Here's a shock, it's not going to have anything to do with inbound marketing.
A lot of inbound marketing agency owners have been going through dramatic transformations over the past few years. Moving from single practice shops to inbound agencies. Getting your first few clients, learning inbound, finding out you need different internal operations, making adjustments, struggling with the financials and finally getting it all worked out—more or less.
And now, things are changing again.
Over the past few months, I’ve been doing a lot of research into what the “bigger” agencies and digital shops are doing. I’ve been paying special attention to Deloitte and Accenture but also looking at larger agency shops to see what they’re talking about, doing and the value they’re delivering to their clients.
While I do think those bigger agencies have very high-level messaging appropriate when you’re Deloitte and probably not appropriate when you’re Square 2 Marketing. One common thread is obvious, results and the customer experience are core components to what they’re delivering.
I think there is a big opportunity for smaller and mid-market agencies to learn something from these bigger agency playbooks and I think the market is getting ready to shift again away from practice or methodology specific agencies to more broader and results oriented shops. Here’s why.
Set Expectations, Define Results, Drive Towards Results
One of the hardest exercise we do is set expectations. We do it during the sales process with limited information. We do it monthly once we get better data and we do it in an ongoing way all through the engagement. Expectations change, program dynamics impact expectations and one of the hardest conversations to have with a client is why results failed to meet expectations and what we need to do about it.
That’s not going away. That’s going to be a bigger part of what we do. As agencies, we are going to have to help clients understand what results to expect. What impacts those results and expectations. What drives those results and how their decisions directly impact the results. The smarter our models, the better our predictions, the closer we get to producing expected results the better our client relationships and the healthier our agencies.
This is a skill that we all need to be much better at delivering.
Over The Next Few Years, The Stuff You Do Will Be Irrelevant
Today a lot of what we do is still about the stuff; the blog articles, emails, lead nurturing, landing pages, whitepapers, videos, and websites. Honestly, that stuff has been commoditized for years and it’s getting worse. I’ve seen apps that take a website and turn it into a fully designed eBook. Eventually this stuff is going to be easy to crank out, easy to produce and cheap as shit.
Your prospects won’t care about your designers, writers or developers. Sure, there’ll be high-end shops that do this type of work for big brands but most of the stuff like this for the middle market and small businesses will be done by places like eBooks ‘R Us. Websites that crank out content for $99 apiece. It happened to logo design, it’s going to happen here too.
If you’re banking on quality people or quality of your creative to carry the day, time to think again. If you think your ability to respond quickly, crank out work or turn on a dime for your client makes you special, think again. There will be shops and technology that produce this stuff in minutes, not days. You won’t be able to keep up.
Make sure your agency doesn’t JUST produces stuff.
Artificial Intelligence And Apps Are Going To Handle The Day To Day Production Work
As artificial intelligence and software apps get smarter, they’re going to build websites, infographics, blog articles, email copy and eBooks for you. You’ll give it a title, define keywords and press a button. Out pops the asset. Agencies won’t be involved in any of this production work anymore.
This isn’t where the real value is anyway. I’ve said over and over again that the tactics are the least significant part of inbound marketing. I never talk about the tactics because everyone knows how to blog, build websites, optimize landing pages and write emails. What makes one agency better than another is how they configure these tactics as one, single inbound marketing initiative. How they plan the program and then how good they are at optimizing it, so it produces results. Those skills will continue to be what people pay for.
Make sure your agency shines at strategy, planning tactical configuration and optimization.
Metrics Will Be Pushed Instead Of Pulled
Today, there is a ton of data available on the performance of your inbound program and most of that data is managed by the agency, doled out to the client by the agency and interpreted for the client by the agency. That’s also going to change.
Going forward, smart data tools will pick and choose what to show the client based on that information’s ability to impact program performance. The software will be smart enough to highlight what blogs are performing, so that clients write more on those topics. They’ll show you what landing pages need to be optimized and perhaps what elements of those pages need to be improved. They’ll tell you what keywords offer the best opportunity for improved organic visitors and leads.
Once this data starts being pushed to the client’s desktop, the agencies roll in data analysis will have to change. Instead of getting, presenting and interpreting data, the agency is going to have to start providing insights based on the data. Here’s what we need to do as a result of this data, not here’s what the data says.
Make sure your people are data scientists. Make sure they are in love with analytics and make sure they can interpret the data, adjust tactical elements and drive improved performance of business results.
The Smarter You Are The More You’ll Thrive
It’s going to come down to intelligence inside your agency. The smarter you are, the more value you’ll provide your clients and the better results you’ll help them generation. It’s not going to be about execution, it’s going to be about smart planning. Insightful recommendations that produce results and ongoing optimization that produces even better results. That’s the future of the agency business.
The Agency's future is not execution. It’s smart planning, insightful tactics to drive results and optimization for even better results.
I’m not trying to scare anyone. I hope forward looking articles like these get you thinking about what you deliver today and what you’re going to be asked to deliver tomorrow. Your goal as agency owner is to position your company for the future or risk being rolled over by it.
The best way to do that is to understand the changes, start embracing them, including them in what you do today and create a vision for your business that includes the forward-looking perspectives. The good news for you is you have time. Most of the stuff I talked about are still on the horizon, but marketing is changing at a break-neck pace, so what’s on the horizon today could be reality in just a few months. You need to be prepared.
Start Today Tip – It might be time to start looking beyond inbound. I know you didn’t expect inbound to be the end of the journey for you, right? There are always going to be new and innovative ways to position your agency and new ways clients want to think about the support agencies provide. We started talking inbound marketing in 2009, its eight years later and the times are changing again. You have to be smart enough to be part of the change, not let the change happen around you. Going forward our shops are going to deliver insights, experiences, and business results. Inbound is going to be part of the story, but perhaps not the entire story. If you can do that, you’ll be one of the few agencies that to take advantage of the coming changes, proactive instead of reactive.
Agencies 2 Inbound – Helping You GO ALL IN ON Inbound!