A couple of weeks ago we talked about how to tell whether your business needs a re-brand. Sometimes it’s super-clear: your market has changed, your buyer profile has shifted or maybe your business or your product has undergone some seismic changes. But what if all you need is a simple DM campaign or some hands-on support for a product launch?
This week we’re talking about why you should hire a marketing agency and the level of engagement you need. This can determine how early you get your agency involved, and might also dictate the type of agency you go for. Here are a few thought-starters that may help you to clarify what you need:
Strategy, tactics or execution?
The question of what level of engagement you need from your agency often boils down to what you need: strategy, tactics or execution. Here’s a quick refresh of what we mean:
The thinking stage: birthplace of visions and big ideas. For instance, coming up with a new positioning or a big campaign idea.
The planning stage: where you work out how to do it. Normally this involves planning the different elements of a campaign (the who, the what, the when and the how) and how they all sit together.
The doing stage: where you get the job done. This stage could contain anything from design, to print, to booking and planning media, to managing an online community.
Some other points to consider:
You only get out what you put in
When you’re weighing up the level of input you’d like from your agency, think about the sort of returns you’re expecting. If you’re asking for something significant, like a massive lift in leads or a change in brand perception, chances are you’ll need a deeper commitment and a more involved approach from your agency.
Stepping out of the day-to-day
Many of our clients are more than capable of doing their own strategic thinking. They’re smart, insightful people who know their industry and their audiences inside-out. But what they lack is time, space and an outside-in view. Sometimes the sheer immersion of running a business can make it hard to take a step back and see the wood for the trees. Sometimes the wish for what your business should be like can detract from the reality of what your business really is like. And sometimes the sheer busy-ness of business can mean in-house strategic thinking gets rushed or pushed to the back of the list. Time to get the agency involved.
Beware of tactics without strategy
Some of us are real action folk who just don’t get strategy: to them it’s vague and flaky, lacking actions and a to-do list. So they jump straight to tactics: and sometimes (see ‘quick and dirty’ below) this works just fine.
The problem is that tactics without strategy often gives you what we call “short term actions with unpredictable long-term results”. In the words of strategic smartypants William Bakker “It’s like driving a car around without knowing how to reach your destination. And everybody on your team is driving their cars around in all directions hoping to eventually get there.”
… But remember your strategy is only as good as its implementation
Poorly-communicated vision, lack of buy-in, lack of accountability: there are many reasons why even the most gloriously promising strategy can just fizzle and die. Whether it’s a client executing their agency’s strategy, or an agency delivering on their client’s strategy, bringing someone else’s vision to life can be a real challenge, and rarely one that delivers the best results.
In praise of the “Quick and dirty”
Sometimes we get briefs in that we fondly refer to as “quick and dirties”: a simple brief where a client has a specific, single-minded outcome in mind and a very clear idea of how to go about it. More often than not, they need a quick turnaround and have limited budget, and usually these are repeats of an old tactic that has done the job well in the past.
Now we don’t mind an occasional “Quick and dirty”: they’re good fun and they allow us to take our strategic hats off for an hour or two. But both agencies and clients need to bear in mind that these briefs need to be handled quite differently to strategic briefs: spending hours wringing out the strategic implications of these briefs is only going to end up in headaches all round! If it’s a quick and dirty, let’s agree on that from the start so it gets handled the right way from the outset.
Is it really a standalone campaign? Or do you need an idea?
Sometimes – as in the case of the quick and dirty – an execution is all you need. But most of the time you need an idea to, well, make things roll. If all you have is an executional approach - a natty widget, a clever line, a flash image - without an idea behind it, you will probably find you have a one-hit-wonder on your hands: you won’t get a campaign out of it, and you won’t be able to roll it out across different channels.
Still not sure what you need?
If the above guidance has only served to confuse you even further, here’s a quick and easy way to work out what you need: it doesn’t work for everything, but it’s a good tactics-vs-strategy-vs-execution litmus test.
- Do you need a plan to help you achieve a long-term goal – and maybe some pointers about how to go about it? You need a strategy - and maybe a few tactical suggestions to get you started.
- Do you have an existing strategy and need ideas for marketing activity based upon it? You need a tactical plan.
- Do you know exactly what you need to do – including the what, who, when and how - and just need help getting it out the door? You need help with execution.
The final word
And the ideal scenario? An agency that is willing and able to perform all three: strategy, tactics and execution. This gives you consistency in the planning loop and momentum to keep your campaigns moving forward.
Want to know how inbound marketing can help your strategy, tactics and execution? This quick-start guide to inbound marketing is specifically written to help b2b technology companies scale and grow effectively.