“There may be assumptions we'd made about marketing, or communicating with our own customers that aren't entirely true. Or they may be true assumptions, but actually grounded in different datapoints. And that surprising fodder is where one can really uncover great insights, and stories that compel.”
If you’re an agency owner, you know you’re swimming in a sea of competition. Many of your competitors will have more impressive track records, larger social followings, larger marketing budgets and bigger teams. So what can you do to stand out? How can you compete? Do you need to out muscle your competition? Outsmart them? Or some clever combination of both?
The answer to this question might be a little closer to home. In fact, the answer might not be expensive or complex at all. It might simply involve you needing to sit down with yourself and have some hard conversations in a quest to uncover what your agency really strives to be.
Filecamp, the makers of your favorite digital asset management software, recently reached out to the folks at Bandwidth Marketing to talk about how they not only approach identity and growth for their client’s companies, but also how they take their own medicine and use a similar approach while growing their own marketing agency.
Let’s jump into the interview below.
First of all, thank you for taking the time to speak with us today. Many of our readers are currently in the process of growing their own agencies, and they're eager for insights from those who have already run the path. Let's jump right in. Bandwidth focuses heavily on branding as a means of business growth. Why the heavy focus on branding?
Good question, he says in a positive reinforcement way that is the crux of marketing. No - seriously, BRANDING is really the true crux of marketing. And in a world where there are so many ways to get one's message out to the targeted audience, that center that is the BRAND is critical. BRANDING is the personality of a product or service. In our everyday people terms, for example, I'm ROB, one of many ROBs on this earth, but there's only one me. My personality and persona is what makes this ROB totally unique.
And that is the essence of marketing — starting with what makes one unique, what one stands for, how one speaks, reacts, interacts with others.
BRANDING is the way a product or service speaks, and while it might change depending on context, at the core, it should be consistent and TRUE.
Once that's defined, one can then launch into any of the other marketing outputs — digital, social, advertising, promotions, events and experiential efforts — and any and all of those can help to further dimensionalize the brand.
Could you tell us how much influence you believe a company's brand has on the overall success of the business, as opposed to, say, the customer experience, or even the product itself?
Obviously we feel a company's brand is critical, per above. Of course, it starts with the product itself, but if a company focuses solely on the product, that again goes back to just being a Rob instead of being THIS Rob.
So Apple started as a computer maker, but it's brand came to stand for challenging the status quo. They were the anti-IBM, the counter-Microsoft. They built revolutionary devices that dared to do things differently. Can you imagine a computer ad from DELL in the 90s featuring Picasso and Isadora Duncan? Naah.
And when one creates that North Star, that BRAND, success can go far beyond one product, believably. So Apple became a pocket jukebox, then a massive 'record' distributor, and then the Swiss Army knife of cell phones, and then a health monitoring wrist watch, and on and on and on.
When one does a good job letting customers know what one stands for, and staying true to that, while continually listening to them, and innovating beyond what just one's competition is doing, that's a massive recipe for success.
Though it isn't easy. It's hard to stay true amidst familiarity/boredom, or the echo chamber of the C-suite and Board Room.
And that's why it's critical to bring in people like us at Bandwidth Marketing Group — people who are perhaps more qual than quant, people who see companies from the outside in, and who understand brand.
Could you give us an idea of how you started your own agency’s branding journey? What were the very first branding steps you took?
The adage of the cobbler's child comes to mind, but we'll certainly share the early efforts. If I understand your question, you're asking about the branding of our brand agency, yes? Very meta of you. We started with the industry we were in, marketing, and what is most relevant for the customers we wanted to serve, and what we could uniquely offer.
The steps one travels getting to a brand are fairly commonplace, though as they say, God is in the details:
- what is our USP, or unique selling proposition or USP?— an old school call-out, but still relevant: what makes one unique? so we looked at what WE uniquely offered vs our competition
- how does that mesh with customer needs — and it's important to note that some customers aren't a good fit; a brand isn't for everyone — it's for someone
- how do we translate that above into a personality — how do name ourselves, how do we speak, look, tackle life and its myriad projects
- SO — for us, it was about BANDWIDTH, that ability to flex and expand based on client needs, that are custom fit vs a one-size fits all approach; AND, providing BANDWIDTH for those who needed extra firepower on their team
Oh, and the very first thing we did? Toasted the idea with a frosty beverage. I mean, come on, it's marketing, not rocket science. Not that rocket science doesn't have it's hilarious moments, of course.
Was there anything that came up in the early stages of marketing your own agency that was surprising, even for you? Did something happen in which you thought, "Hmmm? I didn't realize I could do that..." or "So that's how it works!".
Being in marketing means one always finds surprising things. That's the job, really — to look at the familiar and see something new. As a general rule, we find that in talking to people outside of one's own immediate group, that's where magic can pop up.
There may be assumptions we'd made about marketing, or communicating with our own customers that aren't entirely true. Or they may be true assumptions, but actually grounded in different datapoints. And that surprising fodder is where one can really uncover great insights, and stories that compel.
In fact, one surprise we had in a recent conversation with clients was that their interpretation of 'marketing' was really more about 'sales and marketing' — or as we put it, capital S Sales, and small m marketing.
They wanted more help in defining territories, and selling strategies, and, while we can assist in that or offer a POV, we'd suggested they engage someone expert in that realm.
In fact, that's why we love being a tactic-agnostic shop — we can pivot to the right creative solution and marketing output, not some pre-conceived notion, but the right direction for the specific solution that most fits client partner needs, not ours.
So we strive to truly listen, and ask questions to get to that surprising answer, and then build on that for a killer creative solution that entertains, engages, and ultimately, moves people to pick us.
