The Key to Success in Business Is to Find and Tap Your Hidden Strength

Agencies Would Be Smart to Gain an 'Inside Advantage'

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One of the biggest challenges ad agencies grapple with is how to differentiate from their competitors. It's basically a losing battle because most agencies end up looking and acting just like the other guys. So the main difference is who can offer the lowest price.

If agencies looked at themselves as brands, they would work hard to stand for something that resonates with their prospects. Agencies get famous for the company they keep.

DDB did it with Volkswagen; Deutsch did it with Ikea; Crispin Porter did it with Mini Cooper.

To get noticed by search consultants and potential talent, agencies must set their sights on acquiring a keystone account -- even before the account realizes it's a keystone. Agencies must understand a client's business better than its owners understand it themselves. They've got to seize on the one attribute that will make the client great and exploit that advantage continuously and outrageously in advertising and PR.

Even though Bob Bloom's new book, "The Inside Advantage," isn't aimed at agencies, his advice applies. Bob found a way to differentiate his shop's brand of integrated marketing when he ran Publicis USA. What he did was name co-presidents of each office, a creative guy and a strategic-planning guy.

Their objectives and bonuses are tied together, Bob told me, to assure that all disciplines are accounted for in the strategic plan and that the ads are truly creative "and not just strategic bullshit."

Here's what Bob means by "Inside Advantage": "The best way to expand the size, scope and profit of your business is to grow it from the inside, capitalizing on hidden strengths that already exist."

So, for instance, when Bob's family agency, Bloom Advertising in Dallas, acquired a New York shop, it exploited the New York agency's U.S. introduction of a small green bottle of fizzy water called Perrier. "This well-publicized achievement showcased our specialization in the new-products arena. We lived and breathed new products, aligning all aspects of our agency to it, and coupling it with a sense of urgency and more top management involvement than our giant competitors could muster," Bob writes.

Bob's "growth discovery process" boils down to this: "Who is the core customer most likely to buy your product or service? What is the uncommon offering that your business will own and leverage? How persuasive is the strategy that will convince your core customer to buy your uncommon offering vs. all competitive offerings? 'Own it!' is the series of imaginative acts that will celebrate your uncommon offering and make it well known to your core customer."

I've been struck by how many agencies come up with meaningless slogans and gimmicks to give them an edge. Take Saatchi & Saatchi's "Lovemarks." I know that the agency tries to build respect and love in the product, but for my money, it means that you can attach emotion to any brand and consumers are going to fall for it. To me, that's exploitation, and consumers will quickly understand you can attach the same emotions to other products and conjure up the same warm, fuzzy feelings. But emotions, unless firmly embedded in the product or service itself, aren't a reason to buy.

As Bob says in his book, "Many companies believe they can patch up the flaws in their offering with dynamic marketing. They are wrong. Colorful ad campaigns and clever slogans are no substitute for the real thing. To have enduring success, you must have an honest and meaningful uncommon offering, and make it an integral part of your customer's experience."

Whether ad agencies or marketers, companies have got to stand for something real and tangible that customers want. What do you have, buried deep in the bowels of your company, that nobody else has or that nobody else has identified as a meaningful consumer benefit?

Coming up with a catchy slogan won't cut it. As Bob sums up: Such approaches are, "more often than not, wrong-headed and ultimately ineffective."
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