Why Buy a Dog and Bark Yourself? Why Businesses Should Get Marketing Advice

Expert Barry Semark discusses the challenges facing agencies in the digital revolution

Why Buy a Dog and Bark Yourself? Why Businesses Should Get Marketing Advice

“Why buy a dog and bark yourself?” is a time honoured saying, but one that still has some resonance in today’s relationships between clients and their design agencies.

Most marketers in businesses will work with an outsourced design agency for one reason or another, whether it’s for improving and maintaining a website, helping to create a ‘brand image’, or to design company literature. But many are not using their design agency to its full potential and this could mean they are missing out on unrealised opportunities.

Times are changing – 10 years ago a brand was just a logo. Nowadays, a brand is the face, the DNA and the culture of a company. A brand plays a significant part in contributing to the success or failure of a company. And how a business portrays itself via social media, mobile technology and the Internet can impact on its brand.

A big challenge is how to get your brand’s messages (not the identity), over to your audiences, stakeholders, clients and influencers. This requires well planned, thought out strategies and tactics to be executed in order to achieve maximum impact. Businesses could discuss this with their design agencies to ensure they are equipped to meet the challenges of digital. Yet Adobe’s recent research, Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up At Night would suggest that only about 18% of marketers seek marketing or branding advice from their agencies in their efforts to achieve success in this area through the various communications channels – particularly digital.

In a plethora of “digital” creative agencies, the ones that are going beyond their well-defined design role and taking on more of a consultative position are the ones that are standing out.  These agencies actively encourage their clients to open up a discourse about their perceived needs and aspirations. This allows the agency to understand the bigger pictures of what a client truly wants and the direction they want to take for their particular service or product. By being consultative, the agency and the business have more of a standing chance that whichever strategy and tactics they create, it will have a lasting effect and impact.

Due to the rise in digital communications, businesses might want to reconsider their approach when appointing design agencies. All too often the decision to appoint an agency is driven by a marketer thinking they need a website or an update of the existing one. Websites, of course, get pride of place in the marketing hierarchy because they can be put together quickly and cost effectively, launched, changed and added to if they are deemed unsuccessful or ineffective. But this ignores the need for thorough market research.  Design agencies are finding client briefs that merely refer to peer group sites that they wish to either emulate, compete with, or improve upon is often accompanied by basic content and brand information, a date for delivery and a request for a quotation.

Whilst this is certainly useful information, it only forms a part of the full picture the agency needs to achieve truly successful results. Questions need to be considered and discussed, such as who is the anticipated audience you wish to reach? Is it a brochure site or an e-commerce site? Have you considered SEO or responsive? Will photography or film need to be included? Who is going to write the content?

If a design agency is given the opportunity to sit down and get to grips with what the client wants from their agency then it allows for unanticipated outcomes to be avoided. For instance, a client who has a brief on a website refresh but  has a fundamental branding message that needs to be addressed first. Or the client who has come to discuss a website project for whom a more traditional piece of printed literature might be more appropriate.

The move from offering simple well-defined design tasks to taking on more of a grandiose, consultative role is not a move by agencies to try and to get more money from their clients. These design agencies just want to be afforded the opportunity to offer sound judgments, observations and advice based on years of experience and expertise. This may even lead to a redistribution or amortisation of the budget without necessarily increasing it. But above and beyond value for money the most important thing for a design agency is to ensure that their client will achieve outstanding results.

So, the message is, agencies are there to help. Make the most of them. They are not creative prima donnas who are difficult to communicate with, who don’t listen, who have to be kept on a tight leash and who do what they want regardless. They understand business and they only want your business to succeed; to grow into a better and more effective company than it was before. By using your agency for all it is worth, as both a design and consultative resource, you will build trust and a relationship with them which will help in really making your brand a success.

Barry Semark, co-founder of creative communications agency, Holland + Semark.

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