Did you ever find yourself losing the connection with your agency customers over issues of differences in approach? When / if this happens, do you try to adjust the brand itself, or do you go back to the marketing strategy and make adjustments there?
If one does the work on the brand, that shouldn't really shift. Usually, brands are built with a customer in mind, they come out of supplying a need, in a way that no other brand can.
Now, marketing strategies DO change. Where the brand is the persona, the strategies are about how and where one is seen, and how one engages. And messaging then is what one says.
So if there isn't a dialog (note: NOT a soliloquy), then something is amiss
Especially with our start up clients, it's not always clear either who the right target is, or even at times what feature they'll find is the most compelling. And as we all know, the flexibility of digital communication enables us to tweak placement easily, switch around messaging, A-B test, etc., when that 'surprise' we talked about before is not at all what one expected.
Again, it comes back to thinking about your brand like your own personality.
Are you going to switch your personality to get people to like you? Is that long-lasting? Is that a true way to handle things? OR are you going to let your brand stay centered, and find those who fit best, those for whom a brand has a mutual benefit and connection.
We'd heartily recommend the latter — although the 'pleaser' bit of me has made that mistake. But that's why you love us and reached out for the interview, right? We're just so darn likeable?
That’s exactly why we reached out for the interview. You’ve created a very likable agency brand! Now, let's talk about visual ads for a moment and how visuals fit into the larger growth picture (either for growing your own agency or your client’s brands).
We feel written content and 'image' should almost always co-habitate. Even straight 'copy ads' are best if able to be in the brand style. That's how one gets to retention, and the memorable aspect of what makes a brand unique.
You see the Nike swish alone, and you think 'Just do it', right? In whatever language one might read, right? Images of a brand, and that 'feel', are universal and transcendent.
And if a picture's worth 1000 words, what better way to deliver all that power in a tiny spot.
Don't you find that a blog with a great, unique picture up top more compelling? A visual headline, if you will? Think of NY Times magazine cover, and the art on it. Or the New Yorker. Even Business Week Bloomberg, once they hired a great designer. Those strong graphic covers draw one in with an image that says volumes. And goes far beyond the 'rationale' of the written word.
We actually feel that balance is key. In some ways, it's about balancing Quant and Qual, Science and Art, Head and Heart. Words at time can be more quant — feel more solid, specific, understandable, though still rich and emotive, of course.
But art, by its nature, doesn't 'tell.' It shows.
So, again, with our start up clients, we try to get them to understand that power — which can be tough for those who come from, say, an engineering or science background. And thus one can move from fast, non-feeling transaction to longer-term joy of interaction, and engagement.
How would you respond to people or companies who take a more “transactional” approach to marketing, who feel that focusing on branding is too subjective and hard to measure and therefore risks being a waste of time and money?
First, it's key to share the overall brand look, tone, feel in the most appropriate place for your specific target to interact with it.
Second, it's important that that look, tone, feel connects with the target in a way that they relate to, a need that they feel is relevant to them.
Third, where there's an ability for the target to react, create a dialog, or actually share their usage, or, best, love of a product, that's the holy grail.
Brands grew out of a need to establish the trust of a good product or service when society moved beyond one-to-one buying and engagement. The interesting advantage for the consumer in that is that brands who earn trust have a great deal at stake and have a lot to protect — so a shoddy product will kill a brand. One better deliver on the promise writ large, or the consumer will turn away, they won't trust any longer.
So again, first and foremost, build a brand that is trust worthy and different.
Then share it in a way that is most relevant to your brand's consumer. The beauty of 'marketing' today is there are so many ways to get a brand message across. From events to digital mediums to sponsorships and tie-ins - and, yes, we here at Bandwidth are well-versed on all. So brands have a way to dimensionalize their message, presentation, interaction in ways far broader than even 5 years back.
That's exciting, and keeps us here innovating and continually thinking about new approaches to encounter consumers, engage them, and interact beyond simply A transaction. In fact, it's that ongoing engagement that grows deeper, and helps to spend money on marketing wisely. It's an investment, after all.
Finally, I'd like to ask a bit of a fun question. If you could invent one piece of technology that would make the process of branding and marketing a whole lot better, what would it be?
Wow — tough to choose just one.
Actually, we're in the process of putting together a decision tree of sorts to automate decision making around the more tactical areas of marketing choices. It's interesting that even as advanced as marketing has gotten that some folks still aren't entirely sure why they do what they do.
So they may say 'We really need a tagline' without first having compiled what their brand actually stands for.
Or push for a tactic but put the incorrect metric against it.
In this tech platform, some of the basic 'fillers' can be automated/filled out, and even help start eliminating options to make marketing choices easier and more clear. Where process, and the upfront, can be streamlined, it leaves more hours for pure creativity.
The holy grail, though, in a tech invention? Having a robust predictive model for how brand and marketing activities can affect sales, stock price, you name it. Even with all the tech we have around us, and tools for metrics, etc., much is rear-view mirror oriented. And that ability to reliably predict what an effort will produce would be pretty helpful when talking to those who need proof before starting.
That said, we're still talking art and science — and where art, innovation, and creativity plays a strong role, a guess is as good as one can get, most often.
But that's again what keeps this business everchanging. And every day our guesses get better and better.
Thank you greatly for taking the time to chat with Filecamp’s blog readers today Rob. We truly appreciate your insights about how you approach helping your agency’s clients brand and grow their companies. I know the readers of our blog will have taken a lot away from this interview. To our blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Bandwidth Marketing you can follow them on Twitter or head over to their website here.
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