Are You Demanding Enough from Your Agency?

Vince Lombardi used to say, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Let me paraphrase and apply that thought to marketing communications:

“Inertia makes commodities of all brands.”

Yes, inertia.

There can be a certain “lethargy” in marketing communications. Too many campaigns are based upon relationships, not results. Too many times we allow process get in the way of progress. Too many times groupthink can drive a brand into the graveyard and its marketers into group therapy.

“Inertia makes commodities of all brands”

And that’s exactly what happens. We get too comfortable, too much into the day-to-day processes, tolerate too much blind acceptance of the status quo, attend too many meetings where group think homogenizes big ideas into marketing pablum.

A quick story: when I began in advertising I worked on the General Foods account. There was this senior executive there who kept on getting promoted and promoted. He was impressive in meetings, looked the part and instilled fear amongst his peers, particularly the more junior ones. One day, one of these junior ones did a little analysis: he found that every brand this fellow ever worked on declined during his stewardship. Yet, he kept on getting promoted and promoted.

Why? Because no one had the courage to challenge the status quo.

Lethargy and inertia must be addressed head on. Marketers cannot allow themselves to be lulled into the comfort zone, accept the status quo as…well…the status quo.. As a client, your job is simple: create discomfort. At Signature, we challenge clients and prospects with the following set of tough questions. We ask them if they believe their current agency can answer them:

1.     How do you grow your brand when the market is not?

2.     How do you gain market share when your category has become commoditized?

3.     How do you grow market share when you’re being outspent 10-1?

4.     How can you grow when you have not added product features or benefits for a decade in a shrinking market?

5.     How do you create demand for a product when it doesn’t even exist yet?

6.     How do you introduce a product into a category that doesn’t exist?

7.     How do you increase market share when your product is inferior?

8.     Why should a customer pay more for your product when it’s the same or worse than your competitors

9.     In a mature market with a mature product, how can you have huge gains?

10.  Why should you hire a firm that makes your palms sweat?

Brands are not built upon wine alone!

If your agency can’t answer these questions without copping out (“make the product better,” “lower the price,” “come out with a line extension”), they’re probably not building your business. And, when push comes to shove, you don’t hire an agency for pretty pictures, ennobling words, impressive presentations and even more impressive lunches and dinners.

You hire an agency to build your business.

In the coming weeks, I’ll address some of these questions specifically.

Until then, don’t let yourself get too comfortable.

Roger Chiocchi

A life-long advertising and marketing professional, Roger is VP-Marketing at Signature Brand Factory. Prior to that he spent 20+ years on Madison Ave as a Sr. VP at Young & Rubicam and President of Y&R subsidiary, The Lord Group.