potential clients… But really that’s not what makes you unique, what makes you unique is what will make them choose you.”

 [7:38] Ken continues: “I believe that there’s gonna be more need to find the right match that gets the right results on the client side AND the agency side, because there’s less room for messing around… even time. Nobody likes spending money and it not work, but now, time is important.”

  • The shift is connecting on a level that actually matches the intent of the client as opposed to a “cattle call” for whoever is the cheapest and fastest.

[9:47] Bob recalls the early 2000’s when digital marketing was new, there is a similar reset. Back then, services were becoming commoditized so that everyone could do them. 

  • “The new world will be more sensitive to value versus cost.” 

[11:33] Bob continues: “People are like, I need an expert now. I need to build and create something that’s going to stand the test of time, that’s going to generate revenue smarter for me, maybe faster. Not with tactics, but with real expertise.”

  • This is an opportunity for agencies to step up and not have to play in the commodity world as much. 

[12:26] Brad recalls our last podcast guest Daniel Cobb and the analogy he made between being a tool versus the whole toolbox. Many agencies focus on being just a hammer, but he views his agency as the entire toolbox. 

[13:45] Brad asks for further thoughts from the guys “If you rethink your agency model, do you now hire different people, do you rethink your team?”

[14:10] Ken responds that those who are becoming commodities shouldn’t necessarily fight that. 

  • Gives the example of real estate and the concept of websites like Zillow becoming popular. Because there is more technology out there, people can buy and sell more efficiently without an intermediary. Some are resistant to this, but ultimately that is the way the market is going. 

[17:02] Ken continues: “What is your value that you can add regardless of if it’s easy or if it’s hard?” 

[17:42] Brad speaks about his agency and the way that they do business. They definitely sell commodities but ultimately strategy is the biggest value that they offer. Having a seat the strategy table is vital, otherwise they are taken out by other companies that have commoditized differently/better. 

[19:02] Brad adds that “If there is an opportunity, I always like to show a monetary return on investment, because if you don’t do that, that's where you become a commoditized business that is being told what to do, versus truly adding value.”

  • That is a question that you should be asking your clients when you talk to them- what are your expectations on your ROI? 
  • Brad stresses that especially in the coming months, ROI will become increasingly important. As we head towards the very real possibility of a recession, ROI will be at the top of mind with a lot of potential clients

[22:07] Bob adds “Solid case studies and examples are going to be gold.” You’ll have clients asking for proof of that and see it in a document. “It's too easy to claim ownership when campaigns are successful, and it’s too easy to blame other things when it’s not successful.” 

  • Client want to know: “Are you professional? Are you going to get a return on my money? Let me see where you’ve done it before with other clients… not who’s cheapest, or who gets the most clicks and impressions…”

[23:45] Brad: “Being a creative agency is great but creativity now is becoming a commodity.” 

  • The bar is really high, but just because you launch it doesn’t mean it will generate money. 

[25:18] Bob: “I think honesty and authenticity are going to be held to a much higher value.” 

  • Oftentimes you have clients who state exactly what they want, and although you agree and go for that, on the inside you really don’t think it will pan out just the way they want. 
  • Being willing to be honest with clients about their expectations and leading them with your expertise will allow them to feel empowered and encouraged by your experience. And it allows you to be a part of the conversation. “What is the best ROI for you” instead of “How can we make the best money for you.” 

[27:41] Ken: “None of us can guarantee results… you don’t own the product, the company, you can’t tell the future… Your job as an agency is to lead in the expertise that you have and challenge the beliefs appropriately so that you get your clients in the right place…. Like a coach. A coach can’t win the game for you, he can’t play for you. He can only stand alongside you with the expertise that he has, help get you ready, help train you… to help you win. But YOU still have to win.” 

[30:00] Ken continues: “How do you educate based on changing market conditions to be investing in the right things that don't produce immediate ROI but do produce a long term ROI, AND find the short term wins?” 

  • Balancing short term wins through low-hanging fruit with long term wins of extended ROI. 

[31:24] Brad expresses curiosity for the next 6 months- will clients be more nitpicky about pricing? Will pricing models change, will we have to go back to the drawing boards? 

[32:00] Ken speaks on pricing strategy and how moving away from being the “cheapest” model to a value-based model. Hanging your hat on that model for business is not a strategy to long-term growth and survival.

[34:45] Bob adds that this ties back into the concept of having a “why” that is deeper and more valuable than just earning money. 

  • If you ARE in the commodity world, you need to pivot fast. 

[37:50] Bob speaks about how to survive through this: “Being an expert, showing we’ve done it before, caring about ROI above everything… and it’s really important to lead with value and why we’re doing it, and having strong philosophies.” 

[40:00] Ken talks about the other side of making those pivots and truly surviving through this: “On the other side of that now you’ve got a really distilled idea of who you are and why you’re so valuable… through that, it’s easier to sell.”

  • Clients asking about legitimacy and actually DOING what you promise is more important now than ever. And in that sense, cost is a secondary thought for many. Because they want something that WORKS. 

[40:55] Ken quotes Tony Robbins: “To succeed in business, it’s pretty simple. You just need to provide more value than anyone else.” This is relevant to today more than ever, and doesn’t necessarily mean adding more time or cost, but instead asking yourself “How can I create the most valuable offering in the most efficient way.” 

[42:16] Bob predicts that laying people off may bring more efficient business practices internally. Letting go of 4 or 5 employees may be more efficient than hiring an outside partner to help with those services. 

  • “How can we achieve just as much, if not more, with outside expertise?” 

[43:40] Brad adds: “This will be an opportunity for clients to shop around… as we’re rethinking our businesses, customers are rethinking what they need… you may have a lot more customers who are looking for long term partners.” 

[45:05] Ken speaks on the power of not only weathering the storm, but looking for the opportunities to thrive through it. “It won’t go back to the way it was, it’s going to go forward to something new… noone knows what that is… everyone’s at the starting line again. In some ways, it has re-leveled the playing field, creating advantages that people didn’t have before.” 

[46:29] Brad: “Customers are going to look for companies who can support them… not those who are outsourcing pieces of the pie, but a well-oiled machine that can take them on.” 

  • He is making efforts to keep his business as lean as possible on the operations side, as there is so much unknown. “I’m looking to weather the storm.” 

[48:15] Bob adds that ultimately, none of us know for sure. Nothing will be the same, things have shaken out the way they need to and ultimately there are a lot of opportunities for those businesses that are thinking about bringing value and expertise. This is a great time to be learning, a great time to start with a high level of value and knowledge instead of just trying to be the cheapest commodity and grab business where you can.