I recently came across a firm that claims supreme expertise in brand strategy, content, graphic design, web development, SEO, advertising, public relations, video and business operations.
Oh really. Is that all?
Some web development firms say they are also experts in SEO. Fair enough. But oh, by the way, they also do content and graphic design and strategy too.
My, where do you ever find the time to be absolutely brilliant in these five different areas at once?
I believe many of these folks do have genuine talent. In one thing. Maybe two.
The rest of the items they list? I don’t think they’re necessarily bad in those areas. Just not as good as the core one or two. And that’s where the problem starts.
Let me ask you: If you go into surgery to have your appendix removed, would you like to have a doctor who can technically perform the surgery because he watched someone do it a few times and it’s not a procedure he’s done very often or a doctor who has done that surgery 2000 times before?
Personally, I’m going with the expert over the guy who can “do that too.”
Every time ad agencies, PR firms, marketing firms, web development shops and more speak about all those extra side dishes they bring to the table, they’re representing an area that they know they’re not as strong in but Heaven forbid that they say it is something they can’t do. Or can’t do as well as what they’re very good at.
Herein lies the issue. It’s not about what you CAN do. It’s about what you straight up ROCK in. And if you’re making a laundry list, I’m skeptical by the time you get to Item #3 and calling BS by Item #4.
People who do this are not being honest with themselves about their true strengths. I suspect that for several of them, it’s a money grab. Even worse, they’re not being honest with clients about what they’re fantastic in and what they don’t do as well.
Trying to say you “do it all” isn’t good branding. It’s some jack-of-all-trades talk that stands for nothing.
I just don’t believe that people can be that awesome in 17 different things. If we want to perfect our craft, we can be better and better at one or two things.
Let’s think back hundreds of years ago. You had villages where there was a tailor, a butcher, a baker, etc. One shop had one specialty. If you had an issue, you knew which shop to go to. It was that simple. I don’t ever recall hearing of Ye Olde We Have Everything Shoppe.
“We’re a marketing agency.”
People in our industry say it so often. But what is that, really? Could that really be any more bland and broad? What meaning does it have without further qualification? A marketing agency for what? For who? Anybody with a pulse and dollar?
“We’re a digital marketing agency.”
Ah. That’s much clearer since practically any business that would like to be relevant to other humans should be operating in the digital space in some capacity anyway. So again, you work with anybody. Which is not good.
“We provide everything from branding to web design to startup incubation to storefront development for startups and long-standing companies.”
So you do a lot of things for a lot of people. Congratulations. I still have no idea what you’re actually the best at. Just PICK ONE OR TWO and plant your flag in the ground and say, “Hell yes, we are the best at this and we have the goods to prove it. It is what we live and breathe. And if you need something outside of that scope, we will refer you to someone we like and trust for that.”
I didn’t ask your agency what you provide. I’m asking you what you’re the best at. And you’re not the best at all of those things. You couldn’t possibly be.
Those 8-10 extra side dishes you listed are distracting people from the main course of what they came for.
By the way, here’s another residual effect you may not have considered on the way to filling your capabilities listing with 12 commas: The more you get into the laundry list of things you can do, the fewer Strategic Partners you may be able to have. So rather than bring in someone whose business is built around that area 24/7, you limit your opportunity to have a partner for new business referrals by keeping it yourself and getting by (and thereby limiting the client too).
I have 2 things I believe I do very, very well: Content Development and Brand Strategy.
Within those two core competencies, I have the ability to use all of the writing, creative direction and strategic skills I need. Plus, those two areas are always evolving, with new tools and trends to learn about. I have the passion for those as it’s what I love most and it keeps me busy. I’ve known those two things like the back of my hand for years and I can look anybody in the eye and have the utmost confidence in delivery of those services. What else is there?
I would encourage you to think this way: If it’s what you are passionate about, there is a demand for it and it’s a constantly shifting niche that challenges you to stay abreast of its developments…how many more areas like that one do you need?
If the theory is that it takes 10,000 hours to be an expert in one thing and we use a standard work week, it would take roughly 5 years to be an expert in ONE area. But you don’t stop learning when you get to Year 5, because otherwise you’d go stale, right? So you have to invest time on top of those 5 years to maintain your expertise. You never stop.
“OK, but what if we have a bunch of specialists for different things under one roof? Then we can say we’re really good in all those things then, right?”
For the sake of argument, let’s say you’ve assembled an All-Star team of talent. One, it’s probably not going to last for very long because if those people are so incredible, they’re going to move on. Maybe due to ego, leadership opportunity, pay, outside factors, etc. Two, it’s highly unlikely that they’re all equally magnificent. So if you cater to speaking to the greatness of all those people, you still can’t tell me the one or two things that your agency does best because apparently you’re just the bees knees in everything. And once again, that’s harder to remember.
The only way that’s practical is to go narrow and deep. Not wide and shallow.
Wait a minute. Doesn’t this also apply to a lot of businesses that try to be all things to everyone?
Yes. It absolutely does.
Generalists are losing out there. Partially because they’re getting lost in the crowd of do-it-alls who stand for nothing in particular. Aim to join the ranks of the specialists. It’s more fun, more distinguishable and more genuine. And if you’re truly exceptional, it’s more than enough.
Great points, Dan, and some very compelling reasons why an agency should stand for something. There are lots of ways agencies can specialize. It doesn’t have to be by discipline. Other common ways include target, category or marketing challenge.
There’s one large agency out there that says they specialize in retail. Yet only 55% of their brands are retail. In part, because the non-retail brands on the agency’s roster appreciate the skill set the agency brings to their problems (including a relentless focus on weekly and daily sales).
Excellent point, Steve. Those other avenues of specialization are very good as well. We can’t be an industry of people who speak about carving out a place in the world for brands that is “own-able” without living that ideal ourselves. I have actually found it liberating in a way to speak about what I don’t do as a way of further crystallizing what I do. Why would one want to be remembered for something they do 15% of the time? What if you get recommended for that extra thing you kind of do but it’s really not a core strength…over and over again? Sounds like a recipe for eventually doing a rebranding campaign due to a challenge of your own making because you just couldn’t pass on saying, “Oh! We do that too!”