16th September 2016

Digital Marketing — The Return of the Agency

Welcome to my third and final article in the ‘Digital Marketing Trilogy’. I know what you’re thinking…You’re thinking that in 30 years time I will have produced 3 more articles that pre-curse the original series and then come back and edit these articles adding minor references in order to make the story arch work again.

I can’t guarantee that won’t happen but it’s certainly not my intention. If anything I will look to sell my ‘Digital Marketing’ trilogy to a large corporation and hire an award winning writer for the reboot.

Leaving the unknowns of the future to one side, the purpose of this post leads nicely on from the last two; ‘What is Digital Marketing’ & ‘Digital Marketing: The Agency Strikes Back’, almost as if it was planned that way.

The first post was an attempt to explain what digital marketing advertising really means and the second a view of how users are pushing back on bad advertising.

This article aims to show how, as an advertising agency, we can look to bring our users back into the fold and have them value the work we do as opposed to blocking or ignoring it.
**Important note** I used the majority of my Star Wars references in the last article so this one will probably contain significantly less.

What do users think of us?

As advertisers, our view of what we do is…well it’s somewhat biased I’m sure you will agree. Certainly when I look in the mirror I still have a luxurious head of hair and am more often than not wearing an expensive suit, while I exude a confidence that can only be accurately described through the medium of dance. In actual fact my hair has long since gone and my wardrobe consists mainly of inoffensive t-shirts and a pair of jeans that are slightly too old but have developed a certain comfort.

Regardless of what I think of myself, as an advertiser I am really judged on the work I produce rather than the person I am (or wish I was). As we are talking about digital marketing, I am obliged to refer to data to get a true view of who I am.

According to the good people at Lab42, only 3% of people would describe claims in ads as “Very Accurate” and 21% as somewhat accurate. Not a promising start. When looking at specific types of ads, it was found that 81% of people felt that beauty ads are exaggerated, and 77% of the people who felt beauty ads were “Very Accurate” were men… Good job men.

So, at the very least, people think advertising and (by extension) advertisers have an ulterior motive. Let’s be blunt about it.

We are not trusted.

If these feelings are so inextricably wired into the human psyche then it’s not only the end users that feel this way, it is also our clients.

If we are to continue to succeed then this perception has to be changed on two fronts:

  • 1 — With our clients
  • 2 — With the end user.

Let’s Start With Our Clients

We were invited to pitch this year for a big brand and we were all incredibly happy to get the opportunity to do so. As a growing agency, it’s nice to be spotted by ‘The Big Guys’ and to have the chance to really show what we can do. However, the pitch isn’t really the important bit here.

What was interesting about the whole thing was the brief. It was well written, to the point and even had the business objectives and key performance indicators in there (for those of you not in advertising that is rarer than you think). What it also had was a litany of references to the things they hated about agencies.

Having the wool pulled over their eyes, a lack of transparency, no creativity, no innovation, technical talk and more buzz words than an episode of Loose Women performed by an amateur dramatics group where the principal cast is made up of bees. To add to that, they just couldn’t understand what was being achieved by their current activity.

This client seemed to view their digital agency as a necessary evil.

This meant that a significant portion of our job was to show them that we are not that kind of agency.

Just Start Working

As an industry we should accept that we will never understand a client’s business as well as they do.

We often pile into a room carrying a deck that has the density of a dying star and a ream of research. We try to present ourselves as experts in the client’s industry instead of taking the time to sit down and find out who they are, what they represent and what their challenges our.

In his book ‘Getting Naked’, Patrick Lencioni discusses the fear of being vulnerable in front of clients. We research and bolster our knowledge of the industry in order to be able to answer every question, be perceived as intelligent and win the work. We tell our existing and potential clients about all of the things we are going to do instead of just doing it. We are petrified of being asked a question that we may not know the answer to, and instead of being honest, we play the politician and skirt our way around it, patting each other on the back for ‘getting out of a tough spot’. Is it really that surprising that sometimes our clients find it difficult to trust us?

Although I enjoy the experience of nailing a presentation in a pitch, they are rarely the most successful. I have had most success when I have sat down with the client and talked to them about how they perceive themselves, how they want to be perceived and most importantly, what their biggest issues are. This provides me with the most valuable data available and it’s one of the few things that just isn’t available on Google. It also allows me to make suggestions and give insights based on my experiences on the fly. The suggestions may not always be right but, in essence, I am already working with the client before having to mention budgets, timelines or the latest digital trends or audience personas.

The most important thing is to be honest. When you don’t know, or you’re wrong or, you aren’t the right person for the job then just say that.

Now for the Users

If you’ve made it this far then **Clapping Hands Emoji**. I have (without meaning to) far exceeded the 300 word minimum recommended by the Yoast WordPress plugin and no doubt my Flesch readability score is poor at this point. However, I will power through regardless just as Kanye did when he attempted to recreate ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and made grandiose claims of being a rock star.

I have stated previously that our clients are not the most important people and it is our end user who should be our focus. I stand by that, but it is obvious that there is a balance that needs to be struck. In order to serve the end user, our clients need to be happy — but I think that can be achieved through the methods discussed in the previous section.

How can we get over the underlying issues that users have with advertising?

The first thing to establish is that users don’t hate all advertising, and by no means am I saying that advertising isn’t effective (it obviously is on some level otherwise we would all be out of the job). In the report by Lab42 mentioned earlier, 71% of people surveyed said a funny ad makes them more likely to remember a product. 12% said educational ads made the product more memorable. 8% said a sexy ad made a product memorable. 92% of these people were men… Well done again men.

The correlation in these results is that memorable ads made a connection with people on an emotional or instinctual level. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — when we create campaigns, we are talking to real, human people. Not a persona or a data set, but a complex person who thinks and feels.

As an advertiser I can’t deny that there is a part of me that thinks ‘how can I leverage these human emotions’, but I am happy to say that is an internal monologue I tend to ignore.

Instead of trying to leverage these emotions maybe, just maybe, we can look to add to them. Instead of trying to manipulate, we try to really add value through entertaining, informing and educating people. If we can create memorable experiences for people through the platforms available to us, brand saliency is bound to increase.

Although thinking more long term about the interactions our users have can result in longer lead times, it will almost certainly also result in more brand loyalty, and as a by-product, create more evangelists who will endorse products and services.

Producing a variety of different content types that aren’t simply focused on the product but aimed to relate to your users and have a positive impact on their lives has to be a core component of any marketing strategy. I am not, by any means, saying traditional advertising and general digital tactics shouldn’t still be in use. These tactics should be augmented and extended by quality content.

Nurturing our end user over a longer period gives us the opportunity to represent the brand, its values and its services over time without having to talk about it in every other sentence.
Driving conversions such as sign-ups and requests for white papers gives advertisers access to a wealth of data on users that are actively engaged and more valuable in the long term than the majority of leads gained through a straightforward PPC campaign.

If you can offer users more perceived value than you ask in return, they will have a much stronger affinity with your brand and start to trust the industry more.


Be willing to be vulnerable in front of your clients and give them more honesty than they expect. If you don’t think this is a concept that will work for you, I suggest you read ‘Getting Naked’ by Patrick Lencioni and at a minimum explore the subject.

Be willing to offer real value to your users and give them more than you ask in return. Reach as many users with your content as you can through digital tactics and attempt to create a long term, reciprocal relationship.

And now… Hayden Christensen

By Louis Thompson, Head of Digital

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